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Six ways to beat MOT stress

Carlton Boyce / 02 March 2016 ( 17 May 2018 )

Save money and minimise stress with these simple steps to ensure your car passes its MOT test the first time.

Mechanic doing an MOT test on a car
Minimise MOT stress by maximising your chances of passing first time

If, like me, you drive a car that is more than three years old then you will know the anguish and stress that is the annual MOT test. 

No matter how well prepared I think I am, I still find myself watching the phone waiting for it to ring and tell me that the family jalopy has failed.

May 20, 2018 changes to the MOT

Changes to the MOT from May 20, 2018 mean more rigorous emissions checks for diesel cars (a good guide is that if your diesel car emits smoke from the exhaust, it's not going to pass its MOT), as well as new pass and fail categories that are intended to make your MOT result easier to understand.

Any defects picked up during your MOT will now be classified as dangerous, major or minor; problems you need to keep on top of will still be known as advisories. 

A dangerous defect indicates a direct and immediate risk to road safety, or a serious impact on the environment. With just one dangerous defect your car will fail its MOT, and you are not allowed to drive the vehicle until it's repaired. 

A major defect may affect the vehicle’s safety, put other road users at risk or have an impact on the environment. With just one major defect your car will fail its MOT, so you must have these issues put right immediately.

minor defect has no significant effect on the safety of the vehicle or impact on the environment; if you have only minor faults your car will still pass its MOT, but you should get them fixed as soon as you can.

Make sure you book your MOT in with plenty of time, as if you're caught driving without an MOT you can get fined £1,000 - and if you're driving a car with 'dangerous' defects the fine can rocket to £2,500 and three penalty points.

Saga spoke to mechanic and MOT tester Martin Brickenden, who commented 'The new categories will mean cars will take longer to be tested, and it will be a lot harder for them to pass their MOT first time. Some things about the change are good; reverse lights were never tested before whereas now they are, as well as brake pad warning lights, both of which are important to have working.

'However, I do wonder what will happen to a car that gets a dangerous fault – before people were able to drive a car with a failed MOT home and take it to be fixed as soon as they could, but now they are not allowed to drive it away at all. What if the garage can’t fix the fault?

'Also, under the new MOT rules, even a car with low pressure tyres will fail, which I personally think is slightly unnecessary. My advice for people taking their car or an MOT would be to do as much of the checks yourself first, to give yourself the best chance of passing first time.'

So there we have it. Whilst the MOT changes might be good for the environment and for road safety, they're not so good for our stress levels.

Because it’s so stressful, I’ve found a way of navigating the MOT test that minimises the stress by maximising the chances of passing first time. 

Here’s my six-point plan:

1. Check your car’s MOT history

You can check your car’s MOT history online, which is always worth doing when you first buy a car. 

Why? Well, if the MOT tester found a problem during the last MOT test, he or she will have made a note of it under the ‘Advisories’ section of the MOT certificate.

Knowing what was a developing problem 12 months ago enables you to get it fixed at your leisure, rather than having to deal with it as an emergency when your car fails its MOT.

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2. Common MOT failures

Nearly one-in-five cars fail the MOT because one or more lights aren’t working, which is very easy to check and rectify at home. 

Bald and under- or over-inflated tyres account for another 7%, with cracked or damaged windscreens accounting for a further 7%. 

This means that a third of MOT-failures could be avoided, even if you have almost no technical skill! 

Use our MOT checklist to avoid common reasons for failing the test:

An MOT checklist


3. Pre-MOT check

It’s always worth considering asking your local garage to carry out a pre-MOT check. This could pick up the remaining two thirds of problems that cause a failure ahead of time, saving time, money and stress.

Some people book their car’s annual service to coincide with the need for an MOT, an idea that has a lot to commend it.

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4. Book ahead of time

Your car’s MOT certificate is valid for 12 months, but you can book an MOT test up to one month before it runs out. 

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5. Avoid cut-price offers

If a garage offers a discounted MOT, it is only doing so to lure you in, and while some may be honest and just looking to attract new customers, some will be looking to make up the discount in unnecessary or inflated repairs. 

I’d rather let them make a living by paying the full MOT fee, currently £54.85 for a car and £29.65 for a motorcycle.

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6. Council test stations

Almost all local councils have a fully equipped MOT testing centre so that their own staff can service, repair and MOT test the huge fleets that they run.

As part of their certification they must offer MOT tests to the general public too, which is great for us because they have no incentive to fail your car in a bid to gain profitable repair work. 

I’m not saying that all garages will do this – my own village garage, for example, is utterly trustworthy – but if you can remove that niggling doubt about their motivation then it’s worth doing.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.