Car Inspection in North Carolina

SUMMARY: North Carolina Vehicle Inspections

The North Carolina inspections process consists of two parts: vehicle emissions inspections and safety inspections. Many North Carolina counties require both inspections upon registration renewal, though there are a few initial exceptions. North Carolina residents new to the state aren't required to bring their vehicles in for inspections until it's time to renew their NC registrations.

North Carolina requires most vehicles in designated counties to undergo safety and vehicle emissions inspections. Read on for information about requirements, exemptions, and even how to handle newly purchased vehicles.

New North Carolina Residents

First-time vehicle registration for new North Carolina residents doesn't require emissions or safety inspections; however, you must bring your vehicle in for a safety and smog check once it's time for you to renew your registration.

Inspection Requirements and Exemptions

Most vehicles in qualifying counties must undergo vehicle emissions and safety inspections.

As explained below (see our section About the North Carolina Inspection Program), there are two parts to the inspection process: emissions inspections and safety inspections. Your vehicle must pass both inspections before you can renew your registration.

You must complete both inspections within 90 days before your registration expires; otherwise, your registration renewal is blocked.

Vehicle Emissions Inspections

This inspection uses the computerized equipment installed on all vehicles model year 1996 and newer.

Exempt vehicles include:

  • Diesel-operated vehicles.
  • Vehicles model year 1995 and older.
  • Vehicles that are 35 years old or older.
  • Farmer-rate licensed vehicles.

Vehicle Safety Inspections

Most vehicles in North Carolina are required to undergo a safety inspection on their vehicle— only vehicles 35 years old or older are exempt from getting a safety check.

As mentioned above, your vehicle must undergo this inspection before you can renew its registration. Vehicle inspections can't be older than 90 days before you apply for renewal.

Completing a Vehicle Inspection in NC

You can search for an inspection location nearest you using the North Carolina Inspection Station Locations list. Make sure to call ahead for days and hours of operation.

You'll need to bring:

  • Your vehicle registration.
  • Applicable fees, which include:
    • $30 for the emissions inspection.
    • $13.60 for the vehicle safety inspection.

North Carolina no longer issues inspection stickers for your windshield; once you pass your inspections, the inspection station will enter your results into the DMV database.

However, you will receive a receipt noting the inspection's date, results, and station at which it occurred. Keep this receipt for your records—especially if you plan to sell your vehicle within the next 12 months*.

* Privately sold vehicles aren't required to undergo inspections in North Carolina if the DMV has positive inspection records on file from within 12 months of the transaction.

Vehicles Purchased from Private Parties

If you've recently purchased a used vehicle from a private seller, you must have the vehicle inspected before you can legally operate and register it*—UNLESS the former owner had the vehicle inspected at some point within the previous 12 months. The North Carolina DMV should have the inspection on file, but it's wise to ask the previous owner for a receipt, too.

Once everything checks out, you won't have to have the vehicle inspected again until it's time for registration renewal.

* If the previous owner hasn't had the vehicle inspected in the last 12 months, you can obtain a temporary permit for 10 days for the purpose of driving the vehicle to the inspection station and to have it registered. The permit is good only for insured vehicles. Obtain the permit from your local driver license agency or the NC License & Theft Bureau—visit their website for more information.

Failed Vehicle Inspections

If your vehicle fails the safety inspection, you must make the necessary repairs and undergo another inspection.

If your vehicle fails the emissions inspection, you might be eligible for an emissions waiver as long as it meets the criteria set forth in the North Carolina General Statute 20 – 183.5.

For more information about waiver eligibility, the NC DMV recommends contacting them at (877) 421-0020.

About the North Carolina Inspection Program

Emissions Inspections

Formally called the On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) Emissions Inspection, the emissions inspection in North Carolina is also commonly known as a “smog check." This test uses a computer that determines the vehicle's smog and emissions output, as well as how well its equipment functions.

Your vehicle will typically be hooked up to an apparatus that will test the emissions coming from your exhaust pipe. If your vehicle falls within the acceptable range, you will pass your test.

Safety Inspections

Your vehicle safety inspection determines the safety of various vehicle components including, but not limited to:

  • Tire quality.
  • Lights:
    • Brake lights, headlamps, turn signals, etc.
  • Windshield wipers.
  • Window quality.
  • Horn.

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