How Long Does a Car Inspection Take?

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Car inspections generally take between 20 minutes and 90 minutes.

But, the time it takes to inspect a car will vary on a few things.

The time it takes for state inspections to approve a vehicle is safe for driving will depend on the state and the specific regulations and requirements.

States have different requirements and procedures for completing a car inspection.

For example, in some states, no inspection is required other than a VIN verification. This process can take less than 15 minutes.

On the other hand, some states such as California require a SMOG test. This text checks emissions levels as well as other key fluids in the vehicle.

A smog test can take between 30 minutes and 1 hour. In some cases, it can be faster if everything is in working order.

Other states such as Delaware require a SMOG check and a visual inspection of the vehicle exterior.

To boot, it’s always best to check with your local authorities. In my experience, it didn’t take me so much time. Maybe it has something about the operational condition of your vehicle.

What are car safety and emissions inspections?

A car safety and emissions inspection test two things on a vehicle
The car is in safe driving condition
The level of emissions is within the legal standard.

Although the practices and standards are not the same, safety inspections, check to determine if the car mechanics are in working order.

Some of the items checked in a safety inspection could include:

  • Brakes
  • Light
  • Horn
  • Steering mechanism
  • Windows
  • Windshield wipers
  • Signals
  • Tires
  • Mirrors
  • Exhaust system
  • Fluid levels

If any part of the car doesn’t meet the required standards, the owner must fix the issue before they can pass the inspection.

The emissions test ensures that the car is functioning correctly and emitting an acceptable level of pollutants into the air.

The United States SMOG check explicitly states the three-step process they follow.

  1. All pipelines and exhaust systems are correctly connected. Smoke coming from the exhaust should not be black or white.
  2. The computer and Onboard Diagnostic system is checked for error or fault codes.
  3. The car’s emissions are tested for pollutants.

While the test is not standard, most inspections will have a similar goal in mind and perform the same inspection but with varying intensity and scrutiny levels.

Which States Require Vehicle Inspections?

You would be surprised to find out that not all states require a safety and emissions inspection. 

In the United States: 

  • 19 States require safety and emissions inspections
  • 21 States ae partial and require some form of a safety and emissions inspection
  • 12 states do not require a safety and emissions inspection

Each state is allowed to set the requirements for the safety and emissions inspection safety and emissions inspection.

As a result, each state has different requirements on the standards requires to pass, and the frequency of the test itself.

At the moment only 33 states require regular emissions tests. The regularity varies by state but is typically annual or biannual.  

Only 19 states require periodic safety inspections. Similar to emissions test the frequency may vary but the majority require annual or biannual inspections. 

Finally, there are 12 states that do not require any type of inspection for safety or emissions.

What should you expect in a car inspection?

During a car inspection, two features of a car are tested: safety and emissions. The safety test is intended to determine is safe to drive both for the driver and others on the road. 

The emissions test determines if the car meets the regulated standards for emissions.

Safety test

Your car will undergo a thorough examination and safety inspection if it’s operating suitably and if you can drive it safely. 

Expect that these parts will be checked by inspectors thoroughly:

Mirrors, windows, and glass

Your defroster, front and rear windows must work accurately. Windshields must be free from cracks and any damages. They will also see if your mirrors are reflective enough and mounted securely.

Tire condition

Your wheels are important to be in tip-top shape and must be the right type for your vehicle. Ensure that they have the right amount of tread depth because worn-out tires will not pass the inspection. 


Check all your lighting components if they are working perfectly to meet the minimum standards of the inspection.


It’s another significant factor that needs utmost probing because this ensures you and your passengers’ safety. Make sure that every part of it is new or in good condition. 

Steering and suspension

These include your shocks, struts, and engine mounts. A legitimate auto mechanic will surely inspect all your steering parts. If they find something’s wrong, they will let you know what needs fixing.

Seats and belts

Your seats must be well-anchored to the cabin floor and in good condition. And seatbelts, airbags, and other restraint systems must follow legal standards. Please note that seatbelts must be within reach, in good shape, and in perfect working order. 

Fluid leaks

You must ensure that your fuel system is securely fastened and sealed. Any leaks can pose serious hazards that may cause you to fail your inspection.

Exhaust systems

Your inspector will surely verify that all components are present and no gas leaks between your engine and tailpipe.

Vehicle floor pan

If your vehicle floor pan rusts out, exhaust gasses will enter your cabin. This simple safety hazard can still pose a problem, not to mention fail the inspection. 


After you check all these components, don’t forget to ready your car’s registration, identification, proof of insurance, and payment to make the process run smoothly.

Emission inspection

Meanwhile, this process ensures your vehicle doesn’t release emissions beyond levels that are legally allowed. It is a mandate to improve air quality in several metropolitan areas. So you should mind your belchings.

These are the parts you need to inspect before you undergo the emission test. So make sure you examine them:


Gas cap pressure 

Make sure your screws are tight and gases are not leaking.


Onboard computer

Ensure it is properly functioning, especially if it’s a 1996 model or older.


Examination and upkeep

Check how well your tailpipe and control system emissions are working.


Idle speed test

This test measures a vehicle’s discharges while idling and is used for 1976 to 1980 models only.

Again, these tests are given depending on your state and vehicle age as well. And they make sure that your car is fit enough to make your journeys safe, secure and the gas you emit are well controlled.

Why must your vehicle undergo inspection tests?

There are several different reasons why you’re car may need to undergo a vehicle inspection test.

The most common reason is that the state you live in requires it. In 33 states across the United States, regular safety and emissions testing are required.

If you live in one of these states, you will need to have your car inspected annually or biannually, depending on your state’s regulations.

If you want to avoid these inspections, you can try moving to one of the 12 states that don’t require any testing.

You might need to get your vehicle inspected if you are trying to sell it or trade it in.

First, if you transfer ownership of a vehicle, most states require you to provide proof of a passed safety inspection. Many states also require that you provide proof of an emissions test.

Without these inspections, you will not be allowed to transfer ownership to the new owner.

If you are trying to trade in your car, most companies will require a safety and emissions inspection test before considering taking your vehicle. If you are trading your vehicle into a larger company or dealership, they will offer to complete the test for you at a cost.

Another common reason you may need to get your vehicle inspected is to bring your vehicle to another state. For example, if you are moving or planning on staying in a certain state for an extended period, they will require vehicle inspections.

In most cases, if the state does not require inspections for vehicles, they still require out-of-state vehicles to pass inspections.


How Will You Know You Passed The Vehicle inspection Test?

Don’t worry about waiting for the results of your car inspection. Wherever you get your car inspected they will tell you the results of the inspection immediately.

In most cases, they will give you a detailed report of the condition of your vehicle.

Most inspections will also tell you areas that you passed but need improvement or need to be addressed before your next inspection.

In some states, they require a sticker to be placed on your car after your car has passed the inspection test. This sticker is usually only valid for one to two years before you are required to get a new one.

What Do You Do If you Failed Your Vehicle Inspection?

Just because you failed doesn’t mean that they will tow away your car and you need to buy a new one.

You will receive a detailed report of the area that caused you to fail your inspection. Depending on where you got your vehicle inspected, many inspection locations will also offer to repair your vehicle.

If the inspection location does not offer repairs, don’t worry. You will receive a grace period that allows you to have the vehicle repaired and inspected again.

If you failed your inspection, you can’t just take it on the chin and move like highschool. If you don’t address the areas you failed on your inspection, you will not be allowed to register your vehicle.

Unlike inspection tests, proper vehicle registration is required in every state. Without your registration, you are not legally allowed to drive your vehicle on the road. Driving without a valid registration can lead to your car being impounded, license suspension, and tickets.

What are the reasons why you may fail an inspection?

By this time, you should know that no matter how small your vehicle’s components are, they portray the bigger their roles in these situations. So here are some of the reasons why you can fail your safety and emission test.

Defective “Check Engine” light
It seems annoying, if not totally ignored; however, the check engine light should always be functional at any given time. Inspectors could fail you just for this oversight.


Clogged filters

You can fail your inspection when your engine has high levels of hydrocarbons. It happens if you forgot to change your filters. The dirty filter may clog, causing these harsh elements to enter your engine.


Defects in the EVAP

It is your car’s Evaporative Emission Control System (EVAP). If inspectors found out that there are leaking hoses and vents, vapors will escape your tank, making you a pollution contributor and flunk your inspection.


Worn-out windshield wipers

Wipers are a key safety feature that you shouldn’t leave unchecked. It provides road visibility, so check your blades regularly. Make sure it clears your view and doesn’t smear your windshield.


Dirty engine oil

Your engine needs to run as smoothly as possible. That said, your engine oil must always be clean. The more it becomes dirty, the more it becomes a harmful pollutant causing you to fail in your emission test.


Leaking gas caps

You need to be aware that leaks in your gas cap are really bad because it will release harmful chemicals that can affect the environment.


Defective catalytic converters

You better be careful with your catalytic converters. Aside from being one of the most important parts of your vehicle that stop harmful pollutants from escaping the air, it’s also expensive. Failing this would also hurt your pocket.


Faulty spark plugs

You know how this works. It’s the plug that ignites your fuel to start your engine. If it’s damaged, it will affect the air-to-fuel ratio because of the improper combustion it sparks, releasing more pollutants into the air.


Defective oxygen sensors

It regulates the air-to-fuel ratio. If this gets broken, your car won’t make the necessary adjustment to equal an oxygen ratio.


Where Can I Get My Car Inspected?

Getting your vehicle tested is much easier than it sounds. Most chain car repair companies such as Jiffy Lube, Pepe Boys, and Firestone are designated and approved location you can get your car inspected. 

These companies typically have locations nationwide, making it easy to get your car inspected by a credible location. 

Mechanic shops are also great locations where you can get your vehicle tested. 

You can also get your vehicle tested at designated state facilities. The best way to find these locations is to visit your state DMV website

How much Does A Car Inspection Cost?

It varies from state to state. But the standard expense will range from $150 to $250.

However, only government-operated garages carry out examinations. Others are the Department of Transportation (DOT). 

While the government may set minimum cost, maximums are left typically to the individual garages. You may suit yourself where you want to register.

It pays to know that you must not pay an agreement until you’re not satisfied with the examination. 

And make sure there will be no extra work without your permission. 

Sometimes, basic inspection services can uncover more serious problems, yet confirm if it’s managed before you sign off. 

Just be aware, they will not issue the certificate if your vehicle didn’t meet the minimum requirements.


Passing the safety and emission test is important. It’s not just something organized by the state to create a trade.

Don’t just look at it as a requirement. Making sure that your entire car works fine ensures that you and your family are safe whenever they’re in your car.

Not only that, you won’t be running around and polluting the environment. 

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