How does a failed inspection impact your car insurance?

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Many states, though not all, require some form of either a physical automobile inspection or an emissions test (or both). States have numerous safety and environmental concerns that underlie the desire to have vehicles on the road that promote these goals.

Insurance companies also want to ensure that the vehicles which they insure are not more likely to become involved in accidents and generate claims or are already physically impaired. An unsafe vehicle can therefore impact key areas of coverage that come into play when an accident occurs including liability, collision and even comprehensive protection. Accordingly, drivers with unsafe or already damaged cars who fail to pass an inspection may find that their automobile insurance premiums increase.

Do I need a car inspection to get insurance?

Whether or not you will be required to have your vehicle pass an inspection to secure insurance depends upon the state where you are located. For example, certain states require inspections prior to a registration. Additionally, some insurance companies require an inspection independently of state requirements before issuing an automobile insurance policy. When considering the best car insurance company for your protection, ask about the carrier’s inspection requirements.

There are three general types of inspections that may be required by a carrier:

  • Vehicle safety inspection: This inspection is designed to promote safe state highways by ensuring cars are properly equipped for this purpose. Items covered in these inspections include brakes, wheel alignment and working front and rear lights.
  • Emissions test: This test is also referred to as a smog test and measures pollutant levels such as hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide and oxygen that appear in a car’s exhaust. Typically, car insurance companies do not require that a vehicle pass an emissions test to insure your vehicle – even if the state requires an emissions test.
  • Physical damage inspection: A few states have initiated a requirement for vehicle physical damage inspections, primarily to curtail insurance fraud. For example, Florida, New Jersey and New York, require these inspections which document existing physical damage and vehicle accessories. These can be important to carriers issuing comprehensive and collision coverage as they will want to ensure they are aware of any pre-existing vehicle damage.

Car inspection requirements by state

As mentioned, our various states present a complex pattern of varying requirements for vehicle inspections and emissions tests. Some states require both; other states, neither. Additionally, there are different details by state about when an inspection or emissions test is required – at purchase, annually, biennially or at other points or locations.

The table below lists states that do have inspections and/or emissions test requirements. States not listed require neither.

State Inspection requirements Emissions test requirements
Alabama At point of vehicle purchase Not required
Arizona Not required Every 2 years in Phoenix and Tucson metro areas only
California Not required Every 2 years in most parts of the state*
Colorado Not required Every two years for vehicles over 7 years old
Connecticut For vehicles over 10 years old Biennial
Delaware Every two years for vehicles over 7 years old Not required
Georgia Not required Every year in 13 counties
Hawaii Every year for vehicles over 2 years old Not required
Idaho Not required Every year in Boise and Nampa
Illinois Not required Every 2 years in parts of state
Indiana Not required Every 2 years in parts of state
Kentucky When vehicle is moved from another state Not required
Louisiana Annual; Biennial on occasion** Every year in Baton Rouge
Maine Annual Every year in Cumberland County
Maryland At point of vehicle purchase Every year in a number of counties
Massachusetts Annual Annual
Missouri Biennial Every 2 years in certain counties
Nebraska When vehicle is moved from another state Not required
Nevada Not required Every years in Reno and Las Vegas
New Hampshire Annual Annual
New Jersey Not required Biennial
New Mexico Not required Every two years in Albuquerque
New York Annual Annual
North Carolina Annual Every year in certain counties
Ohio Not required Every year in Cleveland
Oregon Not required Every year in Portland and Medford
Pennsylvania Annual Every year in certain counties
Rhode Island Biennial Biennial
Tennessee Not required Every year in certain counties
Texas Every year for vehicles over 2 years old Every year in certain metro areas
Utah Not required Annual and Biennial***
Vermont Annual Annual
Virginia Annual Every 2 years in certain areas
West Virginia Annual Every 2 years in certain counties

*In California, all counties but certain zip codes in six counties (Sonoma, San Bernardino, El Dorado, San Diego, Placer, and Riverside) require testing.
**In Louisiana, you must pay twice the annual fee to qualify for biennial inspections.
***In Utah, newer vehicles must be tested every two years; Annually for older cars in certain areas

How failed safety inspections affect insurance

If you are pulled over and cited for driving a vehicle that failed an inspection, this will typically not impact your insurance, at least not at that point. This is due to the fact that an inspection failure is not considered a moving traffic violation. If you do have a car insurance policy that requires passing a vehicle inspection, a failure could impact your ability to file and be fully compensated for a claim.

Beyond insurance consequences, you can be ticketed in some states if you fail to have your vehicle inspected when required or to correct problems identified during the inspection. For example, in New Hampshire you must have your vehicle inspected by a state approved mechanic. Failure to adhere to these requirements can result in a $60 fine.

Frequently asked questions

What is a physical damage inspection?

These inspections, required by some states, are designed to assure cars are properly maintained and safe and are not a threat to the driver, passengers or other motorists. Some insurers require an inspection when issuing certain higher end coverage while others will require inspections as part of a claim process.

How do I pass a vehicle inspection?

There are certain basic steps to take to help pass an inspection. Before the inspection, change your oil and filter, if necessary. Make sure your tires do not have too much wear. Check your horn, all car lights and windshield wipers. Finally, drive for a bit just before the inspection to make certain nothing is amiss.

How much do car inspections cost?

The costs associated with obtaining an inspection vary from state to state and within states depending on the circumstances. In Texas, for example, it typically costs only seven dollars for an annual safety inspection for newer vehicles, while safety and emissions tests can cost as much as $25.50 in Dallas and Houston.

Written by
Rick Hoel
Insurance Contributor
Rick Hoel is an international business attorney and legal and insurance writer for Bankrate.com, Reviews.com and Accessibility.com. Over the last several years, he has covered topics dealing with personal and commercial insurance and technology and the law. Rick is General Counsel and Director of Risk Management and sits on the Board of Power Stow Americas Inc., a subsidiary of Power Stow A/S in Denmark, the world leader in the supply of tracked conveyor systems to the airline industry.
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