Does an NCT test pass guarantee that the vehicle was not previously damaged?

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Does an NCT test pass guarantee that the vehicle was not previously damaged?

Similar to the long-established MOT test in the UK and Northern Ireland, The National Car Test or NCT, was introduced in Ireland in January 2000. The purpose of the test is to ensure the safety and roadworthiness of all private vehicles in use on public roads. 

All private vehicles older than four years must undergo an NCT test every two years or annually, in the case of vehicles more than ten years old. 

How Important is a Valid NCT When Buying a Used Car?

Without a doubt, any car, which has undergone an NCT test, will be inherently safer to drive than a car, which hasn't been inspected. But is an NCT test enough? Is a valid NCT certificate a reliable indication of the vehicle's overall condition? Or, is it sensible to carry out a more in-depth inspection or purchase a car history check?

What does the NCT check?

An NCT inspection focuses on issues of vehicle safety and compliance only. Some of the main items tested include:

  • Brakes - Brake Disc and pad condition, operation and effectiveness, handbrake operation.
  • Suspension components - springs, dampers (shock absorbers), bushings, strut mounts, anti-roll bars etc.
  • Steering - Play in steering (track rods, steering rack), wishbones, bushings and ball joints
  • Lights & Electrics - All working bulbs, headlamp focus, brake lights and fog lights if fitted. 
  • Bodywork - Excessive corrosion, operation of doors and locks, loose or poorly fitted body components, damage to bodywork or any issues with bodywork which may compromise the structural integrity of the vehicle or present a hazard to other road users.
  • Glass & Mirrors - Operation of windows, glass condition (cracks etc.), presence and condition of all mirrors
  • Emissions – Petrol and diesel engines must operate within acceptable limits. Excessive carbon emissions are a good indication of engine wear or underlying mechanical issues

Other Items Tested in the NCT 

Other items checked in the NCT test which are not safety, but compliance related are the presence, size and format of number plates and chassis numbers.  

As of June 2021, the NCT also includes OBD (ON-board Diagnostics) testing to verify details such as mileage, chassis identification and the presence of safety related fault codes in areas such as electronic and ABS braking systems.

Where a vehicle is tested and does not meet certain minimum requirements, it is deemed un-roadworthy and a certificate will not be issued until the necessary repairs are carried out and the vehicle is retested. 

So, is it Safe to Assume That a valid NCT is a Reliable Assessment of the car's Condition? 

It's important to remember that the NCT test is only an assessment of the vehicle's condition on the day of the test. Depending on the recency of the test, any number of faults may have developed since being inspected. It's also worth bearing in mind that the NCT does not assess areas such as cosmetic condition, paintwork, interior wear and tear or other items affecting the vehicle's value such as past owner history, previous use etc.

It is also worth keeping in mind that, while the number is small, used cars have, in the past, been sold with falsified NCT certificates. A car history check will verify the validity of the NCT certificate and also confirm the mileage and previous owner history.

So, while buying a used car with a valid NCT, particularly a recently tested one, makes a lot of sense and is a good indication of the car's condition, it's not enough to rely on to establish an accurate, overall opinion of the car's value. To obtain a comprehensive assessment, all factors must be taken into account. To this end, purchasing a car history check is invaluable and is a worthwhile investment when buying a used car.


Justin Kavanagh
Justin Kavanagh is a recognised leader in automotive intelligence and vehicle data supply to the entire motor industry. He has almost 20 years experience in building systems from the ground up. As the Managing Director of Vehicle Management System, he understands the need and importance of trustworthy and reliable vehicle history and advice to both the trade and the public.
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