How Long Does a Car Inspection Take?

Article Summary:

A car inspection takes anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour, depending on the type of inspection you’re having done. Emissions testing is a relatively straightforward process that can take a short amount of time; however, a safety inspection is much more involved and typically takes longer. If your vehicle fails an inspection, you can take it to a shop for the necessary repairs to have it pass the next one. It’s a good idea to look up your state’s inspection checklist online before going in for an inspection so you can come prepared with the required documents.

Car inspections can feel a lot like visits to the doctor: they only come around about once a year, but when the time comes, you don’t want to go. But like your yearly check-up, your car can benefit from an inspection by a professional to keep it healthy and running well.

Vehicle inspections can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or more, depending on what type of inspection your car needs. The inspections can help ensure your car is safe to drive and isn’t polluting the atmosphere to an excessive degree. Although each state has its own process and timeframe for an auto inspection, it’s always worthwhile to keep your car running in top shape.

What is a car inspection?

A car inspection is a routine auto service that is typically required by law, depending on the state in which you live. An inspection is carried out by an auto repair technician. The goal of a car inspection is to ensure that your vehicle conforms to state safety regulations as well as emissions standards.

There are three common types of car inspections: safety inspections, VIN checks, and emissions tests.

Safety inspection

During a safety inspection, an expert will check the windows, tires, lights, brakes, steering, seat belts, and fluids of your vehicle to ensure it is safe and drivable.

VIN check

A vehicle identification number (VIN) check is when a professional looks at your car’s overall history. It’s most commonly done before purchasing a used vehicle to make sure that it hasn’t been in a severe accident or that it has an extensive repair history.

Emissions test

Emissions testing, also known as a smog test, determines how many air pollutants your car emits. Many states require this exam once every two years, and if your car fails, you aren’t allowed to register your vehicle.

What does a car inspection involve?

There are several different parts of the car inspection process, depending on the requirements of your individual state. That said, some of the general aspects are the same.

Vehicle interior

The mechanic will typically test the components that make up the car’s interior, including the seat belts, the steering wheel, and the horn. They will also ensure the brakes are working properly and that the rearview mirror is attached securely.

Vehicle exterior

The vehicle’s exterior will take up the most time in the inspection process. The mechanic will check the exterior lighting, including the headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals, and hazard lights. They will also make sure the windshield is free of cracks or damage and that the windshield wipers work.

Test drive

Certain states require a road test during the inspection process, although this is basically a simple drive around the block. The mechanic will check how well the brake and gas pedals work, ensure the transmission and speedometer function properly, and check the vehicle’s steering capabilities.

Certification

Lastly, the mechanic will certify whether your car has passed or failed the inspection. If your car passes, the mechanic will file the results with the state inspection department. If it fails, you will have to take certain steps to make sure your car passes the next inspection. Either way, you will be given a vehicle inspection report upon completion of the inspection.

When do I need a car inspection?

Each state has different requirements for how often your vehicle needs to undergo an inspection. Some states require an inspection once a year, while others simply require periodic inspections or only an emissions test.

In most cases, you’ll be required to have your vehicle inspected whenever you register it in a new state. You’ll need to present a passed inspection result to obtain your vehicle registration.

Pro Tip

Even if your state doesn’t require inspections on a regular basis, it’s still a good idea to get one at least once a year. You want to make sure there aren’t any underlying and potentially dangerous issues with your car, even if everything seems all right.

How long does a car inspection take?

How long a car inspection takes depends on the type of inspection your vehicle is undergoing, as well as your state’s requirements for the inspection process. Typically, inspections can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or more, depending on what type of inspection your car needs.

Emissions tests

Emissions testing typically takes about 15 to 30 minutes. There is no federal standard for emissions testing, so each state and municipality can set its own requirements, meaning the timing can vary by location. The longer the list of requirements, the longer the test will take.

Safety inspections

Depending on the safety requirements and standards set by your state, a safety inspection can take as long as an hour, if not longer. Safety inspections tend to be more complicated; they involve checking more items than emissions tests do, which is why they can take longer.

What happens if my car fails inspection?

If your car fails inspection, you will have to take it to a repair shop so the necessary repairs can be made. Once your car is fixed, you can restart the process to have it inspected again. There are several common reasons why vehicles might fail inspection:

Cracked windshield

Even if your windshield only has a small crack in it that doesn’t obstruct your view of the road, it can be enough for your car to fail its inspection. If the damage is larger than one inch in diameter, or if the repair is larger than three-sixteenths of an inch or will be within four inches of another repair, the windshield can’t be fixed to pass a safety inspection.

Worn-out tires

If there is any point where your tires are worn lower than two-thirty-seconds of an inch, the car will fail the safety inspection. For some tires, wear to that degree can take only a couple of years, so it’s important to pay attention to the condition of your tires before you get your vehicle inspected.

Torn windshield wipers

Torn wiper blades can also cause a car to fail a safety inspection. Wipers must be able to effectively clear the windshield for a safe level of visibility. If your wipers leave streaks on the windshield, it could mean they’re torn, and you’ll have to get them changed before you return for another inspection. Thankfully, this is a relatively inexpensive fix.

What do I need to bring to a car inspection?

When it comes time to have your vehicle inspected by a mechanic, you’ll need to bring a handful of documents with you, including proof of liability insurance, a certificate of vehicle registration, your driver’s license, and a renewal notice (which you should receive either electronically or by mail).

You can look up your state’s inspection checklist online ahead of time to ensure you bring all of the required documents with you to your car’s inspection.

Where can I get my car inspected?

You can get your car inspected either at a state-operated inspection station or in a privately owned garage that is authorized by your state’s Department of Transportation. You can check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to see if you are required to get your car inspected.

FAQ

How long do most car inspections take?

The length of time a car inspection takes depends on the type of inspection you are having done. For example, an emissions test can be done in as little as 15 minutes. For a car safety inspection, on the other hand, you should expect to wait an hour or more, as these involve a more in-depth inspection process.

What will fail a vehicle inspection?

There are various reasons why a vehicle fails inspection, including excessive window tint, worn-out tires, torn windshield wipers, a cracked windshield, and defective license plate lights. If your car fails inspection, you will need to get the necessary repairs done before you can take it back to the mechanic to have it inspected again.

How do I prepare for an inspection checklist?

You can look up your particular state’s inspection checklist online before going in for a vehicle inspection. Generally, you will at least need to bring proof of liability insurance, a certificate of vehicle registration, your driver’s license, and a renewal notice.

Why is a vehicle inspection necessary?

Getting a safety inspection for your vehicle can help ensure that it’s safe to drive, which will keep you and other drivers safe. It can also keep your car up to date on repairs, saving you money by detecting problems early on before they become worse (and more expensive to fix).

An emissions test can ensure your car is maintaining efficiency and limiting its contribution to smog and pollution.

How long can you drive with an expired inspection sticker?

Each state’s grace period for driving with an expired inspection sticker differs. Some states, such as North Carolina, have a grace period of only 15 days, while other states don’t have a grace period at all. Fines for tickets will increase the longer you drive after your inspection sticker’s expiration date without getting it renewed.

How old does a car have to be to not need an inspection?

This also varies by state, although most states provide inspection exemptions for historic or collector vehicles. These cars typically must be at least 25 years old and be driven fewer than 3,000 miles per year to qualify for an inspection exemption.

Key Takeaways

  • A car inspection is a routine auto service that is required to ensure your vehicle conforms to state safety regulations and emissions standards.
  • The three main types of car inspections are safety inspections, VIN checks, and emissions testing.
  • Although different states have different requirements for car inspections, it’s generally a good idea to get your vehicle inspected once a year to ensure it is functioning properly.
  • Emissions tests can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, while safety inspections can take up to an hour or longer, depending on the state inspection regulations.
  • A cracked windshield, worn-out tires, and torn windshield wipers are a few common reasons cars fail inspections.
  • You can get your car inspected either at a state-operated inspection station or in a privately owned garage authorized by your state’s Department of Transportation.

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View Article Sources
  1. Section 11: Vehicle Inspection Test – California Department of Motor Vehicles
  2. Common Causes of Inspection Failure—Personal Vehicles – Washington D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles
  3. How to Inspect a Used Car – Consumer Reports
  4. How Long Does A Car Inspection Take? – Consumer Insurance Report