How many kinds of car inspections are there?

Inspections boil down to three broad categories: safety, emissions, and physical.

  • Safety inspections determine if your car is safe to drive
  • Emissions inspections determine whether your car's emissions are within your state's or municipality's standards
  • Physical inspections are usually reserved for claims situations, where an adjuster evaluates damage to the car as part of the claims process

In some states, a physical car inspection is required before you can add a car to your policy. There are exceptions, like if you've just leased or bought a brand-new car. In those cases, the insurer may ask for copies of certain sales documents.

What do I need to get my car inspected?

In most states, you'll need to show proof of insurance to get your car inspected. Some states also require proof of current registration and a driver's license. In certain states and circumstances, you may also be asked to show proof of ownership (title), sale documents, or a VIN inspection form. In a few states, photo inspections are required for used cars, especially if you're looking to add collision and comprehensive coverage to the vehicle.

In many states, you'll need to show proof of insurance to get your car inspected.

Can I get my car inspected without my registration?

The laws vary by state and municipality when it comes to inspections and registrations. Only a handful of states require safety or emissions inspections. Of those, some states require you to pay your registration fee before you get your car inspected; other states flip the order and require an inspection before you can register the car. Check with your local mechanic or your insurer to find out what the requirements for car inspections are where you live.

Can I get an inspection sticker without insurance?

In most states, the answer is no, you can't get an inspection sticker without insurance. Almost every state requires car insurance, so driving your vehicle to its inspection without insurance would be illegal. When you bring your car to a mechanic, service station, or dealership to get it inspected, you may be asked to provide proof of insurance before they'll perform the inspection.

What do they check in a car inspection?

Car safety inspections vary according to state law. That said, items typically checked in a safety inspection include:

  • Tires
  • Brakes
  • Suspension
  • Alignment
  • Fuel system
  • Electrical system
  • Exhaust system
  • Windows and wipers
  • Lights and mirrors
  • Body and chassis
  • Instrument panel
  • On-board diagnostics (passenger cars 1996 and newer)

The laws in each state differ on other aspects of your safety inspection, too. For example, having a certain amount of brake pad depth may be acceptable in one state but may fail inspection in another.

What happens to my insurance if my car fails an inspection?

It depends on the situation. Most state laws require you to fix the issue within a certain period, usually a week or two. If you get it fixed within that time, it wouldn't be an issue for your insurance. However, if you were to get into an accident before correcting the problem, and the defective part or system contributed to the accident, your insurer might not cover any related claims.

If you get pulled over and issued a "fix-it" ticket for an issue such as a broken taillight, you'll have time to get it fixed and show proof so that the ticket won't show up on your driving record. If you don't get it fixed and get cited again, your insurer could raise your rate if they take non-moving violations into consideration when determining auto insurance rates.

Any time you get into an accident – whether a claim gets filed or you get points on your driving record – your insurance rates may be affected at your next renewal. Safety inspections help reduce the likelihood of accidents on the road due to cars not being properly maintained.

What happens to my car insurance if I don't get my car inspected?

Depending on the laws of your state, you may not be able to add a car to your auto insurance policy if you don't get it inspected. Once it's on the policy, though, your insurer generally won't check to see if you get it inspected per your state's laws.

However, it's a risk not to get it inspected. Even if they aren't checking, the insurer may still require it to be in place as a condition of your policy. If you get into an accident and your insurer finds that you didn't have your car inspection sticker, that could affect whether your insurer pays any claims made for the incident.