How To – Preparing For State Vehicle Inspection

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    Not every state in the country requires vehicle safety and emission inspections but if you need to get your car inspected there are a few things that you can do to make the process easier.

    As said above there are two types of vehicle inspections. The first is a safety inspection and this is the most important of the two.

    Safety Inspections

    During a safety inspection your car will be inspected for general safety conditions.

    The method that the state employes varies greatly. In some states they required a certified private mechanic to inspect the parts on your car visually, often using precision instruments then drive the vehicle to verify the readings they verified work in the real world.

    Other States use their own inspection staff and perform inspections at a number of state owned stations. This is the type inspection that most people complain about taking way too long or costing them money because of irregularities in the method of testing.




    State owned inspection stations normally will not place the vehicle on a lift and inspect the brakes visually. Normally they will tell the driver to come to a stop on a electronic pressure pad that will measure the ability of the vehicle to stop at that moment and not tell of any serious problems with the mechanical condition of the brakes which could end up in catastrophic failure ten miles after passing inspection.

    Private Mechanics that are licensed to perform inspections of brakes will perform the stop test during their road test but they also pull at least one front and one rear wheel to inspect the pads, rotors, drums and hydrolic systems. They will measure the thickness of the pads and metal surfaces and report if the parts are within wear standards. Even if the vehicle can perform a stop in a road test it will not pass if the parts are worn past safe levels.

    Having a private mechanic inspect your brakes is very important especially for people that commute thousands of miles every year. I have found in many states that perform state run inspections the local mechanics will perform a free brake inspection. Even a few national chains perform this test for free so take your car in when needed.


    Again this is another place where state run inspections are a failure and if you believe that having your vehicle in a safe condition is important for your and others safety you will not only have to pass the state test but also bring your car in for a private mechanic inspection.

    In a state run test the inspection is performed on a stop pad at the same time they perform the brake test. It tells the computer the loads transferred from back to front wheels as the car is stopped and the attendant visually looks for shock bounce.

    In a private inspection you may have a variety of tests performed after a visual inspection. Mechanics usually test the wear on your axles, wheel bearings, shocks, springs and look for damage or wear in bushings and other places.

    Other Safety Tests

    In addition to your suspension and brakes all of your exterior lights must work. This is the easiest thing for a car owner to take care of. If you have any lights that are out then replace them.

    Operation of windows, seat belts, doors and condition of the body will also be inspected. If you have any body work damage that could snag on a pedestrian or if you have structural damage then it will need to be repaired. Normal dents and rust spots are not part of the inspection unless they pose a danger.

    Window tint is something that catches many people off guard. The darkness and which window tint is applied to is considered a safety consideration. Normally you can have about 15% tint on rear passenger side windows but you can never apply tint on the front passenger or front windshield.

    Emission Inspections

    Along with safety many states require emissions inspections however many states have repealed the need for emissions inspections including New Jersey and Kentucky.

    Emission inspection tests for a variety of gasses that exit your exhaust pipe at a specific RPM. Some states perform the test in Park while others perform the test on a dyno.

    In my experience the dynamometer is much more accurate because it tests at a specific speed the car travels at rather then a RPM level which at least in my case would have my vehicle cruising at about 75MPH which is illegal in all areas of my state.

    Final Note

    State run inspections basically suck.. for a person that is interested in keeping their vehicle in a safe condition for their family and themselves these tests tell you nothing about your car’s true condition. It is pass or fail.

    And when you do fail the inspector in most cases will not be allowed to tell you why you failed. You will be required to take your car to a mechanic that is on their approved list and have a minimum amount of work performed meaning Dollar amount not actual repairs.

    Some states even let you buy out of an inspection depending on the age of your vehicle.

    In all honesty unless you are driving a large commercial vehicle that goes through more stringent tests by State Police officers trained to perform full inspections you should take your vehicle to a private mechanic and not trust a standard passenger car,van or small pickup inspection for anything related to safety or operation of your engine.

    I am not trying to drum up business for private mechanics .. I just use to perform inspections and fully understand the difference of a good one and a half assed one that is only used to bring in tax dollars.


    If all of this is just too much for you to take there is a solution.

    States without safety or emissions inspections

    North Dakota
    South Carolina
    South Dakota

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