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Car Emissions Tests and Inspections: What to Know By State


If you just purchased a used car or moved to a new state, you will need to know the requirements for vehicle emissions tests and inspections. In the United States, requirements vary by state. For example, some states require an inspection and a smog check, while others require one and not the other, or none.

Our guide will provide an overview of car emissions tests and inspections in the U.S. to help you stay prepared. We will go over:

Use our jump-ahead links below to skip to requirements from your state or Washington, D.C.

Why Do Cars Need Inspections?

Let’s start by understanding the purpose of car inspections. In short, many states implemented these regulations to ensure that vehicles stay safe to drive and meet certain environmental standards. As cars age, they can develop safety hazards and become more polluting.

Though it depends what state you live in, certain cars need to undergo annual inspections to identify any potential problems and ensure that they are still safe to drive. They might also require emissions testing. These checks can help keep our air clean.

What Is a Smog Check?

A smog check is a vehicle emissions test that checks a car’s exhaust system to ensure it meets specific environmental standards. This is a required test in some states, but not all. Cars produce air pollution when they burn gasoline or diesel fuel. Pollution can contribute to respiratory problems and other health concerns. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Emissions of pollutants into the air can result in changes to the climate.”

Smog checks help reduce air pollution by ensuring that gas and diesel vehicles meet emissions standards. If a vehicle does not pass a smog check, the owner may need to make auto repairs or replace parts to get the vehicle to meet the standards.

What Cars Need an Emissions Test?

Depending on the state, smog checks may or may not be required. The age of the car could be a factor. For example, cars in California that are the model year 1975 or newer generally need a smog check unless they make the list of exempt vehicles, which we will explore later in this article.

The only vehicles that are always exempt from smog checks are electric vehicles since they do not produce emissions. Other vehicles may be exempt, depending on the state. For example, certain hybrid cars, alternative fuel cars, and motorcycles are exempt from smog checks in California.

Where Can I Get My Car Inspected?

To get your car inspected, you must visit a licensed inspection station. This can be a repair shop or dealership, or emissions testing center.

In Northern Virginia, Rapidpass can check your vehicle as you optionally drive through a roadside testing site. There’s no need for stopping since two green boxes use ultraviolet and infrared light beams to test the air quality of the passing car and a camera captures information from the vehicle as it passes through. Upon notification of a clean emissions result, motorists can pay a fee online and move forward with car registration.

How Long Does a Smog Check and Inspection Take?

Traditional emissions tests and inspections take less than an hour, including the time spent waiting in line. In places like Northern Virginia with its Rapidpass system, it takes less than 10 seconds when there’s no traffic.

However, if your car fails the emissions test or the inspection, you may need to get your vehicle repaired, which can take additional time.

Note that some states, like California, keep logs of a car’s smog check and inspection history. So, if you’re considering buying a used car, you may be able to request this information from the seller or look it up online.

How Much Does an Inspection Cost?

The price of a vehicle inspection can vary depending on the state and the type being done. Smog checks are slightly less expensive than car inspections. However, both are manageable if you don’t need repairs.

For example, Virginia’s RapidPass system costs $28 for a smog check.

Requirements by State for Inspections

Alabama

The state does not require emissions check requirements. No safety inspection is required in the state of Alabama, and it’s only enforced during the sale or transfer of the vehicle.

Alaska

In Alaska, you will find no mandatory safety or emissions inspections required in most locations in the state. The only thing you need to drive is valid car insurance. However, if you live in certain municipalities like Anchorage, you will need an emissions and inspection test. All new model vehicles are exempt for the first six years. Used vehicles must also pass an emissions test.

Arizona

In Arizona, Phoenix and Tucson require emissions testing, but the rest of the state does not. In Phoenix or Tucson, you’ll need to get an emissions test every other year when renewing your vehicle registration. Car safety inspections are not necessary in the state.

Arkansas

Arkansas has no mandatory safety or emissions inspections. However, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality strongly encourages voluntary emissions testing. That means you can get your car tested for emissions, but it’s not mandated.

California

The state of California enforces some of the strictest smog check requirements in the country. The part of the state you live in will determine what tests your car needs to pass. If you move to the state with a vehicle purchased elsewhere, it must pass a smog check before it can be registered. A visual inspection of your vehicle’s identification number is also required. For drivers of newer vehicles, you must pay a smog abatement fee instead of getting a smog inspection for the first 8 years that your vehicle is registered.

The following vehicles are exempt from smog testing:

  • Electric vehicles
  • A motorcycle
  • Natural gas-powered vehicle over 14,000 pounds
  • Diesel-powered made before 1997
  • Made before 1975
  • Less than 8-years-old

If your car fails its smog test, you need a certified state test and repair station (STAR) to remedy the problem, which in some cases may be due to a stolen catalytic converter.

Colorado

In Colorado, most vehicles need biennial safety inspection. The biggest counties, including Denver, Broomfield, Douglas, and Boulder, also require emissions testing. Newer cars less than 8 years old need tests every other year. Vehicles also must undergo an inspection when a change in ownership occurs.

Connecticut

The state of Connecticut imposes safety inspections on commercial vehicles. That means if you’re driving a passenger car, pickup truck, or motorcycle, you do not need to get it inspected. On the other hand, all vehicles registered in Connecticut must get an emissions test every other year. Additionally, the state requests that VIN checks get completed when registering any car in Connecticut for the first time.

Delaware

In Delaware, it’s essential to complete safety and emissions inspections. The state requires all vehicles to get a safety inspection every other year. If your car passes, you’ll get a sticker for your windshield that’s valid until the next inspection. Cars 5 years old and newer are exempt from emissions testing. All other vehicles must get tested every two years. Also, cars made before 1967 don’t need smog testing.

District of Columbia

Residents’ vehicles in Washington, D.C., must pass car inspections and emissions tests before they can register it. While the DMV no longer requires that motorcycles or motorized bicycles pass inspections, all other vehicles must get checked. Vehicle inspections for personal cars remain valid for two years. To get emissions testing done quicker, Washington, D.C., provides a self-service kiosk open 24-hours, 7 days a week.

Florida

Although there once was a time when Florida required both safety and emissions inspections, that’s no longer the case. You will, however, need to get a VIN inspection if you’re bringing an out-of-state vehicle into Florida.

Georgia

Georgia law requires that vehicles in metro Atlanta undergo enhanced testing for smog. Model year vehicles that are 3 years old and newer remain exempt from emissions testing. According to the Inspection and Maintenance Unit, if your car is 25 years old or older, you’re also exempt from emission testing for 2022, which includes any vehicle made in or before 1997.

Other exemptions include motorcycles, RVs, diesel-powered vehicles, and motor homes. As for safety inspections, they are not imposed.

Hawaii

Emissions testing is not a requirement in Hawaii. But all vehicles must get a safety inspection once a year to check everything from your brakes and horn to headlights and turn signals. The inspection must be done at an authorized station, and you’ll need to bring your car registration paperwork with you.

Idaho

Idaho’s Division of Motor Vehicles does not require drivers to have periodic car safety inspections. The state has emissions testing programs in Ada and Canyon counties in the Boise metropolitan area. A VIN inspection may be needed before registering a vehicle not previously titled in the state.

Illinois

Illinois requires annual emissions inspections for qualifying vehicles in the Chicago and East St. Louis metropolitan areas. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency tests automobiles before residents can renew vehicle registration with the secretary of state’s office.

Indiana

Indiana doesn’t require vehicles to have safety inspections. However, the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles requires a VIN inspection on vehicles not previously titled in Indiana. Its every other year emissions testing program applies only to Lake and Porter counties in Indiana’s northwest corner.

Iowa

No inspection is needed for vehicle registration in Iowa. The state does not mandate safety checks or require emissions testing for passenger cars.

Kansas

There are no safety or emissions testing requirements in Kansas. However, a VIN inspection is necessary on certain automobiles before they receive a Kansas title and registration. The Kansas Highway Patrol conducts these inspections to verify vehicle ownership when bringing a car into Kansas from another state.

Kentucky

In most cases, car registration in Kentucky does not require a vehicle inspection. However, motor vehicles brought into Kentucky from another state must pass a sheriff’s safety inspection to ensure roadworthiness.

Louisiana

All vehicles in Louisiana must have an annual safety inspection, which includes checking exhaust systems and emission items. Five parishes around the state capital Baton Rouge have an enhanced inspection and maintenance program to help control motor vehicle emissions.

Maine

Vehicles registered in Maine must pass annual safety inspections. Residents in Cumberland County, which includes the city of Portland, must also have an emissions test for their automobiles every year.

Maryland

Maryland requires that most used vehicles complete a comprehensive examination at a licensed vehicle safety inspection station before their sale or title transfer. The state’s vehicle emissions testing program applies to automobiles registered in 13 counties and Baltimore City. Emissions inspections occur every two years.

Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Vehicle Check program requires all passenger vehicles to pass an annual safety check and emissions test. The comprehensive inspection includes an examination of the car’s brakes, tires, horn, and other key safety components. Vehicles less than 15 years old with on-board diagnostic systems must pass an annual emissions inspection.

Michigan

Michigan vehicle registration does not require an inspection. The state does not mandate car safety checks or emissions testing.

Minnesota

The Driver and Vehicle Services division in Minnesota does not require safety checks or emissions testing on passenger cars registered in the state.

Mississippi

No inspection is needed to register a car in Mississippi. The state does not mandate vehicle safety checks or require emissions testing.

Missouri

Missouri’s DMV requires that passenger vehicles pass a safety check every other year to assess the condition of the car’s suspension, seatbelts, headlights, and the like. Residents in the St. Louis metropolitan area must also have vehicle emissions inspections.

Montana

Montana does not require car inspections. A motorist in Big Sky Country can register their automobile through the state’s Motor Vehicle Division without performing a safety check or emissions testing. A VIN inspection may be used to confirm ownership.

Nebraska

Nebraska does not require a vehicle safety inspection or emissions testing to register automobiles. The state may perform a VIN inspection to confirm ownership and record the odometer reading, but there is no physical examination of roadworthiness.

Nevada

Nevada does not mandate vehicle safety inspections. Annual emissions testing is a requirement for vehicles in 1968 model year and newer in Clark and Washoe counties, or the Las Vegas and Reno areas.

New Hampshire

Automobiles registered in New Hampshire must pass an annual safety check as part of the state’s vehicle inspection program. In addition to the physical inspection needed for all cars, passenger vehicles under 20 years old require an on-board diagnostics test for early detection of malfunctioning emissions devices.

New Mexico

New Mexico does not have a statewide vehicle safety inspection requirement. However, an emissions inspection is mandatory for automobiles registered in Bernalillo County. All motor vehicles in the county with model years 1987 and newer must pass the test every two years.

New York

The Empire State has a comprehensive inspection program for cars and light trucks. The annual safety check covers the vehicle’s horn, wipers, brakes, and more. For emissions inspection, an onboard diagnostics test is necessary for cars built since 1996. The OBD test is a computerized analysis of the automobile’s emissions.

North Carolina

Passenger vehicles under 30 years old must pass an annual safety inspection before the North Carolina DMV registers the car. A licensed mechanic examines the vehicle’s headlights, signals, brakes, steering, windows, tires, and other safety components. Along with the safety check, motorists in 22 North Carolina counties must have an OBD emissions inspection.

North Dakota

North Dakota does not require vehicle inspections. The state’s Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Division registers passenger vehicles to North Dakota residents without a safety inspection or emissions test.

Ohio

Emissions testing is required in Northeast Ohio around Cleveland. A network of self-service stations make testing easier for motorists in The Buckeye State. Vehicles 4 years old and newer are exempt from testing, as are cars older than 25. The frequency depends on the vehicle weight and model year. There is no mandatory safety testing in Ohio.

Oklahoma

There are no required vehicle inspections in The Sooner State. Motorists can register a car in Oklahoma with minimal straightforward requirements and no safety or emissions testing.

Oregon

There are no required vehicle safety inspections in Oregon. However, residents of the Portland and Medford areas must test emissions control systems, depending on the car’s age. Newer vehicles under 4 years old are exempt. Portland automobiles manufactured after 1975 require testing. In Medford, the cutoff is 20 years.

Pennsylvania

Each vehicle in Pennsylvania must pass a basic safety inspection, including the car’s horn, wipers, brakes, and more. Significant rust and frame damage must also be repaired before an inspection sticker is issued. Passenger cars in less populated counties are exempt from Pennsylvania’s emissions inspection program. Motorists in metropolitan counties are required to have annual inspections.

Rhode Island

Vehicle inspections occur every two years in Rhode Island to help ensure that vehicles on its roadways are safe and environmentally clean. The state’s emissions and safety testing program checks exhaust output and the car’s major components, such as the brakes, suspension, and tires.

South Carolina

Automobiles in South Carolina are not required to have inspections. The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles registers passenger cars without safety or emissions tests.

South Dakota

South Dakota doesn’t require vehicle inspections. The state’s Department of Revenue Motor Vehicle Division registers passenger automobiles without emission or safety certification.

Tennessee

Vehicle emissions testing is a thing of the past in Tennessee. The Volunteer State ended its inspection program in metropolitan counties after the Environmental Protection Agency approved the state’s air quality plan.

Texas

All vehicles registered in the Lone Star State are required to pass an annual comprehensive safety inspection. The Texas emissions inspection policy applies to 17 out of the state’s 254 counties. Designated counties are in the metropolitan areas of Houston, Dallas, Austin, and El Paso. The emissions requirement applies to gasoline-powered vehicles less than 25 years old.

Utah

The State of Utah removed the safety inspection requirement for most private automobiles as a prerequisite for registration. Motorists in Cache, Davis, Salt Lake, Utah, and Weber counties must pass emissions requirements. In general, cars with model years less than 6 years old are required to have an emission test once every two years. The vehicle’s model year determines if inspections occur during an even or odd year.

Vermont

Vermont enforces yearly smog and safety checks for vehicles. Residents can visit one of the 1,600 stations throughout the state to complete the straightforward emissions test. Cars 16 years old or newer must undergo these tests.

Virginia

Virginia requires an annual vehicle safety inspection to help ensure cars have proper equipment that’s in working order. Emissions tests are required every other year in the most populated areas of Northern Virginia. Motorists there can use the on-road emissions inspection program, RapidPass. It allows a motorist to drive through the system to complete their emissions test in less than a second without visiting a testing station.

Washington

Washington terminated its emission check program in 2020, after 38 years of service. There are no yearly safety inspections in the state, but vehicles still must meet strict Clean Car requirements. All Washington State passenger cars from model year 2009 and newer must be certified to California emission standards.

West Virginia

West Virginia is another state that requires a yearly safety inspection. The inspection is mandatory, and you cannot drive without the sticker in your window. However, there is no smog or emissions test required.

Wisconsin

The Dairy State requires annual inspection for all cars. You may also need to get an emissions test unless your vehicle is diesel-powered or older than 1996. The seven southeastern Wisconsin counties requiring emissions tests are Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Sheboygan, Washington, and Waukesha.

Wyoming

Wrapping up our state-by-state list of car inspection requirements is Wyoming, where car inspections or emissions testing aren’t mandated. You’re free to hit the open road in the Equality State without a vehicle inspection.

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