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What is a North Carolina Vehicle Inspection?

Brandon Evans   |  November 26, 2018   |  

If you own a vehicle in North Carolina, state law requires you to comply with mandatory vehicle inspections. The state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) requires two different vehicle inspections before residents can lawfully drive: emissions and safety. The goal of mandatory vehicle inspections is to increase the safety of motor vehicles on the road and to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. Failing to comply with the stipulations of the laws could result in a ticket.

What Is the NC Vehicle Emissions Inspection?

Most North Carolina counties enforce mandatory vehicle emissions and safety tests before a driver can operate a vehicle. The vehicle emissions inspection is a test to see if your vehicle’s pollution control is adequate. It is something the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates to improve air quality. The only vehicles that are exempt from this requirement are those newer than three years old or with fewer than 70,000 miles; model year 1995 vehicles and older; diesel vehicles; and vehicles with insurance under the “farmer rate.”

Emissions inspections will no longer be a requirement in every North Carolina county starting December 1, 2018. Twenty-six counties will be nixing the emissions test requirement, with approval from the EPA. All counties will still require safety checks, however. If you fail a vehicle emissions test in North Carolina, you’ll have to fix the issue and have the shop re-inspect your vehicle. Driving with a vehicle that failed the emissions test is illegal and could result in penalties. The fee for taking the NC emissions test is $30.

What Is the Vehicle Safety Inspection?

Poorly maintained vehicles can cause preventable accidents through equipment failures and malfunctions. The point of North Carolina’s vehicle safety inspection requirement is to decrease the risk of maintenance-related car accidents, such as bad brakes or tire blowouts. Upon registration renewal, existing and new residents must bring their vehicles to designated locations for safety inspections. The only exempt vehicles are those 35 years and older. An inspector will look at the following components:

  • All brakes must work properly.
  • Exterior lights must all be in proper working order, with no cracks.
  • Must be audible at least 200 feet away, with no disconnected wires.
  • Good condition, with at least 2/32 inches of tread.
  • Must function properly and move freely.
  • Must operate freely and adequately clear material from the windshield.
  • Windows and windshield. Must have proper tinting, no major cracks.
  • Must be present and in good condition, no damage.

You must schedule your vehicle safety inspection appointment at a location near you. Search for the appropriate shop using the DMV online search tool. Bring your valid vehicle registration and $13.60 to pay the fee for your inspection appointment. The auto mechanics will inspect your vehicle and give either a passing or failing grade. If you pass, your results will go straight to the DMV (no window decal needed). If you fail, you’ll need to fix any problems and retake the inspection until you pass. You have 60 days for re-inspection before you’ll have to pay the fee for another one.

Do I Need Vehicle Inspections?

Unless you’re not a resident or your vehicle falls into an exempt category, you must undergo both types of tests before driving your motor vehicle. If you skip the inspection requirement, you may not be able to complete vehicle registration. You have 90 days to schedule and complete both inspections with passing grades before your registration expires. Otherwise, the DMV will bar registration renewal. Driving without a registration is a serious crime that could end in hefty fines and jail time. Don’t risk your driving record; complete the mandatory inspections before you drive in North Carolina.