/ 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?

Chris says:
1 May 2013

Hi, I’m a bit confused about the rules. The ESP light on my 2007 golf is permanently on yet it passed it’s MOT yesterday. Is this warning light not covered by the new rules? Hope not as it’s a very expensive repair.

My understanding is that that an ESC (ESP is equivalent) problem should be an MOT failure from 20 March 2013. Prior to then, the fault was recorded as an ‘advisory’.

There is plenty of discussion about this problem with the Golf on websites. You might persuade your dealer to fix the problem free or cheaply. Best of luck.

Chris says:
1 May 2013

Thanks wavechange. VW dealer just called and are doing the repair for free. Result!

I have a Golf and I’ve been a bit worried that I could face the same problem when the warranty expires. Thanks very much for reporting the good news, Chris. I will stop worrying. 🙂

What you have achieved is very good for a six year old car. Car dealers often offer goodwill and perhaps manufacturers of washing machines, boilers, etc. should do the same.

Response Diagnostics says:
1 May 2013

In this case I think VW are doing this because it is a well known and documented design fault. They cannot claim “Yours is the first case we’ve heard of sir” as they try to do in many cases.
The big advantage of the internet is it allows the general public to communicate with each other and prevent manufacturers from using this ploy.

If I had this sort of problem, I would go to the dealer armed with plenty of evidence that there was a common problem.

This might work with car dealers but it does not seem to work with design faults in most consumer goods. For example, Sony does not seem to offer any goodwill for the many customers who have lines across their flat-screen TVs.

As I’ve said before, we should push for a ten year or lifetime warranty on car warning light systems, excluding sensors. Not everyone is as ‘lucky’ as Chris.

Hi Wavechange, I have to agree but if you look at it from the car dealer side and the Sony side the difference is that the dealer sells the VW’s as some kind of franchise whereas the TV is sold by a retailer and Sony just supply them.

Mind you Apple caught a bit of a cold re warranty in europe but again that was probably as most are sold direct and also Apple are the repairers in any case, bit like the dealers really.

Fair comment about car dealers, David, but from the customer’s point of view, they just don’t want to be faced with an expensive bill because of a design fault – however it is sold.

I know about the various design problems with Apple products over the years and though the company could do better, they seem to be pretty good at dealing with problems of their own making.

Steve says:
2 May 2013

Well who wants a lifetime warranty? Warranties usually come with many restrictions and you cannot customise anything. The product is usually tied to overpriced OEM parts and OEM specs.
Interestingly the EU has now made it possible that manufatcurers have to honour the warranty even if the vehicle was not serviced in dealerships’ workshops though. Unusual for the EU to go against big companies…

I think any produc owner should be as independent as possible from the manufacturer once he owns a product. For electronics you can usually get all parts independently from various sources.

On this specific one: VAG-COM is a good software to avoid having to go to the dealer at all. Have you tried it?

I want a lifetime warranty on warning light systems, which is why I mentioned this. Properly designed electronics should last beyond the normal operating life of a vehicle and unlike other components, wear and tear is not really a factor. I would exclude sensors that can have a limited lifetime, but ask manufacturers to make these accessible so that it is not a big job to replace them.

My priorities for a car is that it should be reliable, affordable and the maintenance cost should be reasonable. Like many owners, I have no interest in customising cars.

As I’ve said before, the owner of the vehicle should be able to see information about faults in plain English without the need for diagnostic equipment, so far as this is practically and economically possible. I have not had any problems, but I certainly don’t want to pay for diagnostic tools, even if the software is free.

Warranties do need to come with restrictions to protect the dealer/manufacturer from unreasonable costs. These need to be fair to both them and to the consumer.

Some people claim that they have had to scrap cars because of faults in warning light systems. If this is true and the reason is poor electronics or software, that is very sad.

The motor industry is ahead of the game in providing support for customers (or at least some of them), encouraging loyalty. VW has kept me as a customer because one of their dealers gave me a new engine for a three year old car in 1989.

I certainly agree with you about the cost of OEM parts, Steve. I don’t believe that use of non-OEM parts should invalidate a warranty unless the fault is due to the replacement part.

Steve says:
2 May 2013

Hi Wavechange,

yes also agree on what you say about things being designed for reliability.
Not sure though if this IS really in the manifacturer’s interest.
Looking back: Germany was the first country to introduce a scrappage scheme. It was “sold” as a green scheme to the public. When the media uncovered that it is actually not really green to scrap cars without good reason, they changed their arguments to “it saves jobs”. Car manufacturers are big employers in Germany and it’s easy for the govt. to collect taxes from a few large companies instead of many small/medium businesses. So they made laws in their favour. And whty…? Because the vehicles were getting older and lasted to long.
Looking back further, if you google “planned obsolescence” it will come up with the story of the “Phoebus Cartel” which was a cartel of, among others, Osram, Philips and General Electric (source: Wikipedia). They wanted to limit the life of light bulbs to 1000 hrs.
The reality is probably a compromise between the two conflicting interests of the end-user and the manufacturers (and govts in between).

On customising: it is probably usually referred to “tuning” as in: lower, louder, faster. But that’s not what I mean. My idea of customising refers to: fuel saving, using alternative green fuels (like cooking oil), or simply improving the longevity or the comfort of a vehicle.
Some VW engines e.g. differ in power output and consumption just by different ECU software and different injectors with larger/smaller holes. But they don’t tell anyone so consumers are made to believe they need a different vehicle/engine if they want to change it one or the other way. Clearly this can’t be covered by warranty (I wouldn’t cover it myself…).
But that’s when you get warranty on parts, labour etc. If manufacturers would accept warranty for design faults I’d probably agree on a lifetime warranty as well.

Thanks for the explanation about customising, Steve. I now see your point. Having said that, I doubt that most car owners are interested, if only because their insurance company could take an interest and see this as an opportunity to charge more.

I have been interested in planned obsolescence for years, mainly in the context of household goods. I have not heard of the Phoebus Cartel but planning a lifetime of 1000 hours for a GLS lamp makes sense as a sensible compromise between reasonable life and reasonable light output. Presumably the existence of a cartel is why this example is in the history books.

I think we need to consider the environment more and move from an economy where we are all encouraged to buy new rather than repair goods or simply carry on using what we have. We should also be pushing for green initiatives – such as scrappage schemes – to be environmentally sound.

It is very sad when engines full of mechanical parts whizzing around at great speed can be more reliable than electronic fault detection. There is something very wrong there.

Steve says:
3 May 2013

> I think we need to consider the environment more and move from an economy where we are all encouraged to buy new rather than repair goods or simply carry on using what we have. We should also be pushing for green initiatives – such as scrappage schemes – to be environmentally sound.

Couldn’t agree more though not sure what scrappage schemes could be really green.
The interesting thing is that even those fully mechanical engines could reach EU3 or even 4 using mostly exhaust after-treatment. However, lawmakers have put in place a number of certification schemes that make it unaffordable or that simply make it cheaper to buy new instead. So perfectly capable engines go to waste this way.

And that’s where my previous blame on the lawmakers comes in. The pattern is the same in many areas: prevent older vehicles from meeting newer requirements by imposing a heap of expensive bureaucracy that mainly serves to prevent retro-fitting from being cheaper then buying new….because car makers “are creating jobs”. Not that I’m overy suspicious but the warning light scheme might have some of those effects as well.

It’s the consumer/voter/Joe Public who would need to demand a change here.

My impression is that scrappage schemes (and not just for cars) are essentially a way of selling new products and the environmental benefit is questionable to say the least. If old engines can be brought up to standard in a cost effective way, that is certainly worth doing. I am gaining a better understanding of the point you made about customising engines. 🙂

What Western society needs to do is to move away from its obsession with manufacture and spending money on consumer ‘durables’. With some effort, jobs can be created in activities that are less environmentally damaging. Unfortunately, most of those trying to drive a change in lifestyle are a bit too radical to command much respect.

Response Diagnostics says:
2 May 2013

@Wavechange, I’ve left this for a while but I really have to ask you what is a “warning light system”? You refer to it again and again. I do not know of a car that has one (apart from perhaps BMWs about 25 years ago). What cars have is a series of fault warning lamps capable of being illuminated by the relevant ECU when they detect an operating problem e.g. a faulty sensor (which you suggest could be excluded anyway). These lamps are just a way of informing the driver that something has gone wrong and the relevant item can no longer perform its task correctly.
Returning to the plain english campaign. In my opinion it would do the owner no good and probably a disservice to tell them what the detected fault is. They would immediately buy the part, usually from from a cheap source, remove a perfectly good genuine part and replace it with junk and then have to come to me so I can diagnose it correctly with the thousands of pounds worth of other kit I have.
Repair starts with diagnosis, it does not finish there.
A fault code may indicate that there is something wrong with the signal pathway from a sensor, not necessarily the sensor itself. It may also easily mean something else has gone wrong which is affecting the sensor to give an unexpected reading in the ECU.

There is nothing whatsoever wrong with using the term ‘warning light system’. Maybe it is not the official terminology.

I think we can agree that warning lights should not be ignored, but maybe not much more. Not everyone is incapable, and I have fixed a fair number of car faults where experts have tried and failed. I don’t like being told that things are too complicated for me to understand. 🙁

Mo says:
9 May 2013

I will buy a car with ABS, TCS or ESP, ECU, Reverse Park Sensors, Tyre Pressure sensors. I driven a Honda civic for almost 13 years now, has few problems passed the first time over 90% of the time I’ve had it. When something goes wrong, I know whats wrong, I do not need no stupid sensor, diagnostics system to tell me its wrong. These fancy sensors are just a gimmick to rip off drivers.

Mo says:
9 May 2013

I will buy a car without ABS, TCS or ESP, ECU, Reverse Park Sensors, Tyre Pressure sensors. I driven a Honda civic for almost 13 years now without any of these silly gimmicks, I personally think ABS is dangerous in some situations, Anyway I have few problems passed the first time over 90% of the time I’ve had it. When something goes wrong, I know whats wrong, I do not need no stupid sensor, diagnostics system to tell me its wrong. These fancy sensors are just a gimmick to rip off drivers.

cindy says:
10 May 2013

Please help! I drove my alfa 156 into a workshop to test my fan. While they were working on it the alarm went off. I can’t get it started at all now and my warning light and my code light does not come on at all,but all my other dash lights does. What could be wrong and how do I fix it?


Sorry to hear about your alfa.
The alfaowner forum is a good place to search and ask for advice.
I did a quick search on your problem. I didn’t find the exact problem but one suggestion was to disconnect the negative terminal on your battery for half an hour then reconnect it and make sure both terminals are not loose.
Similar problems suggested you might need a new battery.
Hope you get it fixed soon.

cindy says:
10 May 2013

Thanks so much for the quick response,I will definitely try that.

Stuart says:
10 June 2014

could someone please clarify for me. My 307 EML is on, will it fail the test ? Many Thanks

Response Diagnostics says:
10 June 2014

Very open question that! petrol, diesel, engine size or engine code?
Pretty much if it passes emissions it’s an MOT pass.
Please remember the light is not there to rip you off it’s there to tell you there’s a problem. If you do not find out what the problem is then you run the risk of consequential damage. If you run with the light on due to a misfire and destroy your catalyst please don’t be surprised if your garage tells you you are looking at a big bill.
It may be a minor fault but A: without diagnosis you will not know and B: A major problem could occur and you will not be aware because the light is already on.
The choice is yours but this is my best advice, get it checked by a trustworthy garage.

Stuart says:
10 June 2014

Thanks for the reply. The car is diesel 1597cc. I had the DPF removed, when fuel running low the eml light comes on and an anti polution failure message flashes on for a short period. The car runs fine and passed the emissions test with no problems. The light is now on permanently, when the DPF was removed I was told that all references in the system to the DPF were removed but they were unable to remove the anti polution failure message, cant help but think that the eml is coming on because of the DPF removal.

Response Diagnostics says:
10 June 2014

If it passes emissions that’s ok, however if the vehicle has obviously had the DPF removed where the car originally had one fitted that is an immediate fail item. So if you have had the DPF core taken out and the can expertly welded up than you will probably get through this year. I believe they are working on a method of testing for DPF removal then your car will be a fail I’m afraid until a new DPF is fitted.

Revvvhead says:
8 July 2014

I had a fault with my power steering on a Mk6 Fiesta. No warning light came on.
I had to get the power steering pump replaced using a new ford part. After that the warning light came on.
Although the fault has been completely repaired I now have to spend £216 for Ford to tell the computer I have replaced the part.
That is what I call a rip off, built in coding for parts to generate revenue for manufacturers.
MOT testers should be skilled enough to detect problems not reply on poorly coded ECU software.

Response Diagnostics says:
8 July 2014

Coding is unfortunately necessary to tell the new module what the equipment fit on the car is. For instance to tell a replacement ABS ECU whether or not the vehicle has four wheel drive, this will change the response characteristics of the new unit.
I’m not sure what specific changes it would make in your case but their are bound to be some, perhaps the type of ABS system fitted, as the power steering on your car is speed sensitive and will use data from the ABS system. Without coding the item will not be operating to it’s full potential, perhaps only revealing the exact nature of the problem in a life-or-death situation. It’s way of telling you this is to put the light on and when read with a diagnostic tool would report “module coding not completed” or similar. Imagine the insurance implications if you were to crash and the fault memory was read, “not likely” you say but by no means impossible either.
It is usual for a dealer to charge 1/2 to 1 hour for coding so I think that price is probably too expensive.
I’m sure most motorists think an MOT is already a rip-off, imagine how much it would go up if every item had to be microscopically tested for problems by a degree qualified tech instead of just checking the warning lights.
Have you read all the previous discussions here by the qualified techs posting? Why is it about poorly coded software? Sure there will be occasional errors, but be sure 99.5% of warning light events will be genuine and should be treated as such.
A recurring theme is that the sensors that fail are just there to set off the warning light, this is a complete fallacy, they are there for the system in question to work correctly or in some cases at all, the light is brought on because the system is not working as it should.

I disagree, it is perfectly feasible for each critical system to report back to a central control unit to determine the vehicles configuration.

As a software test professional the issue is not really coding however, it is the fact that the manufacturers do not want to remove a source of revenue!

Think RFID etc

Response Diagnostics says:
9 July 2014

Yes and if the configuration is changed by the customer, think for instance disconnection of the ABS ECU the vehicle will immediately re-configure itself as if ABS is not fitted!
So, sorry I still disagree auto-configuration is not a valid way forward. Why would the manufacturers deliberately make things hard for themselves and easy for the customer? This is not just automotive industry policy, I have worked with many manufacturers of industrial equipment some have built-in on-screen diagnostics but many do not, some have diagnostics built-in but accessed with a password which is zealously guarded by the manufacturers service techs. The last company I worked for as (an employed person) had a buying spec that contained a requirement for any diagnostic equipment to be included in the purchase quotation priceand all passwords to be released, if the vendor did not agree the company did not buy.

“Yes and if the configuration is changed by the customer, think for instance disconnection of the ABS ECU the vehicle will immediately re-configure itself as if ABS is not fitted!”

Well if it was disconnected then the ABS is non-operational and so it is reconfigured correctly. As soon as it is reconnected then it’s reconfigured again!

Response Diagnostics says:
10 July 2014

The car is not reconfigured correctly though, is it? we now have a car with a non-functional ABS system that thinks ABS is not fitted. The dashboard will have re-configured itself and the ABS warning light would go out. If a car is manufactured with ABS it is illegal to remove the system, you cannot convert the vehicle back to a non-ABS equipped car.
An ABS equipped car with the system not working is not the same as an equivalent model without the ABS option. This is an important thing to be aware of. The non-ABS car will almost certainly have a brake proportioning valve to prevent the rear wheels locking under heavy braking, when ABS is fitted this device is not necessary as the function is performed by the ABS system. So non-functioning ABS puts the driver at severe risk of spinning off the road in wet conditions or under emergency braking.
This is just the ABS example, what about electric power steering or airbags? the permutations are huge. Manual configuration is a necessity.

My Ford Galaxy has text messages. Would that fail if a intermittent brake light wining came up at an mot

Shaun says:
11 July 2014

What manufactures need to start doing is building in diagnosis into the car.
Rather than having 1 bulb that can signify “something” is wrong, How about having an lcd display that tells you exactly what the problem is.
I guarantee more people would then pay for repairs

Having warning lights or undeciperhable fault codes helps ensure that someone will be able to profit from carrying out a repair that you might be able to tackle yourself. 🙁

I particularly like the Astra 1.7 dti van, most of all the air bag light on the dash.
Light illuminates and will never go outagain if you have to move the seats forwards and backwards several times per day.
fault with the seat belts? .. NO
MOT fail? … Yes, coz the light says so.

LED removal is the way forward, or remove those computers from a car completely.

I think it is a good indicator only tool for drivers to get things checked out, But and a BIG BUT, it should only be used as a guideline as was mentioned earlier, the manufacturers still have not cracked the reasons why you are always getting a false light, my own light is amber, which is indicated in the code manual as LOW risk, so now I have to cough up for some manufacturing fault.
It is time VOSA put the blame and cost back to manufacturers for such things, they are unpredictable and unreliable, with Jaguar more times than not cabling is cut too short, joining plugs insecure or just faulty ECUs etc.
So come on VOSA have a word with these manufacturers of the cars themselves and stop the car industry fleecing the motorist yet once again.
I know VOSA will say it is very rare a false light will be triggered, well VOSA there is a search engine called GOOGLE try that and you will see this is a HUGE problem in the British car industry there are hundreds of forums with thousands of people looking for help, so if there is a total of over 100,000 per year VOSA should be taking this more serious and present the industry with a time line to solve this constant plague to the motorist and his or her pocket.

Alan Challice says:
13 February 2015

Just another way to rip off joe public.

Can someone please tell me if the engine management light is on and stays on is that a MOT fail I have an old Ford Fiesta 2001 Thank you.

Andy says:
5 January 2016

Well having worked in the car industry myself for few years installing the robots that paint them, I have gleaned a few bits of info over the years. Manufacturers do rip off the customer in some areas, e.g. metallic paint actually costs less because so many people choose it. The paint is not where the cost is, the solvent that rinses the paint lines out is what costs money. As metallic paint is so popular, these paint lines tend to be shorter, as it is quicker to change colours in the robot, and less solvent. A matt colour would have a long paint line to flush. I have changed the brake pads on my car myself, now months later it has failed the MOT. The reason: the garage cannot reset the brake wear indicator, the car will not accept that that the brake pads are still in excellent condition. I find it ludicrous that EU legislation once again screws the consumer. In the past we didn’t have these indicators, I would take the wheels off myself and check my pads. I now face a massive bill to replace the pads, which have done 800 miles, just to get the new sensors to pass an MOT. The mechanic says the car is absolutely fine, it is just the warning that is failing the MOT. Another car industry employee told me that the electronics side is a substantial income for the manufacturers, no wonder when things have to be replaced. Manufacturers also rip customers off when there are issues with the car. Take the BMW 3-series. Certain engines were obliterated when the chains broke. We are not talking about the timing belt at the front of the engine. We are talking about the chains at the back of the engine. If they snap, the damage is catastrophic and you need a new engine. Some people paid for the engine. Then it was found to be a known issue and a manufacturer recall was issued, however some dealers refused to pay for it. BBC Watchdog argued that since the chain was at the back of the engine and was totally inaccessible the part should last the life time of the vehicle. Eventually dealers relented, however some people did not get their money back as the chain had already snapped and done damage that had to be repaired.
We can talk about approved parts as well. Half the time, the parts are only approved because a financial and marketing tie-up is done with a manufacturer. You can buy better, cheaper parts, but they are not approved. I always buy German parts for my cars, yet I have had warnings from the dealers saying that a certain part is not approved. I understand that some parts are rigorously tested and sometimes that is why they are recommended. But you can look at tyres as another example. “BMW recommends Continental”. Yet the same car being sold a few years later by a main dealer had Pirelli tyres. “That’s our new recommendation” a dealer told me. More like, that’s the new sponsor agreement. People will disagree with each other all the time when it comes to cars, especially garages and consumers. All I know, is my car is very well looked after, I do a lot of maintenance on it myself, often at shorter intervals than recommended to keep it in tip-top condition and it has never failed an MOT, until now due to a warning light that is unnecessary and actually indicating the wrong information. I look at some cars three years old and they are in far worse condition, slipping clutch, fading brakes, bulb failures. It’s time garages stopped assuming everyone is an idiot and taking us for mugs.

Having worked in software development for 20 years, it would be foolish for anyone to believe that the results given could be true. All functions and results should give a verified result, this to a degree happens. However, dirt, electrical impedance, mechanical movements and oxidation will lead to a even greater reduction in the correctness of the results. It is odd that a Government body could consider that the general public should rely on its wellbeing on Software and somewhat concerning.
Someone died recently driving a driverless car, testament in itslef that software can be used to aid driver confidence to override it.

Correctly my typo:- sorry
Someone died recently driving a driver less car, testament in itself that software can be used to aid driver confidence not override it.