The State Inspection Process
Pennsylvania State Inspection and Emissions Process
State inspection is something that every vehicle owner is subjected to on an annual basis in Pennsylvania. Many people don’t understand how it works and what is required. This month I will cover the basics and answer a few common questions that we get.
The first thing you should do before you even make an appointment for your state inspection is make sure that you have your paperwork ready. You will need the following
1. A current vehicle registration from PennDot. We have to have this before we start either the emissions testing or the state inspection. You should get a renewal form in the mail from PennDot a month or so before you registration expires. You can renew through the mail, through PennDot’s website or through a notary who handles plates. We can’t accept a registration renewal form. However, if you process your registration online and have the printed out temporary registration, we are allowed to use that.
2. A copy of your current insurance card. We are allowed to look at the card on your cell phone app and take the information from there. The insurance card is required only to do the state inspection, it is not required to get an emissions test.
Making an appointment
One thing that many people don’t realize is that you do not have to wait until the month the inspection is due to make an appointment. Inspections can be done up to two months ahead of time. So, for example, if your sticker indicates a December expiration, you can have the inspection done as early as October and still get a December sticker. The benefit of having your inspection done early is that if there is a problem found, you have time to order parts and get the work done before your inspection is past due. If you wait until the last day of the month we almost never have appointments available and if we do, we probably don’t have time for any extra work that might need done.
Emissions testing, while seemingly complicated, is usually very simple. Here are some terms you should be familiar with
1. 5000 Mile Exemption: If you have owned your car for more than 365 days and it was registered in the state that whole time, and you have driven it less than 5000 miles during that time, you may qualify for a 5000 mile exemption. This essentially means that we don’t have to do an actual test on the car. We still have to verify the mileages and file the sticker electronically with the state, but the cost is roughly half that of an emissions test.
2. Waiver: If your vehicle fails the emissions test, you will probably hear about waiver requirements. Essentially the state has said that if you have spent $150 towards trying to fix the cause of the emissions failure, they will allow a waiver technician to put a waiver sticker on the vehicle. Not all technicians can do waivers, you have to take a fairly substantial class through the state and pass the required test. We are able to issue waivers, if you are interested in more information on waivers, feel free to contact us.
3. OBDII Test: Most vehicles that were made in 1996 or after get the OBDII test. Essentially, after entering all the vehicle information, we have to test the gas cap and then plug into the vehicle’s OBDII port to make sure that the check engine light is not illuminated.
Safety Inspection Process
During the safety inspection our technicians will take the vehicle for a test drive, pull it in to check the lights and then put it in the air to pull two wheels. They will look at the lights, at the brakes and tires, at the steering and suspension system, at the frame of the vehicle, at the exhaust and at the wiper system. We will not fail the vehicle for lack of maintenance even if we do make recommendations about maintenance that is due. Sometimes we will let you know something that we see that is going to fail within the next year, rusty brake lines for example.
If the vehicle fails safety inspection there is no waiver program. You are stuck having to repair any problems with the car in order to get a new inspection sticker, there is no monetary limit. You are not required to have the repairs done at the facility that failed the vehicle, you can take the vehicle home and do the work yourself or take it to a different garage. When you bring it back after the repairs are completed, however, the technician will charge you to check it all over again.
“Does my state inspection sticker have to match my registration sticker?”
No. It used to be that the state required that you make the expiration of the safety inspection sticker match the registration expiration. PennDot no longer requires this
“My inspection has already expired, will I get in trouble when I bring it in for inspection”
No, we will not penalize you for being late, you can however get a traffic citation from the police. I believe the fine now is about $90 PER STICKER that is expired, so that’s a pretty good incentive to be on time.
“Can you give me a paper that says I am waiting on parts to finish my inspection in case I get pulled over?”
I can give you a work order showing that we are in the process of bringing your vehicle into compliance with safety inspection requirements, but that is not guarantee that you won’t get a ticket. It is up to the officer if he wants to let you slide or not.
“My windshield is cracked, do I have to replace it to pass inspection?”
The state only requires that the windshield be free of cracks inside the driver’s field of vision. If you stop by we can check it really quickly and let you know if it will pass or not.
“Can you just put a sticker on it for me, I know that it’s safe, you can trust me”
We really can’t. First of all, we would be breaking the law. If we did “just put a sticker on it” and were caught, it’s a $10,000 fine, we lose our driver’s license and we lose our ability to inspect cars. If we put a sticker on it for you and you are in an accident that is caused by a vehicle failure (bad brakes, ball joint etc) we stand to lose a lot more when we are sued.
“My check engine light is on, I heard I should disconnect the battery to make the light go out for the emissions test.”
This is actually the worst thing you can do if the check engine light is on. Simply put, the way the OBDII system works is there are monitors that check the status of different emissions components. When the monitor senses a fault, it turns the check engine light on. If that problem clears up, it turns the light off. When you disconnect the battery, you clear all the data that the system was looking at for all the monitors (usually around seven). On most vehicles on the road, the state requires that all but one of those monitors be reset before the vehicle can be tested. Some of those monitors immediately check themselves and are cleared when you start the car, however there are four that will probably require a drive cycle to be checked and that can be an extensive process. Usually if you drive the vehicle 50 miles or so they will all set, but sometimes if the weather is just right, it can take hundreds of miles for them all to set. It is far easier and quicker, and potentially cheaper, to bring the vehicle in with the check engine light on, fail it, and then go through the repair or waiver process.
“Did you check my antifreeze when you inspected my car?”
Not necessarily. Checking fluids is a maintenance service and not required as part of the inspection process. Usually we will check all the fluids as a courtesy, however if you are brining your car in at the end of the month and we have a big line of cars waiting for inspection, we might not.