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Car mechanic checking cars, getting ready for MOT test

The ultimate MOT guide

The MOT test can be quite daunting, so we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to run through all your most asked questions with our Ultimate MOT guide and give you the best chance of passing!


What is an MOT check?

MOT stands for Ministry of Transport and it is a legal requirement that almost every car on the road must be approved as roadworthy by the MOT test.

How often do you need to do a MOT?

In Northern Ireland any car that is over 4 years old will need to be tested annually.

What do they check at MOT?

At the MOT test they will check; body structure, vehicle structure, tow bars, fuel systems, exhaust emissions, exhaust systems, seatbelts, seats, doors, mirrors, load security, brakes, tyres, registration plates, lights, bonnet, wipers, windscreen, horn, steering, suspension, electronics and Vehicle Inspection Number (VIN).

However, it does NOT cover the condition of the engine, clutch and gearbox.

What might a MOT tester look for? 



Body and Vehicle Structure

This is basically the outer shell of the car. A MOT tester will check for significant structural corrosion that could affect car steering and braking.

Tow bars

This bar fitted to the back of the car will be checked to see if it is adequately secure and that no modifications have been made that could weaken its condition.

Fuel Systems

The fuel system is responsible for delivering fuel to the engine and will usually consist of fuel pump, filter, tank and carburettor. Each of these components will be checked for general condition such as fuel leakage.

Exhaust Emissions and

Exhaust Systems

Exhaust emission is the substance produced by burning fuel that comes out of the exhaust. Each car will have a different exhaust emission level depending on its year and model.

There is a government car emission allowance list which you may find useful.

To help pass, an exhaust system will need to be without serious leaks and not too loud. A loud exhaust will not fail a MOT, but the source of the noise could be the sign of something worse.

Seatbelts and Seats

Both must be in place and in good working condition. You may risk failure if seatbelts have been replaced with unsuitable alternatives. Seats must be properly adjusted and securely fitted.


Must operate appropriately and the hinges are not loose plus ability to open from the inside and out and the latch is secure.


The most common problem is not having any! Other than that, mirrors should be in good condition and generally serve their purpose clearly.

Load Security

Basically can your boot close properly? If the boot cannot close or the latch is significantly weakened your car is at risk of failing the MOT test.


Brake performance is the primary concern of testers. This means they will check pedals, levers and relevant warning signs to ensure the brakes have not weakened or have any additional modifications.


Tyre inspections are very standard and the MOT tester will look at tyre size and type, tread depth, condition and security of the actual wheel. It’s important to note that spare tyres will not be tested.

Registration Plates

Registration plates should be in line with current European standards meaning that the spacing, lettering and general condition should not be alternated.


Headlight aim is the primary concern for lights. In general lights should be functioning as expected with light settings operating as normal.

*Since last year’s MOT changes, reverse lights are now tested if the vehicle was first used from September 1st 2009 and front fog lights will now be inspected on any vehicle first used from March 1st 2018*


Make sure to check the latch is secure before submitting your vehicle to the MOT test.


It may be best to change your wipers if they are old or not giving a clear view. In some cases it might be best to remove the wiper for the test. You will not fail an MOT for not having rear wipers.


The driver’s view of the road will be checked so ensure there are no significant chips or cracks that would obscure your view.


The main concern is that the horn has been altered in some fashion. Custom horns WILL fail the MOT.


Make sure your steering oil level is correct and that electronic steering mechanism work correctly.


Should be in decent condition and functioning appropriately.


All dashboards signals are operating correctly as the wiring and battery will be checked.

Vehicle Inspection Number (VIN)

The VIN was first introduced to cars in August 1980. Any car that pre-dates this will not have a VIN number. All cars after this date will have a VIN.


Will a chip in the windscreen fail the MOT?

It is possible for a car to fail the MOT because of a chipped windscreen. A car will only fail if the windscreen has a chip larger than 10mm or if the chip significantly impedes the driver’s view.

Will the engine management light fail a MOT?

New rules were introduced in May 2018 that mean your car will fail the MOT if the Engine Management Light (EML) is on. The primary and most dangerous reason an EML light to be on would be because the car is omitting excess emissions.

Will an airbag light fail MOT?

It is unlikely that an airbag light will fail a MOT test.  You should consider investigating the source of the problem immediately, as having a potentially malfunctioning airbag is obviously very risky.

Will ABS light fail MOT?

A car is likely to fail its MOT if the ABS light is illuminated. As part of the new rules which were implemented in May 2018 the majority of warning lights can now result in an automatic fail. An ABS light could be on due to loss of brake fluid or bad hydraulic valves.

Will my car fail MOT with a broken rear wiper?

A broken rear wiper will not fail a MOT test. However, if the rear wiper is impeding the view of the driver then it may result in a failed test. A rear wiper of a car can also be removed and will not result in a failed MOT test.

Will a loud exhaust fail MOT?

A car will not fail its MOT because of a loud exhaust. However, it is likely that a very loud exhaust could be caused by another problem in the car such as an exhaust leak which would fail the MOT test.

Types of Fail


If any part of your car is classified as dangerous you will not be allowed to drive it until fixed and retested. You can be fined up to £2,500, be banned from driving and get 3 penalty points for driving a vehicle that has failed its MOT because of a ‘dangerous’ problem.



It is advised that you repair this immediately as it is likely that it will soon become a bigger problem and become potentially dangerous to yourself, other road users and the environment.


Types of pass



Advised to “repair as soon as possible” the faults found during testing are not immediately dangerous but do warrant a look by a professional car mechanic.




The second best pass in the new categorisation. There is very little wrong with your car.



Your vehicle is in good condition and meets the legal requirement. Good upkeep and maintenance will make sure that it stays this way.


What happens if my car fails MOT?

In certain situations, you can drive your car if it does not pass the MOT. In order to drive the car after a failed MOT your vehicle must not have any dangerous faults and the old MOT certificate must still be in date. If your vehicle has dangerous faults and you are stopped by the police you may be prosecuted.

One of the changes to the MOT that came into effect on May 20th 2018 was a new categorisation. Defects found during the MOT are now categorised as dangerous, major, minor, advisory or pass.

Is there a grace period for MOT?

There is no legal grace period for driving without a MOT. The only exception to this rule is if you are driving to the MOT centre to have your car tested and have a booking notice as proof. Otherwise you may be prosecuted if stopped by the police.

What to do if your car fails MOT?

If your car does not pass the MOT test there is a standard series of events that usually happens.

You will be given a refusal of MOT Certificate (VT30). This will state what grade your car failed with, what was wrong with it and what needs to be done in order to pass. You can take this document to your mechanic and they can work on passing it at the retest. Remember that if your vehicle is classified as dangerous it is deemed unroadworthy and will be illegal to drive. For most vehicles with basic upkeep this classification is uncommon.

Retests can be one of two costs in Northern Ireland:

Partial Charge


If you take your car away from the test centre, have it repaired, and return it for a partial retest within 21 days you will only be charged a partial retest fee.


Full Charge

If you do not return your car within 21 days your vehicle will be subject to a full test and you will have to pay a full test fee. This means that other/different faults could also be discovered.


Can you get a retest at a different garage?

If it is more convenient to go to another garage to have your car tested you are allowed to do so. You simply must bring the refusal of MOT Certificate (VT30) with you and give it to the new testing garage. You should be careful though. Not all test centres are the same and different testers can pass or fail your car based on their own expertise or opinion. It is general advised that you go back to the same test centre if possible.


Can you drive without MOT?

There is only one scenario where you can drive without a valid MOT. You can drive without a MOT if you are going to a garage to have a test or retest. If stopped by the police you must be able to provide proof of a pre-arranged booking.

If your car fails its MOT but the certificate is still in date, then you can drive the car until the certificate expires.

Any car that has been tested and is regarded as having “dangerous” faults is not allowed to be on the road in Northern Ireland.

Remember that it is very dangerous to drive without a valid MOT as there could be something majorly wrong with your vehicle that you are unaware of. This could cause harm to you and others. Be sure to keep your MOT up to date and stay safe on the roads.

What will happen if I drive without MOT?

If you are caught driving without a valid MOT in Northern Ireland you could face a hefty fine, penalty points and a ban.  You can be fined up to £2,500 and receive 3 penalty points. This is the maximum penalty and will likely only happen if your car was categorised as “dangerous” in its MOT test.

There is a big clamp down on cars driving without a valid MOT that have dangerous faults. These rules have only been implemented in May 2018 and it is important for drivers to make themselves aware of all new road rule changes in Northern Ireland.

Can I sell my car without MOT?

You can legally sell your car without a MOT. A car owner can choose to sell their car privately or to a dealership. It is important to note that a car can only be driven with an expired MOT if it is going to a garage to be tested. The test must be pre-booked.

If you are planning on buying a car privately that does not have a valid MOT then you will need to arrange a pick up vehicle for that car. If you are stopped by the police with a car with no MOT you could be fined up to £2500 and given three penalty points.

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