Car Inspections and Insurance: What You Should Know

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mechanic inspecting a car

Some states require a vehicle inspection to ensure your car is safe to drive and isn’t dangerous to others. State inspections include emission, safety, and vehicle identification number (VIN) inspections, and you must pass them to drive legally.

Your car insurance company might also require a pre-inspection before insuring your vehicle. Insurers perform these inspections to prevent insurance fraud, verify the vehicle mileage, condition, and ownership, and identify vehicle damage after an accident.

Keep reading to learn how inspections work, the different types and requirements, and what happens if you fail an inspection.

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How Inspections for Car Insurance Work

New vehicles usually don’t require an inspection, but you may need one to get auto coverage on a used vehicle. Insurance companies sometimes require one before issuing you a policy or allowing you to purchase comprehensive and collision coverage.

Insurance inspections also document your car’s current condition to prevent fraudulent claims for existing damage.

Your insurer might only require you to take photos of your vehicle with your phone or take it to a mechanic, repair shop, or other approved inspection site for a physical inspection. When getting the inspection, you’ll usually need documents such as your driver’s license, vehicle title or registration, and proof of insurance.

Insurance inspections aren’t the same as state-required inspections. Many states require pre-registration, annual or biannual safety, and air quality inspections to keep drivers safe on the road. Although a state-mandated inspection usually won’t affect your insurance, it can prevent you from renewing your vehicle registration, which is required to drive legally.

Types of Car Inspections

car inspector checking car wheels

The types of car inspections you may need depend on where you live and your vehicle’s age. The most common types are VIN, safety, and emissions inspections.

VIN inspections

A VIN is a 17-character code unique to each vehicle — think of it as your car’s Social Security number. During a VIN inspection, the inspector checks your car’s VIN to verify that you’re the owner and confirm the make and model year. An odometer verification may also be a part of the VIN inspection, which confirms the vehicle’s mileage.

Safety inspections

A vehicle safety inspection focuses on specific systems and parts of your car to ensure it’s safe to drive. Though the inspection process can vary by state, most safety inspections involve checking the working and physical condition of your car, including its:

  • Windshield wipers
  • Seat belts
  • Brakes
  • Tires
  • Lights
  • Horn
  • Mirrors
  • Suspension
  • Alignment and steering

Emissions inspections

An emissions inspection (sometimes called a smog check) tests your car to make sure it’s not releasing too much pollution into the air. The type of test depends on your vehicle’s age and its diagnostics system, but common emissions inspections include:

  • Single idle speed test: Checks the car’s emission while idling (leaving the engine running while it’s not in motion) for model years 1976 through 1980.
  • Second-generation onboard diagnostics: Verifies that the onboard diagnostic system (OBD) works correctly for 1996 or older vehicles.
  • Gas cap pressure test: Ensures your gas cap is secure enough to prevent vapors from escaping around the seal.
  • Tailpipe test: Checks tailpipe emissions and ensures the onboard emission control system (ECS) works properly.
  • Visual inspection and maintenance: Ensures emission control systems are functional and the catalytic converter and muffler are in working condition and properly installed.

Common Car Inspection Requirements

mechanic looking at car wheels

Vehicle inspection requirements vary by inspection type, state, and, sometimes, by ZIP code or county. Here are some common car inspection requirements that may apply to your vehicle:

  • Vehicle age and mileage: Your car’s age and mileage often determine whether you need to complete a safety or emissions inspection. For example, all vehicles must undergo an annual safety inspection in Texas. But vehicles that are gas-powered, between two and 24 years old, and registered in certain counties must also undergo an emission test.
  • Inspection frequency: Most states requiring an inspection want them done every year. Maine drivers, for example, must get a vehicle safety inspection annually — but Cumberland County residents also have to complete an emissions inspection. Some states, like Illinois and Maryland, only require emission testing every other year.
  • Car inspection type: The type of car inspection determines what the inspector checks. For instance, during a smog or emissions test, the inspector checks the vehicle’s onboard diagnostic or tailpipe emissions to ensure it meets the state’s air quality emissions limit. But during a safety inspection, the inspector checks that various parts of the car, such as the lighting, tires, windshield, brakes, steering, and suspension systems, are in good working order to ensure driver safety.

Car inspection requirements by state

Although most states require some kind of vehicle inspection, not all do. The requirements, frequency, vehicle guidelines, and cost vary widely by state. Check your state’s bureau or department of motor vehicles (DMV) to find out which inspection requirements you must meet.

The table below shows the inspection requirements for each state.

State Inspection Requirements
Alabama VIN inspection
Alaska VIN inspection
Arizona Emissions inspection
Arkansas No requirements
California Smog test and VIN inspection
Colorado Emissions inspection
Connecticut Emissions and VIN inspection
Delaware Emissions and safety inspection
Florida Odometer verification and VIN inspection
Georgia Emissions inspection
Hawaii Safety inspection
Idaho Emissions and VIN inspection
Illinois Emissions and VIN inspection
Indiana Emissions and VIN inspection
Iowa No requirements
Kansas VIN inspection
Kentucky VIN inspection
Louisiana Emissions and safety inspection
Maine Emissions and safety inspection
Maryland Emissions and safety inspection
Massachusetts Emissions and safety inspection
Michigan No requirements
Minnesota No requirements
Mississippi No requirements
Missouri Emissions and safety inspection
Montana VIN inspection
Nebraska Odometer verification and VIN inspection
Nevada Emissions inspection
New Hampshire Emissions and safety inspection
New Jersey Emissions inspection
New Mexico Emissions and VIN inspection
New York Emissions and safety inspection
North Carolina Emissions and safety inspection
North Dakota No requirements
Ohio Emissions and VIN inspection
Oklahoma No requirements
Oregon Emissions and VIN inspection
Pennsylvania Emissions and safety inspection
Rhode Island Emissions, safety, and VIN inspection
South Carolina No requirements
South Dakota No requirements
Tennessee No requirements
Texas Emissions and safety inspection
Utah Emissions and VIN inspection
Vermont Emissions and VIN inspection
Virginia Emissions and safety inspection
Washington VIN inspection
Washington, D.C. Emissions inspection
West Virginia Safety inspection
Wisconsin Emissions inspection
Wyoming No requirements

States that require a CARCO inspection

A CARCO inspection is a free pre-insurance inspection that some states require to prevent fraud and help lower comprehensive and collision insurance costs. The following states require CARCO photo inspections:

  • Florida
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York

You’ll need to give the CARCO inspector an insurance document that lists your insurance company, policy number, and vehicle description, such as a copy of your insurance declarations page. The inspection process usually takes around 15 minutes.

The inspector will take photos of your vehicle to document any damage, accessories, and options it has. They’ll also document the odometer reading, VIN, and any other information your state or insurance company may require. Once it’s complete, you’ll receive a copy of the inspection report to send to your insurer, plus the photos taken during the inspection.

What to Expect If Your Car Fails Inspection

car inspection in progress

It’s important to pass your car inspection to legally drive it with insurance coverage that satisfies your state’s requirements. If you fail it, your state will give you a grace period to fix the issue, but this will vary by inspection type and state.

For example, if you fail the inspection because of a burnt-out tail light bulb, you can replace the bulb and go for reinspection, which you should pass.

Some states offer waivers for certain inspections. For instance, if you fail your initial emissions testing in Texas but drive less than 5,000 miles per year, spend at least $100 trying to repair the issue, and still fail the retest, you may be eligible for a low-mileage waiver.

On the other hand, if you don’t complete the CARCO inspection during the grace period, your insurer will suspend your vehicle’s comprehensive and collision coverage. To be eligible for physical damage coverage, you’ll have to take your car for a CARCO inspection and provide your insurer with the report.

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FAQs About Car Inspections and Insurance

We answered the most common questions about car insurance and inspections below.

Where can you get a car insurance inspection?

The location of car insurance inspections depends on the type and state. The sheriff’s office or DMV can complete a VIN inspection in most states, while others have licensed private verifiers. Check your state’s DMV website to determine where to go to complete your inspection.

Will insurance cover a car inspection?

No. Your insurance won’t cover routine inspections, like safety inspections and emissions testing. But insurance-related inspections, like post-claim or CARCO inspections, are usually free. If there’s a cost, your insurance should cover it.

Why does my insurance want pictures of my car?

Insurance companies want pictures of your car for various reasons. For instance, if you’re getting a new policy or renewing your existing policy, the insurer may want to verify your vehicle’s current condition and identify existing damage. When you file a claim, the insurer will use photos to verify damage, confirm the claim details, and determine repair costs and claim payouts.

How much does a state inspection cost?

State inspection costs vary by type of inspection and location. For example, a safety inspection costs $13.60 in North Carolina. In New York, a safety inspection costs $6–$20, and emissions inspections cost $11–$27.

How can you pass a car insurance inspection?

Check your local car insurance inspection requirements to understand what the inspector looks for. Inspection requirements vary by locality and inspection type. But if you know what those requirements are in advance, you can address any known issues, which increases your chances of passing the inspection the first time.


  1. CARCO Group, “CARCO FAQs,” Accessed March 25, 2024.
  2. Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, “Vehicle Emissions Testing Program,” Accessed March 25, 2024.
  3. Maine Department of Public Safety, “Motor Vehicle Inspections,” Accessed March 25, 2024.
  4. Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration VEIP, “VEIP Frequently Asked Questions,” Accessed March 25, 2024.
  5. New York Department of Motor Vehicles, “Inspection Groups and Fee Chart,” Accessed March 25, 2024.
  6. North Carolina Department of Transportation, “Safety Inspections,” Accessed March 25, 2024.
  7. Texas Department of Public Safety, “Inspection Criteria for the Annual SAFETY Inspection,” Accessed March 25, 2024.
  8. Texas Department of Public Safety, “Waivers and Time Extensions,” Accessed March 25, 2024.

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