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A Simple Guide to the NCT & How to Best Prepare for it

When it comes to sending your car in for its NCT check, many people experience high levels of stress and anxiety. 

With the number of cars failing the first time around constantly hovering around the 50% mark, a level of nervousness is perfectly understandable. Yet with the number failing the second time around significantly lower, 7.3% in 2019, it would seem that many vehicles are being submitted for their first test without being fully ready. 

The NCT may fill many with the same kind of collywobbles as important exams, that long-awaited first date or the interview to get your dream job, but the entire process is surprisingly straightforward and when you know how to properly prepare your vehicle for the test, there’s no reason it should cause you unnecessarily sleepless nights.  

With this simple guide to the NCT, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to prepare a vehicle so it has the best possible chance of sailing through the first time. 

What is the NCT? 

The National Car Test (NCT) is a compulsory standardised test that almost all vehicles in Ireland are legally required to take every year or every two years depending on the age of the vehicle.

Vehicles that are under three years old do not require an NCT, while a vehicle between 4 and 9 years old needs to have a test every two years. Anything older than 10 years old, or that has already taken the NCT 9 times, must be submitted for inspection each year.   

The NCT is not a full diagnostic check of the vehicle’s inner workings, but rather a broad, in-depth examination of the car’s suitability to be on the road. The test examines aspects such as tires, lights, fluid levels and seat belts, etc. and involves 60 separate tests, some done manually and some with the aid of a computer. 

How do I know when I need an NCT and how do I arrange it? 

Knowing roughly when your NCT is due is up to the owner of the vehicle, but you can always simply visit the website here and input your vehicle’s registration to find out exactly when your current certificate expires. 

Arranging an NCT is quick and simple. It can be booked directly online or by calling (01) 4135992 and you simply need a credit or debit card for payment and your vehicle's registration number. 

If, for whatever reason you are unable to find a suitable appointment at your chosen test centre, it may be possible to add your vehicle to a priority list via the online booking facility or call centre. There are 49 test centres located around Ireland.

All vehicles can be tested up to 90 days before the test is due, without it affecting the expiry date of the certificate issued. This means that all owners should have more than enough time to have their vehicles tested before their current NCT certificate expires.  

What about the current delays relating to Covid-19?

Unfortunately, one of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has caused havoc on NCT test waiting lists. As the pandemic began, a four-month deferment was granted on March 28th, 2020 for cars registered before August 1st, 2016, but long delays are still in effect and can be up to six months in certain areas.  

To compound the situation further, NCT testing has also been hit by equipment issues across many of their centres. While wait times are slowly coming down, they are still around 8 times longer than pre-pandemic periods. With this in mind, it’s important to think ahead and not leave your test until the last minute. 

There has been some suggestion that telephone bookings seem to have lower wait times than online bookings, though there is nothing official relating to this.  

How much does the NCT cost?

Current NCT prices are €55 for the initial test and €28 for a re-test (Date: June 2022. Both fees are inclusive of VAT and may be subject to change.) Re-tests that do not require any specialist equipment, such as a visual check that a windshield wiper has been replaced, are free of charge. 

If you cancel/rearrange your appointment with less than five working days’ notice (Mon. - Fri., not including the day of the test) you will be charged a €22 fee. 

Should you rearrange your appointment, you will be required to pay this when rescheduling and if you miss the appointment or fail to show up, you will be refunded €33 from your initial payment.   
Should I get a full service before the NCT?

The information we are about to go through, if followed carefully, should put you in a strong position to pass the NCT the first time, but it cannot be guaranteed. If you are unsure about how to prepare your vehicle or would feel more comfortable having a professional take a look before it goes in, then a full service is certainly something to consider. 

What documentation do I need for the NCT? 

So you’ve spent many an hour cleaning, altering, adding and generally making sure that your vehicle is in tip-top shape, only to arrive at the test centre to realise that you haven’t brought the correct documentation and have therefore forfeited your appointment. Of all of the ways to fail a test, missing documents should not be one of them. 

When you arrive at the test centre, you need to bring the following documents:

  • Vehicle registration book
  • Registration certificate or licensing certificate
  • Booking confirmation
  • Insurance paperwork
  • Identification in the form of a Driving Licence or Public Services Card
  • Test fee (if not already paid)

What happens on the day? 

When you arrive at the NCT centre (with all of the required documents to hand of course), you will be required to present your vehicle registration details and hand over your keys to the technician. 

While Covid-19 precautions always seem to be in flux, most test centres are instructing people to wait outside while the vehicle goes through the NCT, so make sure you come dressed accordingly. The test takes between 40 minutes and one hour, after which they will return your keys and inform you of the outcome. 

What are the possible outcomes of the NCT?    

After your NCT has been completed you will immediately be informed about the result, of which there are four possible outcomes. 

  1. Pass - Congratulations - your vehicle is perfectly roadworthy - see you next year or in two years!
  2. Minor Result - Your vehicle has passed the NCT but the test has come back with some minor faults that will require your attention. You’ll need to address these issues and then present your vehicle again at a test centre to obtain your NCT certificate.
  3. Major Result - A major result means that your vehicle has failed the NCT and will need some attention. As we mentioned earlier, this happens to almost 50% of those taking the test, but the good news is re-testing pass rates are significantly higher.
  4. Dangerous Result - Should your NCT come back with a dangerous result, it means your vehicle has been classified as dangerous to be on the road. This means that driving it is illegal and you may incur penalty points and a court appearance if you do. The technician should then place a sticker on the car which warns the Garda of the car’s danger.  

What do I do if I’ve failed my NCT? 

If your vehicle has failed the NCT, not to worry, many do. Whether you have failed with a major or dangerous result you can apply to have it re-tested within 21 days, with the test itself carried out within 30 days, otherwise, your vehicle will need to go back to the start of the process.  

How to prepare your vehicle for the NCT

While your vehicle passing its NCT can never be guaranteed, there are many things that you can do to give yourself the best possible chance. 

1. Clean the car 

Needless to say, it’s not a great start if you turn up to the test centre in a filthy vehicle. The NCT isn’t specifically concerned about cleanliness but dirt on a car has several knock-on effects that can cause you to fail, such as dirty lights. We highly recommend cleaning your vehicle thoroughly before its NCT and removing personal belongings as well.

2. Check seat belts

We don’t often give seatbelts much thought except just to clip them in before you drive away, but this is one time to pay close attention to them. Make sure that the clips are clearly visible and check closely that they aren’t torn or frayed anywhere. If they are, it would be a good idea to get them changed before the test.  

3. Top up fluids

The fluids in your engine are going to be checked anyway, so it makes sense to do it yourself just before the test. You will need to check; the engine coolant, brake fluid, engine oil, windscreen wash and power steering fluid. 

4.  Lights and Indicators

Lights and indicators are among the most common reasons for cars to fail the NCT. Enlist a friend to help you check all of them before your test, including; front and rear parking lights, lighting of the rear number plate, dipped and high beam headlights, fog lights and the brake lights. 

5. Tyres

For a vehicle to pass the NCT, all of the wheels need to have at least 1.6 mm of tread on the tires. Spend a bit of time inspecting your tires before the test and if you’re unsure have a professional look at them. Not only are good tires absolutely vital to pass the NCT, but they are also something you should be considering anyway. Poor quality tires can be incredibly dangerous on the road, for you and others driving. Everyone is asked to remove the hub caps from their tyres before you hand your car over to the NCT technician. You can do this when you arrive at the test centre or if they are tricky to remove, ask for help beforehand in removing them and store them in the boot so they don't get lost.

 6. Wipers

Your wipers must not only be present, but all working correctly. Think about the area that they wipe on the windshield, does it leave the driver with a completely unobstructed view or is it more like a smudge that you have to lean your head to one side to see properly? If it’s the latter, you may need some new wipers. 

7. Dashboard warning lights

No doubt we’ve all been guilty of seeing a warning light come on and shrugging in the hope that it just goes away by itself. Often they do and no harm is done, but you should not be driving into a test centre with a warning light on your dashboard as it could mean an immediate failure. 

8. Others

Also, think about checking that the horn is working as it should, the licence plate is clearly visible and all locks are working correctly.   

What are the three stages of the NCT?

The NCT always follows the same procedure and can be broken into three distinct stages

  • Stage 1: The first stage involves some of the most basic checks, including emissions from the exhaust, engine oil levels, engine coolant, windscreen wash, brake fluid, power steering fluid, the tyre pressure, and the beam setting on your car lights.
  • Stage 2: Stage 2 involves sideslip and suspension tests where the car is placed onto vibrating plates and rollers fitted on the ground. The vehicle’s brake rollers and parking brake are also tested here, along with the steering wheel, rear-view mirror, door operation, safety belts, and the fuel filler cap.   
  • Stage 3: The final stage sees the vehicle raised and a technician inspect the steering linkage suspension system, brake lines and hoses, brake components, fuel lines, exhaust system, and bodywork, with the last section of the test is the inspection of the clutch, brake, and acceleration pedal, steering joints, tyres, wheel nuts and bearings, and wheel suspension components. 

The main reasons for NCT failures

While the NCT might seem like a bewildering roll of the dice, the procedure and possible reasons for failure are always the same. Below is a breakdown of different areas of inspections and reasons that a vehicle might fail the NCT for each.   

Windscreen wipers and washers

  • Missing
  • Not cleaning windscreen effectively
  • Wiped areas less than sufficient to give the driver an adequate view
  • Washer, not working, no water or incorrectly aimed

Seat belts

  • Belts cut, badly frayed or repaired
  • Belts not operating properly

Tyre condition

  • Tread worn, distorted or damaged
  • Tread depth of less than 1.6mm
  • Incorrectly seated on the wheel rim
  • Valve damaged

Registration plate lamps

  • Not working, faulty or not fitted
  • Not white in colour
  • Lens missing or broken

Stop lamps

  • Missing or not clearly visible
  • Not working or faulty
  • Not brighter than tail lights
  • Not red in colour
  • Insecurely mounted
  • Contains water/moisture
  • Lens missing or broken
  • The switch does not operate correctly

Indicator/tell tales

  • Missing, not working or faulty
  • Insecurely mounted
  • Lens broken or missing
  • Contains water/moisture
  • Not amber in colour

Horn

  • Control insecure
  • Horn insecurely mounted
  • Not working correctly
  • Not working or not fitted

Registration plates front and rear

  • One or both plates missing, insecure or not clearly visible
  • Numbers or letters missing or illegible or incorrect size
  • Numbers, letters, or background of incorrect colour

Side lamps

  • Missing or not clearly visible
  • Not working or faulty
  • Not white in colour
  • Insecurely mounted
  • Contains water/moisture
  • Lens missing or broken

FAQs about the NCT

Do electric cars need an NCT?

Yes, all electric vehicles and hybrids require an NCT just like everything else. If it’s a newer model (0-3 years) it will only need a test every 2 years. 

What is the OBD testing? 

On-Board Diagnostics System (OBD) is a computer system that helps to regulate its performance using sensors around the vehicle. From June 2021, OBD testing became a standard part of the NCT test and includes the checking of the vehicle identification number, odometer Reading, electronic Braking System and the anti-lock braking system 

What do I do if I’ve lost my NCT certificate or report?

Both of these documents can be replaced for €15.50 by going to your local Garda station and obtaining an RF134 form, which must be stamped and signed by the Gardaí. 

You will then need to send the completed form along with either your windscreen disc or NCT Certificate, whichever part you may still hold, and a bank draft or postal order payable to Applus Inspection Services Ireland Ltd, 

The Test Certificate Administrator,
NCTS, Lakedrive 3026,
Citywest Business Campus,
Naas Road, Dublin 24.

Are any vehicles exempt from the NCT?

Any vehicle that was registered before 1st January 1980 or has reached the fortieth anniversary of its first registration is exempt from the test.

If your vehicle is aged between 30-39 years and you are not using it for commercial purposes, you need only submit your vehicle for testing every two years. If you are using your vehicle for commercial purposes, you will need to continue having an NCT every year. 

Car Insurance and the NCT

The NCT not only provides that all-important roadworthy mark of approval, it is also a legal requirement, without which you cannot insure your vehicle. A passed NCT, along with a valid motor tax, means that your car, lorry or van is eligible to be fully insured - the final motoring stage before you can put all of these thoughts behind you for another year.   

If you do require Car Insurance, we’ll be more than happy to help. You can get a quick quote online or give us a call on 01 524 6000 and we can talk you through your various options. 

Jennifer Bulmer

Marketing Assistant

Hi, I'm Jennifer and I work here in the Digital Marketing Department of 123.ie. We hope you enjoy reading our blogs and find them interesting and informative.