Understanding your car MOT test

If your car is over three years old, you’ll already know that it must be taken for an MOT test each year. But what do testers look for during an MOT, and what are the …


If your car is over three years old, you’ll already know that it must be taken for an MOT test each year. But what do testers look for during an MOT, and what are the most common reasons for failing one? Read on to find out.

What is an MOT?

‘MOT’ stands for ‘Ministry of Transport’, and it’s an official test of a car’s roadworthiness, safety and emissions. They need to be carried out by an approved MOT test centre, which will display a blue sign with three white triangles.

An MOT test can often be done while you wait, because they should take no more than an hour (unless, of course, the MOT test discovers faults that require immediate repair). The test itself should cost no more than £54.85 for cars and £29.65 for motorbikes, but you’ll find that many garages charge less than this, so it’s worth shopping around for a good deal.

MOT checklist

The MOT covers a large list of checks that look at every aspect of your car except the engine, gearbox and clutch. The tester will be looking at the following:

  • Vehicle Identification Number – is this displayed legibly somewhere on the car?
  • Brakes – are they in good condition and performing as they should?
  • Lights – are they all working and in good condition? Is the main headlight angled correctly? Are all the bulbs the correct colour?
  • Exhaust – what are the emissions? Is the exhaust secure and working as it should?
  • Steering and suspension – are these working correctly and in good condition?
  • Fuel system – are there any leaks? Do fuel caps fit securely?
  • Doors – do they open and shut correctly? Are they secure when shut?
  • Bodywork – is this in good condition, free from rust and any sharp edges?
  • Wheels and tyres – does the tread depth of the tyres meet the legal minimum, and are the tyres and wheels secure and in good condition?
  • Seats and seatbelts – are these all secure and in good condition?
  • Mirrors – are these secure and in good condition?
  • Windscreen – are there any cracks or chips? If so, are they smaller than a certain size (10mm in the driver’s field of vision, 40mm for anywhere else covered by the wipers)?
  • Windscreen wipers – do these do a sufficient job of keeping the windscreen clear, and is the screenwash topped up?
  • Registration plate – is this clean and legible, and does the font and spacing of the lettering meet official requirements?
  • Horn – is this working correctly, and does it make a suitable sound?


Common reasons for failing an MOT

If your car does fail its MOT, you won’t be allowed to drive off in it unless the previous year’s MOT certificate is still valid. Don’t panic; 2 out of every 5 cars fails first time, often for minor and easily preventable issues. This list, summarised from What Car? magazine, shows how simple the most common reasons for MOT failure are:

  1. Not enough screenwash
  2. Car dirty or cluttered
  3. A dirty or missing registration plate, or one in an unapproved font
  4. Stickers (such as parking permits) obscuring driver’s view out of the windscreen
  5. Warning light showing on the dashboard

With the exception of the warning light, you can easily ensure that your car doesn’t fall foul of these simple errors by making sure it’s clean and tidy, keeping the screenwash topped up and moving any stickers from the windscreen. In fact, these – in common with most of the other items on the MOT checklist – are all things to look out for as part of responsible car ownership anyway, so getting into the habit of checking them on a regular basis will stand you in good stead.