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Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail: Your Car’s MOT

mot tests in sheffield and lincoln

Not all of us possess a desired level of mechanical savvy with our cars, but you don’t need to be a qualified mechanic to increase the possibility of your car passing its MOT.

The little things all add up, so carrying out quick and simple, but thorough, checks of your car will greatly increase the chances of it passing unhindered. The bonuses of investing time into these checks will not only benefit you considerably from a financial stand point, but also save your car being of the road for longer than it needs to be.

Safety First

Check the horn, the lights, and the electrics; make sure everything works as it should, when it should. Check for any malfunctions, be it slight or drastic; and remember the Devil is in the details.

Things you normally take for granted, such as the seatbelts or windscreen wipers, are just as important and if you don’t pick up on them first, the MOT technician surely will. Check for any wear and tear, any weaknesses that could place you or your passengers in potential harm.


Bounce on the corners of your car to check your shock absorbers. If your car doesn’t settle quickly after one or two bounces, they may need replacing.

The steering wheel should be tight on the steering column. If it feels loose or moves in a way it shouldn’t, it may need seeing to.

Brakes and Tyres

Brakes and tyres are usually the tipping point for most MOT failures.

Legally, your tyres must have a minimum of 1.6mm of tread across the central ¾ of the tyre, all the way around. Check for any excessive damage, tears, rips, lumps or objects caught in the tyres tread. Excessive damage will often be the result of an impact with a kerb, pot hole or speed hump, while excessive or uneven tread wear is down to other factors. A wheel alignment issue, worn or damaged steering and suspension components or uneven braking are all potential factors that could cause tyres to wear out quicker that they normally would.

Your brakes should feel responsive and not spongy, without too much travel in the brake pedal. Soft feeling brakes could indicate air in the hydraulics system, which has to be removed. While excessive travel in the brake pedal usually means the brakes are getting worn to the point of needing replacement.

The handbrake should feel responsive also, and again without too much travel. If you have to yank it forcefully to the ceiling to get it to catch, it’s probably suffering from excessive wear and will need tightening and adjusting.

The Engine

Inspect and top up any necessary fluids such as brake fluid or engine coolant, ensuring that your check for any leaks while doing so.

Engine emissions are another big cause of MOT failures, especially so for diesel vehicles. Generally speaking after a car first started up and once the engine is warm there should be very little visible from the tail pipe of your exhaust. If your exhaust emissions are not fairly clear however, these are things you should be looking out for;

  • A blue vapour coming from the exhaust pipe is a sign that your car could be burning excessive oil. This happens if some of the seals in your engine are worn, letting oil into the combustion chamber. If that is the case you will have probably noticed you oil warning light coming on more often than you would expect, causing you to top up much more frequently. On a turbo cars however, it could be a sign that the turbo charger needs replacing.
  • A thick white smoke is usually due to your car burning engine coolant, which again is down to a leak somewhere enabling coolant to get into the engines combustion chamber.
  • Black smoke isn't always an issue. Some diesels, especially older ones, can give of some black smoke on start-up and when setting off from being stationary. If the black smoke is more constant however then the changes are your car is burning too much fuel, making to fuel to air mix unbalanced. If this is the case your car will be less fuel efficient than is come be, and will be costing you more money to run than it should.

Regardless of the type of vapour or smoke, if you suspect that your cars emissions are not normal, you should ask for your exhaust system and emissions to be looked at before you have your MOT, to help avoid your car failing its MOT.


While keeping up with car maintenance can be time consuming, understanding the safety requirements of the MOT will help you to appreciate the work mechanics may have to carry out, and will also give you piece of mind regarding the safety of your vehicle.

It is a good idea to have your cars annual service carried out at the same time as your MOT test. If the service is carried out just before the MOT test, many of the potential failure items will be flagged up before it reaches the crunch time of "pass or fail".