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Vehicle Inspections By State: What to Know

Vehicle inspections serve many purposes, including ensuring that the vehicle you intend to purchase is in proper working condition. But for some states, these inspections aren't optional. If your vehicle fails an inspection in a state with legal requirements, you'll need to perform repairs to bring it back into compliance. If you don't, you may be subject to fines or other penalties until your car can pass an inspection.

What States Do Not Require Vehicle Inspections?

There are only 13 states that have no safety, emissions, or VIN inspections required by law. These states include Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Florida, Washington, and Wyoming. Some of these states do require an inspection when registering an out-of-state vehicle for the first time. Still, for regular inspections of vehicles owned by residents, there are no annual or biennial inspections.

For states with vehicle inspections, various requirements must be met to stay in compliance.

Vehicle Inspections by State

Name of State Inspection Requirements
Arizona Biennial emissions inspections for Phoenix and Tucson metro areas
California Biennial emissions inspections for out-of-state cars or in-state vehicles seven years or older (in 41 of 58 counties)
Colorado Biennial emissions inspections in 9 out of 64 counties (with some exceptions for vehicles 7 model years old or newer)
Connecticut Biennial emissions inspections are required
Delaware Biennial safety and emissions inspections required
District of Columbia Biennial emissions inspection required
Georgia Annual emissions inspections for the Atlanta metro area
Hawaii Annual safety inspections required
Idaho Periodic emissions inspections are required for Lake and Porter counties
Louisiana Annually and Biennial safety inspections are required, in addition to annual emissions inspections for the Baton Rouge metro area (Brake tag inspections are required for New Orleans area vehicles)
Maine Annual safety inspections are required, in addition to annual emissions inspections for vehicles registered in Cumberland County
Maryland Biennial emissions inspections are required for 13 of 23 counties
Massachusetts Annual safety and emissions inspections required
Missouri Biennial safety inspections are required for the whole state, with biennial emissions inspections required for the St. Louis metro area
Nevada Annual emissions inspections are required for urban areas of Clark and Washoe County (with some vehicle exceptions)
New Hampshire Annual safety inspections are required for all vehicles, with annual emissions inspections required for models less than 20 years old
New Jersey Vehicles are exempt from inspections for the first five years, then biennial emissions testing is required
New Mexico Biennial emissions testing required for Bernalillo County
North Carolina Annual safety inspections are required, with annual emissions inspections for 22 out of 100 counties
Ohio Odd/even emissions testing required for Cleveland metro area
Oregon Periodic emissions inspections are required for Portland and Medford metro areas
Pennsylvania Annual safety inspections are required, with annual emissions inspections in 25 of 67 counties
Rhode Island Biennial safety and emissions inspections required
Texas Annual safety inspections are required, with annual emissions inspections for large urban areas
Utah Periodic emissions testing is required for the four most populated counties
Vermont Annual safety and emissions testing required
Virginia Annual safety inspections are required, with biennial emissions testing for urban and suburban areas of northern Virginia
West Virginia Annual safety inspections required
Wisconsin Biennial emissions inspections are required for select counties

What is Checked During Vehicle Inspection?

Requirements vary for different vehicle inspection states; however, some standard components are checked by most jurisdictions, including:

  • Brakes: As one of the most critical basic safety systems, brakes are high on the list for a general inspection. Most inspection stations will check the pads and rotors to see if they are worn, along with your brake fluid levels. In addition to your regular brakes, your emergency brake will also be checked. Worn-down or non-functioning brake elements will usually result in an inspection failure.
  • Tires: Much like with your brakes, inspections will check how worn down your tires are and if they contain any defects. These defects include damage, rot, or abnormal formations that could result in the tire going flat or exploding during travel. Be careful; an inspection technician won't only check the tires on your vehicle; if you have a spare tire, the tech will need to confirm its condition as well for you to pass your inspection.
  • Lights: Safety inspections will almost always check the various lights on your car, including your headlights, brake lights, taillights, hazard lights, and turn signals. If any one of these is burnt out or dim, it's a strong possibility you will fail your inspection.
  • Mirrors: Your side view and rear mirrors are vital to maintaining awareness of the vehicles around you while traveling, and inspections will ensure these are not broken, streaked, or obscured in any way.
  • Suspension: To pass a safety inspection, your suspension system, including your shock absorbers, must be free of leaks and damage. Without a properly functioning suspension, your car could be damaged by poorly maintained or rough roads, putting it at risk of mechanical failure.

Toughest Inspection States

A few states have significantly more stringent vehicle inspection laws, but Rhode Island may have the toughest. Residents of this small state must get biennial safety and emissions testing, and antique cars (which are exempt in many states) still need to be inspected. The extensive list of checks, which includes reflectors, ABS brakes, universal joints, and many more, must be done at a designated inspection station. The only vehicles that are exempt are new cars, but that exemption lasts only two years until the biennial requirements kick in.

Where Can I Find More Information About
Inspection-Compliant Cars?

If you are looking for cars that are in good condition with a solid maintenance history, the best research tool to do so is available from GoodCar. GoodCar can provide all the available information about a variety of vehicles, giving you details like:

  • Title Records
  • Junk/Salvage Records
  • Insurer "Total Loss" Records
  • Pricing
  • Sales History
  • Problem Checks
  • Auto Specs
  • Location History
  • NHTSA Crash Test Ratings
  • NHTSA Recalls
  • Awards and Accolades
  • Manufacturer Information

This, plus the other data provided by their vehicle history reports, can make the car buying and selling process simple and easy. Not only that, but the details you find in your vehicle history report can get you better deals and help you avoid common vehicle scams or getting a car with major issues requiring immediate repairs.