How Long Does a Car Inspection Take?

Last Updated on August 17, 2022

Many states require annual car inspections.

A typical car inspection takes 15 to 45 minutes, depending on your state’s requirements. Some states require emissions tests, while others require safety equipment checks.

Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about car inspections, including how long they take, how much they cost, and how to ensure your car passes inspection.

Table of Contents:

The Average Car Inspection Takes 32 Minutes

Most states require car inspections when registering a new vehicle. Some states also require annual car inspections to verify your car is roadworthy.

The average car inspection, according to our research, takes 32 minutes.

In some states, a car inspection is a cursory overview of your car’s safety equipment. A mechanic may verify your car’s parts work as they’re supposed to, then stamp your car’s inspection. In these states, an inspection may take just 15 to 30 minutes.

In other states, your car requires a full emissions test and other detailed inspections to pass. In these states, inspections could take 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Some States Require Inspections, While Others Do Not

Most states require an inspection when registering a car in that state for the first time. For example, if you just moved to a new state, you may need an inspection to verify your car is safe to operate in that state.

Other states require annual inspections to renew your registration. If your car doesn’t pass inspection (say, due to faulty equipment), then you cannot register your vehicle until you fix that issue.

Other drivers get inspections when not required. For example, you might get an inspection when buying a new vehicle for the first time or when shopping for old vehicles.

Or, some drivers get an inspection for peace of mind. You might be unsure if your car is still safe to drive, for example, so you order an inspection to verify it’s safe. Even if your state does not require an annual inspection, you might get an annual inspection to verify it’s safe to operate.

Types of Car Inspections

The length of your car inspection varies based on the type of car inspection being performed.

Generally, car inspections are separated into three categories, including:

Emissions Test: Some states require an emissions test. A technician analyzes the pollutants coming out of your vehicle’s exhaust to determine they’re within certain regular standards. Many states require an emissions test, for example, once every year or every two years. If your vehicle doesn’t pass an emissions test, then you cannot register your vehicle.

Safety Inspection: Most vehicle inspections are safety inspections. A technician inspects the windows, tires, brakes, lights, and other components of your vehicle to ensure they’re operational. If a certain component isn’t in the right condition, then you need to fix that component to pass inspection.

VIN Check: If inspecting a used vehicle before you purchase it, your inspection may include a VIN check. A professional uses the vehicle identification number (VIN) to analyze the vehicle’s history, ensure its odometer and accident history is accurate, and verify you’re getting the vehicle you think you’re buying.

Areas Covered by a Car Inspection

Some of the areas covered by a car inspection include:

Interior Components

During a typical car inspection, a technician will check certain interior components of your vehicle, including safety equipment and electronics. This part of the test is straightforward, and it shouldn’t take longer than 5 to 10 minutes.

Items covered during this part of the test include:

  • Headlights
  • Windshield wipers
  • Horn
  • Brakes
  • Clutch

Estimated Time: 5 to 10 minutes

Exterior Components

The technician will also inspect exterior components of your vehicle, including:

  • Exhaust pipe
  • Brakes
  • Tires
  • Mirrors
  • Lights
  • Steering and alignment

Estimated Time: 10 to 15 minutes

Smog or Emissions Test

A standard inspection in the United States now includes an emissions test or smog test. A technician uses special equipment to verify your vehicle is within allowable limits. A technician plugs a device into your vehicle’s OBDII port to verify all onboard emissions testing systems are working correctly.

Estimated Time: 15 to 25 minutes

Test Drive

A car inspection also includes a test drive. During a test drive, the technician may take your car for a brief ride to ensure it operates correctly, turns the way it’s supposed to turn, and brakes correctly. The technician takes your car through a specific series of steps to verify it’s safe to drive.

Estimated Time: 5 to 10 minutes

Mechanical Inspection

Most states do not require detailed mechanical inspections. Instead, most states cover these components in a test drive. However, if your state requires mechanical inspections, then this part of the inspection could cover things like:

  • Tread on the tires
  • Brakes
  • Steering
  • Alignment
  • Suspension
  • Fuel and exhaust systems

If any mechanical component of your vehicle is broken, loose, or leaking, you may need to fix these components before registering your vehicle.

Estimated Time: 10 to 15 minutes

Common Reasons to Fail Inspection

Even if your car fails an inspection, it may still be roadworthy. In most cases, you simply need to fix one component to pass your inspection.

Some of the most common reasons drivers fail an inspection include:

  • Torn windshield wiper blades
  • Defective license plate lates
  • Cracked or pitted windshield
  • Excessive window tinting
  • Tire wear

Car Inspection Times Vary Widely Between States

States have vastly different car inspection laws. Based on state inspection requirements, you could spend as little as 10 minutes on a drive-through car inspection – or as long as 3 hours inspecting an older vehicle.

Some states have virtually no inspection criteria. There are virtually no inspection requirements if you live in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, or South Dakota.

Most other states, however, have some type of car inspection. On average, this car inspection takes 32 minutes, but it’s as little as 10 minutes in some states and as long as 2 hours in other states.

New Jersey, for example, has drive-through inspection stations. You can drive through an inspection station in as little as 5 to 15 minutes.

Other states have stricter standards – especially for older vehicles. Car inspections in Pennsylvania, for example, could take 1 to 2 hours. And, drivers in Pennsylvania are required to undergo annual inspections.

If any part of your vehicle needs to be addressed, then your car inspection could take longer. You may require multiple inspections to register your vehicle, for example.

How to Shorten Car Inspection Times: 5 Tips

The average car inspection in the United States takes 32 minutes. However, by following certain tips, you could be in and out of your inspection in just 15 minutes or less.

Here are some of the best tips for shortening your car inspection time:

Check your car prior to arrival. Sometimes, there are obvious issues with your car you can address prior to inspection. For example, you might have a windshield crack that is larger than allowable limits. Check your tires, windshield wipers, and other components.

Avoid the beginning or end of the month. Many drivers wait until their registration is about to expire before getting an inspection. For that reason, car inspection stations tend to be busier at the end and beginning of the month.

Bring the necessary paperwork. To get an inspection, your car needs to be insured, and it needs to be registered. Therefore, you may need certain paperwork for a car inspection, including your driver’s license, insurance card, and registration documents. If getting a VIN check, you must have proof of vehicle ownership.

Maintain your car. The best way to ensure a speedy inspection is to maintain your vehicle. Keep up-to-date with oil changes, brake pad changes, fluid changes, and other common components.

Shop around with multiple car inspection stations. Some car inspection stations have a proven track record of quickly performing inspections, while others are known for long wait times and inexperienced technicians. If you call local inspection shops, you should be able to get a good estimate.

Final Word on Car Inspection Times

The average car inspection in the United States takes around 32 minutes.

However, some drivers wait as little as 10 minutes for a car inspection, while others spend over 2 hours at the car inspection station. Inspection times vary widely based on state inspection requirements, vehicle age and condition, and other factors.

Contact local car inspection shops to determine the average length of car inspections in your area.

James Shaffer
James Shaffer James Shaffer is a writer for InsurancePanda.com and a well-seasoned auto insurance industry veteran. He has a deep knowledge of insurance rules and regulations and is passionate about helping drivers save money on auto insurance. He is responsible for researching and writing about anything auto insurance-related. He holds a bachelor's degree from Bentley University and his work has been quoted by NBC News, CNN, and The Washington Post.
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