Inspection Tips for Cars


What is involved in a safety inspection?

The safety inspection critieria set by the North Carolina Department of Transportation is designed to make sure that your vehicle is operating safely and includes checks of your vehicle's:

  • Headlights, stop and warning lights, and turn signals
  • Foot and parking brakes
  • Tires for damage and minimum tread depth
  • Steering mechanism
  • Rear-view mirrors
  • Window tinting
  • Horn
  • Windshield wipers

If your vehicle passes, you'll receive a receipt with your results and the DMV will automatically be notified to clear the way for your vehicle registration renewal.

If any item on the checklist fails, you'll receive instructions on what needs to be repaired and the due date for the repair to be completed. Once your repair is complete, simply return to any of our DEKRA stations for a retest.


How often is a safety inspection required?

The State of North Carolina requires a safety inspection each year for most vehicles, but there are a few exceptions noted below. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will send you an annual vehicle registration renewal notice that will note the due date for your inspection.


Which vehicles do not require a safety inspection?

The annual safety inspection is not required for:

  • Vehicles 35 years old or more
  • Drivers who just moved from out of state to North Carolina. You will be allowed to register your vehicle in North Carolina without an inspection, but when your next annual registration renewal is due, your vehicle will need to be inspected.

All other passenger vehicles require a safety inspection, however only some vehicles require an emissions inspection in addition to the safety inspection (see details below).


What is involved in an emission inspection?

North Carolina emissions inspections use computerized equipment to capture information from your vehicle's On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) system to determine if your emissions system is operating properly. Our technicians also complete a visual inspection of your emissions system and its components.

If your vehicle passes, you'll receive a receipt with your results and the DMV will automatically be notified to in preparation of your vehicle's registration renewal.

If your vehicle fails its emissions inspection, you'll receive instructions on what needs to be repaired before returning to any of our DEKRA stations for a free retest. The NC DMV does allow for failure waivers in certain cases, such as if you cannot afford the repair or if the parts required for a repair are no longer available. 


Which vehicles do not require an emissions inspection?

The rules for emission inspections vary by the county of the vehicle's registration and the type and model year of your vehicle. Exemptions can be categorized as follows:

1) Certain counties do not require an emissions inspection. 
There are 48 counties in North Carolina that require an emissions inspection in addition to the state-mandated safety inspection. Check the NC DMV web site for a list of counties.

2) Very old and very new vehicles are exempt from emissions testing.
Emissions inspections are not required for certain model-year vehicles, although a safety inspection may still be required.

  • Models three years old and newer with fewer than 70,000 miles are exempt
  • Model years 1995 and older are exempt from emissions testing

3) Certain types of vehicles do not require an emissions inspection.
Special vehicle types do not need to undergo an emissions test for any model year, although a safety inspection may still be required. 

The following vehicle types are exempt from emissions testing:

  • Fully electric vehicles (note that hybrids using gasoline do require emissions testing)
  • Diesel-operated vehicles
  • Heavy-duty vehicles (greater than 8,500 pounds) and
  • Farm vehicles
  • Motorcycles
  • Recreational vehicles (RVs) and motor homes


Tips for passing your inspection:

The following tips will help your car, SUV, hybrid, van, or pick-up truck pass its inspection, and at the same time help the environment!

  • Regular maintenance
    Change your oil and filters as recommended by your vehicle's manufacturer (usually every 3 months or 3,000 miles) to help your vehicle operate efficiently and increase its odds of passing the emission test. It is also important to use the type of oil and fuel recommended by the manufacturer for best performance.
  • Watch for leaks
    Low fluid levels can affect the efficiency and performance of your vehicle, which can cause a test failure.
  • Gas cap required
    State regulations require that your gas cap is in place and is of the correct type for your vehicle to avoid excess evaporative emissions. This is important, as not only can a properly fitting cap save you money at the pump, but too much evaporative emissions can trigger your vehicle's check engine light and produce a test failure.
  • Watch for warning lights
    The same "On Board Diagnostics" system in your vehicle that triggers the warning light is the same system that reports its information to our inspection station's computer determining if your vehicle meets state requirements, so if your vehicle's computer is triggering a "Check Engine" light, it may not pass the inspection.
  • New or disconnected battery?
    If your battery is disconnected, or if it died and needed a jump start, your vehicle's computer system resets itself and would fail due to a lack of data even if your vehicle is operating properly. Driving between 100 - 150 miles (consult your vehicle's manual for an exact number) before coming in for your inspection will make sure your vehicle has gathered enough information for its test
  • Take notice of warning signs
    Road-weary vehicles can start to show signs of a faulty emissions system, including difficulty starting or staying running at idle, jumping or shaking at higher speeds, and misfires. Taking your vehicle to a certified repair shop as soon as you notice a worsening trend can catch problems before they escalate into a more major repair or test failure.


Visit a DEKRA station for more expert advice and a fast, professional vehicle inspection.


State of North Carolina Resources

Visit the NC DMV site

The NC DMV answers questions on registration and inspection program rules. Visit
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