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How to prepare for the annual MOT test

Like road tax and fuel, sooner or later your car is going to need an MOT test. Once they hit their third birthday, all cars must have this annual safety and emissions check in order to be allowed to stay on the road.

Brought in by the Ministry of Transport (MOT) in 1960, the annual £54.85 check is today managed and monitored by the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) and ensures all vehicles on the road meet minimum legal safety requirements.

Since 2018 any defects found on a car are listed as minor, major or dangerous. A minor listing does not necessarily mean a fail but the fault should be repaired as soon as possible. The MOT tester can also give an ‘advisory’ note: a particular fault could get worse and should be monitored, or a ‘pass’, which is the best outcome.

Any ‘major’ or ‘dangerous’ listings attract an MOT ‘fail’ and will have to be repaired before the car can be driven again. There are fines of up to £2,500 and three penalty points on your license for driving a dangerous MOT failure, or £1,000 for driving a car that hasn’t been tested at all.

While some of the test procedure is quite complex, such as suspension, steering, the exhaust system and electrical components, and needs to be carried out by an expert, many items can be checked easily yourself and put in a fit state before you get anywhere near the MOT testing station.

By looking after your car and checking the fundamental features that keep it working day after day, you can improve your chances of a first time pass greatly. Here are 12 easy things to check which could turn your car from a certain failure into a potential pass.

wipers

Make sure your wipers clear the screen properly without smears when it rains (check using the garden hose). The blades should be free from damage, while you should make sure the washer pump is working and that there is plenty of fluid.

windscreen

You are allowed 10mm of chipped damage in front of the driver side and 40mm anywhere else on the screen, so have a good look at the glass and make a decision on whether you need a new one.

horn

One of the simplest checks to do yourself – give the horn a quick toot to make sure you and everyone else can hear it.

light

They don’t just help you see, but they help to be seen. That’s why lights are vital to driving and therefore a major part of the MOT. Go round the car checking headlights, indicators, reverse and hazard lights and replace any that have gone out.

tyres

It’s easy to check your tires as they’re so accessible. Correct tire pressures will be listed in your car’s handbook and tread depth should be at least 1.6mm. Have a look all round the tires for signs of bulges, cuts or damage.

Seat belts

These should not be frayed or damaged. Go round and buckle up each one to make sure they engage properly to hold you or passengers safely in place.

body work

A few small dents won’t put paid to your MOT pass, but body panel damage must not be serious, nor leave exposed or jagged edges.

Exhaust

Testers won’t like blown or leaking exhausts as this can affect a car’s emissions output so start the engine and have a look and listen for signs of pipe damage.

Warning lights

You shouldn’t be driving around with a warning lights showing in your dashboard anyway, but if you have, now is the time to sort out the problem. If there’s a warning showing during the test, the car will fail.

fluid levels

No test can be carried out if there are insufficient fluid levels in the car and that includes petrol, or diesel, and oil. Fill everything up to give yourself the best chance of a pass.

Number plates

These should conform to legal standards, must be fixed properly and not be damaged. While you’re about it, give them a wipe over to make them clean.

tidiness

Give the car a quick tidy round before you head for the test. If an examiner can’t get to somewhere he wants to look, such as the seatbelt mountings, he could fail the car. Keeping the interior, including the boot, clear gives a better impression too.