NCT - A Complete Guide

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NCT Test - Everything You Need to Know about Ireland’s National Car Test

Understanding the NCT test

So you have got your notification that you must attend your NCT Test for another year. Your heart sinks because like most of us, we are dreading the thoughts of the wait before they hand you out your certificate of passing or a fail sheet.

The NCT (National Car Test) test was first introduced in Ireland on 4th January 2000 with the express purpose to improve road safety and to protect the environment in compliance to the EU Directive 2009/40/EC, which makes car testing compulsory in all EU member states. These regulations are outlined in Statutory Instrument 415/2017 Road Traffic (National Car Test) Regulation 2017.

Last year more than 1.2 million vehicles went through the NCT test with an overall pass rate of 49.1 per cent. Straight away from the figures we can ascertain that half of all vehicles fail the test the first time.

From looking at the NCT pass and fail figures over the past nine years it becomes very evident that the pass rate is directly influenced by the fact that some vehicles are not adequately prepared in advance of a test.

Below is a short-list, in this order, of the top-five fail conditions over the past decade. (N.B. NCT top-five failure points have not been provided for 2017 and 2018)

  1. Front Suspension

  2. Tyre Condition

  3. Headlamp Aim

  4. Brake Line/ Hoses

  5. Stop Lamp

It must be remembered that the NCT test is a basic roadworthiness test of a vehicle and not a forensic inspection of every hidden aspect of the vehicle. During the test, the inspectors are not permitted by law to dismantle or remove any panels on a vehicle. It is fundamentally a visual test of the roadworthiness of the vehicle and just because a car passes an NCT test, does not mean that the vehicle has not had a coloured past?

The NCT does not therefore check every component on your vehicle and is not a substitute for a full mechanical inspection of the vehicle. Ultimately, only a professional vehicle assessor engineer or your mechanic can remove vehicle parts to check for hidden defects.

It is interesting that Motor vehicles used only on islands and not connected to the mainland by road are exempt from getting an NCT test. As well as this, all motor vehicles belonging An Garda Síochana, the Fire Service and  the Armed Forces, are currently not subject to mandatory roadworthiness testing. Vehicles registered prior to 1980 are also exempt from the National Car Test test.

How to prepare for the NCT Test?

Tips to Prepare for the NCT:

Here’s a quick NCT checklist that will help you prepare for your NCT test:

1.  Clean your car: You should clean your car thoroughly before arriving at the test centre. Make sure that the lights, windows, mirrors and registration plates are clearly visible and in good condition. Clean the underside of your car, too. Empty the boot of all unnecessary items that can get in the tester’s way. If child seats are left in the car, ensure that they are fitted properly, otherwise, you may be on the NCT fail list. 

2.  Car lights: Another thing that’s important on the pre-NCT checklist is to make sure that all lights in your car are working perfectly. This includes indicator lights, dipped and high-beam headlights, front and rear parking lights, light over the number plate, fog lights and brake lights.

3.  Car Tyres: It is compulsory for all cars to have ‘E’ stamped tyres to pass the NCT test. This stamp certifies that your tyres comply with EU and other international safety standards. Remove the wheel hubcaps as this is required only for cars with wheels where the nuts are not visible. Ensure that your tyre treads are not worn out or damaged. The tread depth should not be less than 1.6 mm at the middle of the tyre. 

4.  Car fluids: Make sure that all your car fluids like the oil, engine coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid and windscreen wash are topped up.

5.  Warning signs in your car: If you have a dashboard warning light flashing which can be either an airbag warning or engine malfunction warning, attend to it immediately, before heading for the NCT test. 

6.  Seat belts: Ensure that all seat belts and clips are clearly visible and in proper working condition. Make sure that the seat belts are not frayed or cut.

7.  Windscreen: Your windscreen must be totally free of any crack or chip.

8.  Number Plates: Ensure that your number plates conform to the current regulations. You will fail your NCT if your number plate is missing, not fit securely, not clearly visible, or if the numbers are the wrong size or wrong colour. You may also fail if the letters and the background of your number plate are of the wrong colour.

9.  Documentation: Wondering what to bring for the NCT test? You need to bring the original vehicle registration certificate and the valid NCT certificate, if available. You should also have your proof of identification and a valid driver’s licence, as per NCT rules. 

10. Cancellation of test: If you cancel an appointment less than 5 working days beforehand, or if you don’t show up for the test, a surcharge of €22 will have to be paid by you when you bring in the car next time, along with a re-test fee of €11.50. 

Keep this Ireland NCT checklist in mind before you head to the centre for an NCT test. 

Documents required for the NCT Test

It is important that you or the person who brings the car to the inspection centre has  identification with them in the form of a driving licence.

Failure to provide the required identification and documentation will result in the vehicle not being issued an NCT certificate at the time of testing. It is also important to ensure your vehicle is at a normal operating temperature prior to arriving at the test centre for inspection.

  • VLC (Vehicle Licencing Certificate / Logbook)

  • Test fee

The 3 Stages of the NCT Test

So what do the technicians actually look for when carrying out these tests? Here are the three stages you will see when you look through the window at the NCT Centre:

Stage 1:

After pulling into the NCT test centre you will present your registration details into the system, after which the technician will check the following:

  • Exhaust emissions check

  • Engine oil level check

  • Tyre pressure check

  • Oil check

  • Brake fluid

  • Power steering fluid

  • Engine coolant

  • Windscreen wash

  • Beam setting on the lights (intensity, pitch angles)

Stage 2:

You will be most familiar with this stage as you see your car driving up on vibrating plates and then on rollers in the ground:

  • Sideslip Test & Suspension Test

  • Brake Rollers

  • Parking brake (performance and imbalance).

  • Steering wheel

  • Rear-view mirror

  • Door operation

  • Safety belts

  • Baby seats (if present)

  • Fuel filler cap checK.

Stage 3:

The final stage is where it gets a bit more technical, where the vehicle is lifted to check:

  • Steering linkage

  • Suspension system

  • Brake lines and hoses

  • Brake components

  • Fuel lines

  • Exhaust system

  • Body work

The technician will then lower the lift about half way, and check:

  • Foot pedals (clutch, brake and acceleration)

  • Steering joints

  • Tyres (thread depths, specifications and condition)

  • Wheel nuts and bearings

  • Front suspension component

  • Rear suspension components

The technician will then lower the vehicle lift and register any visual defects they might have noticed during the visual inspection.

New EU type-approval rules for safer and cleaner cars

According to a European Commission fact sheet published on 4 May 2018, from 1 September 2020, a new EU vehicle type-approval framework will be in place. According to the EU Commission, they say that vehicle testing:

“will significantly raise the quality level and independence of vehicle type-approval and testing, increase checks of cars that are already on the EU market and strengthen the overall system with European oversight.

“The new rules were proposed by the Commission in the wake of the Dieselgate scandal, and a compromise with the European Parliament and Council was reached on 7 December 2017. The European Parliament voted on the amended proposal on 19 April 2018, and the Council is expected to formally adopt the legislation in the coming weeks, following which the Regulation will be published in the Official Journal.

“This reform is only part of the Commission's wider work for a clean, sustainable and competitive car sector as laid down in the Commission Communication 'Europe on the Move'. Commission initiatives include air quality and CO2 standards, the improvement of emission testing for cars or the support for alternative fuels and battery production."

Changes to NCT in 2018

The majority of Member States in the European Union have set up technical testing services such as the NCT (National Car Test) to inspect cars. The introduction of new EU regulations now classifies faults at the national car test into three fault categories; minor, major or dangerous. In Ireland, the NCT will designate a vehicle in the following ways.

The purpose of the new changes is to unify vehicle inspection across the whole of the EU.

The changes are as follows

1. Roadworthiness Certificates recognised across all EU States

All unexpired Roadworthiness Certificates issued by other Member States are recognised by all member states. You can now have the unexpired portion of your out of state EU certificate recognised by exchanging it for an Irish issued EU recognition certificate.

2. Amendments to treatment of Vintage Vehicles

If your vehicle is aged between 30-39 years (based on the vehicle's date of first registration) and it is not used for commercial purposes, it will now only have to undergo a roadworthiness test every two years instead of annually.

3. Categorisation of deficiencies into Minor, Major & Dangerous

In accordance with EU Directive 2014/45 and from 13th August 2018 defects will be classified as minor, major or dangerous and will appear in this format on your NCT Vehicle Inspection Report.

  • MINOR (Minor faults which must be repaired and re-inspected)

  • MAJOR (Previously FAIL REFUSAL)



With this result, the vehicle has passed the test with just minor faults recorded. The customer will be required to have these faults repaired after which they can again, present the vehicle for re-inspection before an NCT Certificate is issued


The customer is advised that the vehicle has failed the NCT and they will have 30 days to get the vehicle repaired and return it  for re-inspection. An NCT Certificate will not be issued until the vehicle is returned for inspection. If the vehicle is not presented within the 30-day period then a new inspection will need to be conducted


This result constitutes a direct or immediate risk to road safety and the vehicle should not be used on the road under any circumstances. A sticker stating failed dangerous will be affixed to the vehicle by the Vehicle Inspector. It is illegal and unsafe to drive such a vehicle after it has been designated as Dangerous by the NCT. If caught driving it on the road, you may incur penalty points and a court appearance.

4. Amendments to treatment of vehicles which transfer from SPSV to Private

Upon a vehicle ceasing to be a public service vehicle, the test due date for such a vehicle shall be on the basis that the next test due date shall be the date on which the then current test by date expires and each subsequent test due date shall be the anniversary of that date.

Pass Your NCT with these simple steps

If you want to pass your NCT on the first time, there are some very quick visual checks that you can do that will dramatically increase your chances of passing first time.

First things first. On the day of the test don’t forget to bring Your Driver's License (ID), the logbook (VLC - Vehicle Licencing Certificate), check oil and water levels, check your tyre pressures, make sure the vehicle is reasonable clean and the boot is clear.

Pass Your NCT with our 10-Minute 10-Point Check:

1. Registration Plates (Front & Rear)

Must be secure, clearly visible, no letters or numbers missing, correct size, correct colour background.

2. Registration Plate Lights

Make sure they are working, are not obscured, are white in colour and are without broken lenses.

3. Headlights and Parking Lights

Make sure they are working, clearly visible, not missing, not obscured, no broken lenses, white light in colour and don’t contain any water or moisture.

4. Indicator Lamps

Make sure they are working, securely mounted without broken lenses, no water or moisture and when switched on blink in Amber colour.

5. Brake Lights

Make sure they are working properly, clearly visible, securely mounted with no broken lenses, red in colour and don’t contain any water or moisture. The brake lights should never be brighter than tail lights.

6. Tyres & Wheels

Check all 4 tyres and also the spare tyre. Thread depth must be the legal limit of 1.6mm. Check for abnormal wear, damage or bulging on tyres making sure the wheel rim and the valves are free of damage.

7. Engine warnings(oil, water and coolant levels)

Make sure that there are no engine warning lights on the dashboard such as the Oil light, Water Coolant, Brake Fluid lights or Brake Warning Lights. Check the engine oil level with the dipstick.

8. Wipers and Washers

Make sure they are working effectively and they actually clear the windscreen properly. Also don’t forget to make sure that washer levels are topped up, washers are working and aimed properly.

9. Horn

Make sure the horn works. Pressit! Don’t wake the neighbours.

10. Seat Belts

Make sure all seat belts are functioning properly. Pull out belts slowly and ensure they move with a smooth action, then tug sharply to ensure the belts react properly.  Check that no seat belt is torn or frayed. Always remember to keep them unobstructed and the buckle parts are not buried in the back of the rear seats.

Further Visual Checks prior to NCT:

  • Check the brake pedal is not missing its anti-slip fitting

  • Check the brake pedal is securely fitted and not loose when moved from side-to-side

  • Check the brake pedal action is not obstructed

  • Check that brakes function properly and stop the vehicle smartly when depressed

  • Check that brakes do not feel spongy when depressed

  • Check the hand-brake lever is operating properly and not fractured corroded or excessively worn

  • Check that seats are securely mounted and runners operate properly

  • Check that drivers seat adjustments can be made properly

  • Check that driver view is not restricted or obscured in any way by stickers or damage to the windscreen

  • Check the internal rear view mirror is securely mounted, adjustable, not loose and has a reflective surface not deteriorated or broken

  • Check that external rear view mirrors are securely mounted and surface is not deteriorated or broken

  • Check that the speedometer is clearly visible from the driver's seat and functioning properly

  • Check that there is not excessive play in the steering wheel

  • Check that doors open and shut, lock and unlock properly

  • Check bodywork and primary structural components for cracks, excessive damage, rust or corrosion

  • Check that rear fog lamp is functioning, not cracked or missing and is red in colour

Here is just a summary of the individual items that are tested during the NCT visual inspections. These include the mechanical  and electrical operation of the vehicle, including emissions, noise and physical condition.

  • Reg Plates

  • Exhaust Emissions

  • Noise

  • Brake Pedals

  • Braking Operation

  • Brake Wheel Units

  • Mechanical Components

  • Handbrake

  • Seats

  • Horn

  • Windscreen Washers

  • Windscreen Wipers

  • Glass

  • Rear View Mirrors

  • Speedometer

  • Safety Belts

  • Steering Wheel Play

  • Doors

  • Locks

  • Anti-Theft Devices

  • Disabled Adaptations (where fitted)

  • Front Wheel Side Slip

  • Rear Wheel Side Slip

  • Front Suspension (Springs, Performance)

  • Rear Suspension (Springs, Performance)

  • Towing Bracket Coupling (where fitted)

  • Stop Lamps

  • Rear Lamps

  • Indicators

  • Reverse Lamps

  • Rear Fog Lamps

  • Malfunction Lamps

  • Reg Plate Lamps

  • Side Lamps

  • Head Lamps

  • Auxiliary Lamps

  • Head Lamp

  • Auxiliary Lamp Aim

  • Reflectors

  • Primary Body Structure

  • Sub-frame

  • Chassis rails

  • Door sills & pillars

  • Suspension mountings

  • Steering mountings

  • Seat & seat belt anchorage

  • Floor panels (boot floor, bulkhead)

  • Wings

  • Bumpers

  • Roof

  • Doors

  • Bonnet & boot lid

  • Tyre Condition, Specification & Thread Depth

  • Wheels

  • Spare Wheel & Carrier

  • Brake Fluid

  • Chassis / Underbody

  • Steering Linkage

  • Wheel Bearings

  • Brake Lines and Hoses

  • Shock Absorber Condition

  • Electrical System

  • Fuel System

  • Transmission & Drive Train

Benefits of NCT Testing

The NCT check is applicable to all cars over four years, and it is a statutory requirement that all cars pass the test every two years. NCT testing helps in identifying potentially dangerous defects or issues in your car. Periodic NCT inspection aids considerably in reducing the incidence of road accidents by identifying flaws in your car (if any) like defective brakes, worn-out tyres and incorrect headlight alignment. NCT requirements are mandatory because it has many benefits like: 

- Cars that have passed the test are more reliable and safer

- Longer vehicle running life 

- Reduced fuel consumption

- Reduced air and noise pollution

- Avoidance of penalty points

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. How to arrange an NCT?

    Here are the various ways to apply for an NCT test for your car?

  • Apply online – NCT website

  • Telephone booking: Call NCTS (National Car Testing Services) booking line on 01-413 5992 (8 am to 8 pm Mon to Thu and 8 am to 6 pm Fri)

  • Email booking: write to

  • Postal bookings can be done by writing to: The Booking Department, National Car Testing Services Limited, Citywest Business Campus, Lakedrive 3026, Naas Road, Dublin 24.

  • Or, you can fax your enquiry to: Customer Services on (01) 413 5982 

2. What is a periodic inspection NCT?

All EU member states are required by law to carry out periodic tests of motor vehicles to ascertain that the vehicle meets basic safety standards and is fit to be driven on the road. 

3. How long does NCT take?

The NCT test takes between 40 minutes and 1 hour to conduct.

4. What do I need for the NCT?

Unsure of what you need to bring to the NCT centre? A few things that you need to have on hand before heading for an NCT test are the Vehicle Registration Book, Registration Certificate or Licencing Certificate and a Proof of Identification (Driving Licence) of the person who is bringing the car for inspection.

5. How much will the test cost and payment options?

The NCT fee for a full test comes up to €55 and a re-test costs €28 (inclusive of VAT). If you fail to show up for a test, a surcharge of €22 will be applied when you bring in the car next time plus you’ll have to pay €11.50 for the re-test. You can make the payment by cash, however, you are advised to pay online, owing to COVID induced safety protocols.

6. What are the NCT centre timings?

The full list of the opening and closing times of each NCT centre is available on the NCT website

7. If I fail my NCT, when can I book a re-test?

If you fail your NCT test, you will need to book the retest within a period of 21 days. 

8. Are any cars exempt from NCT?

Motor vehicles that are used only on islands and are not connected to the mainland and those motor vehicles belonging to the Garda Siochana, the Armed Forces, or the Fire Service do not have to undergo the NCT. Vehicles registered before 1980 are also exempt. 

9. Do electric cars need an NCT?

Yes, they do. 

10. What is checked during an NCT test?

Here are a few things that are checked as part of the NCT test:

- Brakes

- Exhaust emissions

- Wheels and tyres

- Lights

- Steering and suspension

- Chassis and underbody

- Electrical systems

- Glasses and mirrors

- Transmission

- Interiors

- Fuel system

Given how important it is to pass this test, make sure to do your NCT preparation, so you know what to expect when you are at the centre. 


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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