What is an MOT?

An MOT (Ministry of Transport test) is an annual safety check that ensures your vehicle meets the minimum road safety standards, including regulated exhaust emissions levels put in place by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA, formally VOSA).

During this test, important components of your vehicle will be checked to ensure that they meet the legal standards and that your vehicle is safe to drive. In May 2018, new MOT rules mean any defects will be categorised as either dangerous, major or minor.

If your car passes its MOT, it may still have minor faults (which should be fixed as soon as possible to prevent it getting worse). It could also be passed with advisories, which means you should keep an eye on the issue and repair it if it gets worse.

Does my car need an MOT?

If your car is more than three years old, you are legally obliged to have an MOT. If you struggle to remember when your MOT is due, you can sign up for government reminders by text message or email.

Without a valid MOT, your car is not considered roadworthy; you won’t be able to renew your vehicle tax or insurance, and in short, you won’t be able to drive your car.

What work is carried out in an MOT?

Whilst the MOT does not cover the condition of the engine, clutch or gearbox, it does look at other key components of your car, so you need to keep on top of your car’s maintenance in order to pass.

The MOT tester will look at the body of the car, the vehicle structure and general condition of the car, ensuring that it’s free from excessive damage in any particular areas. They’ll also look at tow bars, fuel/exhaust systems, seatbelts, seats, doors, mirrors, load security, brakes, tyres/wheels, lights, the bonnet, the windscreen, wipers/washers, the horn, steering/suspension and electrical components.

It sounds like a lot, and may seem almost impossible to pass: just how do you make sure that all those things are working correctly day after day?

The truth is, there will be elements of your car that you won’t be able to check yourself; however, there are parts that you can inspect and you should make sure that they are in good condition and full working order before going in for your MOT, otherwise you could fail on something minor and relatively simple to solve.

How do you pass an MOT?

The answer lies simply in looking after your car and checking that some fundamental things are in good working order before taking it to the garage.

Here’s a list of 10 easy tasks you can do before booking your car in for an MOT.


1. Check Brake Fluid

We begin our MOT checklist with the brake fluid. Open your car’s bonnet – making sure your car is stopped, with a cool engine, on a flat surface – and look for the master cylinder.


Fixing car

You’ll see markings that say ‘min’ and ‘max’; the fluid within the container needs to be between these two instructions. If yours is below, make sure you top it up. You can pick up brake fluid from your local car store, but make sure it’s the right one for your make and model — you should be able to find this information in your car’s manual.

Before you close the cap, check for the condition of your brake fluid: it should be clear or an amber colour, though it can turn brown as it gets older. If this is the case, you’ll need to change the brake fluid. You can do a more thorough test by buying chemical strips and dipping them in the brake fluid.

When you’ve done all your tests, don’t forget to shut the bonnet fully.

2. Check Mirrors

In order to pass your MOT, you must have your obligatory mirrors intact. This means one interior and one offside mirror.

According to the MOT manual, there are three acceptable rear-view mirror positions:

  1. An exterior mirror or device that provides a view along the offside of the vehicle.
  2. An exterior mirror or device that provides a view along the nearside of the vehicle.
  3. An interior mirror or a device which provides a view to the rear of the vehicle.

When checking your car’s mirrors, ensure that none are cracked, severely impairing your view or exposing a damaged edge.

3. Check All Warning Lights

We’d like to think that if a warning light was showing on your dashboard, you would consult your vehicle handbook to identify what the problem was and get it booked in quickly to be fixed.


Car warning lights

However, if you’ve let this one go, there’s no time like the present to get it fixed. This will be picked up in your MOT and you will fail, so it’s best to get it done beforehand, and not to let a potentially dangerous problem go on any longer.

This is referred to as the ‘malfunction indicator lamp test’ and it only came into effect in 2012, after a revision to the European testing directive. It’s a simple visual test – if the tester turns on the ignition and warning lights come on, you will fail your MOT, not to mention probably finding yourself with an additional charge for the garage to investigate and diagnose what the light means.

4. Ensure Tyres Have Enough Tread

Your MOT isn’t the only reason you should stay on top on your tyre tread: it’s crucial that your car has the correct tread depths because, if they’ve been worn away, it will affect your stopping distance, particularly in wet weather conditions.

If you’re caught on the road with tyres below the required depth, you could face a fine of up to £2,500 and three penalty points per tyre.

UK driving law requires that your vehicle be fitted with the correct tyre size and type, and that the tyres are fit for purpose.

The minimum legal tyre tread in the UK is 1.6mm, in a continuous band that wraps around the central three-quarters of the tyre.

You can quickly check the tread of your tyres with the help of a 20p coin. Simply take the coin and insert it into the grooves on the tyre. You should not be able to see the outer band of the coin if your tyres are within the legal limit. If you can see that section of the coin, your tyres could be unsafe, so it’s best to get them checked and changed by a professional before your MOT.

5. Make Sure Your Lights Are Working

Much like your mirrors, there are obligatory lights that need to be working on your car for you to pass your MOT: the front- and rear-position lamps. The exact positioning of these required lamps does not form part of the inspection, but it’s best to check that both lamps are approximately the same height and that they’re working, not obstructed and in good condition.

6. Test Your Horn

Probably the quickest and easiest test to do, and chances are that if this didn’t work, you’d already be aware of it and have had the fault fixed. So, as you’re doing your full pre-MOT checks, be sure to check the horn.

7. Ensure Your Vehicle Has Enough Oil

The oil check is an important part of an MOT because without it, the garage will not be able to test emission levels.

You can check this by taking a quick look under the bonnet. As you would when checking the brake fluid, do this test with the engine off and cool and the car parked on a flat, even surface.

Locate the dipstick and pull it out, then wipe off any excess oil to ensure that you’re starting with a clean stick. Next, dip the dipstick back in and remove once more. You should see the oil sitting between the ‘min’ and ‘max’ marking on the dipstick. If you don’t, it’s time to top up your oil.

Keeping on top of this is important for your vehicle, so that your oil doesn’t break down and clog your car’s filters. Fortunately, changing your oil is inexpensive, easy and relatively quick to do, so if you notice your oil needs changing before your MOT, it can be sorted in no time.


Car oil check

8. Give Your Windscreen the Once-over

Windscreens can be a minefield to assess because some marks will pass an MOT, whilst others won’t.

Theoretically speaking, as long as a mark is not over the size of 10mm and is not obstructing the driver’s view or on the driver’s side of the windscreen, or if the mark is no larger than 40mm on the rest of the windscreen, then you should be okay. These marks include chips, cracks or significant scratches. If in doubt, get it checked by a professional.

Whilst you’re checking your windscreen, don’t forgot to check that your wash reservoir has enough liquid in it and that your wipers are in good working order.

9. Get Your Vehicle Cleaned

This may seem like an unnecessary one, but it’s a good idea to do it as part of your final checks. You are not going to fail your MOT if your car is a little on the dirty side. However, you need to ensure that number plates are dirt-free so they are easy to read, and that your lights are not blurred by smudged glass.

10. Keep on Top of Your Maintenance All Year Round

Needing to have an MOT sometimes serves as the only reminder to check certain parts of your car. However, we urge you to stay on top of your vehicle upkeep all year round, to help maintain your car’s performance, as well keeping your car as safe as possible. Avoiding your vehicle maintenance could be an accident waiting to happen.

What happens if your car fails its MOT?

Your car might fail its MOT if it has either dangerous or major faults. You car can’t be driven until dangerous faults have been repaired. Major faults must be fixed as soon as possible.

Your car fails its new MOT within the existing MOT period

If you’re getting your new MOT before the old one has expired, you can drive your car away to get major faults repaired, but not if it has failed with dangerous faults.

Your car fails its new MOT and the old one has expired

The very latest you should leave your MOT test is the day the old one expires, because driving without an MOT  breaks the law and will invalidate your insurance. If your car fails its MOT on the day it’s due to expire, you can drive it away that day to get it repaired as long as it hasn’t failed with dangerous faults.

Do electric vehicles need an MOT?

Yes. Just like any other vehicle, after it’s three years old, electric vehicles must have an annual MOT. The only difference is that the emissions test isn’t part of the MOT for electric vehicles.