Inspection Tips for Cars
What is involved in a safety inspection?
The safety inspection critieria set by the State of Texas is designed to make sure that your vehicle is operating safely and includes checks of your vehicle's:
- Exhaust system
- Headlights, stop and warning lights, and turn signals
- Foot and parking brakes
- Wheel assembly and tires for damage/minimum tread depth
- Steering mechanism
- Rear-view mirrors
- Window tinting or coating
- Windshield wipers
- Seat belts
- Gas caps (for vehicles 2-24 model years old)
If your vehicle passes, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) will automatically be notified to clear the way for your vehicle registration renewal. Since the Texas "Two Steps One Sticker" program began in March 2015, you will no longer receive a sticker at the time of your inspection. Instead, you'll receive a Vehicle Inspection Report (VIR), then later at the time of your registration you'll receive a sticker that will serve as combined proof of both inspection and registration. Be sure to keep your VIR paperwork until you receive your actual sticker in case there is any issue with the DMV's electonic verification of your inspection!
If any item on the checklist fails, you'll receive instructions on what needs to be repaired. Once your repair is complete, simply return to any of our DEKRA stations within 15 days of your original inspection for a free retest.
How often is a safety inspection required?
The State of Texas requires a safety inspection each year for most vehicles, but there are a few exceptions noted below. The TxDMV will send you an annual vehicle registration renewal notice, and you will be granted a 90 day window to complete both your inspection and registration. There are also a few special cases that determine when your inspection is required:
- Multi-year Registrations - If you happen to have a multi-year registration, you will still be required to have your vehicle inspected each year. The TxDMV will send a reminder notice, and to avoid possible fines you'll need to complete inspection and submit payment to your county office for the state's portion of the inspection fee within 30 days of your registration month.
- New Residents - If you have recently moved to Texas, you have 30 days after your move to have your vehicle inspected and registered. Stop by a DEKRA station for your inspection first before visiting the TxDMV to process your new registration.
- Out of State Vehicles - If your vehicle is out of state at the time your inspection is due (such as if your college student attends university in another state), you can renew your registration with an out-of-state self-certification, but you'll have to complete your inspection within 3 days of returning to Texas.
- Used Car Sales and Title Transfers - If you purchase a vehicle from a dealership, they should sell the vehicle with a current inspection to allow you to immediately complete the title and registration at the TxDMV. However, if you purchase a vehicle from a private party or are given the title to a vehicle, you'll need to check the inspection status as the vehicle needs a current, passing vehicle inspection before you complete the necessary paperwork at the TxDMV.
Which vehicles are exempt from a safety inspection?
The annual safety inspection is not required for:
- Trailers or mobile homes with a registered gross weight of 4,500 lbs. or less
- Farm machinery and any vehicle required to display a "Slow-Moving Vehicle" emblem
- Road-building equipment
- Vehicles with special Texas permits, such as a one-trip or temporary 24-hour permit
- Vehicles with certain special Texas license plates including an Antique License, All-Terrain Vehicle Validation Sticker, or Charitable Organization Tag
All other vehicles require an annual 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?
For vehicles 1996 and newer, emissions testing uses 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.
For vehicles 1995 and older, a different test method is needed to evaluate performance of the emissions system. In El Paso, Travis and Williamson County, a "Two Speed Idle" (TSI) test is performed to measure and analyze emissions directly from the vehicle's tailpipe while idling at high and low speed. In Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston/Galveston areas, an "Accelerated Simulation Mode" (ASM) test uses a dynamometer to simulate driving conditions (like a treadmill for your vehicle) while the tailpipe analyzer measures emissions. If excessive amounts of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide or oxides of nitrogen are detected, your vehicle may fail its emissions test and you'll need to follow the same repair and retest instructions as for a failed safety inspection.
If your report shows excessive hydrocarbon (HC) emissions, it is an indication that the fuel in your engine is not burning completely. This can be caused by a problem with the engine, air pump, ignition system, exhaust gas recirculation system (EGR), catalytic converter, or gas cap.
If excessive carbon monoxide (CO) is detected, there may be either too much or too little air reaching the combustion chamber. This could be cased by a misadjusted carburetor, worn out rings or valve guides, or problem with the fuel injection or air pump systems.
If high oxides of nitrogen (NOx) are found, it can mean that you have a faulty catalytic converteror there may be too high temperatures in the combustion chamber caused by deposits or problems with related components. Check the air injection system, exhaust gas recirculation system (EGR), oxygen sensor, catalytic converter, and combustion chamber.
Which vehicles need 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) Only certain counties require an emissions inspection.
There are 17 counties in Texas that require an emissions inspection in addition to the state-mandated safety inspection:
- El Paso County
- Travis and Williamson Counties
- In the Houston/Galveston area: Montgomery, Harris, Ft. Bend, Brazoria, and Galveston counties
- In the Dallas/Fort Worth area: Denton, Collin, Rockwall, Kaufman, Ellis, Johnson, Parker, Tarrant, Dallas, and Denton counties
If you live in a county not mentioned above, you'll need to complete your annual safety inspection but an emissions test is not required.
2) Very old and very new vehicles are exempt from emissions testing.
Brand new vehicles do not require an emissions test in Texas until after their two-year initial inspection sticker expires. After a model year passes 24 years old, an emissions inspection is no longer required, but an annual safety inspection will still be needed before renewing your registration.
3) Certain types of vehicles do not require an emissions inspection.
Gasoline-powered vehicles require an emissions test (including hybrid vehicles), but currently diesel-powered vehicles, fully electric vehicles and motorcycles are exempt from the emissions test (although the annual safety inspection is still required).
Tips for passing your inspection:
The following tips will help your car 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
For vehicles model year 1996 and newer, 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.