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Can I drive my car with a failed MoT?

We all dread it; the annual roadworthiness test that might just land us with a big bill, because some vital component on the car has worn out and needs to be replaced. Once your car has reached its third birthday it must be put through an annual MoT, to ensure everything is working as it should. But just crossing your fingers and hoping for the best isn’t a great plan.

The list of what’s included in the MoT is probably more wide-ranging than you thought, so if you want to ensure your car doesn’t fail its MoT, it’s worth checking at least the basics before you submit your car for the test. After all, it doesn’t take long to make sure things are working correctly; you should do this periodically anyway, to make sure your car is safe.

Unfortunately, many car owners see the MoT as the annual opportunity for faults to be flagged up, and that’s just inviting disaster. By the time a car fails its MoT because something has worn out or broken, you’re in much greater danger of an accident being caused than if you’d kept on top of things. It’s easy to just bury your head in the sand and hope things will go away, but they won’t.

The most common reasons for an MoT failure

If your car fails the MoT it’s because for one reason or another it isn’t roadworthy. It could be that there’s serious corrosion in the structure or the emissions might be higher than allowed, because the engine has worn out or the catalytic converter has failed. Fixing these won’t be cheap and the chances are that they won’t be fixable in a hurry.

However, many of the problems that lead to a car failing its MoT are much less serious, such as a piece of electrical equipment not working (maybe just a duff bulb). These can be fixed much more cheaply and easily. They can’t be fixed while the car is being MoTed though; it’ll fail then have to go through the test again.

Almost a third (30%) of MoT failures are down to a failed bulb, so just a couple of minutes spent checking your car’s lights before MoT time could save you the hassle of a retest.

One in 10 failures is because of tyre-related problems, either because the pressures are incorrect, the rubber is damaged or there’s not enough tread left. Again, these are things that can be checked on a DIY basis in just a few minutes.

Brake problems are behind 10% of MoT fails, while issues with the mirrors, wipers or washers, is another common reason for failure. All of these things can be checked quickly and easily at home – so don’t miss the opportunity to do so.

Planning ahead

Because you might have to arrange for repairs to be made, which could involve ordering parts that aren’t available off the shelf, you’re given a month’s lee-way at MoT test time. That doesn’t mean you’ve got a month to fix things once you’ve been issued with a failure notice though – it means you can book your car in for its test up to a month before the current certificate expires.

So by planning ahead you can make your life easier, because if you book the test four weeks ahead and your car fails, you’ve then got plenty of time to scrape together the necessary cash, book it in for repairs, and get it fixed before the outgoing certificate expires.

However, there may be a complication. If your car fails because of a major fault, and you then continue to drive it because it can’t be repaired immediately, you could end up in some seriously hot water if you’re involved in a crash. For example, if the steering is severely worn and you lose control after the car has failed its MoT, the police will take a pretty dim view of your actions.

If you fail to plan ahead and your car fails its MoT on the day that the certificate expires, you can’t drive it apart from in two instances. The first is if you’re taking it to be repaired so it will pass another MoT and the other is if you’re taking it to be tested. However, in the latter case the car must already be booked into the testing centre; claim that you were on your way to the garage in the hope of finding an available slot and you’ll be deemed to have committed an offence if you’re stopped by the police.

Get caught driving a car without an MoT and it’s not an endorsable offence, so your licence won’t be affected. Maybe. The thing is, analyse the terms of your car insurance and you might find that you’re only covered as long as your car has a current MoT. Drive without an MoT and your insurance may well be null and void – in which case you’re then guilty of driving without insurance, and that’s rather more serious…

What about advisories?

Sometimes your car will be issued with a pass certificate, but it’s clear that before the next MoT is due, some money will need to be spent. It could be that the tyres are close to the legal limit or there’s some play in a component, but not enough for it to be a problem yet.

Because the car is currently roadworthy but may not stay that way for a year, an MoT tester can issue an advisory sheet, which can contain several items. This will be issued alongside a pass certificate so your car is legal to drive for a year – but if you fail to check any of those advisories during the next year and you’re involved in a collision as a result, the police might get very interested in how well you’ve looked after your car.

If doing a few basic checks once a month is just too much like hard work, some garages offer free health checks. Take the time to have one of these every few months at the very least – it might just make the difference between your car merely failing its MoT, and something much more serious.

Richard Dredge
November 2016