There was a time when being caught without a valid NCT involved a nod and a wink and a promise to get the car tested, but that has all changed. Since December 2014, driving without a valid certificate means a fixed charge penalty notice and three penalty points.
Figures show that over 50 per cent of cars - or more than 650,000 - failed their NCT in 2013, including 4,500 that had to be towed away from test centres, deemed unroadworthy. Scary, but the NCT itself is not scary and even the least mechanically minded can follow our simple steps to prepare their car for the test.
1 - Know the dates
The NCT test is mandatory for cars more than three years old with cars aged between four and ten years old requiring testing every two years. Cars older than ten must undergo an annual test.
With the average age of cars in the Irish fleet being 8.83 years it is likely your car will be tested every second year. Unlike Motor Tax however, National Car Testing Centres (NCTS) do not auto-notify you when your NCT is due to be renewed; you have to book the test yourself. This can be done up to 90 days before your certificate is due to expire.
It is also worth noting that there are certain circumstances, related to dates, when NCTS will provide a test for free. If a booking cannot be provided within a four-week period your car will be tested free of charge. (Subject to certain terms and conditions) and if NCTS cancels a prearranged booking without providing five days' notice a new booking will be provided free of charge.
2 - Clean the car
This is more than just a case of removing road detritus out of courtesy, but ensuring that items to be tested are clean. So make sure the lights, windows, mirrors and registration plates in particular are clear and undamaged. If possible clean the underside of the car too - most brush washes offer this option.
You should also de-clutter the interior. Empty the boot and remove anything that is likely to get in the way of the tester - and that includes child seats. If they are present the tester is obliged to check they are fitted properly.
3 - Check your lights
Granted, some modern cars make life difficult then it comes to replacing bulbs, but rocking up to the NCT with blown lights is an instant failure so there really is no excuse. With the engine running, check all indicator bulbs, dipped and high beam headlights, parking lights front and rear, lighting of the rear number plate, fog lights and even brake lights. Ask a friend to help with the latter or check them in the reflection of a window. If you don't know how to change a bulb the best bet is a friendly motor factors, who are most likely to do it for you without charging for their time.
Adjusting headlight alignment isn't particularly taxing either, all you need is a level surface and a flat wall/fence with some sort of horizontal lines that you can use as a guide. Not everyone will be confident enough to do the work themselves though so a five minute visit to your local mechanic might be in order.
4 - Top up fluids
Check that all the fluids are topped up properly. That includes oil, engine coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid and windscreen wash. Most of these are clearly labelled under the bonnet and easy to top up.
5 - Don't ignore warning signs
The majority of cars that fail the NCT do so because of suspension issues. You know that knocking or pulling to the left you have been ignoring? Time to get it sorted. Hopefully it is nothing more complicated than a CV joint and getting this addressed ahead of time will save you the inevitable €28 re-test fee.
Likewise, if there are any illuminated warning lights on the dashboard it is time to visit the mechanic. Warning lights for the likes of airbags are an instant failure while NCTS may not even conduct the test if the engine management light is showing.
6 - Inspect your tyres
Since April 2010 all cars presenting for NCT must have 'E' stamped tyres. These have been certified to comply with EU and other international tyre safety certification standards. Due to this rule finding non 'E' stamped tyres in Ireland is difficult, but if you have purchased part worn tyres they may have come from outside of the EU and therefore not be stamped.
Inspect your tyres for damage or bulging and replace if necessary. When replacing remember that tyres must be the same size across the front or back axles. The rear tyres can be a different size from the front but the ones on the front must match up. Also check the tread depth; the legal limit is 1.6mm depth across the middle of the tyre, but really, if they are that low, it is time to change them anyway. The tread depth should only be measured when the tyres have been properly inflated. Find out the pressure the manufacturer recommends (usually there's a plaque showing that on the inside of the driver's door frame) and pump.
7 - Final car checks
The NCTS demand that the wheel nuts are visible, so remove hubcaps or alloy wheel centre caps before bringing your car for test. Have a look at the state of your wipers and replace the blades if necessary. Give the car a good run beforehand as well so the engine is up to operating temperature. Arrive in plenty of time for your test.
8 - The paperwork
The importance of bringing the car's documentation with you cannot be stressed enough. NCTS won't even look at your car unless you have the vehicle registration book, registration certificate or licencing certificate with you. You will also need documentation for yourself. It does not matter if you are the car's registered owner or not but you must have identification. Since May 2012 the rules state that an NCT certificate will not be issued unless the person presenting the car for test has identification.
Finally make sure you have a means to pay. The NCT fee currently stands at €55 for a full test of €28 for a retest and NCTS centres accept cash, debit cards and most credit cards, but not cheques.