General Information

Where are emissions inspections required? [Back to Top]
Emissions inspections are required in 19 counties: Alamance, Buncombe, Cabarrus, Cumberland, Davidson, Durham, Forsyth, Franklin, Gaston, Guilford, Iredell, Johnston, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Randolph,  Rowan, Union, or Wake.

What is On-Board Diagnostics (OBD)? [Back to Top]
OBD is a system that assesses and monitors the performance of engine components, emissions controls and sensors, and the car computer itself, and communicates its findings to the technician by means of diagnostic trouble codes.

Does my vehicle need an emissions inspection? [Back to Top]
If you own a 1996 and newer vehicle (20 most current model year vehicles, beginning December 1, 2019) registered in one of the above counties, an annual OBD "emissions" inspection along with a safety/tamper inspection is required.
In these counties, an annual emissions inspection is required for gasoline-powered-light-duty vehicles (less than 8,501 lbs. Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)). The GVWR rating can be found on the driver's side door.
An annual safety inspection only is required if you own a vehicle 1995 and older (vehicles older than the most current 20 model years, beginning December 1, 2019), diesel powered, powered by alternative fuels without gasoline, or a heavy-duty vehicle (greater than 8501 lbs. gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR)). The safety inspection also includes a visual check for tampering of emissions components.
Things to remember:

  • A vehicle's model year is the year your vehicle was built as designated by the vehicle manufacturer.
  • Motorcycles, recreational vehicles (RVs) and motor homes do not require emissions inspections for registration.

How much does an emissions inspection cost? [Back to Top]
The maximum annual fee for the motor vehicle emissions inspection and safety inspection is $30, however, inspection stations can charge less. 

​​Vehicles with applications of after‐factory window tinting must be checked, at an additional charge of $10 during a North Carolina safety inspection to ensure they meet specifications set by the state in G.S. 20-127).

  • Tinted windows cannot measure darker than 32 percent with a North Carolina-approved window tint meter.
  • The tint on a windshield cannot extend more than 5 inches below the top of the windshield or below the AS1 line of the windshield, whichever is longer.

Where does the inspection fee go? [Back to Top]
Inspection stations receive most ($23.75) of the total fee for the safety and emissions inspection. The remainder of the fee ($6.25) goes to support various related state programs, including oversight for emissions inspections, the highway trust fund, air quality, and emergency and rescue squads. (see electronic authorization fee pie chart)

My vehicle is not registered in a North Carolina emission county. Do I need an inspection? [Back to Top]
Vehicles registered in counties other than emissions counties must have an annual safety/tamper inspection.
If you transfer a vehicle's registration from a non-emission county to an emissions county, you will not have to get your vehicle inspected until the current registration expires.

I'm a new resident of the state, what do I need to do? [Back to Top]
You will be allowed to register the vehicle without an inspection. When your next annual registration renewal is due, you must have the vehicle inspected to renew your registration. For registration details refer to the following DMV webpage.

My North Carolina registered vehicle is out of the state when my inspection/registration is due. How do I get my vehicle registered? [Back to Top]
If you are in a state that has an emissions program (see EPA's link to State and Local I/M programs), have your vehicle tested and send your passing results to NC-DMV. If the state does not have an emissions program, a one-year exemption can be received from NC-DMV. Contact NC-DMV Headquarters for additional information on out-of-state renewals at 1-877-421-0020.

If I am in the military and will be deployed when my vehicle inspection needs to be renewed, what do I do? [Back to Top]
Senate Bill 509 from the General Assembly 2007 Session allows the penalty to be waived for military personnel on active military duty who cannot get their vehicle inspected within the four-month grace period from the date the electronic authorization expired. You must obtain a current inspection within 30 days after returning to the State. To have the penalty waived, you must contact your local NC-DMV Office.

I will be on vacation when my inspection is due, what do I do? [Back to Top]
You may obtain an inspection and renew your registration up to 90 days prior to the expiration of the vehicle inspection/registration due date. If the length of the vacation is longer than 90 days, you should contact NC-DMV Headquarters for additional information at 1-877-421-0020.

Will I be able to transfer plates? [Back to Top]
Yes, contact NC-DMV registration or the DMV hotline for more details at 1-877-421-0020.

What vehicles are exempt from inspections? [Back to Top]
New vehicles will receive a safety/tamper inspection for the first year. "New motor vehicle" means a motor vehicle that has never been titled before. Vehicles registered in an emission county must receive an emissions inspection in the second year of ownership.
Vehicles older than 35 years are not required to receive inspections in any county.
Some kit cars and custom vehicles are exempt from vehicle inspections. For additional information on the definition of what a kit car or custom vehicle is, please contact NCDMV.

I own a hybrid. Do I need an inspection? [Back to Top]
Hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles that have a gasoline engine are required to receive an annual emissions inspection if registered in an emissions county. Battery electric vehicles will only receive a safety-only inspection.  Please contact NC DMV for further information 1(877)421-0020.

I need to renew an out-of-state vehicle registration, but I am temporarily living in North Carolina. Can I have my vehicle inspected? [Back to Top]
Yes, out-of-state registered vehicles may be inspected in North Carolina. There are people who reside in North Carolina on a temporary basis (college students, military personnel, people on business, etc) that may need to renew vehicle registrations or emissions inspections and can not return to their home state in time to have the test completed. In these situations, you will need to have a valid and current registration from your home state. Local inspection stations are found on the DMV's website.

How does OBDII help the environment? [Back to Top]
The intent of OBDII systems is to ensure proper emission system operation for vehicles and light trucks during their lifetime by monitoring emission-related components and systems for malfunction and/or deterioration. An important aspect of OBDII is its ability to notify the driver of a problem before the vehicle's emissions have increased significantly by illuminating the "check engine light". If the vehicle is taken to a repair shop in a timely fashion, it can be properly repaired before any significant emission increase occurs. OBDII systems also provide automobile manufacturers with valuable feedback from their customers' vehicles that can be used to improve vehicle and emission control system designs.

How does OBDII help consumers? [Back to Top]
OBDII systems are designed to alert drivers when something in the emission control system begins to deteriorate or fail. Early diagnosis followed by timely repair can often prevent more costly repairs on both emission control systems and other vehicle systems that may affect vehicle performance such as fuel economy. For example, a poorly performing spark plug can cause the engine to misfire, a condition sometimes unnoticed by the driver. This engine misfire can, in turn, quickly degrade the performance of the catalytic converter. With OBDII detection of the engine misfire, the driver would be faced with a relatively inexpensive spark plug repair. However, without OBDII detection, the driver could be faced with an expensive catalytic converter repair in addition to the spark plug repair. Furthermore, manufacturers have increased incentive to build higher-quality vehicles with better performance, reduced emissions, and more efficient powertrains to prevent problems that can lead to OBDII detection. OBDII systems also provide far more information than ever before to help auto technicians diagnose and properly repair vehicles during their first visit to the repair shop, saving time and money for consumers.

Can the OBD system be repaired, deactivated, or modified? [Back to Top]
The rule of thumb when it comes to emissions-related vehicle repair is that any modification that changes the vehicle from a certified configuration to a non-certified configuration is considered tampering: this applies to both vehicle owners and repair facilities and is, therefore, a Federal offense. Replacing a catalyst with a straight pipe is one traditional example of tampering. Likewise, overriding the OBDII system through the use of high-tech defeat devices, non-certified computer chips, etc., would also be considered tampering. The OBDII system may, however, be repaired back to its original certified configuration with certified "performance chips" or appropriate aftermarket parts.

Is the On-board Diagnostic system covered under warranty? [Back to Top]
Federal law requires that the emission control systems on 1995 and newer model year vehicles be warranted for 2 years or 24,000 miles. Many automakers provide extended warranty coverage beyond what is currently required by federal law. The Federal Clean Air Act requires that catalytic converters and Onboard Diagnostic devices on 1995 and newer vehicles be warranted for a minimum of 8 years or 80,000 miles. If you have questions, contact the automobile dealer or the vehicle manufacturer. Manufacturer contact information and warranty information can be found inside your vehicle owner's manual.

I have noticed vehicles on the road with excessive smoke coming from their exhaust system. How can I report a smoking vehicle? [Back to Top]
If you see a car, truck, or bus anywhere in North Carolina with dirty smoke coming from its exhaust for more than 10 consecutive seconds, write down the license number, date, time, and location you saw the smoking vehicle.
Report the smoking vehicle, within 30 days, by submitting an online reporting form on the Smoking Vehicle Complaint Form or by calling 919-707-8400. You do not have to give your name but DAQ can only take action if contact information is provided.
The North Carolina Division of Air Quality (DAQ) will then notify the owner in writing that his or her vehicle may be contributing to air pollution by smoking excessively. The DAQ will also provide the owner with information about how car maintenance will improve the vehicle's performance.

I need to replace the engine in my vehicle; can I replace it with any engine I want? [Back to Top]
No, Federal law only allows engine switches as long as the resulting vehicle matches exactly to any certified configuration of the same or newer model year for the chassis. For additional information, click here for EPA's Engine Switching Fact Sheet.