Between April and September 2019, UK garages carried out 16.8 million MOTs. Out of these, there were 4.1 million MOT failures - that's nearly 25%! Even worse, 9%, or 1.5 million vehicles, failed with a dangerous fault. Many of these failed tests could have been avoided with some pre-MOT checks, as per the MOT checklist.
By the end of this article, you'll know:
- The main causes of MOT failure
- How you can prepare your car for the test and avoid them.
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The Most Failed MOT checks
According to Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) data for class 4 vehicles between April and September 2019. This covers cars, small vans and caravans up to 3,000kg.
- Lamps, Reflectors and Electrical Equipment - 26.88% of all defects
- Suspension - 18.21%
- Brakes - 16.72%
- Tyres - 11.4%
- Issues affecting driver's field of view (obscured by satnav or air freshener or chips and cracks in the windscreen) - 8.3%
These are simple issues that you can sort out yourself. In fact, you can check most of the MOT requirements at home for free! Here's our complete MOT checklist, with an explanation of how to do the pre-MOT checks yourself at home.
Your Easy to Follow MOT Checklist
Lights - Front, Rear, Fog, Brake, Indicators
You should regularly that all your bulbs work properly. Switch all the lights on, inside and out, and walk around your car. Ask someone to stand behind the car while you put your foot on the brake pedal to check the rear brake lights. If any bulbs are dim or dead, replace them as soon as possible. You can pick up cheap bulbs at most automotive retailers and fit them yourself. Some even install these bulbs themselves, for a small extra charge.
The horn should be loud and clear to warn other road users of danger. Press it firmly and listen for the tone. If it's weak or non-existent, book an appointment with a garage to get it fixed.
Remember: never use the horn in a built-up area between 11:30pm and 7 am.
Electrics & Battery
If your battery is flat or not holding charge, your car will struggle to start. If you have concerns over your battery, contact your recovery provider. They can recharge the battery on your driveway. If it repeatedly goes flat, book an appointment with a garage to fit a new battery before your MOT.
Towbar (if applicable)
Check that your towbar is secure and in good condition. Tighten it if loose and replace or repair any damage before your MOT.
Your steering should feel secure and the wheel easy to turn. If steering is either very difficult or feels very loose and easy, book a repair immediately.
Loose steering is a dangerous MOT fault, so don't risk an MOT failure by not acting!
When you press down on the side of your bonnet, it should rock back into position immediately. If it doesn't, or your car looks and feels lopsided, book a suspension repair before your MOT.
Brakes and Handbrake
Your handbrake should hold the car firmly in place. If there's no resistance when you engage it, book an appointment for repairs before your MOT.
You should also check your brake fluid reservoir (see above). If the fluid looks spoiled or there isn't enough of it, book a brake fluid change immediately. Spoiled brake fluid can affect your car's stopping distance. This counts as a dangerous fault during your MOT.
Tyres & Wheels
Check the tyres for cracks, punctures or any other damage. These are dangerous faults, so you need to fit new tyres before your MOT. To check your tyre tread, place a 20p piece in each groove. If you can see the inner rim above the groove, and this is consistent across the tyre, you should change the tyre as soon as possible.
Try to replace tyres when the tread depth dips below 3mm. This will help your car generate friction on all road surfaces, including when the road is wet or icy. If they tyre is bald, you will struggle to control the car and stop on slippery surfaces.
Check all the seatbelts for tears or damage, as well as ensuring they restrain safely. To do this, sit in each seat and jerk forward suddenly to mimic sudden braking. If a seatbelt doesn't immediately catch you, there's a fault which needs fixing before your test. Clip each seatbelt in position and make sure they fit securely in the buckle as well.
Body, Boot, and Bonnet
All bodywork should be free from corrosion, rust and sharp edges. If your car has suffered an accident, it may be worth repairing the bodywork to avoid a dangerous MOT fault.
The boot and bonnet lids should lie flat and close properly. Check that you can open and close both as part of your pre-MOT checks.
Your licence plates should be correct and clean to pass the MOT. The Drivers and Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA) gives advice on what your licence plates should look like here. Make sure that the licence plate light works as well, else you'll need to replace the bulb.
VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)
All vehicles registered after 1980 have a VIN somewhere on the vehicle. Check that yours matches the VIN in your vehicle handbook as part of your MOT checklist. A stolen or modified vehicle may have had it's VIN removed, so if yours is damaged or removed, it will fail its MOT.
You will have to report this to the DVLA. If you can't prove the vehicle's original VIN (i.e. you don't have the original vehicle handbook), you will have to apply for a replacement VIN. Once this has been approved, issued and stamped, you can apply to register the vehicle. You'll be issued with new licence plates which you must display. This process can take a while, so best to include it in your MOT checklist every time you buy a new car otherwise you'll be stuck without a car after an MOT failure.
One of your pre-MOT checks should be your speedometer and dashboard warning lights. When you switch the ignition on, make sure you see all the warning lights you should. This includes the engine management light, among others.
Make sure your speedometer and rev counter accurately reflect your speed. If you're doing 70 mph on a motorway, but the speedometer says you're only going 30, you need to book an electrical repair as soon as possible. An inaccurate speedometer contributes to an MOT failure.
You should repair any oil or fuel leaks immediately. If you notice pools of liquid under the car, or that you're filling up with fuel more frequently, there could be something wrong with the fuel system. Check that your fuel filler cap is properly sealed at all times as well. If not, you can buy a replacement quite cheaply from a range of suppliers.
Check your engine oil as well. To do so, pull out the dipstick, wipe it with a clean cloth and then replace it fully. Pull it back out again and look at the level. If your oil is close to or below the minimum level, top it up. Check your vehicle handbook so you buy the correct oil for your car. You can pick a bottle up from most automotive retailers, no matter what type of oil you need. Always check your oil level when the car is parked on a flat surface and the engine cold.
Check your fuel level as part of your MOT checklist as well. The mechanic may refuse your car if they don't think it has enough fuel to run the emissions test.
Look out for excessive smoke, a rattling from your exhaust or blue smoke. These often indicate an issue with the exhaust system, which could be increasing your car's emissions. If you suspect this, book an exhaust repair immediately.
Windscreen & Mirrors
If you use a satnav, a hands free phone system or car air fresheners, make sure they don't obstruct your vision of the road. The windscreen should be clear, else your car may fail. Similarly, repair any chips or cracks as soon as you notice them as a windscreen replacement can be an expensive job.
Your windscreen wipers should clean effectively and without leaving smears on the windscreen. Run your finger along the blades, checking for tears or rips in the rubber. Replacement wiper blades cost around £15 from most automotive retailers and you can easily fit them yourself.
Check your screen wash reservoir (see above) as well. If you can't see the level of screen wash, buy a bottle from an automotive retailer and follow the instructions to top up yours.
These are useful pre-MOT checks, but you should keep track of this MOT checklist throughout the year. If you sort issues early, you can avoid a stressful MOT experience. Plus, you don't run the risk of MOT failure or incurring a fine from the police for having an unroadworthy vehicle!