Explaining state vehicle inspections

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Drivers in most states are required to have vehicle inspections. They must also obtain periodic inspections from licensed professionals. Federal safety inspections are mandatory for all modes of transport except rail, truck, bus, and commercial bus. However, there is no federal mandate for passenger vehicles. Studies show that almost 2.6% fatalities in crashes between 2011-2016 were caused by vehicle defects. This would have been detected through a state vehicle inspection.

Data shows the necessity for extensive state vehicle inspections. Drivers in the United States are advised to keep informed about the inspection process and to understand the requirements to be able to drive legally within their states.

What is state vehicle inspection?

The types of vehicle inspections that are performed by state vehicles inspectors can vary from one state to the next. Depending on where you live, there are three types of common state vehicle inspections you might encounter:

  • VIN inspection: This inspection checks that your vehicle identification number (VIN), matches your ownership documentation. VIN inspections are often performed during vehicle transactions, particularly when purchasing out-of-state vehicles.
  • Safety inspection: Different systems of your vehicle are thoroughly tested and checked during this inspection to ensure that they conform with current safety regulations.
  • Emissions inspection: These inspections help to prevent excessive exhaust fumes from affecting the environment. To ensure that your vehicle is within the regulatory limits, your engine and exhaust fumes are checked against current EPA standards.
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Each state has its own vehicle inspection requirements. A safety inspection in one state might not address all items in another. In New York vehicle safety inspections assess the following:

  • Seatbelts
  • Brakes
  • Steering
  • Tires (except spare)
  • Lights
  • Windshield & Glass
  • Windshield Wipers & Blades
  • Horn
  • Mirrors
  • Fuel Leaks

Louisiana’s state vehicle inspections, however, are more thorough and analyze the following:

  • Brakes
  • Speedometer/Odometer
  • Mirrors
  • Seatbelts
  • Steering
  • Floor pan
  • Parking brakes
  • Horn
  • Lights
  • Windshield washers & wipers
  • Windshield and glass
  • Sheet metal & body
  • Fenders
  • Bumpers
  • Doors and windows
  • Hood latch
  • Tires and wheels
  • Suspension & shock absorbers
  • Emission & exhaust
  • Gas cap pressure

Refer to the state’s vehicle inspection requirements for details about what items will be examined during inspection. Sometimes, repairs may be required to bring your vehicle up-to-standard in order for it to pass inspection.

Inspection requirements for each state

Each state has its own inspection requirements. Vehicle inspections can be more specific as each county and ZIP code are allowed to establish their own requirements. California is an example of a state that requires vehicle emissions inspections every two years. If you reside in one the 41 counties, California makes it mandatory. Although each inspection is unique, there are common requirements that all states must follow.

  • Information about the vehicle and driver: Your state inspector will verify your title, registration, and proof of current car insurance before you bring your vehicle in for a physical examination. This is to make sure your vehicle meets all legal requirements.
  • Exterior: Once your information has been verified, an inspector will inspect your license plate and verify that it is securely attached to your vehicle.
  • Interior: After the exterior inspection is complete, they will inspect the interior of the vehicle, including the steering wheel, brakes, and seatbelts.
  • Engine: The inspector will inspect your engine from the interior. He or she will check the fuel, exhaust, and coolant. This is where emissions testing is usually conducted.
  • Chassis: The inspector will inspect the undercarriage to check for damage. This inspection may include a tire inspection.
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The state where you live will determine how thorough your vehicle inspection should be. To avoid failing inspection, which could affect your legal ability to drive on the roads, be sure to regularly refer to your state’s vehicle inspection requirements.

Costs of state inspection

Inspections of vehicles come with a cost. Prices can vary from one state to the next. Additional processes may make it more costly. In North Carolina, for example, residents must renew their vehicle registration to have their car inspected. This adds to the overall cost of the inspection.

The price of vehicle inspections depends on the type of inspection required and how often they are performed. California residents are required to perform annual emissions inspections of their vehicles. These inspections can be expensive (some estimates run between $100-$300+) and are performed by privately owned businesses. However, vehicles older than 1997 will probably pay more for emissions tests. New York’s annual safety inspections and emissions inspections cost only $37, depending on which vehicle and where it was done.

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Vehicle inspections and car ownership

To avoid tickets and fines, you must comply with vehicle inspection requirements if you reside in a state that requires them. Drivers who are caught driving in a state that does not require vehicle inspections can be issued a ticket for lapsed inspection. Even if the officer doesn’t pull you over, he or she could issue a ticket to you if your vehicle is parked in an area where traffic officers are frequent checking for parking violations and other tickets. For each day that you fail to comply with the inspection, your fines and tickets can increase in severity and amount.

Drivers could face penalties from insurance providers for non-compliance, in addition to tickets and fines. In order to keep their policy, some insurance companies may require policyholders that they comply with state vehicle inspection requirements. If your carrier requires car inspections, you may lose coverage or have to pay higher premiums. You may also be denied renewal of your vehicle registration or license plates if you fail to pass a car inspection. To ensure compliance, you should carefully review your state’s vehicle inspection requirements.

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Questions frequently asked

What happens if my vehicle fails to pass inspection?

Most cases, if your vehicle fails to pass the state vehicle inspection, the problem must be fixed or rectified by a qualified mechanic before the inspection can be repeated and passesas. Some states, like Rhode Island give drivers 30 days to fix the problem that caused the inspection failure and offer them a free retest within that period. To learn what to do after a car inspection fails, refer to the Department of Motor Vehicles in your state.

Where can I get my vehicle inspected and repaired?

It depends on where you live. Vehicle inspections can be done at the Department of Motor Vehicles in some states. Some states also offer inspections through private companies, which allows drivers to pick the mechanic who best suits their needs.

Is there an exception to the state’s car inspection requirements?

Some states may allow vehicles to be exempt from inspection. In North Carolina vehicles older than 35 are exempted from safety and emission tests. This includes all models older than 1995, and diesel-powered vehicles. Find out if your vehicle needs to be inspected by the Department of Motor Vehicles in your state.