Auto inspections, also known as motor vehicle inspections, are required in most states. However, what those inspections entail and the interval times between inspections can vary amongst jurisdictions. Such inspections typically include an emissions check with some states requiring safety inspections, in some cases both. Your state’s Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) or similar department should be consulted for current information.

The Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act of 1990 required states to put into action vehicle emissions inspection programs, but only in metropolitan areas where air quality did not meet federal standards. Because pollution levels vary across the nation, a number of states do not require emissions inspections including: Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Kentucky, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas, South Carolina and Florida.

Emissions Inspection

Vehicle emissions testing is conducted to ensure that motor vehicles meet current pollutant restrictions. Automobiles and trucks are significant contributors of pollutants that form ground-level ozone, what can affect air and water alike.

New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware are the only states requiring emissions testing statewide. Some states require annual inspections, other states allow for bi-annual emissions inspections. In Delaware, a new vehicle owner can avoid emissions inspection for the first five years of ownership provided that they continue to own the vehicle throughout that time. If they sell the vehicle, then the new owner must have it inspected.

Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Georgia require emissions testing, but only in select areas. The more densely populated the area, the more likely that mandate applies to where you live.

Safety Inspection

To ensure that vehicles are road-worthy, a number of states require safety inspections. What is inspected varies from state to state and when those inspections are required is left up to the individual states.

In Virginia, DMV inspectors review brakes for worn, damaged or missing parts. Other components checked include: the parking brake, headlights, turn signals, steering and suspension systems, tires and wheels, the horn, mirrors and the windshield. Some of the other state requirements are not as comprehensive, typically requiring inspection of all lights, the horn and brakes only.

States requiring periodic safety inspections include: Utah, Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and Alaska. Mississippi requires a safety inspection when a motor vehicle is sold or transferred to another owner. Nebraska requires an inspection when an out-of-state vehicle is being registered within the state.

Exceptions to Inspections

Some states provide an inspection exemption for select motor vehicles. In North Carolina, vehicles that are 35 years or older are exempt from both safety and emissions inspections. Model year 1995 and older vehicles are also exempt from emissions testing as are all diesel-operated vehicles.

As car manufacturers comply with ever more rigid pollution mandates, the states are responding by easing inspection frequency. Moreover, some states no longer conduct inspections through state-managed inspection centers, turning over that responsibility to independent garages.

Required Fees

You should also know that inspection fees are usually charged at the time of your inspection. That fee is often separate from vehicle registration.

In some states, such as in North Carolina, you must have your vehicle registration renewed before you can have it inspected. Ignore your renewal and the date tags on your license plate will expire, with the police writing out a ticket if you are pulled over.

Elsewhere, computer databases have made it easier for states to track tardy owners, sending them reminder notices, even fines if they do not comply with motor vehicle inspection laws. Thus, following motor vehicle law where you reside can keep your vehicle clean and safe, helping you to avoid fines if you do not comply.

A Note From CARCHEX On Auto Inspections

Mechanical and emissions standards can vary significantly from state to state.  Since many cars are now sold across state lines, it’s important to understand the condition of a potential car purchase, as well as to be sure it is represented accurately.  A CARCHEX 155-point pre-purchase car inspection includes mileage verification, condition of tires and wheels, presence of oil leaks, condition of electrical items, and more.  If you are considering purchasing a car either nearby or far away, you can schedule a CARCHEX pre-purchase inspection, and the report will be emailed to you within 2-3 business days.

About The Author

 Matt Keegan is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. He is the editor and publisher of , an online magazine featuring new car reviews, industry news and consumer reports.

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