/ Motoring

Warning lights on? Your car will fail its MOT test

New tougher MOT rules will require your car dashboard’s warning lights to be working. If they don’t, your car will fail its MOT test. Is this a much needed safety improvement or a route to more rip offs?

The MOT test now includes a ‘Malfunction Indicator Lamp’ check. This requires the examiner to visually check that warning lights for electronic stability control, safety restraint systems, anti-lock braking systems and tyre pressure monitoring systems are not permanently illuminated.

The requirement came into effect on 1 January to comply with a revised European testing directive. It will be highlighted as an ‘advisory’ item only until 31 March, but from 1 April onwards, vehicles will fail an MOT if these lights are illuminated.

It’s just a visual check – so doesn’t require any diagnostic equipment to evaluate the actual cause of the light being on, but you can bet your bottom dollar the garage will charge you to investigate why a light is on (it will scan the system for a fault code, pointing to the cause).

The risk of rogue warning lights

When I recently asked my Renault dealer to investigate a warning light, the first thing they said was that there would be a £45 charge for a diagnostic check, then additional rectification costs depending on what that revealed.

My ‘fault’ was a service warning to check the handbrake (not covered by the new MOT rules as far as I can tell) which came on after the battery was disconnected.

As an ex-mechanic, I checked the physical components of the handbrake and there wasn’t an actual handbrake fault. In my view, it was simply a rogue indication because of the loss of power to the system. But to find that out for sure, I have to stump up £45, without even thinking of any consequential costs.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree that these lights are important – and if functioning correctly, they can let you know of a genuine safety risk.

So it seems sensible to make these an advisory notice. But, to me, the idea that they constitute an automatic MOT failure (without a proper investigation) leaves motorists open to being charged extra, perhaps simply because modern electronic systems are still too quirky and can display rogue signals from time to time. Would your car pass these new MOT rules?

Wilson Bruce says:
13 January 2012

As others have rightly said this is just another way of ripping off the motorist. Anyone in their right mind would not, surely, be foolish enough to run around in their car when a warning light is on. This would be attended too Pre M.O.T. inspection I would hope.When a warning light shows it is telling you something is drastically wrong and it is not a question,as some people may think,ouch aye if I cut the wire leading to warning light the problem will go away. A bit silly I would suggest, Crazy.

Tell me what is the difference between;

– a vehicle which has a speedo, fuel gauge, water temp gauge and oil pressure gauge + an ignition warning light only which doesn’t display a warning at all

– and one which is fitted with all sorts of gadgets which warn you if you have a “brain fart” (as indicated in an earlier post)

Which car is more dangerous? and how do you know?

I would also quibble with the statement ‘drastically wrong’, I used to car share with someone with a clio which had an intermittent engine warning lamp – when it was a damp day it would come on and when it was dry it remained off.

Sorry not flaming – I test software for a living!!

Can I remind ‘everyone’ that computers are stupid, they only carry out what they have been programmed to do, perhaps when you buy a car you should ask to see the test plans, test cases and results from the testing and the environment under which they were exercised.

David – You will know the reasons for software problems better than me and most readers, but reliable software has been available for years, and is used, for example, in industrial process control. If manufacturers cannot afford to develop reliable software perhaps they could pool resources and work together to achieve this.

Many problems are not related to software but caused by dodgy sensors or poor connections that are inadequately protected from water, salt and vibration. I guess that the problem on your Clio falls into this category.

@wavechange – how do you know the software in industrial systems is reliable?

I suspect it is because you haven’t heard of issues. In safety critical environments they have triple back-up and have to have more than one reporting the same fault for it to be accepted.

A contributes earlier suggested that a car was just as lethal as an aircraft and so manufacturers perhaps have to introduce this level of complexity in the vehicle!

I for one think KISS is far better, I can tell without a warning light if I have something mechanically wrong with my car.

I have taught to masters level, and process monitoring and control were relevant to my subject. I have no personal involvement with software systems but what I have claimed is based on what I have read and been told by contacts in industry.

Safety is obviously a key factor, but loss of a batch of a product could be extremely expensive, on top of which a company would have to process the waste for safe disposal. I am familiar with triple back-up but where it is necessary to use sensors are at risk of failure (e.g. as a result of fouling), reliable monitoring and control may be more sophisticated than this. Programmable logic control, which can avoid many problems including human error, was in use before software was developed.

I accept that industry may not admit to process failures on the rare occasions that they do occur.

I have some sympathy with your suggestion to keep things simple. I don’t even trust brake pad wear sensors, which monitor the state on a single pad. Regular inspection is better and visual inspection of brake hoses etc. can be done at the same time.

You claim that you could tell whether you have a mechanical problem without a warning light. Well that’s better than those who do not think about the condition of their car from one MOT to the next, but how – for example – would you know if you were losing brake fluid without a warning light on the reservoir?

@wavechange – I wasn’t trying to flame you but I have to take up the reservoir issue and warning light – I would check the reservoir itself to make sure the brake fluid level was sufficient and not dropping.

I acknowledge your obvious technical expertise. Sorry if I implied otherwise, but we don’t have access to each others competences on this forum.

I would suggest that where others feel that every sensor failure should be repaired that having redundancy will eventually be necessary unless manufacturers guarantee their product for its lifetime.

You check your brake fluid reservoir and so do I. My life depends on having working brakes so it is reassuring to have a warning light in case a leak develops between inspections.

You mention that you have an ABS light on your car. I know the purpose of ABS but I don’t even know how the warning system works on my own car or whether I can rely on it to detect faults.

Sensor failure is common, but the problems are sometimes down to bad connections, the sort of issue that could and should have been resolved fifty years ago. Redundancy could certainly help, but so could alerting the user/repairer to intermittent problems or gradual drift from normal measurements. Taking a simple example that does not involve a computer, temperature warning light/alarm can alert the driver to an urgent problem, but a temperature gauge can provide advance information about a developing problem.

It is perfectly reasonably for you to question my knowledge and useful for me to reflect on the fact that my knowledge is based on experience gained ten or more years ago. I appreciate your input, David.

In the past we have had fridge and freezer compressors guaranteed for ten years, whereas the rest of the appliance is covered only for one year. My view is that manufacturers should provide a ten year parts and labour warranty on some items such as warning systems, which are hardly likely to be abused or misused. It will focus their minds on providing us with cars that have less niggling faults that can be remarkably expensive to repair.

FOXY Steph says:
13 January 2012

My next door neighbour drove me to see The Artist (great film) on Wednesday. I mentioned a [Check] dashboard light was on. ‘I’ve taken it to the garage and they say it’s fine’ she told me. Doesn’t the garage know how to switch it off then?

PS: No news yet that the UK is to have the EU’s 4-2-2 MOT test model instead of our more satisfactory (but not perfect) 3-1-1. Research says it’ll cost the motorist £57 more even if he/she only has this every other year in terms of added insurance premiums (because more dangerous cars = more accidents) as well as costing us lives and industry jobs. Hopefully we’ll get the status quo heads up soon David.

Even if the garage was correct in indicating the warning light was faulty, the driver would not know if a genuine fault occurred. That is why it is important that safety-related warning lights are functioning and why manufacturers should be producing vehicles with reliable warning systems.

R K OLIVER says:
13 January 2012

I have allways been pro europe but this type of euro legislation has further changed my mind. Untill our legislators can claw back and manage our country in an efficient sensible way we would be better of i am sorry to admit out of europe.

colin says:
13 January 2012

Total madness and another big rip off! I have a 1998 Cadillac the ABS and TRC warning lights come on and off at regular intervals they both work there is no fault.
Europe again! when will we see sense!

We need to check a very vital component in the car and that is the driver.
These devices are known to fail more readily than the mechanical components.
Regular checking of this element should be of higher priority I feel.

Me? I am 64. I’ll take a test again. But it needs to be a test that is structured more towards today’s driving and not worry about things like crossing of hands on the steering wheel. More importantly, it needs to test for “ANTICIPATION”. This I feel would have a greater value than making the MOT more rigorous.

I don’t necessarily disagree but the thing about testing a driver is that it is subjective whereas an MOT is objective and so far easier to assess.

I doubt that there are many driving testers who would be comfortable with a 64 year old (or 63) who knows how to drive and has driven over 1,000,000 miles in their lifetime.

If they want to do this then it would be better to give them advanced driving instruction free of charge.

Perhaps we should have a warning light to indicate that reaction speed falls below a certain standard. Such things have been suggested. I am not advocating this but thought I should try to make your comments relevant to the discussion. 🙂

No-one will disagree that the driver is a vital component of road safety but as they say in the financial industry, past performance should not be taken as an indicator of what will happen in the future.

I must admit that I haven’t read every word of the above, but my reaction to this is that it is a total over-reaction on the part of the government, and that at the very least it should be on an advisory basis for 12 months to give everyone the same chance to get it sorted out (if it needs it) at their convenience, not in a panic just so it can pass the MOT. It certainly should NOT be automatic failure, as we have all suffered from rogue electrical faults.

When a light shows up on the dashboard, this is notification that you should have the problem investigated promptly, as indicated in the manual. If you are a mechanic you may be able to diagnose the problem and even fix it, but the rest of us risk driving round in potentially dangerous cars if we ignore warning lights until convenient to take action.

If a child swallowed something that might or might not be dangerous, would you wait until it is convenient to take action?

Paddy Murphy says:
13 January 2012

The MOT is a bit of a minefield and exposes vehicle owners to all sorts of rip off’s. The most common one being supposedly worn break linings. I would like to see garages offering a pre MOT check for a modest fee so that owners can if necessary shop around and have any problems fixed, maybe elsewhere, at a competitive price.

Garages do offer this service. Anyone who can jack up a car and take of a wheel can inspect the thickness of brake pads themselves, at no cost. It is important to look at both pads because they can wear differently.

Bill Thomas says:
13 January 2012

Great my car would have failed the other day because my oil light was showing. Funny thing is that when I topped up with diesel at the pump, and went to drive home the oil light had vanished. I did put the diesel into the correct orifice. So I would have passed. The only thing is the timing of the MOT. Before or after I had topped up and whether I have a funny dashboard light.

Your car will not fail the MOT because the oil light is on, but you risk serious engine damage if you continue to drive!

Low oil level is the most likely problem but there can be other reasons for oil lights coming on, either continuously or intermittently.

Jampit says:
13 January 2012

The introduction of the EU Directive for the MOT was after ‘consultation’- the government could ignore the directive and be fined or implement it in full! Some choice! Here in Northern Ireland MOT is carried out at government run test centres rather than approved garages, (no direct ‘rip-offs’ by a rogue garage hmmm). At least they are having a 3 month advisory period from 1 Feb 2012 which might help motorists to come to terms with the changes. The devil is in the detail as usual, eg headlight main beam and hazard warning lamps, switch and tell-tales; does this mean if a light on the switch goes out, it is a fail, even if the main beam indicator is OK? (I am aware not all switches are illuminated , but…) As for driver seat adjustment mechanism- how often is this used? How much movement is allowable (or how little?)

owen claxton says:
13 January 2012

If you own a Peogeot 206 you may as well scrap it now. If you are not already aware, which is unlikely, the electrics are prone to ‘gliches’ which trigger warning lights .e.g. engine malfunction, in my case because a none ‘oem’ catalytic converter has been fitted, but none the less works to M.O.T. requirements and will pass the emissions test. It throws up a malfunction and illuminates the warning light when in fact there is not a problem . Take the vehicle to a Peugeot dealer, and after testing they will tell you no fault has been registered, and charge around £60 for the information. In evitably the fault will re-occur, may be a week or several months later, and a re test will produce the same result. How do I know? Experience! The car runs fine and has passed two MOT’s with the warning light illuminated and no fault codes registered.

Havent read all the comments but are text warnings also included? My Ford Galaxy passed its MOT yesterday and there is a warning that there is a brake light failure for a few seconds on the dash. This is due to a fault i have located as being in the central junction box. I have rewired the high brake light to by pass this and get the brake light working. As others have said this is going to be another expensive area for drivers who don’t have the knowledge to fix problems themselves. A new central junction box will be an expensive item if i cannot find the components in it which are faulty. Another big bug bear with me is that every electronic box that you change has to be included often by the main dealer at exorbitant cost so the car recognises it. This is another area that the manufacturer should change so that all items can be changed and plugged in and operate without the need for computer configuration. Surely if a pc can operate plug and play so should car electronics.

It would also be usful if manufacturers like Ford provided a wiring diagram with the car hand book so those able can easily fault find on their car. I really get annoyed at the inability to get information on a car I have paid thousands of pounds for from the manufacturer. Thank heavens for haynes but they are only helpful for older models.

Kevin Grogan says:
14 January 2012

My Skoda Fabia “failed” its MOT because the left indicator light did not come on (the right one was OK). To fix this problem would cost “over £400! Pursuing this further I found out that if you could hear the click that the indicator was on- which it was- then the car would pass its MOT. The garage would not accept this at first, but after ringing the official Gov.Dept. it was accepted as “audible or visual” was stated in the MOT rulebook.

Kevin is referring to the dashboard indicator warning light, which I believe is part of the current MOT. I’m not sure why an audible indicator is sufficient since these can be inaudible when a car radio is in use.

It used to be fairly easy to replace warning lights and sort out dodgy connections behind the dashboard, but this is not the case with modern cars. If I had this problem I would try to fix it myself rather than pay a fortune. If the problem is not behind the dashboard, it should be much easier to fix.

Little problems like this can be enough to push people into changing their car. Anyone buying a secondhand car should be very careful that they do not inherit simple problems that could be very expensive to fix. A car dealer would be responsible for ensuring that warning lights are working before the sale or rectifying the problem promptly.

Jeremy Noles says:
14 January 2012

So I have a ‘Check brake pads’ warning indication that is always-on in my 12 year old Seat, even when the brake pads are brand new and of the correct type i.e. that would trigger the dashboard indication if they *were* low. More than one garage, including a Seat main dealer, have confirmed this is an electronics fault somewhere and would cost upwards of £200 to fix this ‘non fault’. All it means is I have to check the pads myself regularly, as I always used to do on older cars without such a helpful ‘feature’, or get them checked by a garage at annual service time and at other times.

I am unclear, would this be an automatic fail under the new regs? It is not ABS related, just (supposedly) brake pads related.

It would be interesting to know whether there is a difference between manufacturers or whether – as I suspect – that the problem of rogue warning lights is widespread.

Perhaps we should all be looking for cars that come with long warranties so that manufacturers have to pay the cost of poor design, rather than the motorist. If that happened I think we would soon see a big improvement in reliability. I have every sympathy with manufacturers having to provide warranties when so many motorists abuse their cars and/or don’t look after them, but I don’t think that failure of warning lights can be due to lack of care.

I agree totally with this. It’s a shame that the Government didn’t do such a survey before implementing such rules for MOT.

I suspect that once the rules are enforced there are going to be lots of complaints about the cost and difficulty (labour charges, with a small ‘l’). This sort of change should be introduced over a period of several decades so that the older cars with known faulty electrics are scrapped and new vehicles with robust systems are in place.

I also wonder how the retailers are going to handle this since as from earlier comments they seem to currently say ” it’s all right dear it’s only a fault sensor, the car is fine”, now they will have to repair the problem properly, oh and the owner of the repaired car needs to watch out for the rogue trader who modifies the system ( a la the ABS pointed out earlier) so that it is inopperative to get round having to make an expensive repair on warranty. ( not saying in that case it was argue trader BTW).

I must check the Which? Car surveys for lighting issues, perhaps Dave could get a breakdown published in the next magazine to show us which vehicles currently have electrical/ warning light problems so that we can steal well clear of them?

I agree that there will be lots of complaints and people (traders, owners and their friends) carrying out modifications to avoid the high cost of rectifying problems with warning systems. Scrapping cars because they have electrical faults that would be costly to fix increases the high environmental impact of motoring.

The government should have tackled the problem of unreliable warning systems in cars years ago.

If car manufacturers are incapable of producing reliable electrical/electronic/computer systems they should work together and get their act together. Perhaps Which? can name and shame the worst offenders.

John says:
15 January 2012

Having browsed the comments here I do feel this is another money making racket and the government has not set up the back ground inforstucture necessary to make this a siccess.
I agree with the idea of an advisory notice with a 2 wk to 1 month correction period but dealerships will have to give a written report for evidense/proof of fault or glitch.
Here in Northern Ireland we have government testing stations so there is no such thing as a fake/false MOT and it is far more stringent than the rest of the UK.

F. Wright says:
16 January 2012

The airbag warning light is constantly illuminated and the mechanic said it is a computer fault. They did fix it but then after a few days, the light lit up again. The mechanic has assured me there is nothing wrong with the airbags so I don’t see why the car should fail its MOT test.

Just had another thought – trailer indication operation and audible visual warning. On the Ford galaxy and S-max there is no indication of operation just a text warning if there is a failure of the bulb.

Will this have implications for the MOT I wonder

Trailer power sockets will be tested as part of the new MOT test and hopefully VOSA will publish information to stop everyone guessing about warning lights and other warnings.

I’ve had my Vauxhall Corsa since new. It is now nearly over 10 years old. Since a couple of years old one of the warning lights came on. I thought it was serious so I took it to the Vauxhall dealer I had bought it from. I had to pay for a test etc (not cheap) and they said there was nothing wrong with it, a software problem they said. I left the garage and within half an hour it came back on again. I took it back and they reset it. They said there was nothing wrong with it the car saying it was a fault with the warning light suggesting that sometimes grit can get in the settings to cause the light to show. They told me not to worry. It then came on and off at various times. It has now been on for some time (many years) without any problems. The car is fully serviced each year and at each service I have to pay extra for the tests to be done regarding the warning light. The tests have never shown a problem. The light has been reset and withing an hour or so it has come back on again.

From what you have said I assume that my car will never pass an MOT and that is despite my local garage and myprior to that the main Vauxhall dealer telling me there is nothing wrong.

If this light indicates a problem that could affect safety, it is irresponsible for the dealer not to have dealt with a problem you have paid to have rectified. If the light is on when there is no problem, how will you know if a genuine fault occurs.

“If this light indicates a problem that could affect safety, it is irresponsible for the dealer not to have dealt with a problem you have paid to have rectified. If the light is on when there is no problem, how will you know if a genuine fault occurs”

Yes but where does it stop and how much does it cost. My local independent garage who does the servicing and MOT now puts it on its usual tests and there is no problem. I am told it is not just a matter of replacing the light switch but the whole matter needs investigating. This will then cost more and more at my expense to find a problem that may not be there in the first place because the tests have already said that there is no problem. I am told it could go as far as stripping the engine down and even then it still may not find anything

I am really disheartened with this as I now have a car bought new, with one careful owner and low mileage that is now from what is being said a right off. I can not imagine me being able to provide unlimited money for the mechanic to basically go on a fishing trip looking for faults when the diagnostic test shows that there are no faults there.

Who in the right mind will buy a car that form what is being said will not pass an MOT test and remember this is not just because the car is old this has been happening for many years.

Up until now the government, and since circa 1961, has always introduced over the years a new element of commonsense into the MOT but this new test is not one of them. It will encourage all sorts of tricks by motorists for automatic switch off such that the indications come off immediately the ignition key is turned.

As I write this companies with electronic engineers are designing additons to ones car electrics to ensure that the correct indications go on as one places the ignition key at stage one, and off as one turns the key to stage two.

This is simply because faulty indicaitons are so much more costly to rectify than turning them off altogether or even putting in new brake pads for example so one can only expect this to be yet another rule from the unelected stuffed shirts of Brussels to dominate every aspect of our lives.

It is most sad how the motorist has become the cash cow for all governments as they milk it more and more every year and assume it has udders that stretch to an infinity of easy pillage. My own local council who are short of cash are putting up more and more parking meters in a most disorganized way such that even the elected officials do not know the new parking rules.

This test will milk the motoriist even more but not for ones local councils but for the vehicle menders as they struggle with their limited electronics and EMS knowledge to fix such faults and just say “give as another ten quid gov and we shall put on the form that they are all working – OK”.

As I write this companies with electronic engineers are designing additons to ones car electrics to ensure that the correct indications go on as one places the ignition key at stage one, and off as one turns the key to stage two.

Any company that did this would soon be reported.

@wavechange – as with similar devices the production and sale of such is not illegal, only the fitting of them.

Fair comment, but I wonder what would happen if there was a fatality that could have been avoided if a warning light had been functioning correctly.