Lifestyle Guides

Car MOT checklist

Over a million cars are failing their MOT in the UK here are a few simple jobs you can do at home before taking your car to the garage


Every four out of 10 cars in the UK fail their MOT - that's 1.5 million more fails than expected.

But why are so many cars falling short of the annual test?

Aftermarket warranty provider Warranty Direct, who carried out research into the number of cars failing MOTs, believe it's people fearing basic maintenance.

Fewer people are carrying out small DIY jobs at home before taking them to the test centre, a move which could be costing drivers a lot of money.

The initial MOT failure rate for 2018/19 is 33.6% while the maximum price a garage can legally charge is £54.85.

While garages check for a whole host of issues, there are a few easy things you can look for at home.

We enlisted the help of Gareth Parfitt, central operations support manager for Halfords Autocentres, to run through a few jobs you can easily do yourself when ticking off your MOT checklist.

MOT 2 brakes


Gareth said: "As one of the hardest working parts of your car, it's little surprise that brakes are one of the most common reasons for MOT failure. Brake performance tests are one of the most critical parts of the test, so if you notice anything unusual with your brakes, don't wait until your MOT is due to get them checked."

Get your brakes checked if:

  • The brake warning light is illuminated on your dashboard
  • Your car is pulling to one side
  • You hear a high-pitched or metal grinding sound
  • You can smell burning carpet
  • You feel vibrations and changes in footbrake pedal sensitivity


"Your car's suspension is designed to give you a smooth ride, so if you notice that your car's balance has been affected over time, it's best not to ignore it," said Gareth.

"An impaired suspension can also negatively affect your general control of the car, cause undue wear on other components and affect your own road safety."

Signs your suspension may need a service:

  • Reduced ride comfort and smoothness
  • Excessive body roll
  • Pulling to the left or right
  • Uneven tyre wear


"To ensure your car is as safe as it can be on the roads, it's good practice to check your tyres on a regular basis," said Gareth.

"Incorrect tyre pressures can also cause your tyres to wear abnormally, increasing fuel consumption and shortening the life of your tyres. Uneven wear can be a sign that your car isn't performing properly, and tyres with a low tread can affect your car's ability to grip the roads, especially in wet conditions."

Admiral's Claims Engineers team says to check there is no uneven wear and that the tread is above 1.6mm; to do this you can use a 20p coin!

Simply place a 20p coin into the main grooves of your tyre. If the outer edge of the 20p coin is obscured when inserted, your tread is above the legal limit.

If the outer edge is visible, your tyres could be under the legal limit and unsafe for use.

MOT 3 - tyres

Tyre Safe/Adam Fradgley

Lamps and lights

Gareth says: "19% of all MOT failures are due to faulty lights. But despite this, light faults are some of the easiest to fix and many can even be done at home.

"So before you put your car in for its MOT, sit in the car and run some simple checks with a friend to be one step ahead."

Which lights need to be checked?

  • Headlights
  • Tail lights
  • Sidelights
  • Indicators
  • Brake lights
  • Registration plate lights
  • Fog lights
  • Hazard lights

Exhaust, fuel and emissions

"Many exhaust, fuel and emissions tests will differ depending on the age and model of your vehicle," said Gareth. "All vehicles will need to undergo a professional emissions test as part of an MOT, but there are a few checks that you can make prior to the test, such as monitoring noise levels from your exhaust and checking for any excessive smoke."

Wipers and fluids

MOT 4 - fluids

Admiral's Claims Engineers team says another easy thing to check at home is your car's wiper blades - make sure there's nothing hanging off and that they don't smear your windscreen.

Another thing your car can fail on, though you'd have to have a pretty harsh tester, is having no water in your windscreen wash pot. So make sure all fluids, including oil and coolant, are topped up.

Driving without an MOT

MOT stands for Ministry of Transport (the now defunct government department), and the annual test checks that your vehicle meets road safety and environmental standards. A car needs an MOT when it is three years old and will need one every year after that. Some historic classic cars are exempt from MOTs.

It's illegal to drive a car without a valid MOT; the only exceptions are to drive it to or from a repair garage and to a pre-arranged MOT.

You can be fined up to £1,000 for driving a vehicle without a valid MOT.

How do I know when my MOT is due?

You can check if your needs an MOT on the government website; you'll need the registration number. You can also sign up for the free MOT reminder service where you'll get a text or email one month before your car, van or motorbike is due for its MOT. 

How much are MOTs?

There's a maximum amount test centres can charge for an MOT. At the time of writing (Nov 2021) the maximum cost of an MOT for a car is £54.85, and VAT is not added to this price. 

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