If your car is more than three years old, an MOT test is required every year to check it’s still safe to be driven. And because even the smallest issue can be cited as a reason for failure, passing an MOT is essential for anyone who uses their car regularly.

So, before you get caught out by a defective bulb, or worse, a dirty number plate, be sure you’re carrying out the proper checks in the lead up to your MOT with plenty of time in hand. To help you out, we’ve created this essential checklist that should maximise your chances of passing the test on the first take.

What you need to know before your MOT

When is my MOT due?

Each time you pass an MOT, you’ll receive a certificate with the date of expiry on it, which lets you know when the next MOT is due. If you’ve lost this certificate, then use the gov.uk tool to enter your registration number and vehicle manufacturer. The tool checks both your MOT and road tax status to confirm when your next test is due.

Is there any grace period for an MOT?

Afraid not. As soon as your MOT has expired, it’s illegal to drive your car on the road. You risk prosecution if you attempt to do so. The only exception is when driving to the MOT test, providing it’s been booked.

How should I prepare for an MOT test?

Because you can fail an MOT for small issues and infractions, it’s a good idea to prepare for it a few weeks in advance to ensure your car is in the best possible condition. The better prepared you are, the less chance of any inconvenience in the long term. Be sure to carry out the following checks:


Seats and seatbelts

Check the car’s front seats to see if they can adjust forwards and backwards. Seatbelts should be the right length and in good working order; pull sharply on each seatbelt, checking that they react as they’re supposed to if you have to suddenly brake. Any cuts or fraying will be a failure.


Give the horn a quick toot – it needs to be loud enough so that other drivers can hear it, while also working in a way that it can emit a long singular tone.


See if your handbrake is still up to snuff by checking it can hold the car in place on an incline.

Interior warning lights

Check that all dashboard lights are working as they should; they should light up when you start the car and then go out before you begin driving. Make sure that none of the warning lights are illuminated either, as they could indicate a fault that will result in MOT failure (like the DPF warning light on diesel cars, for example).​


Headlights and indicators

All headlights, sidelights, rear lights, hazard lights and indicators should be in working order.

Brake lights

While the car is stationary, have someone stand where they see the back of the car. Press the brake pedal to check that the rear brake light lights are working.

Number plate

You’d be surprised, but many cars fail their MOTs because of problems with their number plate. Make sure your plate is clean and legible by wiping it before the test. Also, the letter font and spacing should comply with legal requirements, so check those too.

Wheels and tyres

Perhaps the single biggest cause of all MOT failures, checking your tyres is essential. Firstly, check that your wheels and tyres are undamaged, and that the tread depth is the legal minimum of 1.6mm. You can confirm the latter by placing a 20p coin in the tyre tread; if the outer band is obscured, then your tread is above the legal limit. Your tyres should also be set at the correct pressure. If there’s a big discrepancy in tyre pressure, either above or below the recommended PSI, your car will fail.


Any chip or crack larger than 40mm will result in an MOT fail, as will any damage wider than 10mm in the area swept by your driver-side wiper.

Windscreen wipers

Check for any tears or holes in the wiper rubber as this could be an MOT fail.

Screen wash

Running empty on screen wash? You’ve just failed your MOT. Top it up before the test – it takes no time at all.

Fuel and engine oil

Likewise, your fuel and engine fluid levels should be topped up. This is so the inspector can carry out the necessary emissions tests, so make sure you’ve refilled them beforehand.

Boot, bonnet and doors

Everything has to open and shut securely, so be sure to give these a once over.


Double check that both power steering and your steering wheel lock work as they should.


If your fuel cap doesn’t close, that’s reason enough to fail. Check that it locks and that the seal inside isn’t worn or split.


If your exhaust is on the noisy side then it may mean there’s a hole in it or that it’s come loose, which could both mean failure. Listen for the warning signs before it’s too late.


Any damage to the mirrors, such as a crack, will have to be fixed otherwise the car will fail its MOT.

What is covered during the MOT?

An MOT doesn’t take a long time to carry out; usually, it’s around 45 minutes to an hour, and some drivers choose to wait while their car is being inspected. However, any repairs resulting from an MOT failure will take longer to rectify.

During the test, the following areas are inspected and covered:

  • Electrical equipment – including headlights, brake lights, indicators and fog lights
  • Steering – including the strength and condition of the steering wheel
  • Tyres – including tread depth and condition of the tyres
  • Suspension – including shock absorbers and any corrosion and wear
  • Brakes – including the overall condition of pedals and brake efficiency
  • Seatbelts and seats
  • Exhaust and emissions – including checking for any leaks in the exhaust and fuel system, and checking the number of harmful emissions in the exhaust gases
  • Mirrors, wipers and windscreen – including any damage to the windscreen and condition of the wiper blades
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) – ensuring the vehicle displays its VIN is important

What are the most common reasons that cars fail their MOT?

Lighting and signalling

Accounting for a fifth of all MOT failures, issues with lights are a common problem. With all manner of blown bulbs, cracked covers and misting to be aware of, it’s important not to get caught out in this area.


Things like potholes and uneven road surfaces can wreak havoc on your car’s suspension, another car component that accounts for a lot of MOT failures. And since they’re relatively well hidden, it’s easy to miss faulty shock absorbers and snapped springs ahead of your next test.


One in ten cars fail their MOT because of brake problems. Luckily, it’s easy to detect these faults beforehand. Listen out for squealing or grinding noises from your brakes, as these are signs that the pads are worn below the legal limit.

If you brake, take note of whether the car stops in a straight line or if it pulls to one side; the latter is a cause for concern. Take a look at the braking system’s discs and pads if you can – is the surface of the brake disc smooth? How thick are the brake pads?


Even if everything else is in tip-top condition, if your wheels are looking worse for wear then your vehicle is sure to fail. Another surprisingly common reason for failing, make sure they’re in proper working order and inflated to the correct pressure (as listed in your car’s user manual) before you head to your next test.

Visibility issues

Issues that affect the driver’s view of the road are another very common reason for failure.

Everything from in-car items blocking the windscreen or cracks in the driver’s eye line can create problems, while even your bonnet can create issues. If there’s a danger it could pop open at any time, then good luck passing the MOT. You also need to make sure there’s enough screen wash to clear the windscreen.

Common MOT test failures in numbers

The following data, sourced from the RAC, shows the test categories used and the associated percentage of failures attributed to them (results based on cars and light vans from the 2017-18 financial year).

MOT defect category

% of defects

Lights and signals








Driver’s view


Fuel and exhaust




Seat belts




Reg and Vehicle Inspection Number




What to do if your car fails its MOT

If your vehicle fails, you’ll be issued with a VT30 certificate which will state the items that caused your MOT failure. Since May 2018, MOT test results have categorised defects as either dangerous, major or minor. It’s sometimes the case that you’ll have advisory notices on your certificate issued at the MOT tester’s discretion. These are issued if:

  • Parts are near to reaching the point of test failure
  • Peculiarities of your vehicle which were identified during the MOT check
  • Defects on non-testable items

While these are only advisory, it’s still the driver’s responsibility to keep an eye out for any issues that may affect the car’s roadworthiness. Either way, you’ll be told why your vehicle has failed its MOT and what needs to be fixed for it to pass. However, some repairs could be specialised, such as welding jobs or emissions failures, so it may not be possible to make them there and then.

If your car can be tested, repaired and retested at the same location within a 10-working day period then there should be no additional charge for retesting (known as a partial re-examination). However, certain repairs can’t be fixed under a partial re-examination.

If your car fails, you might not be covered by your insurance to drive it until it’s passed –except to an approved test centre or a garage for repairs.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article. Looking for more from Brindley Garages? Head here to check out more news from the motoring world, or whether you’re in the market for a new car, see how we can help at our homepage.