One of the big pains in the neck about owning a car is having to re-register each and every year (depending on your state, you’ll renew either annually or biennially through the state’s Registry of Motor Vehicles). A big part of that is taking your car in for a mandatory vehicle inspection. Fortunately, it’s not always a requirement – some states are even extremely lax about the need for a safety inspection. But its purpose isn’t just another hoop to jump through. It’s actually a way that the DMV ensures your car is safe to be out there on the road. If you’re interested in saving a few dollars, here’s an idea: do a quick safety inspection of your car yourself and make any necessary repairs before you take it in to your local mechanic for the official vehicle inspection.
Here’s what mechanics are required to look for – and verify there are no problems with – during a vehicle inspection.
- The condition of your windshield. Look for cracks, chips, and loose seals since these are considered safety hazards. There are a lot of shops that offer free rock-chip repair, so if you’ve got a crack or a chip, be sure to get it fixed ahead of time. This way, you won’t have to waste time failing your inspection, then retaking it.
- The condition of your tires. Old, worn down tires won’t help you pass a safety inspection. Check the wear indicator bar on your tires. If the tread is worn down to that point or further, get new tires before the inspection. The safety check also includes the condition of your spare, so check that as well. Also, make sure the tires on your car are the same size and style. Even if they have good tread, having randomly sized tires could make your car flunk the safety inspection.
- The functionality of your lights. We’re not just talking about your headlights here, either. A safety inspection checks to make sure that all of your car’s lights are in good working order. Beyond headlights, this also includes your high beams, emergency flashers (front and back), turn signals (front and back), side lights, brake lights and backup lights.
- The condition of your brakes. It’s no secret that breaks are an important safety feature on your car. If the mechanic finds that your breaks are worn down or not working properly, your car won’t pass inspection. Have them checked ahead of time and get your brake pads replaced if needed before the inspection to help it go smoothly and quickly. This also includes the emergency brake. During the inspection, the mechanic will enable the emergency brake and put the car in gear to see if it stays in place.
- Your steering and alignment. An auto mechanic will inspect all components of your car’s steering system. If anything’s found to be loose or failing, they’ll let you know what specifically needs to be fixed to pass muster. If your car’s alignment is slightly off, it might be overlooked. But more serious alignment issues are going to have to be fixed to pass a vehicle inspection.
- The condition and functionality of your seat belts. As a rule, in order to pass a vehicle inspection your car’s seat belts have to be easily accessible, in good shape, and in perfect working order. This goes for the back seat as well as the front, so be sure to check these as well.
- The presence of any serious fluid leaks and anything else that could pose a safety hazard to you, your passengers, or other drivers. If your car’s got no leaks, don’t assume that you’re going to pass with flying colors. Take a look at the car as a whole. For example, if your muffler is scraping the ground or being held in place by a shoelace, don’t even think about taking it for inspection until it’s fixed. That’ll get you a quick FAIL every single time.
Vehicle inspections aren’t a necessary evil. They’re a necessary inconvenience. But just remember, they’re there to make sure that our cars don’t fall apart as we’re driving down the street, putting ourselves or other people in jeopardy. So take your safety inspection as seriously as you’d want other drivers to take theirs.