How Long Does A Car Inspection Take? Find Out

How long does a car inspection take? It depends on where you live, but it generally takes 20 minutes to 90 minutes.

Car inspections have been around for decades, not just in the U.S. and Canada but also in Europe, Japan, and many regions around the world. 

If you’re buying or trading in a car or truck, chances are it needs to pass an inspection before the transaction can be controlled. If your current vehicle is now long in the tooth, you might be legally mandated to have it inspected periodically to ensure it’s still safe to drive.

So, how long does the typical vehicle inspection take? We answer that question and many more in this article.

What Is A Car Safety Inspection?

A vehicle inspection is a procedure in which a trained technician inspects a vehicle to ensure it conforms to government-mandated safety and emissions regulations.

During an inspection, the vehicle’s various components are observed to determine if they operate correctly or need to be replaced soon or immediately. 

An inspection is often required at various points of vehicle ownership; 

Not every jurisdiction requires individuals to have their vehicles inspected. 

Who Needs A Vehicle Inspection?

Here are the most common reasons your car may need to undergo a vehicle inspection.

  • When you buy, sell, or trade-in the vehicle. Without an inspection, the vehicle can’t be registered. 
  • Laws require that the vehicle be periodically inspected after it’s been on the road for a certain number of years.
  • When the vehicle is being transferred between jurisdictions, say from one province or state to another.

Want to avoid these inspections? Try moving to an area in your country that doesn’t require them.

For example, in the United States, there are at least 10 states that don’t require testing.

Of course, we don’t advocate not having your vehicle inspected even if you’re not required to. For one thing, having a vehicle properly inspected when you’re buying it from another party will help ensure you don’t end up with a lemon.

How Long Does A Car Inspection Take?

The requirements and procedures for vehicle inspections can vary greatly from one jurisdiction to the next. Therefore, an inspection can take anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour depending on where you live. 

Some U.S. states, for example, only require a VIN verification and not a full inspection, so the process can take no more than 15 minutes. 

Other states such as California are more stringent, requiring a SMOG test as part of the inspection. This test alone can take 20 minutes to an hour to complete.

Of course, the condition of your vehicle greatly affects how long an inspection takes. The worse its condition, the longer the inspection will take.

You can always check with your local authorities for an estimate of how long the process will take.

What’s Involved In A Car Inspection?

A vehicle’s undercarriage is usually assessed during an inspection.

Now that you have an idea of how long a vehicle inspection can take, let’s look more closely at what a typical inspection involves.

Areas Inspected

The inspector will be mostly concerned with the parts of your vehicle that keep you, other motorists, and pedestrians safe on the road.

If you have cosmetic issues such as a mismatched paint job, severe scratches and dents on the body panels, or even a sagging headliner, you probably have nothing to worry about unless they compromise your safety.

Here are the key areas and components of your car or truck that are likely to be assessed.

Driver’s Controls

The focus here will be on the horn, rear and side view mirrors, windshield wipers, power steering, parking brake, and other features of a vehicle that help enhance driver safety. 

People often overlook or pay little attention to these ancillary components, but they are weighed heavily by inspectors and can be the deciding factor in whether your car passes or fails the inspection. Make sure all your driver’s controls are working properly. 

Body Integrity

When it comes to your car’s body, the inspector won’t care about how attractive it is. Rather, he or she is only concerned with how well it will hold up in everyday driving and potential collisions. Let’s just say you don’t want your car shaking when driving.

Key areas of inspection include the car’s frame, doors, driver’s seat, floors, trunk, bumpers, airbags, and trailer hitch.


The undercarriage of a vehicle incorporates the wheels, tire, suspension, shock absorbers, tires, wheel bearings, brakes, exhaust, and driveline, among other components. The inspector will be tasked with assessing the condition of each component.

If you’re like most people, you will need to hire a qualified mechanic to identify any issues with your car’s undercarriage. However, one thing anyone can check in advance is the conditions of the tires.

Your tires should have a tread depth of at least 3.5 millimeters.

Engine Compartment

The inspector takes a close look at the vehicle’s powertrain and the various components that are critical to the vehicle’s operation. This includes the engine, transmission, vacuum system, fuel system, and hatches.

Related: The Causes And Implications Of Metal Shavings In Oil

Flickering dashboard warning lights such as the check engine, engine temperature, transmission temperature, and reduced power lights are obvious signs that there might be something wrong with the engine.

Braking System

The braking system is the most important safety feature on any vehicle, as not having the ability to stop properly puts you at serious risk of getting into an accident. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the inspector won’t hesitate to flag any issues with the brakes.

Your car’s brakes don’t have to be new, but they shouldn’t be so worn as to pose a safety risk. 

Electrical System

This part of the inspection will involve the car’s battery and all the ancillary accessories it powers, including the headlights, indicator lights, interior lights, and switches. 

Issues with electrical components are best left to a trained mechanic; however, you should at least be able to verify that all your lights work properly. 

The headlights and indicator lights, in particular, are very important safety features, so the inspector will be keen to flag any issues with them.

Road Test

In addition to a physical inspection, a road test is also often required to fully gauge the condition of the vehicle. The inspector will be particularly looking at how safely the vehicle accelerates, handles, and brakes.

He or she will also take this opportunity to check the windshield wipers and various dashboard lights to see how well they work.

In the United States, not all states require a road test. Check with your local DMV if that applies to you.

Emissions Check

An emissions test is often a central part of the vehicle inspection and a key determinant of whether your car passes or fails the test. 

Authorities are very strict when it comes to vehicle emissions, so don’t take this lightly. Any belching of hazardous fumes out of the tailpipe is almost always grounds for a failing grade.

If your vehicle fails the emissions test, take it to a service shop or, if purchased at a dealership, back to the dealer to have the problems identified by the inspector remedied.

Post Inspection

If your car or truck passes the inspection, you will receive a certificate showing that it passed all the tests involved and is roadworthy. Depending on your jurisdiction, you might also receive a sticker to place on the car’s windshield and license plate.

Should you fail the inspection, you will be given a detailed report of the condition of the vehicle and the various areas that need to be improved for it to pass.

If you’re buying the vehicle or transferring it between jurisdictions, this certification will be needed to register it. You may also need it to renew your license.

Reasons Why Cars Fail Inspections

How Long Does A Car Inspection Take - Bad spark plug with soot
Vehicles commonly fail the inspection because of faulty spark plugs.

There are many reasons why people fail their vehicle inspections, but some are more common than others. 

They mostly pertain to gas and diesel-powered vehicles and less so electric vehicles, which don’t have to deal with the various issues associated with internal combustion engines.

Worn Wipers

Even on a sunny day, something as simple and seemingly innocuous as torn windshield wiper blades can be all it takes to fail an inspection, and many people do fail because of it.

Make sure that your wiper blades are in good condition and won’t compromise your visibility in inclement weather.

Bad Brakes

The brakes are one part of the car that must always work properly. Brake pads that are worn down to 2 millimeters or less can easily get you a failing grade.

People have even been dinged for pulsating brakes, often resulting from a warped brake rotor.

Hgh Fuel/Air Mixture

A rich fuel mixture is one of the biggest reasons why car owners fail emissions tests. 

An unbalanced air to fuel mixture in the engine’s combustion chambers can cause several problems, including high fuel pressure, high fuel pressure, contamination of the oxygen sensor, and white exhaust smoke.

Clogged Air Filters

Air filters trap dirt, grime, and pollutants such as hydrocarbons so that they don’t get into the engine. If the filter is clogged, it won’t be able to stop hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and other deleterious particles from entering your engine.

It’s not uncommon for vehicles with high levels of hydrocarbons to fail an inspection.

Light Problems

Many car owners fail the inspection because their car’s headlights, tail lamps, and/or turn signal lights don’t work properly. After all, you need to be able to see at night and indicate to other motorists your intentions.

Moreover, people also fail because their dashboard warning lights, especially the “Check Engine” or “Service Engine Soon” light, are on or are malfunctioning.

Gas Cap Issues

You might be surprised, but it’s quite common for vehicles to fail the inspection because their car’s gas cap leaks or is missing. 

Simply replacing the damaged or missing gas cap with a new one is often all that is needed to pass the gas cap inspection.

Faulty Spark Plugs

Spark plugs create the electrical “spark” that ignites the fuel and gets the car’s engine moving. If they are dirty, worn, or compromised in any other way, your engine may run roughly or not at all.

Fouled or faulty spark plugs can also affect the air-to-fuel ratio in the engine’s combustion chambers, causing your engine to burn more fuel and produce more pollution than necessary.

What Happens If My Car Fails The Vehicle Inspection?

Don’t worry — your car or truck won’t be towed away if it fails the inspection.

The rules are different for every state, province, or corresponding jurisdiction; however, in most instances, you can retake the test.

In U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions that require vehicle inspections, you will be given a set number of days (a grace period) to get a secondary inspection, which should give you a chance to fix the problems identified with the vehicle. A “failed inspection” sticker might even be placed on the vehicle.

Whatever the case, it’s your responsibility to fix the issues that prevented you from passing.

Remember, you won’t be able to register your vehicle or possibly even renew your driver’s license without first passing the inspection. Driving without valid vehicle registration can get you ticketed, your license suspended, and your car impounded.

Vehicle Inspection FAQs

Question mark in car road sign

Here are answers to some questions that should provide you with even more information about vehicle inspections.

Do I Need A Car Inspection?

Every jurisdiction (state, province, etc.) has its own laws regarding vehicle inspections, so depending on where you live, you may or may not need an inspection.

To determine what applies to you, educate yourself on local laws and regulations. You should be able to find the laws in your city or town by doing an online search or contacting your respective government agency.

Do I Have To Pay For A Vehicle Inspection?

Yes. You have to pay for the vehicle inspection whether you pass or fail. However, in some jurisdictions, retaking the test if you failed on the first go is free so long as it’s taken during the grace period provided.

The cost for an inspection varies between jurisdictions, but it’s usually under $300. 

Where Can I Get My Car Inspected?

Many mechanics and local auto shops are authorized by government authorities to offer safety inspections, so finding a place shouldn’t be too difficult.

Oftentimes, these locations have a sign advertising that they are licensed to provide the service.

Many cities and towns also have designated government facilities where you can get your vehicle tested.

Final Thoughts

A vehicle inspection can save you a lot of time, money, and stress by ensuring that your car or truck is safe and works as intended and that a minor mechanic issue doesn’t snowball into a serious, more costly one. 

Even if you’re not required by law to perform an inspection periodically, you should do so anyway as part of your routine vehicle maintenance to maximize the life of your vehicle and keep the road safer for everyone. 

The little time and money you will incur initially can save you thousands down the line.

So, how long does a car inspection take? To summarize, it can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour depending on your jurisdiction and the condition of your vehicle.