MOT Test? Improve Your Pass Rate With This Checklist

MOT testing station logoThe UK has an appallingly bad first-time MOT pass rate. One in five cars fails its first MOT when it’s just three years old, and things don’t get any better — VOSA data indicates that 20% of cars fail their MOT test simply because of blown light bulbs.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has found that  around 1.5 million MOT failures every year could be avoided if car owners fixed a few simple problems (or paid a garage to do it for them) before they submitted their car for its MOT test.

The result is the SMMT’s ‘Minute or Two’ 10-step checklist, which is similar to our own MOT First-Time Pass Guide and walks you through 10 simple checks that any driver can do themselves, before they take their car for an MOT.

You can find a full, illustrated guide to help you with this checklist at — but trust me, it’s pretty simple. Do it and be proud (plus avoid the hassle of a re-test).

The ‘Minute or Two’ Checklist

1. Headlights and indicators
Check that all of your car’s lights function properly – headlights, sidelights, rear lights, hazard lights and indicators. Replacing bulbs is usually simple, but can be awkward. If in doubt, Halfords offers a ‘We Fit’ service where they will fit the correct part while you wait for a small fee.

2. Brake lights
Press the brake pedal and ask a friend to check that the rear brake lights come on – including any supplementary brake strip light. Alternatively, carefully reverse up to a reflective surface (window, wall or garage door) and look behind to see for yourself.

3. Number plate
Make sure that the number plate is clean and legible – even a quick wipe with a cloth can make a difference. The font and spacing of letters must also comply with legal requirements to be passed by the MOT station. If your number plate needs replacing, your local car accessories shop will probably be able to produce a replacement, but you will need your car’s registration document.

4. Wheels and tyres
Check that wheels and tyres are undamaged. The minimum legal tyre tread depth is 1.6mm and any tyres with less than this will be marked as an MOT ‘fail’ (though it’s recommended that tyres are changed when tread reaches 3mm). If you’re in doubt about how much tread is left on a tyre, your local tyre centre or main dealer can check for you. If you need new tyres, try to avoid buying part-worn tyres, as they are usually poor value and may not be safe. Consider an online tyre retailer that offers local fitting, such as or

5. Seats and seatbelts
The driver’s seat should adjust forwards and backwards and all seatbelts should be in good, working order. Test movement of the seat and inspect the seatbelt’s full length for damage. Tug sharply on all seatbelts to check that they react as they’re supposed to if you have to brake severely.

6. Windscreen
Check the view out of the front of the car for damage – any damage larger than 40mm will cause a ‘fail’, as will any damage wider than 10mm in the ‘swept’ area of the windscreen in front of the driver. Small chips can easily and cheaply be fixed, cracks cannot be fixed. Contact Autoglass or Auto Windscreens for a mobile, at-home fix — they will normally deal with your insurance for you and windscreen claims don’t count against your no-claims discount.

7. Windscreen wipers
Make sure your wipers are able to keep your windscreen clean – any tears or holes in the wiper rubber can be an MOT fail. Again, Halfords ‘We Fit’ service will provide a quick replacement if you don’t fancy doing it yourself (although it’s very easy).

8. Screenwash
Top up the washer bottle before taking the car in for a test – something as simple as an empty container can cause an MOT fail.

9. Horn
Give a short blast of the horn – if it doesn’t work, you will need to have it repaired or replaced before your MOT test.

10. Fuel and engine oil
Make sure your car is filled with enough fuel and engine oil – you can be turned away from the MOT without suitable levels of either, both of which are required by the dealership when running the car to test its emissions levels. If you are unsure about the type of oil that should be used, ask your manufacturer main dealer.

Note: When checking fluid levels and handling parts that could be become hot to the touch (eg bulbs), it is safest to ensure that the vehicle has had an opportunity to cool down fully.

As a nation, we clearly have a problem with basic car maintenance, and I’m afraid that much of it is down to driver ignorance and a lazy attitude to basic car maintenance.

Now that you’ve read the list above, you may agree with me — in which case make sure your car is not another avoidable failure statistic, next time you take it for an MOT test.

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