The UK MOT Scheme

The annual MOT inspection originated as a basic annual check of a car's condition from a road safety perspective. It was primarily concerned with lights, steering, suspension, brakes and structure - the essential control and safety features of any vehicle.  Since then it's grown to include new technology, such as ABS braking, and features like exhaust emissions and number plate design which, while not safety related, are considered important enough by the Government to be included in the annual inspection.

The standards required are considered the minimum acceptable for reasonable road safety and, in almost all cases, are considerably lower than any manufacturer's design standard for any vehicles made over the past half century or so.  For example, in a road test by Motor magazine [vol.128 No.3323 Week ending January 29 1969] the Triumph 1300 measured 96% maximum braking efficiency and 33% handbrake.  That's with drum brakes at the rear and no servo assistance.  Yet, a modern car with servo-assisted disk brakes can pass an MOT with just 50% footbrake efficiency and 16% on the handbrake!

Despite this, many cars fail every year and many people are afraid of the annual trip to their local test station.  There's a perception, which may have had a certain amount of truth at one time, that testers could find reasons to fail a car - whether to "run up business" or simply because they felt like it.  However, the modern scheme is closely controlled and the people doing the testing are well trained and monitored to try and ensure consistency.

There is still room for testers to excercise professional judgement about individual cases, which is exactly how it should be because they have the experience to make such judgements, but they're guided by comprehensive instructions on methods of inspection and fail criteria.  these methods and criterial are held in the MOT Testers' Manual which has recently been made available online for everyone to refer to.  Many testers are also happy to discuss MOT matters, and give impartial advice, on sites such as the MOT Testing Forum.  So there really are no "hidden secrets" to catch the owner out anymore!

A quick search of the web will bring up many other sites offering advice for simple pre-checks before your test is due - such as tyre condition, lights and wipers / washers working.  But many owners (particularly of classics) do most, if not all, work on their cars themselves.  There are undoubtedly some parts of the MOT (such as brake testing) that can't be carried out without a properly equipped test bay but there's no reason why a reasonably competent home mechanic, armed with the right information, can't reduce the risk of a fail to the absolute minimum.

The old "paper" MOT fail forms were a great help in that because they listed all the areas that were inspected but the new computerised ones only list what the car's actually failed on - not much use before it's failed!  So I tend to work off a slightly modified version of the old form:

MOT checklist

The list covers all the main areas of the test and includes brief examples (in "non-MOT" speak) of the main reasons for failure of each item.  The items are also linked to the relevent section of the online MOT Testers' Manual which gives much more in-depth information on identifying what standards apply to particular vehicles, how the inspection is carried out and the reasons for rejection (failure).


The checklist is available to view Online or to download as a spreadsheet (.xls) or Adobe PDF for printing.




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