The UK has some of the strictest car safety and maintenance requirements in the world. These are enforced through the MOT test system, which establishes whether or not a vehicle is safe to drive.
MOTs are an annual requirement for UK cars and will dictate whether you can continue driving them or whether you must take them off the roads until repairs have been made.
You can find a comprehensive list of everything checked on an MOT online, but anything the driver needs to know about will appear on the certificate you receive when your car passes or fails.
Most of us probably don’t think much about the yearly MOT test (other than worrying whether or not the car will pass!) but knowing what everything on the certificate means can help you avoid nasty surprises in the future.
What are MOT faults?
Faults are anything about the vehicle that doesn’t meet the standards of the MOT test. They are split into three categories:
Dangerous faults are something wrong with the vehicle that compromises the safety of the driver, other road users, or members of the public – for example, a structural crack in the chassis. A dangerous fault will always mean the car fails its MOT test.
Major faults are still considered a danger and will result in a failed MOT but are usually less severe than dangerous faults and may be quicker and cheaper to repair. Missing or blown bulbs in any of the vehicle’s lights are a common reason for receiving a major fault.
Minor faults cover anything that’s not quite right with the car but isn’t serious enough to cause a failure. Although Minor faults might not be dangerous, you shouldn’t ignore them.
Your MOT certificate will list any faults found with your vehicle, whether it passed or not, so taking a closer look can be an easy way to pick up on any problems before they develop into something more dangerous or expensive!
What’s the difference between faults and advisories?
Faults refer to everything about the car which appears on the MOT checklist.
Anything that’s not on the checklist (or isn’t severe enough to display as a “fault”) is classed as an “Advisory”.
There are a few things that the MOT tester is obliged to inform you of if they are noticed, including excessive wear on the tires or components which are close to failing.
Advisories are really at the tester’s discretion, though. So, sometimes they will provide a lot more information than they have to!
Advisories most commonly concern wear and tear on the vehicle that is reaching the point at which it could cause a problem but isn’t yet serious enough to cause a failure.
A general rule of thumb is that if something has warranted an advisory on one test, it’s likely to develop into a fault on the next one – unless it’s dealt with.
What should I do about advisories?
You’re not legally obligated to do anything about advisories, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them!
Advisories are there for a reason – either because the issue was so close to making your car fail that the tester was obliged to let you know or because they thought it was important enough to make a note of.
Most advisories do not need to repairing immediately, so you can plan repairs around your finances. Still, it’s essential to consider whether they could lead to a more costly issue later on if not repaired quickly.
For example, one tire worn more than the others might not seem like anything to worry about, but if left for too long, this can cause uneven wear and tear on other parts of the vehicle. A set of new tires might seem like a considerable expense for something that was ‘only an advisory’ but could save you expensive bodywork a few miles down the road!
Similarly, an advisory suggesting that emissions are rising and approaching the legal limit might be a warning sign of a more dangerous engine or exhaust system problem. Even if the car is still safe, it may benefit from a thorough checkup and service.
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How can all this help me when buying a used car?
In theory, all past MOT test certificates should be kept with the car’s other documents and be made available for a potential buyer. If the person you’re buying the car from can show you a clean certificate for every test, this goes a long way towards proving the car is in good condition.
If you’re buying a car with advisories or minor faults, you should be able to expect the car’s owner to have rectified these. And they should be able to provide evidence of this if requested.
In practice, though, pieces of paper get lost, and you may not always be comfortable taking someone’s word that all the missing tests were clean. MOT tests and their results are recorded in a national database, and you can use an online checker to generate a detailed portrait of the vehicle and its MOT history at the click of a button.
If you want more information, make sure you check MOT history of the vehicle you want to purchase. This will provide you with records of any faults or advisories the car has had on past MOT checks. A full free car check like this also contains loads of other helpful information, such as whether the car has any outstanding finance arrangements and the entire ownership history.
It’s easy to protect yourself from scammers and dodgy dealers when you can find all the information you need to check the person selling a used car is telling the truth in one place!