What You Need to Pass a Virginia Car Inspection

Well-functioning vehicles keep roads and drivers safe — that’s simply a fact. The Commonwealth of Virginia requires annual safety and emissions inspection on all registered vehicles to maintain safety on the roads.

It makes sense for the Old Dominion to mandate safety inspections. Our cold and often snowy winters can create dangerous conditions. Meanwhile, the humid summers can cause plenty of wear and tear on vehicles.

You may find it inconvenient, but the state safety inspection protects your safety. You may also face expensive fines if your car isn’t inspected. But how can you ensure your vehicle passes the inspection?

Read on to learn what’s needed to pass a car inspection in Virginia and how you can prepare for the check.

What Does the Virginia State Inspection Check?

In short, the state inspection checks everything. During the inspections, technicians will examine all of the major components and systems of your vehicle to ensure it complies with state safety and emission regulations.

Unlike most car inspection services, however, a state inspection doesn’t aim to find certain flaws in your car. As long as the components fulfill legal requirements, the inspector will clear and pass your car. But if you’re getting an inspection at a reliable car service shop, the technician may recommend getting worn parts fixed — even if they’re legally compliant.

Virginia Vehicle Inspection Checklist

Since the state inspection aims to ensure your car’s legal compliance, technicians have a detailed checklist they use to check your car. This is good news for you since you always know what to expect at the inspection.

The technician will begin the inspection by removing and destroying your expiring inspection approval sticker. They will then proceed to check these parts and systems:

  1. Brakes
  2. Parking brake
  3. Headlights
  4. Other lights
  5. Signaling devices
  6. Steering and suspension
  7. Tires, wheel, and rims
  8. Mirrors
  9. Horn
  10. Windshield and windows
  11. Windshield wiper and defroster
  12. Exhaust system
  13. Rear license plate lights
  14. Hood and the area under the hood
  15. Air pollution control systems
  16. Driver’s seat
  17. Seat belts
  18. Airbags
  19. Doors
  20. Fuel system
  21. Floor pan

If all the parts of your car are in acceptable condition, the technician will place a new inspection sticker on your windshield. You’ll also get a pink paper certificate to prove your car passed the inspection.

How Much Does the Safety Inspection Cost?

Virginia has standardized fees for the annual safety inspection. Unfortunately, the fees went up by a few dollars a few years ago. Currently, the fees for Virginia state vehicle inspections are:

  • $20 for most vehicles, including trailers and motor homes
  • $12 for motorcycles and autocycles
  • $51 dollars for tractors, trucks, or high-capacity passenger vehicles

How Long Does the State Inspection Take?

In general, the inspection isn’t a particularly long process. Depending on the technician’s or inspector’s skills, a state inspection generally takes between 30 minutes and one hour.

But technicians generally carry inspections out on a first-come-first-serve principle. If other people have brought their vehicles in before you, you may have to wait longer. To be on the safe side, don’t plan on driving your car anywhere on the day of the inspection.

What Will Fail a Virginia State Inspection?

If you thought the list of things to check during a state inspection was long, you haven’t seen anything yet. The number of things that could fail your car is even longer.

But there’s a good reason for that. Car components and systems can fail in many ways, so technicians need to account for all of them when inspecting your vehicle. They’re not looking to bully you — only to keep you safe.

That said, certain issues cause cars to fail their inspections more often than others. Let’s take a look at common issues that can fail a Virginia state inspection.

6 Most Common Reasons for Virginia State Inspection Failure

  • Tires: Worn tires are possibly the most common reason people fail their safety inspections. Inspectors evaluate tire wear by checking the tread depth. If the tread depth is below 2/32 of an inch, you’ll fail the inspection.
  • Brakes: Brakes are a crucial safety system, which is why an inspector can’t allow you on the road with deficient brakes. The most common brake issue is brake pads that have worn down to less than 3/32 of an inch. Other common brake problems include missing parts, brake fluid leakage, and defective discs or drums.
  • Windshield: One out of every 10 cars in Virginia will fail the inspection because of windshield problems. The most common one is a cracked windshield, which is not only illegal but extremely dangerous. Another regular issue is windshields with too much tint.
  • Emissions: Some Virginia counties, like Fairfax, require emissions testing. Excessive tailpipe emissions are a fairly common problem, especially with older vehicles.
  • Lights: If you bring your car in with a burned-out headlight or brake light, you’re just setting yourself up for failure. Yet technicians fail dozens of cars for faulty lights every year.
  • Check Engine Light: You should never ignore the Check Engine light on your car, but you definitely need to get it checked before an inspection. Although the light being on isn’t enough to fail the inspection, it often signals that there’s a problem with your car that will be.

What Happens if I Fail the Vehicle Inspection?

So, perhaps your tires turned out to be too worn or your windshield was cracked, and you failed the inspection. Don’t worry, because you can still fix everything.

If your car fails the state inspection, the technician will give you a rejection sticker. This sticker allows you to operate your vehicle legally for 15 days. 

Use that time to address the problems with your car and get it re-inspected. If the rejection sticker expires, you’ll be liable for hefty fines for operating an uninspected vehicle.

How Can I Prepare for a Virginia State Inspection?

Before you head to an inspection station, it’s a good idea to give your car a preliminary check yourself. You can save time, effort, and potentially money if you spot and fix glaring issues prior to the inspection.

Here are some things you can do to make passing the inspection more likely:

  • Check your tire treads. Stick a penny into the tread — if you can still see the top of Lincoln’s head, get new tires.
  • Make sure your headlights, brake lights, and turn signals work. Condensation inside the light cover could also lead to inspection failure.
  • Check your windshield, windows, and side mirrors for cracks, chips, dents, or large scratches.
  • Honk your horn to make sure it works.
  • Address any warning lights on your dashboard.
  • Test your brakes. If they work poorly or squeal loudly, get your brakes serviced.
  • See that your wiper blades aren’t worn or dry rotted.

If you spot problems with any of these parts or systems, book an appointment at a reliable car service shop. It’ll save you the trouble of going in for an inspection you know you’ll fail.

When Should I Bring My Vehicle in For an Inspection?

According to Virginia law, you need to get your car inspected annually. Check the inspection sticker on your vehicle for its expiration month. The sticker expires on the last day of the indicated month.

Do I Need to Get New or Antique Vehicles Inspected?

Virginia’s auto inspection laws are fairly strict on a national scale. In practice, there’s only a single exception to the annual inspection requirement.

Having a new car doesn’t exempt you from vehicle inspections. If the dealership has inspected the car, you’re good to drive it for the next 12 months. If they haven’t, you must get your new car inspected immediately.

Antique vehicles form the only exemption to Virginia’s inspection rules. If your classic car is more than 25 years old and is not used for regular transportation, it’s exempt from state inspections. Contact Virginia State Police or DMV for more information on antique vehicle rules.

Get Your Car Inspected in Chantilly and Warrenton

As you now know, it’s vital to get your car inspected in a timely manner. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find a good place for safety and emissions inspections around Chantilly and Warrenton.

Virginia authorities don’t maintain a list of available inspection locations. The police say the list of locations changes daily based on business opening times, inspector availability, and other factors.

But good news — Advanced Automotive is always ready to inspect your vehicle. The ASE-certified technicians at our Chantilly location will give your car a thorough, legally compliant check. And if your car would happen to fail the inspection, we can recommend and carry out the fixes you need right then and there.

While you wait for our technicians to inspect your car, you can enjoy our A+ rated customer service. We offer complimentary refreshments and free Wi-Fi to keep you comfortable while we work on your vehicle.

Book an inspection appointment online, call our Chantilly shop at (703) 783-1409, or simply drop by at our convenient location at 4007-A Westfax Drive Chantilly, VA 20151.