North Carolina Vehicle Inspection Checklist: What's Checked During A State Safety Inspection
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North Carolina Vehicle Inspection Checklist: What's Checked During A State Safety Inspection

Is your vehicle ready to pass a state Safety inspection or are you just hoping it will pass?

June 10, 2019

The annual emission and safety vehicle inspection process in North Carolina can be a simple inconvenience or a nightmare. But too many people worry about seeing a check engine light, which could mean thousands of dollars in repairs, while ignoring the safety component of this annual check. Do you know what has to be in tiptop shape in order to pass the North Carolina Vehicle Safety Inspection?

Questions About this content

If you have any questions regarding vehicle emissions inspections and vehicle safety inspections in North Carolina, contact the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles.


All brakes, including the parking brake, need to be in proper working order. The thing that gets most people is the parking brake. After all, you are probably going to notice fairly quickly if your service brakes aren't working properly. Most of the time your parking brake just needs a simple adjustment in order to hold the vehicle firmly. But sometimes, you may need more extensive repairs, such as replacing the parking brake shoes or replacing a broken cable. With the advances in technology, parking brakes are getting more expensive with automatic or electronic parking brakes. The more 'intelligent' a component is, the more that can go wrong.


All exterior lights must be in proper working order. This includes the headlights, brake lights, taillights, license plate lights, turn signal lights, and parking lights. The lights must all be properly mounted and have no cracks in the lenses. The headlights must be properly aimed, not pointing at the ground or up in the air.


This one's pretty easy. Your horn must work. It must be firmly mounted and have no frayed or disconnected wires. It must be audible for at least 200 feet and should not be met in unusually loud or harsh sound. Any original equipment horn in working order meets these requirements, but if you've installed an aftermarket horn you may need further testing.


Your tires are your most critical safety component and are also one of the things most likely to cause you to fail a safety inspection. All tires must be in good condition and have at least 2/32 inch of tread depth remaining. Any tires under this specification must be replaced before your vehicle can pass. Tires cannot have any cuts or snags that expose cords or any visible bump, bulges, or knots relating to tread or sidewall separation or partial failure of the tire structure.

Steering and Suspension

Many people forget that the steering and suspension systems are inspected. Your suspension shouldn't have any loose or disconnected components. Your springs should be unbroken and function properly without visible sagging. Your steering system should move freely and not have any visible damage that would prevent proper operation. There should be no parts that are bent or twisted, and bolts, nuts, and rivets should not be loose or missing. The power steering system should not show any visible leaks or have a steering belt that is loose or excessively worn.

Windshield Wipers

Windshield wipers must be in good working condition, provided the vehicle has a windshield. They should operate freely and have proper controls located where the driver may operate them easily. They must be adequate to clear rain, snow and other material from the windshield and show no evidence of damage or missing parts. Blades should be in good working order and have no cuts, tears or missing rubber.

Window Tinting

Window tinting must have a light transmittance of 32% or greater. Tint may not be red, yellow, or amber. Windshield tint cannot extend more than 5 inches below the top of the windshield or below the AS1 line, whichever is greater. Total light reflectance of a tinted window shall be 20% or greater.


Side and rear view mirrors must be present and in good condition with no cracks or damage. They must be firmly mounted and must be easy to adjust and to set. Forward vision shall not be hindered by any mirror assembly. A rearview mirror is required for all the vehicles in North Carolina unless the vehicle is constructed or regularly loaded in such a way that a rearview mirror will be ineffective. In this case you are required to have a both driver and passenger side mirror.

Windshield Glass

Windshield glass is the one component that most people can name when asked about a safety inspection in North Carolina. This is a component that is frequently damaged and frequently needs replacement.

Not all windshield cracks necessitate replacing the windshield. If you have a crack in your windshield, you don't need to replace it if it doesn't obstruct the driver's vision, meaning it can't be cracked on the driver side of the windshield at all. It shouldn't affect the operation of the windshield wipers. And it can't be big enough so that a windshield wiper can get caught up on it. If you can rub a fingernail over the crack and it catches, you will fail the inspection. In any case, it's always a good idea to have your glass replaced if it's cracked.


The annual vehicle safety inspection cost $13.60. If you are in one of the 48 counties that require onboard diagnostics emissions inspections, the price is $30, which includes both the emissions and safety inspections. Aftermarket window tinting costs an additional $10.

What Happens If The Vehicle Fails An Inspection

If your vehicle fails inspection, you can present it for re-inspection within 60 days. If you failed the safety inspection, only the failed components will be reevaluated the second time. If you failed an emissions inspection, the re-inspection is limited to the portion of the vehicle that failed and any other part of the vehicle that may have been affected during repairs to correct that failure.

Do I Qualify For A Waiver

You may qualify for a waiver if your vehicle fails an emissions inspection due to analysis data provided by the onboard diagnostic equipment and has had documented repairs costing at least $200 made to the vehicle to correct the cause of the failure. If it is reinspected again and fails because it passes the visual inspection but fails again. In these cases, a consumer may be eligible for a waiver provided the vehicle qualifies under North Carolina General Statute 20–1 83.5.

Special Considerations For Antique Vehicles

Antique vehicles are those that are at least 35 years old measured from the date of manufacture. These vehicles are not required to undergo safety inspections, though you should ensure that all safety-related defects in these vehicles are corrected for your safety and the safety of others.


Motorcycles must undergo vehicle safety inspections, but they are exempt from omissions testing.

What Happens If I Don't Comply

You can face severe fines if you fail to comply with safety or emissions inspection. If you do not comply, your registration will be blocked from renewal.

Emission Inspections Waived for New Vehicles

If your vehicle is three years old or newer and has less than 70,000 miles, you do not need to have an emissions inspection. This is due to a new law granting the exception.

Questions About this content

If you have any questions regarding vehicle emissions inspections and vehicle safety inspections in North Carolina, contact the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles.