All cars over 3 years old must have an MoT test
annually. It's an offence to use such a car on the road without a current test certificate (except when driving to or from a test) and you'll have to produce the test certificate when buying the Road Fund Licence ('car tax'). Although it may seem an annoying formality, the test is an important contribution to road safety.
Not everybody realises that they are entitled to watch the test being carried out. If you're interested enough to do this, you may pick up some useful information about the general mechanical condition of your car. A friendly tester will sometimes point out items which, although not part of the test, could require attention soon.
Obviously it won't be possible for you to examine the car to the same standard as the professional MoT tester. However, working through the following checks will help you to identify some of the possible problem areas before taking the car for the test.
1 Basics. If you do nothing else, at least clean the car thoroughly inside and out, and preferably give the underside a wash too. The tester can refuse to examine a car which is really filthy underneath. If the car is clean and looks well cared-for, the tester may be more likely to pass a borderline component than if the car is scruffy and apparently neglected.
2 Handbrake. Check that the handbrake works correctly. If you have to pull the lever a long way up (too many clicks), the cable probably needs adjustment. Check that the handbrake can't be released by tapping the lever sideways. Check that the lever mountings are secure.
3 Braking system. Press the brake pedal and check that it doesn't feel spongy. If so, there may be air in the hydraulic system which must be removed by bleeding.
Check all the brake components for corrosion or other damage. The fluid reservoir must be secure and the fluid level correct. Check brake hoses for cracks or deterioration.
4 Steering wheel and column. Check the steering wheel for damage. Check that the steering wheel is not loose on the column, and that there is no abnormal movement of the steering wheel, indicating wear in the column support bearings or steering joints.
'Bounce' each corner of the car in turn. If the car doesn't settle after 1-2 bounces, the shock absorbers may need renewal.
5 Windscreen and mirrors. There must be no cracks or large chips in the glass within the driver's field of view. (Small stone chips are acceptable - cracks like this are not!) Rear view mirrors must be securely fixed, the glass must be in good condition, and it must be possible to adjust the mirrors.
6 Electrical equipment. Switch on the ignition and check that the horn works. Check the windscreen washers and wipers, and check the wiper blades. Renew damaged or perished blades, and top up the washer reservoir.
Also check the operation of all external lights, including indicator, brake and numberplate light(s).
Make sure the number plates, and all lenses and reflectors are clean and undamaged.
7 Tyres. Check the general condition of each tyre. Look for any damage, bulges, or foreign bodies in treads or sidewalls, and for uneven tread wear, indicating possible wheel misalignment.
Tyres must have at least the minimum legal amount of tread - that's 1.6 mm in the UK, although in practice it's better to change tyres well before they become this worn. Use a tread depth gauge to check the amount of tread remaining.
8 Exhaust system. Start the engine. With your assistant holding a cloth over the tailpipe, check the entire system for leaks. You will be able to hear if the system is leaking. If there are no leaks, the engine will stall if the cloth is held over the end of the exhaust for more than a few seconds.
9 Seat belts and seats. Check the seat belts for fraying, cuts or other signs of damage. The front seats themselves must be securely attached and the backrests must lock in the upright position.