North Carolina requires most vehicles to pass a safety inspection every year before registration renewal. Vehicles which are 35 years old or older are exempt from the annual safety inspection. Vehicles registered in any of 48 designated North Carolina counties must also pass an annual emissions test. Those vehicles that are 35 years old or older, model year 1995 or older, licensed under the farmer rate and diesel vehicles are exempt from emissions testing.
There are 7,500 licensed inspection stations in North Carolina. In the 48 counties requiring emissions testing, the inspection stations perform both tests at the same time. In 2012, a stand-alone safety inspection costs $13.60 and a combined safety and emissions test costs $30.00. Any vehicle, new or used, sold at retail in North Carolina must pass the necessary inspection no more than 12 months before sale. The North Carolina DMV will issue a 10-day permit to enable the owner of an unregistered vehicle to drive the vehicle for the purpose of inspection and registration.
When moving from a non-emissions testing county to one of the counties that requires emissions testing, the owner does not have to have the vehicle tested until its current registration expires. A new resident to North Carolina may register a vehicle without an inspection.
North Carolina uses an On-Board Diagnostic test for its emissions testing. The testing device, or analyzer, connects to the vehicle's onboard computer and downloads information pertaining to the vehicle's emission system. Prior to conducting the emissions test, the mechanic makes sure that the vehicle's VIN matches the VIN listed on the vehicle's registration and that the license plate number on the vehicle and registration match. After having all occupants exit the vehicle, the inspector drives the vehicle into the inspection bay. He then enters the vehicle's information into the testing device. The mechanic checks the malfunction indicator lamp or "check engine" light to ensures its proper operation.
Once the analyzer connects to the vehicle's onboard diagnostics connector, the inspector starts the engine and the data downloads from the car's computer. To pass the emissions test, the vehicle's carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon levels must be within the standards for the vehicle's class and age. The next step is the exhaust emission controls tampering check. The inspector does a visual check of each component installed on the vehicle at the time of manufacturer to determine that they are in working order and have not been tampered with.
The inspection mechanic does not need to remove any wheels to inspect a vehicle's brakes unless during testing there is an audible indication of excess brake lining wear. During the brake inspection, the mechanic checks the brakes, including the parking brake, for proper operation, fluid levels and excessive wear. All lights, including headlights, tail, brake, license plate and turn indicator lights must function and be mounted properly and not have any cracks in the lenses to pass. Headlights must be properly aimed. The inspector tests the horn to make sure it's working and that it's securely mounted and that it has no frayed wires.
The vehicle is raised for the mechanic to inspect the springs and steering mechanism. If the vehicle has power steering, the engine must run during inspection. The inspector checks for excessive free play, leaks and worn or loose steering gear. Windshield wipers must function and the blades must be in good condition. If the car has aftermarket window tint, the inspector uses a photometer to make sure the window has a light transmittance of 32 percent or greater. All rear view mirrors must have proper mounts and be adjustable. Cars sold after January 1, 1966 must have a driver-side outside mirror.
To inspect the tires the mechanic has to completely lift each tire off the ground. He checks the tires for cuts or tears that expose the cords, as well as for bumps or knots. The inspector also measures the tread depth to make sure it is at least two thirty-seconds of an inch deep.
If a vehicle fails any part of the inspection, the mechanic explains the reason for the failure and the repairs that will be necessary for the vehicle to pass a second inspection. If the owner of the vehicle has the vehicle repaired and returns to the original inspection station within 30 days there is no additional charge for the second inspection.
- North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles: Vehicle Emissions & Safety Inspection
- North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles: Q & A: Frequently - asked questions about the electronic inspection program
- North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles: On Board Diagnostics (OBD) Emissions Certification Course Inspection Procedures
- North Carolina Department of Transportation: North Carolina Administrative Code 19A 03D Section .0500, 2012: Vehicle Inspection Guidance
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