The National Car Test (NCT) – such a vital thing, because it’s a legal prerequisite for every car that’s more than three years old to have it, and it also ensures the safety of drivers of older vehicles (and other road users, by extension). But, while it might get some people into a panic as the testing due date draw near, there’s nothing to fear about the NCT. Here’s how to get your car ready to pass the test.
- Don’t miss the test date!
Might seem obvious, this one, but it’s all too easy to overlook it. Since December 2014, driving without a valid NCT results in three penalty points on your licence and a €60 fine – and that’s if you pay within 28 days; it rises to €90 from days 29-56 from the date of the offence (of being caught without an NCT), and you’ll get five points on your licence if you have to be convicted in court. Therefore, you need to know when your car is due for an NCT and you can book it in for testing up to 90 days before your existing certificate is due to expire. To reiterate, the NCT is mandatory for cars more than three years old, and any vehicle between four and ten years old is required to be tested every two years; once your car is beyond ten years old, it must then be tested annually. The actual test date will fall on the anniversary of your car’s first registration – so if, for example, it was registered on August 3rd, 2018, its first NCT will be due on August 3rd, 2021.
- Know the price… and how to pay
The NCT fee currently stands at €55 for a full test, and €28 for a re-test if your car does not pass first time. You can pay at NCTS centres with cash or debit/credit cards, but not cheques. There are certain circumstances, related to dates, when the NCTS will provide a test for free – for example, if a booking cannot be provided within a four-week period, or an NCTS cancels a prearranged booking without providing five days’ notice, then your car will be tested free of charge.
- Clean the car up and check the lights
This is not simply to make the car look nice for the tester; it’s that certain components of the car have to be clean, as they’re going to be inspected. These include the lights, the windows, the mirrors and the registration plates – and, if any of these are damaged, you need to get them fixed before the NCT. The cleaning process applies to the inside, too; specifically, if you’ve got child seats and they’re in the car for the NCT, the tester is obliged to check they are fitted properly. If they’re not, your car will fail the NCT – imagine having to ay €28 just because a car seat, which you could have removed, wasn’t fitted properly.
Linked to this, check the lights. Any blown bulbs will result in an instant NCT fail, so fire the car up and check all the indicators, dipped and main beam headlights, parking lights front and rear, tail and brake lights, fog lights, rear number plate illumination and reversing lamps work properly. You might need a friend to help you check some of these. OK, it can be tricky to replace bulbs on some more modern cars yourself, but bulbs can be easily changed where you get your car serviced – and car bulbs are normally cheap to replace.
- Check the fluids
Now make sure your car has adequate levels of oil, engine coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid and windscreen wash. Each of these will be clearly marked under the bonnet, so it’s an easy enough process to make sure they’re at the right levels.
- Act on any warning signs
If your car’s dashboard has a warning light illuminated, or the suspension is making a weird knocking noise, or the car is pulling to one side when driving, or the engine/gearbox is grumbling in a manner it wasn’t at the same time last year, don’t ignore the warnings! You need to get your car to a mechanic and swallow the repair fees, because your vehicle simply won’t pass the NCT if it’s working in a sub-optimal fashion as it enters the test centre. The majority of cars that fail the NCT do so because of suspension issues, so keep a particularly close eye on strange behaviour from your car in that regard.
- Check your tyres
Simple, but you’d be surprised how many people get caught out by this. First of all, you must have an ‘E’ stamped onto the side of your tyres. This indicates they are certified to comply with EU and other international tyre safety certification standards, which has been law since as far back as April 2010. Now, today, it’s very unlikely you’ll have tyres without an E, unless you have bought part-worn tyres to save money and it turns out they’ve come from outside the EU.
Beyond that, it’s checking for wear. The minimum legal tread depth is 1.6mm across the width of the tyre, so if your tyres are shiny-bald in places, you need new ones before the NCT. And, anyway, at 1.6mm, you should already have replaced your tyres as a matter of course. Any obvious defects or bulges in the sidewalls/treads will also need to be attended to before the NCT, while you ought to check the tyre pressures to make sure they’re correct.
- Last-minute checks!
The NCTS demands that the wheel nuts are visible when the car arrives for NCT, so remove any wheel trims (if you’ve got steel wheels) or alloy wheel centre caps if they obscure the bolts. Check your wipers and, if they’re not particularly effective, replace the blades with new ones. Preferably, warm the car up well before the test, perhaps taking it on a longer route if your NCTS centre is close to home, but make sure you arrive in plenty of time for the test itself.
- Paperwork and admin
The NCTS will not even begin the test if you don’t have one of the vehicle registration book, registration certificate or licensing certificate with you, so don’t leave them at home. And bring some form of identification for yourself – since May 2012, the rules dictate that an NCT certificate will not be issued unless the person presenting the car for test has identification. You need this, even if you are not the car’s registered owner.