Ready for an emissions or smog test?

Most U.S. states require emissions tests every year or so before you can register your vehicle with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Here are some tips that can help you get ready for your vehicle’s inspection.

All 1996 and newer cars, light trucks, SUVs and minivans are equipped with OBD 2 (onboard diagnostics, second generation), which helps a vehicle check, regulate and monitor its emissions system. The purpose of the emissions test (or smog check) is to help make sure that your vehicle runs well, you are not loosing gas mileage, and mostly that you are not polluting the environment.

As vehicle technology evolves, so does the testing process. In the recent years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has started to advocate for states to use onboard diagnostics for inspection and maintenance (I/M) programs in place of older tailpipe emission tests. The majority of states are already adopting this methodology, which allows for a quicker and more efficient inspection for the shop and motorist. CarMD follows EPA’s criteria to identify if a vehicle is ready or not ready for an emissions test.

Here are some tips to help get you prepared:

  • It’s best to visit an independent testing facility (one that doesn’t perform repairs) to help avoid possible rip-offs. Your local DMV website can usually provide a list of independent testing facilities and (in some states) approved repair facilities.
  • To save time and frustration, call ahead to ask about the shop’s hours of operation and their busiest times of the day, week, and month.
  • If you need repairs, check your vehicle’s warranty. Federal law requires that the emissions control systems on 1996 and newer vehicles be warranted for two years or 24,000 miles (whichever comes first). Many auto manufacturers provide extended coverage as well. Read the fine print…you may be covered!
  • Before making the trip, use CarMD’s Vehicle Health Monitor® LEDs to “quick-check” a vehicle’s readiness. If it shows a Green LED, you are good to go! However, if it shows a Red or a Yellow LED, run a web report to identify if the vehicle is ready or not ready for an emissions test.
  • If the vehicle is not ready, CarMD will identify the problem and offer costs to repair and ensure that the car is ready to take the test.

Here is the criterion the EPA provides states to determine the outcome of a vehicle’s emissions status (MIL = Check Engine Light):

Possible Outcomes
(The CarMD report will let you know if you will pass or fail your emissions check)
Vehicle passes if
  • Vehicle’s MIL bulb is working
  • MIL is not lit while engine is running and
  • There are no MIL codes present
  • All required readiness codes (Monitors) are complete
Vehicle fails if
  • Vehicle’s MIL bulb is not working and/or
  • MIL is lit while engine is running and/or
  • MIL was commanded on for any set code and/or
  • The vehicle’s connector (DLC) is missing, tampered, or inoperable
Vehicle not ready if
  • All Model year 1996 to 2000 must have 3 or more Monitors as “Not Complete”
  • All Model year 2001 and newer must have 2 or more Monitors as “Not Complete”

The results of your vehicle’s monitors is provided within your CarMD report. If your test results show that your are “Not Ready” because of an incomplete Monitor, you will need to drive your vehicle for several days and run the test again to ensure that your vehicle is ready prior to scheduling an emissions test. Please be advised that an incomplete Monitor does not indicate that you will fail your emissions test.

NOTE: Also be aware that some states also include a safety inspection to determine
if you will pass or fail your test. Please check with your local testing station for more details.

Visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website for more information on how to keep your vehicle emissions free and other useful inspection information.

derekReady for an emissions or smog test?