Taking your car in for a safety inspection can feel like showing up unprepared for a math exam. After all, if you're not a mechanic, how can you expect to know if your car will pass inspection? In many states, failing your safety inspection can mean taking time out of your day for a retest, and it may even leave you unable to renew your car's registration.
Fortunately, many common inspection failures don't require you to be an experienced mechanic to recognize or address. If you're concerned about whether your car may fail your state's inspection, check out these three simple checks you can make to ensure that your vehicle is safe and emissions-compliant.
1. Read Your Check Engine Codes
An illuminated check engine light will trigger an automatic failure in any state with emissions tests. Modern cars use a computer sensor and diagnostic system known as OBD-II. This system monitors a range of sensors throughout your vehicle to read data related to emissions and performance and then feeds this data into a computer that triggers an error code (and check engine light) if anything is amiss.
Shops test for emissions compliance by reading data from these sensors, so a check engine light (CEL) will prevent you from passing. If your car has this light on, you can take it to nearly any auto parts store to have the codes read for free. You can use this information to address your issues before scheduling your inspection, saving you from a potentially costly failure.
2. Do A Full Bulb Test
Safety inspections in some states may include lamp inspections. Even if your car has warning lights to alert you to bad bulbs, it's still a good idea to perform this inspection yourself. Make sure you check all of the lights on your vehicle, including your brake lights, tail lights, headlights, turn signals, and even your license plate light.
Replacing bulbs in most vehicles is quick and easy, so this simple step can save you from driving to a testing center only to fail because your brake light burnt out.
3. Look At Your Tires
If your state inspects tires as part of their safety check procedure, you'll want to look at each of your tires before driving to your testing location. Begin by looking for any apparent signs of damage, such as cracking or bubbling in the sidewalls. You should consider replacing tires with these problems, even if you don't currently need a safety inspection.
You should also check tread depth. The usual legal limit for tires is 2/32", but you should check with your state requirements to be sure. If your tires are approaching this point, they may already be unsafe to use. If you have less than this tread depth remaining, you'll need to consider a replacement before scheduling your inspection.
As the son and grandson of mechanics, I spent much of my child hood under the hood of many cars. I have listened and learned about so many different problems and how to repair them effectively. I created this blog to cover as many car problems as possible without overwhelming readers. You will find tips for troubleshooting, advice for when to take it to a professional and suggestions for when to stop driving the car or truck immediately to prevent further and more costly damage. We hope that you find all of this information helpful and useful, allowing you to have a great running car.