North Carolina No Longer Requires An Annual Emissions Inspection for Newer Vehicles

The change doesn't make North Carolina air unhealthier and saves consumers money

North Carolina No Longer Requires An Annual Emissions Inspection for Newer Vehicles
Image: NCCC
October 25, 2018

State inspections got easier in North Carolina for some vehicle owners on April 1, 2015, but a lot of people are confused about whether they qualify for an emissions testing exemption. Owners of vehicles that are produced within three years of the current year and have less than 70,000 miles on the odometer are exempt from the annual auto emissions inspection because these vehicles are covered by warranties and rarely have emissions failures.

Emission Testing Required in 48 counties, but doesn't cost too much

Currently, 48 counties in North Carolina require the annual emissions test, which opponents have long viewed as unnecessary for brand new vehicles. A safety inspection costs NC drivers $13.60, with an additional $16.40 for the emissions inspection. That isn't much money, unless your vehicle does not pass. It's then that costs can add up with repairs that can be very simple and cheap to complicated repairs that can cost thousands of dollars.

Test Failures and The Federal Emissions Warranty

Newer cars and trucks rarely fail emissions inspections. Even if one of these vehicles has an emissions-related problem, the problem must be corrected by a dealer free of charge under the federal emissions warranty that comes with new motor vehicles manufactured after 1995. So, it is in the best interests of consumers to not pay for this test needlessly.

Does My Vehicle Qualify?

If your vehicle is light-duty, gasoline powered, three years old or less, registered in one of the 48 emissions counties, and has less than 70,000 miles, it is exempt from an emissions inspection under General Statute 20-183.2 and will receive a safety-only inspection.

How is age determined?

A vehicle's age is determined by its model year, which is prominently displayed on the owner's valid registration and the automobile emissions control label located in the engine compartment.

Calculating Vehicle Age Based Upon Model Year

It's pretty simple to determine whether your vehicle qualifies based upon age. If your vehicle meets the mileage requirements and is a 2015 model year, your vehicle is exempt up through December 31, 2017. As soon January 1, 2018 rolls around, your vehicle no longer meets the age test.

An easy way to remember is to keep in mind that the three most recent model years up to and including the current year are exempt. So if it's 2018, all vehicles of model year 2018, 2017 and 2016 are exempt. As soon as 2019 rolls around, all vehicles of model year 2019, 2018 and 2017 are exempt.

A future model year is exempt, too.

If it's currently 2018 and a 2019 model year is just released, you might think that our formula doesn't hold up because it shows a negative 'age.' But that vehicle is also exempt. Just presume that any brand new vehicle just produced is exempt because manufacturers will release the new model year vehicle by the Fall and even as early as late Spring!

Calculating Vehicle Age Based Upon 'Half-Model' Year

Some vehicles are referred to as 'half-model' years. A good example known to car enthusiasts is the 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang, which was produced for 1965. These vehicles qualify as the model year printed on an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions certification label.

EPA emissions certification label

An EPA emissions certification label, titled "Vehicle Emission Control Information," is included on all vehicles built since 1995. It contains the manufacturer's name, trademark of the manufacturer, and an unconditional statement of compliance with EPA emission regulations.

For light-duty vehicles and light-duty trucks, the emission label is located on the underside of the hood or in the engine compartment. Motorcycles and motor scooters have an EPA emissions label located in a readily accessible location, such as under the seat, on the frame, or in the glove compartment. Heavy-duty vehicles and engines have an EPA emissions label on the block of the engine.

Safety inspection always required

Regardless of age or mileage, all vehicles in North Carolina must pass a yearly auto safety inspection before the vehicle's registration can be renewed. The safety inspection requirement is in effect in all 100 North Carolina counties and is designed to protect the motoring public from unsafe vehicles.

Inspection Checklist

Do you know which components are tested during a state inspection? Check out our summary article!

What happens if i fail a safety inspection?

If your vehicle fails a safety inspection, you must return to have it reinspected once the problems are corrected.

Returning After Failing a Safety Inspection within sixty (60) days

If you return within sixty (60) days of the first failed inspection, your vehicle will still need only a safety inspection even if your vehicle no longer qualifies under this program. This can happen if you fail an inspection at 69,999 miles but need to return after you cross the 70,000 mile threshold.

Returning After Failing a Safety Inspection after sixty (60) days

If your second inspection occurs more than sixty (60) days after the first failed inspection, your vehicle will be re-evaluated for exemption under this program. If it is more than three years old or has more than 70,000 miles, it must then have an emissions inspection in addition to repeating the safety inspection.

My Check Engine Light Is On But I'm Exempt

If you meet the exemptions but your check engine light is on, you won't fail the safety inspection and you won't be required to have an emissions inspection. If your vehicle is not exempt from the emissions inspection, you will fail the emissions inspection.

Your vehicle is under the bumper-to-bumper or powertrain warranty

If your vehicle is still under your bumper-to-bumper or powertrain warranty, you should head to your dealer to have the problem diagnosed and repaired at little to no cost to you.

Your vehicle is outside the bumper-to-bumper or powertrain warranty

If your vehicle is outside its bumper-to-bumper or powertrain warranty, it is still covered by a federal emissions warranty up to 8 years or 80,000 miles. Many failures that cause the check engine light to illuminate, but not all, can be caused by major emissions components and may be covered under this warranty for free repairs at an authorized dealership.

If I'm Exempt, Can I Still Get An Emissions Inspection?

You may still want to get an emissions inspection for any number of reasons. If you are exempt and still want an emissions inspection, you are still allowed to get one. It's just not required. The emissions inspection only costs $16.40, which can be a very inexpensive cost to pay to find out you have a problem that can be repaired free of charge by a dealership under the federal emissions warranty.

Buying an Exempt Car From a Dealership

The exemption applies to all vehicles that are registered or sold in North Carolina, which includes dealerships. If you are looking at purchasing a vehicle, you should be aware that an exempt vehicle may not have had the emissions system tested and therefor may have emissions problems. You should obtain guidance from a trusted mechanic to ensure that the emissions system is functioning properly or obtain an emissions inspection before the vehicle is out of its federal emissions warranty.

Do not simply take the word of a salesperson that the vehicle has had the emissions system tested. If a salesperson makes this claim, ask for the emissions inspection report. If one cannot be provided, presume the vehicle has not had the emissions system tested.

Where Can I Have My Vehicle Inspected If I Am Exempt?

If your vehicle is exempt and you live in one of the counties that require an emissions inspection, you can have your vehicle inspected in any county. Once your vehicle is no longer exempt, you will need to have your vehicle inspected in a county that requires emissions testing or locate an authorized facility that has emissions testing equipment.

I Still Have Questions

For more information about the North Carolina Inspection Program or to determine which inspection is required for your vehicle, visit the Division's website.