Every year around 1.5 million cars fail their MOT test but many of the failures could have been prevented by carrying out some straightforward visual checks on the car before the test. The checks are simple to perform and could save you both time and money.
If you find any faults that aren’t easy to fix yourself, then you could book an Interim Service on BookMyGarage and mention to the garage the specific problem, and they’ll add it to the list of service checks. It’s a reasonable way of getting the car checked out and topped up so it should sail through its MOT. Some astute motorists book a Car Service and an MOT at the same time: that way all the service checks and repairs are done on the car and the MOT test is performed afterwards. It's also a good way to save on car costs, as a combination service (MOT and service) is usually more competitive price-wise than if you booked them separately.
Using a car without a valid MOT test certificate in force carries a maximum fine of £1,000.
The following checks have been created with motorists in mind, not car mechanics, so they should be fairly easy to follow. If you’re unsure of any items or where they are on your car, it’s advisable to get your car manual and find the page at the beginning where it has a drawing of your car and related numbers which explain the different areas on the car and what they’re for. The better you understand your car, the better you’ll be at performing these basic pre-MOT checks.
The most important thing to do before you start these checks is to make sure you haven’t just driven your car and that your car has had an opportunity to cool down fully.
Both should be at adequate levels – enough petrol for the emissions test, and oil filled to an acceptable level. To check the oil, remove your dipstick – located under the car bonnet in the engine area – and ensure the vehicle is on level ground. Pull on the dipstick ring/handle (usually a bright colour), wipe the oily end with some kitchen roll, replace, then remove again and look where the level of oil has reached. If it is below the mark indicated on the dipstick, then you should top it up with a bit of oil. But be careful not to put in too much. A little at a time is better. Don’t just use any engine oil, always check your car manual if you’re not sure what type of oil you need.
Get someone to walk round your car, with you sitting in it, and switch on all your lights and use your indicators to check which ones, if any, don’t work. Don’t forget to check your hazard (warning lights) too – which is sometimes a red button on your dashboard or near your steering wheel. Get a local garage to replace the bulbs as these can be fiddly and delicate to replace.
At the same time as you’re checking headlights, get a friend to stand at the back of your car whilst you press the brake pedal to check the brake lights are working including any high-level brake light strip. Alternatively, carefully reverse up to a reflective surface (window, garage door or wall) and look at the reflection yourself.
It’s recommended that tyres are renewed when the tread reaches 3mm in areas, although the legal limit is 1.6mm. Check the tyre tread depth, and if any are lower than 1.6mm then replace the tyre. An easy way to check the tyre tread is with a 20p piece. Place the 20p in the tyre groove at various places on the tyre, and if the outer rim of the 20p is visible, then you need to get a new tyre. It is also the condition of the tyres as well, the sidewalls must not be cracked or perished. Don’t forget to check the wheels and the spare tyre too.
Ideally, wash your car and then check your windscreen for chips and damage. If there’s damage larger than 40mm across, then this will count as a fail at your MOT test. Pay particular attention to the driver’s side of the vehicle as any damage wider than 10mm in the ‘swept’ area of the windscreen will also cause a fail.
If you spot a small chip on your windscreen, contact your car insurer as many insurance policies provide windscreen repairs at no extra cost, provided you use their recommended supplier. Small chips can be easily filled in at a windscreen specialist on a while-you-wait basis.
An MOT test will fail if you have any tears or holes in wiper rubber. If there are smudges on your windscreen whilst using your wipers and they tend to squeak a bit, then it’s probably time you got some new wiper blades. New wiper blades can make a big difference to your driving (particularly with the UK weather).
It’s the most simple of checks, yet an empty screen wash bottle will cause an MOT failure. Keep it topped up regularly with water. We recommend keeping an old litre size water bottle in your car boot so you can top it up wherever you are. Don’t forget to add screen wash additive - it’s brilliant at removing the oil and dirt in wet road conditions and will help prevent freezing in a cold winter. When you've topped up, make sure the washer works.
Again, this is another easy check. Simply take each seat belt and draw it into the seat belt lock to ensure it locks safely. Look at the belt material checking for any tears/damage and tug it to check it would hold you should you need it to. Next, check your driver’s seat to see that it can be adjusted forward and backwards with ease.
Give a short blast of the horn – if it doesn’t work, find a repairer to fix it. It’s easy to find a garage to get the problem sorted - try BookMyGarage’s “Problem With My Car” service - the site will guide you to find a garage at a price that is right for you. BookMyGarage is where you can also find MOT test centres, so it might be advisable to book your MOT at the same time. That way it saves you another journey to the garage.
This is another reason to get your car cleaned, to ensure that your number plate can be seen clearly at a distance. If you’ve left it too late to get your car cleaned, just use a cloth to wipe the front and back number plates. The font and spacing of letters on both plates must also comply with legal requirements to pass the MOT test.
Taking time out to make some simple car checks will give you peace of mind for when you come to take your car to your nearest MOT Test Centre, and could save you a few pennies. However, if you’re the type of person that prefers someone else to do the pre-checks for you, then booking a Full Service and MOT is the quickest way of getting your car sorted. Visit bookmygarage.com to book your MOT and car service together – it’s free to book, you just pay the garage when the work is done.