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Car inspection: Your complete guide, including checklists and costs

  • Car Care Tips
  • Renee Martin
  • 9 minutes

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At Way.com, we believe every car on the road should have a routine car inspection performed. Car inspection makes sure your vehicle can keep you and others safe while you are on the road. However, a car inspection can be a complex process, especially if you are unsure of when you are required to get it or what it entails.

So, we’ve compiled a handy guide that not only explains why a car inspection is a must but also the costs involved, the potential issues you might face, and how to overcome them. Let’s get started.

What is a car inspection?

A car inspection is when a specialist examines your vehicle and its components to see if it operates properly. The specialist will also figure out if certain parts need to be changed soon or if you must replace them now. A car inspection is typically classified into three broad categories ‚Äď a courtesy inspection, an insurance inspection, and a 12-point inspection.

Courtesy inspection: A courtesy inspection typically involves a specialist visually assessing common components in your car (such as lights, oil, wipers, etc.) In general, specialists conduct a courtesy inspection when your car is at the shop for an oil change or a new set of tires.

Insurance inspection: Most states demand a car inspection when insuring a car that is 10 years or older. During this inspection, a specialist will check if your car is road-worthy and assess the risk of insuring your vehicle. The technician will check your brakes, suspension, and exhaust, among other things.

12-point inspection: A 12-point car inspection is a comprehensive examination of your vehicle. During your 12-point car inspection, technicians look for the following items:

  • Fluid levels
  • Tire rotation and balance
  • Tire wear
  • Wheels
  • Wiper blades
  • Lights
  • Belts and hoses
  • Shocks and struts
  • Brakes
  • Battery
  • Timing belt
  • Cabin filter

Read: Winter driving tips: A safety checklist for car owners

Are vehicle inspections mandatory by law?

In the United States, each state has the authority to determine whether or not all cars must undergo a car inspection. Not all states require it; in fact, most do not.

However, states are obligated under the Clean Air Act (1990) to conduct vehicle emission inspection programs in urban areas where air quality does not meet federal standards. The specifics of these programs differ by state. Some states, notably Kentucky and Minnesota, have ceased their testing programs in recent years with federal consent.

States that don’t require car inspections

The following are the only states that do not need car inspections:

Michigan or Mississippi do not require car inspections except under certain circumstances. In Michigan, for example, newly rebuilt cars (i.e., vehicles rebuilt from salvaged or destroyed parts) must pass a safety examination. Vehicles with tinted windows must also pass a safety check in Mississippi.

Although Alaska does not mandate inspections, this does not preclude the state from requiring inspections in the future. The state used to enforce safety inspections, but these were repealed in 2012. Similarly, South Carolina did not forward a bill that reintroduced inspections.

Sates that require a partial vehicle inspection

Many states have partial inspection regulations. In general, new cars, hybrids, and electric vehicles are exempt from these regulations. In some states, inspections are usually done every two years, although they only perform VIN inspections on out-of-state vehicles.

Out-of-state VIN inspections are only required in six states: 

Alabama and North Dakota only require a safety check in certain cases, such as when you buy a used car or a rebuilt vehicle.

Except in select metropolitan regions, many states have limited rules. In general, motorists in certain areas are required to undergo an emissions test every two years. Arizona, Delaware, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin are among them.

Some jurisdictions require an emissions examination and a safety inspection every two years. California, Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, and Rhode Island are among these states.

On the other hand, a car has to go through a safety examination when it is four, eight, or ten years old in Utah. When your vehicle is more than ten years old, inspections are required on a yearly basis, and emissions inspections are only required in a few Utah urban areas.

Read: How to change your car insurance when you shift states?

States with strict car inspections

There are some states with extremely stringent car inspection requirements. At the very least, all of the states listed below require annual safety inspections, and many require annual emissions inspections as well. Georgia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont are among the states that mandate safety and emissions checks every year.

Some states mandate annual safety inspections, while only select cities require emissions inspections. Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia are among those states.

Emissions checks are not required in Hawaii or West Virginia, but annual safety inspections are.

It should be noted that the majority of these states with car inspection requirements have their own laws and regulations on what cars must be inspected and when. Furthermore, several states allow towns and counties to determine whether or not to require emissions testing. If you are confused about your state’s inspection requirements, contact your local DMV.

Read: What happens when you get arrested for a DUI?

car inspection

Pros and cons of car inspection

Many industry experts say that car inspection is an important tool for ensuring driver safety, and they are true in some situations. Annual or biannual car inspections have the following advantages:

Keeps emissions in check Many states that have inspections simply look at a car’s emissions in order to keep local smog levels low.
Boosts state revenue The fees collected by vehicle inspectors are directly deposited into the state’s annual budget.
Boosts local economy Local mechanics and car repair shops benefit from inspections since car owners spend extra money every year to prepare their vehicles to pass the inspection.

One of the most compelling arguments for annual car inspections is that they keep rusted or poorly maintained vehicles off the road. In some areas, you must have any rust on your car repaired before being inspected. Rusted vehicles will not be allowed to pass. According to experts, the metal is weaker and dangerous in an accident.

Despite the obvious benefits, many state authorities are beginning to question the value of mandatory car inspections. Here are some of the drawbacks of car inspections.

Does not benefit low-income families Some experts argue that the expense of car inspections and subsequent maintenance may be detrimental to lower-income families because they drive older vehicles.
It’s antiquated and ineffective : New cars are far more efficient and reliable than older models, therefore they require less inspections
It‚Äôs vulnerable to bribery After all, inspectors are only human. When it comes to car inspections, you’ll discover references to authorities who can be bribed in exchange for a passing score in almost every forum post or comment area.

How long does a car inspection take?

Most basic car checks take 30 to 45 minutes to complete. However, it would help if you planned to spend approximately an hour at the business in total to fill out the necessary paperwork. If the mechanic discovers a potential problem with your car, it may take more time to identify and repair the issue.

Read: Buying a used car? Here are 7 things you must watch out for

How much does a car inspection cost?

On average, a full car inspection costs between $150 and $250. However, some criteria, such as the type of vehicle you drive and the state in which you live, will impact this cost.

Read: Best used cars with cheap insurance: Our picks

Who performs car inspections?

A vehicle inspection can be done by almost any technician or dealership. Most technicians perform vehicle inspections. Therefore you should do your homework before hiring any of them. Make sure to choose a reliable mechanic who has a lot of positive reviews. Dealerships will also provide vehicle inspections. However, the level of service at a dealership may be more expensive.

Read: Car maintenance tips: 4 common myths debunked

car inspection

What do you need for a car inspection?

When you take your vehicle for a check-up, make sure you carry your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. Photocopies, faxes, and emailed documents are deemed invalid and not accepted. Collect all of the documentation you’ll need the night before your inspection, so you don’t forget them when you bring your car in.

Read: 10 driving habits that are bad for your car?

Final thoughts

Getting your car inspected is a good way to ensure your vehicle is safe on the road. However, even the safest vehicles and drivers can be victims of the negligence of other drivers. Hence, it is important to have car insurance. 

Car insurance can assist mitigate losses in the event of an accident. Car insurance provides benefits to survivors in the event of a fatal accident. It even covers the costs of car repairs resulting from an accident. Finally, and most importantly, it covers damage caused by causes other than an accident, such as theft, fire, and so on. To find the best car insurance policy that meets your needs, tap the banner below. Way.com can assist you in finding the most affordable car insurance quotes in under 10 minutes! Best of all, our car insurance tool is free!

car insurance fraud

Read our blogs for information on the best airport parking and hourly parking spots near you and the most affordable insurance for your car.


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