Car inspection can be a costly and time-consuming process. To save you the headache and guesswork, this post will attempt to answer this question: How much does a car inspection cost?
On average, the cost of a standard car inspection ranges between $150 and $250. This amount would differ for every state and certified inspection station in the United States.
Read on to learn more about the full car inspection cost and requirements in some U.S. states.
What Is a Car Inspection?
As its name implies, a car inspection refers to the process of evaluating a car’s current condition to determine if it’s roadworthy and meets a state’s general standards. This is also a compulsory requirement when registering from a different state or getting a car insurance policy.
Seven States That Do Not Require Car Inspection
Not all fifty states United States require people to submit their car for a routine inspection for safety and emissions. There are only seven states that don’t require car inspections, except for certain unique circumstances:
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
The rest of the U.S. states mandate regular car inspections, yearly or once every two years (biennial). Each state has its own fees, rules, and types of car inspection.
Common Types of Car Inspection
Three of the most common types of car inspection are:
1. Safety Inspection
This makes sure that specific parts of your car, like the lights (backup lights, brake lights, hazard lights, etc.), are working as intended.
2. Emissions Inspection
This is for testing the cleanliness of your car and whether it complies with the requirements set by the 1990 Federal Clean Air Act.
3. VIN Inspection
The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) inspection physically checks the identification number (made up of seventeen characters) of your car to make sure it matches the title or ownership document. In some states, such as California, they require this to check if a vehicle meets the smog emission standards and Federal safety requirements.
Suggestion: Always take a trustworthy mechanic with you if you’re planning to buy an older or used car from a used car dealership or an ad (local or online). A knowledgeable mechanic will ensure the car doesn’t have safety issues and is fit to be on the road.
List of Things Your Mechanic Should Check
So, what should your mechanic check before you commit to a purchase?
- A/C and heater
- Automotive fluids (brake fluid, engine oil, engine coolant, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, etc.)
- Lights (blinkers, fog lights, headlights, high beams, etc.)
- Tires (Check the amount and depth of the tread and the date of the tires.)
- Steering components
- Ride quality of the car
Now, let’s get to the main concern of this post—how much do you really need to pay for a car inspection? The truth is there’s no single answer to that question because the cost will depend on many factors: the type and age of your car, the state you’re in, and where you get the inspection done.
Below, we’ll focus on the full car inspection cost in California, Texas, New York, and North Carolina.
How Much Does a Car Inspection Cost in California?
California requires its residents to put their car through the state vehicle inspection once every two years. It’s important to complete the inspection as mandated by the state to register or renew a car registration.
If your car is eligible to undergo this process, you need to bring it to a certified inspection station in your area. The fee usually ranges from $30 to $70, depending on the size of your car.
List of Things Safety Inspectors in California Check
The safety inspections in California check for the following:
- Automotive fluid levels
- Carbon emissions
- Possible leaks
- Mechanical integrity (ensures there are no steering and structural defects or damage)
But the most important part of the California vehicle inspection program is the carbon emissions (or smog) test. Under California’s Environmental Protection Agency and California state law, your car should pass emissions standards. If you choose to skip this, you could face penalties, such as fines, loss of license, registration denial, or even seizure of your car.
Important: Your smog certification is valid only within ninety days (or roughly three months). You must renew your car’s registration or risk having your car inspected again within that time frame.
To know if your car should get a smog check certificate:
- Visit the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) website to use their “Smog Check Program Area Lookup.”
- Input your zip code
- Click ‘Submit.’
For instance: The zip code for Bell City, Los Angeles is 90201. If you use the “Smog Check Program Area Lookup,” the result is “90201 in LOS ANGELES county is a/an Enhanced area.”
California Classification Based on Air Quality
The Smog Check Program classifies California into three areas based on their air quality:
1. Enhanced Areas
This refers to urban areas that have serious, severe, or extreme air quality issues and don’t meet the state’s quality standard. Cars under this classification should meet all Smog Check requirements.
2. Basic Areas
This refers to areas with marginal air quality. Cars under this classification should meet all Smog Check requirements.
3. Change of Ownership Areas
This classification applies to mostly rural areas. A Smog Check is often required for cars under this classification if there are changes to the ownership or for a first-time car registration in California.
In some cases, cars that aren’t more than six years old don’t have to undergo an inspection. However, you need to pay a $20 smog abatement fee for skipping getting these certifications each year.
Cars Exempted from Emissions Inspection
- Electric motorcycles and vehicles
- Gasoline-powered vehicles (model year 1975 and older)
- Diesel-powered vehicles (model year 1997 and older)
- Vehicles (diesel or natural gas) weighing more than 14,000 pounds (exempted from the biennial inspections)
Again, how much does a car inspection cost? The average cost of car inspection ranges between $150-250. However, this varies depending on several factors such as the state you live in, etc.
How Much Does a Car Inspection Cost in Texas?
Texas still requires its residents to get their cars inspected and registered. The only difference now is Texas implemented the “two steps, one sticker” method in 2015. After inspection and registration, the state will issue a single sticker for both processes.
In the “Lone Star State,” Texans have to submit their cars for a thorough safety inspection every year, within thirty days after moving to the state, or before applying for a car registration renewal. There’s no way of getting around these inspections.
When it comes to the fees, there are two payments you need to make:
- For the full inspection of your car
- For the registration of your car
The Amount You Pay Will Depend on Your Car’s Age or Manufacturing Date
1. One to Two Years Old
There’s no fee for an emissions inspection, but you still need to pay for the safety inspection and registration. So, that would be $7 for the one-year safety inspection and $7.50 for the registration. Or, $7 for the two-year safety inspection and $16.75 for the registration.
2. Two to Twenty-four Years Old
The standard inspection fee for these cars is $25.50, while there’s an additional fee of $14.25 for the registration. These fees are going to change once your car is twenty-five years old.
3. Made in 1995 or Older
The standard fee is $31.50 then the additional fee for the registration is $8.25. Once your car turns twenty-five years old—that would’ve been in 2020—you only need to pay $7 for the safety-only inspection and $7.50 for the registration.
4. Made in 1996 or Older
The standard fee is $25.50, while the registration fee is $14.25. Again, once your car turns twenty-five years old, it’s qualified for the safety-only inspection, which costs $7. Plus, there’s a $7.50 fee for registration.
How Much Does a Car Inspection Cost in New York?
In New York, all vehicles must go through a yearly safety inspection at any station licensed by the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). An emissions inspection is also a requirement for most vehicles at the time of the safety inspection.
The New York State doesn’t give a grace period for car inspection, except in certain situations. People who buy or get their cars in another state can get an extension of ten days to complete the necessary inspections.
List of Things Inspectors Check
During the safety inspection, inspectors check for the following:
- Chassis and front end assembly
- Fuel leaks
- Seat belts
- Steering system
- Tinted windows
- Tires (spare tires not included)
- Wheel fasteners
- Windshield and other glass
- Windshield wipers and blades
If your car fails to undergo safety and emissions inspections, you could face the following penalties:
- A fine
- A parking ticket
- Prohibition of registration renewal
So, how much is the average cost of car inspection in New York?
Factors That Affect the Cost of Car Inspection in New York
The standard fee is $21 (covers the emissions and safety inspections). However, this amount could still change, depending on several factors:
For instance, heavier vehicles will have a more expensive inspection price.
2. Car Model
In Long Island, the inspection cost of newer car models (model year 1996 or newer) is $37. The older cars (model year 1995 or older) don’t need an emissions test ($10), so you spend less.
3. Area You Live in New York
If you live in upstate New York (e.g., Albany, Binghamton, and Utica), the inspection fee is only $11. If you live in the metropolitan area of New York City, the price increases to $27.
You can get a fine if your car’s inspection sticker has expired within or after sixty days. If it’s within sixty days, the fine is $25 to $50. If it’s more than sixty days, the fine is $50 to $100. Now, if there’s no inspection sticker at all, you’ll need to pay a fine of $50 to $100.
Note: You don’t need to pay any fee if your car fails inspection. However, you need to get it fixed or re-inspected if you don’t want to get a fine.
How Much Does a Car Inspection Cost in North Carolina?
In North Carolina, the yearly vehicle safety inspection costs around $13.60. The fee for the emissions inspection, which includes vehicle inspections, is around $30.
The North Carolina government requires all vehicles in all 100 counties to go through a yearly safety inspection. Vehicle owners must comply with this requirement within ninety days before their plate expires. Failure to comply with the safety or emissions inspection could result in severe fines, like a renewal registration block.
List of Things a Certified Inspector Checks
A certified inspector checks these parts to ensure they meet the state’s vehicle safety standards:
- Exhaust emissions
- Rear-view mirrors
- Turn signals
- Windshield wipers
Common Issues You Should Check Before Having Your Car Inspected
If your car fails the inspection, the state requires you to get it reinspected after you’ve fixed the problems. That’s why before you have it inspected, make sure it doesn’t have these common issues that would likely result in a failed state inspection:
- Too much brake pad wear
- Cut windshield wiper blades
- Burned out headlights and tail lights
- Malfunction indicator lamp (or check engine light)
- Not enough tread depth (a tread depth of 2/32” or less is considered insufficient)
Like most states, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has vehicle inspection exemptions. For instance, owners of brand-new vehicles don’t need to comply with emissions inspection for the first three years or 70,000 miles, whichever comes first.
The said government agency also grants emissions inspection exemption to vehicles that are twenty years and older. Meanwhile, vehicles that are over thirty years old don’t need to undergo a yearly safety inspection.
Conclusion – How Much Does a Car Inspection Cost
As you can see, it’s hard to give a fixed answer to the question “how much does a car inspection cost?” The fees and requirements are completely different for every state. In most cases, the national cost for a standard vehicle inspection would range between $150 and $250.
This post only discusses the costs for safety and emissions testings in four states. So, I highly encourage you to check out the website of your state’s transportation agency and contact them through email or phone to get a more accurate and thorough answer.