Learn About Emissions Inspections

Emissions testing is required in many states and for many vehicles to ensure that vehicles meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. Seniors may have to perform a smog check annually to certify the safety of their vehicles if they maintain ownership of their vehicles and operate them on public roads and highways. These inspections are conducted on new and used cars, trucks and heavy-duty engines on a regular basis and whenever EPA guidelines change. In compliance with the Clean Air Act, a vehicle inspection became a commonly enforced practice to limit air pollution and to control air quality. However, only areas subject to significant pollution resulting from transportation and interstate travel were required to implement inspections. Vehicle emissions testing requirements are different from one state to the other, but all senior car owners should be familiar with testing protocols to make sure they abide by new emissions regulations. To learn how vehicle inspections are performed a when they are required and if seniors may be required to request inspections, review the following sections.

What are smog inspections?

A smog test is usually part of a state’s programs dedicated to improving air quality. Because emissions inspection reports have revealed that several harmful pollutants are emitted by vehicles, checks and emissions devices are essential in reducing air pollution. During a smog check, professional vehicle technicians will determine whether the vehicle requires an inspection or not. Additionally, the technicians will give seniors the estimated cost of the vehicle inspection and repairs (if applicable). For a vehicle to pass emissions testing, all equipment involved in filtering exhaust and other fumes must be up-to-date and functional, there must not be any leaks and all vehicle components required to monitor and control pollution must be present or be installed immediately. However, vehicle emissions testing does vary depending on the type of vehicle being assessed and the state in which the test takes place. For instance, California has a detailed list of required tests that must be administered during smog checks based on the vehicle’s age and type. A list of some vehicle parts that must be evaluated during inspections is provided below:

  • Thermostatic air cleaner
  • Fuel evaporative system (EVAP)
  • Ignition spark controls
  • Air injection system
  • On-board diagnostics (OBD)
  • Malfunction indicator light (MIL)

While emissions testing does create a healthier and safer environment for drivers, the tests should not be confused with vehicle safety inspections which may inspect other vehicle attributes. It is important for seniors to learn about the differences between an emissions test and an inspection, as your state may have different requirements for each. Vehicles must have an accurate and detailed smog check history to determine how vehicles operate and how they can be improved. Issuing mandatory inspections can help states identify and repair vehicles that produce excess emissions to reduce the prevalence of air pollution and increase vehicle performance. Information provided by the National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory (NVFEL) helps establish new smog testing procedures and create updated emissions standards and reduction techniques.

When are Emission Inspections Required?

An emissions inspection for seniors can be performed at varying times during the year. Often, states require emissions testing when vehicles are registered in the state and annually, or biannually, following the initial vehicle registration process. If senior car owners are unsure when previous inspections have occurred and cannot find when future inspections must be requested, they may search the vehicle’s smog check history to find the date of the last inspection using the vehicle’s license plate number of vehicle identification number (VIN). You should familiarize yourself with your state’s requirements to know how frequently you should get your vehicle inspected.

Which states require inspections?

Most states have some emissions testing requirements to which senior car owners must adhere to maintain their vehicles. Most states have at least basic inspection requirements for vehicles related to air quality control, but some states have strict inspection guidelines.

How to Find Emissions Testing Locations

“Where can I find emissions testing near me?” is a question many seniors may ask themselves when looking to comply with their state’s emissions guidelines. There are various vehicle inspection stations located in all states requiring testing. Many emissions testing stations are at approved auto repair shops. To find the appropriate station to conduct an inspection, seniors must consider the resources available at testing sites and how much they can afford. Smaller stations may charge less for services, but they may also have less access to vehicle parts and be less able to address emission issues. Seniors are encouraged to contact potential testing stations prior to visiting them to determine if they can complete an inspection for their vehicles.

What vehicles are exempted from smog inspections?

Vehicles may be exempt from receiving emissions inspections due to numerous reasons. Often, older vehicles, some zero emission vehicles, vehicles with different engines, personal cars and trailers do not need smog checks to remain registered and legal in most states. However, vehicle exemptions will vary by state since states set individual vehicle laws and emissions programs.