A car inspection is a procedure performed by a licensed mechanic, dealership, or an official with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that determines if a vehicle conforms with safety and emission regulations. They typically check different aspects of the car such as brakes, steering and suspension, tires, lights, and more. Because this is a relatively thorough process that requires a licensed party, you might think it costs a pretty penny to have performed. Thankfully, that’s not usually the case.
The majority of car inspections will cost between $10 and $80. However, sources recommend you expect to pay $150-$250, as some states charge pricy fees when combining safety and emission with VIN inspections, while others will offer certain inspections for free. Ultimately, inspection cost is dependent on your state of residency and vehicle type.
In this article, we’ll explain what factors contribute to the overall cost of car inspections and whether a vehicle is required to be inspected in order to legally drive it. Additionally, we’ll discuss the different types of inspections and how your state of residency can affect which inspections you’ll need.
What Is the Average Cost of a Car Inspection?
Getting your car inspected isn’t usually a new concept to most drivers and vehicle owners. However, if you’ve just purchased your first car or moved to a new state, you might not know what a car inspection entails, let alone what it costs.
There is no definitive average cost of car inspections in the United States. Many sources will claim the average is from $150-$250, but in reality, you can pay as little as $9 in Tennessee or as much as $112 in Nevada.
Most inspections individually won’t cost more than $10-$25, but if you live in a state that requires all three types of inspections, then that overall cost can quickly increase to the hefty $150-$250 you’re probably reluctant to pay. In the end, there is a wide range of factors that contribute to car inspection cost and result in this significant price gap.
After reading how vast the range of car inspection costs can be, the next question you’re probably wondering is what contributes to this cost. How can a car inspection in one place cost hundreds of dollars versus another, where it costs less than a tank of gas? Well, here is the answer!
Five overarching factors typically determine car inspection costs:
- State of Residency
- Inspection Type
- Inspection Location
- Vehicle Size
- Vehicle Model Year
The combination of these factors will ultimately determine how many types of inspections your vehicle needs, how long your inspection(s) will take, and the overall cost.
Possibly the most influential factor regarding your car inspection’s cost is your state of residency. The legality of car inspections lies on the state level, which is why the prices of inspection per state vary drastically.
In some states, getting your car inspected by a registered mechanic or similar party is completely free, whereas other states allow these professionals to charge per inspection.
The other element at play here is that different states require different types of inspections in order for owners to legally drive their cars. Most will at least require a safety inspection, but some states will require emission and/or VIN inspections as well. Obviously, the more inspections you need on your car, the longer the inspection process lasts as a whole, and the more you have to pay.
In addition to dictating what types of inspections your car will need and, consequentially, what parts of your car are inspected, states will have their own criteria of how frequently these inspections need to occur. This is typically annually or biannually.
That being said, there are several states that don’t legally require vehicles to pass any form of inspection to be driven on the road, so knowing your state’s laws on this matter is extremely important when you’re budgeting for the cost of your car’s upcoming inspection.
We’ve already alluded to this point a few times, but it plays a key role in the cost of your car’s inspection, so we’re going to discuss it in more detail here.
As we mentioned previously, there are a total of three types of inspections your car might be legally required to pass according to your state’s laws. These include:
- Safety Inspection
- Emissions Inspection
- VIN Inspection
Some of these are certainly more common than others and can easily boost your overall car inspection to that $150-$250 range. Let’s discuss what each inspection entails and their average costs.
The safety inspection is a common inspection type that most states legally require. The purpose of this inspection is to ensure a vehicle registered within that state meets its minimum standards for safe operation on public streets and highways.
While criteria on safety inspections can vary slightly by state, most will check components such as:
- Seat belts
- Steering and suspensions systems
- Braking system
- The windshield
- Wiper blades
- The horn
- The front end assembly
If all of these parts meet state safety standards, your car will pass inspection. If not, you’ll need to fix or replace the parts before your car can pass.
On average, a safety inspection won’t take more than 15-45 minutes when performed by an experienced professional. This is one of the reasons why it is one of the cheapest types of inspections, as it rarely costs more than $10-$20 in any state. Of course, prices may vary depending on the inspector, and safety inspections are often bundled with emissions inspections, so the overall cost will be higher.
An emissions inspection is the inspection states will require most. It focuses on inspecting a vehicle’s exhaust system to ensure it isn’t releasing dangerous levels of pollutants into the atmosphere that could damage the environment.
Pollutants inspectors will check for in your vehicle’s exhaust include:
- Carbon monoxide
- Oxides of nitrogen
This is another relatively short inspection that takes about 15-30 minutes to complete, on average, but costs slightly more than the standard safety inspection. Most emission inspections will cost closer to $15-$25 when not combined with a safety test, and need to be performed every year or every two years.
A “Vehicle Identification Number” (VIN) Inspection is a physical inspection of your car’s VIN to ensure it is present and matches the details stored about this vehicle in the state’s DMV databases.
For this inspection, inspectors will check your car’s:
- VIN number
- Body type model
- Emissions label
This information is then recorded on a REG31 form by a DMV employee, CHP/other law enforcement, AAA employee, or private VIN verifiers.
If your car’s VIN is not present, this indicates it is not a registered vehicle in this state, and if the VIN does not match DMV records, it might indicate this is a stolen vehicle.
This inspection is typically required for out-of-state vehicles, first-time registrations, and registration renewals. Another scenario where a VIN inspection might be necessary is if your vehicle has its body’s configuration changed, resulting in a new BTM (body type model).
VIN inspections are often listed as registration fees, and so, their cost is a part of the registration as a whole, ranging anywhere from $8-$225. This is usually the main contributing factor to the high inspection costs rather than the VIN, safety, or emissions inspections themselves.
An element of your car’s inspection cost that you can control is where you go for the inspection. While most locations tend to stay within the same general range for cost, some inspectors will charge more than others to perform this task. This is often related to their hourly labor costs, and so, the longer your inspection takes and the more they charge per hour, the more you’ll pay.
We recommend comparing various mechanics and other registered companies in your region to see who has the most reasonable price for these car inspections that do not exceed the state’s average cost.
While it might not seem fair, your car’s size can also affect how much it costs to get inspected. This is for two reasons.
The first reason is simply that larger cars take longer to inspect thoroughly. There’s more for the inspector to look over, so your inspection might take closer to 45 minutes or an hour to complete rather than the 15 to 20 minutes it would for a smaller car. Since mechanics often charge hourly rates, the longer they’re looking things over, the more you pay.
Another reason why larger vehicles will pay more is because inspections and registrations are sometimes charged based on a vehicle’s weight.
In states like New York, vehicles can be split into various categories with set inspection fees based on their gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). These categories include:
- Light Vehicles: has a seating capacity of less than 15 passengers and a maximum gross weight (MGW) of 10,001 pounds
- Heavy Vehicles: has a seating capacity of more than 14 passengers and an MGW over 18,000 pounds
Weight can also play a role in a car’s emission inspection, as vehicles with a GVWR under 8,500 pounds are subject to a different inspection price than those who exceed this weight.
The final factor that can contribute to the cost of your car’s inspection is its model year. This mostly affects the vehicle’s emissions inspection, as there are exemptions to how the emission inspection is conducted based on how old your car is and the features it has as a result.
For example, when performing an emissions inspection, most mechanics with use a vehicle’s on-board diagnostic system (OBDII). However, while most cars with a model year of 1996 or newer have one of these ports, this isn’t always the case. If your car’s model year is older than 1996 or it lacks an OBDII system entirely, your inspector will need to resort to an alternative method and perform the inspection through the vehicle’s tailpipe, which might affect the overall cost.
Some states will also have criteria of vehicles that are exempt from an emissions inspection entirely (ex. car models less than two years old are exempt in a number of states).
It’s also no secret that older cars tend to have more issues than newer ones, so your inspection might take longer as the inspector finds a number of issues that need to be remedied before your car can pass.
By now, you might be thinking that getting your car inspected is a huge financial and time hassle you wish you could just avoid. Fortunately, there are some of you who can!
Car inspections of any type are not universally required nationwide. Several states allow their citizens to drive cars without any form of inspection as long as the vehicle is legally registered.
Altogether, there are seven states that fall under this category and don’t require car inspections. They include:
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
In addition to these states, there are a vast number that might only require you to subject your vehicle to one kind of inspection, and if you live in the lucky states of Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, or Indiana, some or all of these inspections are offered free of charge.
Getting your car inspected can be a pricy endeavor, which is why it’s important to know what contributes to this cost, such as state requirements and frequency criteria. While it’s tempting to cut costs when it comes to your car, getting it inspected isn’t a time for this. In fact, the more you maintain your car, the quicker it will pass inspection and the more money you might save.
In the end, car inspections only exist to help keep drivers and the environment safe, so make sure you always have money saved for this necessity and don’t put your inspection off when it comes time to renew.