Direct Line magazine

Car MOT checklist

Updated on: 21 May 2024

an MOT sign at a garage

The MOT rules in the UK can seem quite complicated, but when it comes to the most common causes of MOT failure and what to do about them, it’s actually pretty straightforward.

We’ve put together this MOT checklist to help you reduce the odds of getting bad news from the garage.

Pre MOT checklist

This quick guide to what’s checked in an MOT test doesn’t include everything the testers have to look for when you hand them your keys, but instead it concentrates on the things you can identify yourself.


If airbags were in the original manufacturer’s specifications, they have to be present and working.


The battery must be secure with no signs of leaking electrolyte.


There must be no protrusions on the car body that could cause injury.


The MOT testers will check that:

  • The brakes are in good working order

  • The handbrake works

  • You can’t push the footbrake right down to the floor

  • There’s no corrosion in the brake pipes and that no brake fluid is leaking


Unless you’re a specialist, there is little you can do about your emissions before your MOT. But you can conduct a visual check, looking for excessive smoke from the exhaust.


The exhaust system must be secure and not leak. If you have a catalytic converter, it must be present and working.


The fuel system will be checked for leaks and the tank cap must seal properly and be in good working order.


Test your car’s horn (but do it somewhere it isn't going to disturb or startle other drivers, pedestrians or cyclists!) If your horn doesn't work, it'll need to be fixed or replaced.


Ensure your lights are all working as they should, which means checking the:

  • Headlights (main and dipped)

  • Sidelights (front and rear)

  • Brake lights

  • Rear fog lights

  • Rear number plate lights

  • Light system - for example, switching on one light shouldn’t affect another unrelated light

  • Lights aren’t obscured - for example, if the lights are cracked, damaged or have cloudy plastic

  • Look at your dashboard warning lights, too. If your engine management or check engine light is on, it will result in an MOT fail.


The driver and offside wing mirrors and an interior mirror must all be in good order, that means intact, secure and free of cracks.

Number plates

Number plates must be securely held in place and free from cracks. The number must be clearly visible, and formatted and spaced as laid down by the law.


Make sure the seatbelts fasten as they should and retract properly. They also have to be in good working order overall.


All seats must be secure, and remain in the upright position when put there.

Speed dial

The speedometer should give an accurate indication of vehicle speed and be clearly visible.


The steering wheel must be in good working order and securely attached, and the tester should be able to turn it from lock to lock. If the vehicle included power steering in its specification, then that should still work.


If your car has been fitted with a towbar, all of its components should be securely attached and free from excessive wear, corrosion or damage.


Tyres need tread of at least 1.6mm depth in a continuous band across the middle three-quarters of their width. They also need to be in good order, with no bulges, deep cuts or other signs of excessive wear or ageing.

The front tyres should be the same size as each other, as should those at the rear, and the pressure should be correct in all of them.

If your car was registered after January 2012 and has a tyre pressure monitoring system, it must still work.

Washer jets

The washer jets must work.


The wheels should be in good order. Make sure no wheel nuts are missing.


Check that there is no significant damage to the windscreen that could impair the driver’s view. In particular, there must not be any damage larger than 10mm in front of the driver, and outside of this area (but within the area covered by the wipers), no obstruction larger than 40mm is permitted.


Front and rear wipers need to work.

Common MOT failures

Windscreen wipers working in the rain

As our MOT checklist indicates, the most common causes of MOT failures are those you can look out for and do something about, usually without parting with much of your hard-earned cash. The most common MOT failures involve:

  • Lighting and signalling (30%) - check all your bulbs and clean out the plastic casings if necessary

  • Tyres (10%) - inspect the condition of each tyre regularly and get the pressure right (this is something that all drivers should do, regardless of when their MOT is due)

  • The driver’s view of the road is obscured (8.5%) - make sure your washer jets and wipers are working, and act if you see any new chips on the windscreen.

What to do in an MOT failure

If your vehicle fails its MOT, the result will appear in the MOT database and you’ll receive a notification called a ‘Refusal of an MOT Test Certificate’. You can appeal against the MOT failure if you believe there are grounds.

The government allows you to take the vehicle away if your MOT certificate is still valid, and if it has run out you’re still permitted to drive it in order to:

  • Have the defects fixed

  • Take the car to a pre-arranged MOT test appointment

The government says: ‘in both cases, your vehicle still needs to meet the minimum standards of roadworthiness at all times or you can be fined.’

Driving a vehicle in a dangerous condition can incur three penalty points and a fine of up to £2,500. Even more importantly, you’ll be putting yourself and other road users at risk by not getting your car back up to a safe standard.

If you drive without a valid MOT, your car insurance is invalid. Driving without insurance is an offence: the police could give you a fixed penalty of £300 and six penalty points if you’re caught driving a vehicle you’re not insured to drive. Steeper penalties apply if the case goes to court. You could get:

The police also have the power to seize, and in some cases, destroy vehicles being driven uninsured.

MOT checker

You can check to see whether a motor vehicle has a valid MOT certificate by using the free MOT checker on the website. This tool allows you to use the licence plate number of any car to find out whether it has a valid MOT.

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