To get a car registered in Texas, all vehicles are subject to once-a-year vehicle safety inspections. All of a vehicle's parts must be in good working order. If just one thing isn't working correctly, no matter how small, the car won't pass a state inspection until repairs have been made. Depending on the county, a vehicle is also subject to emissions testing. All safety inspections take place at licensed Texas Department of Public Safety official vehicle inspection stations.
What Happens During a Texas Vehicle Inspection
Safety is the primary concern during a car inspection in the state of Texas, although some areas also require emissions testing. During a vehicle inspection, a mechanic will check the entire car for any problems, including:
- Stop indicator, turn signals, hazard lights and headlights.
- Parking brake and foot brake systems.
- Wheel components, including the depth of the tire treads.
- Vehicle mirrors.
- Window coating and tints.
- Airbags and seat belts.
- Exhaust system.
- Gas caps (cars from two to 24 model years old).
- Steering systems.
During a vehicle inspection, everything must be in proper working order. If just one thing doesn't work, the vehicle will fail the inspection. For it to pass, whatever doesn't work first needs to be repaired.
Inspection Stickers in Texas
Texas passed HB 2305 in 2013, which eliminated the inspection sticker. Instead of vehicle owners needing two stickers – one for the inspection and one for the registration – they now need only one. The registration serves as proof that the vehicle has passed its safety inspection. The inspection process is the same, but instead of getting a second sticker, Texas vehicle owners now receive a copy of their vehicle inspection report (VIR).
In 2015, vehicle inspection stations stopped collecting the state's portion of the inspection fee. When a vehicle owner's car undergoes inspection, they now only pay the inspection station's portion of the cost. The state collects its portion at the time of registration or renewal.
Inspection Costs in Texas
In Texas, vehicle owners must have an annual safety inspection to obtain their registration, and some counties require an additional emissions test. Inspection costs are:
- One-year safety inspection: $7.00
- Two-year safety inspection (new vehicles): $7.00
- Commercial: $40.00
- Trailer/Motorcycle: $7.00
- Moped: $0.25
- Safety emissions (El Paso, Travis and Williamson counties): $18.50
- Safety emissions (Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston): $25.50
- Emissions only (El Paso, Travis and Williamson counties): $11.50
- Emissions only (Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston): $18.50
Gas-powered vehicles from two to 24 years old must have an emissions inspection in counties that require it. Vehicle owners are exempt from emissions inspections if they live outside of Brazoria, Galveston, Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery, Collin, Denton, Dallas, Ellis, Johnson, El Paso, Kaufman, Parker, Rockwall, Travis, Tarrant, and Williamson counties. Cars of all model ages must have a safety inspection no matter where they are in the state.
Types of Emissions Tests
Vehicles made in or before 1995 will receive a Two Speed Idle emissions test, while those made in and after 1996 will be subject to an On-Board Diagnostic test (OBDII). The Two Speed Idle test measures emissions from cars that do not have a computer diagnostic system. An attachment to the vehicle's tailpipe as it idles at low and high speeds identifies how it negatively contributes to atmospheric pollutants. Vehicles that put out too much carbon monoxide or hydrocarbons fail the test.
An OBDII has a tool that plugs directly into a car's internal computer. It analyzes data that shows how the vehicle emissions system is working. In a newer car, if the emissions system is faulty, the computer often causes the "check engine" warning to light up.
Emissions Testing Waivers and Extensions
The Texas DPS may issue a waiver or extension to a vehicle owner that passes a standard safety inspection. The waiver postpones the need for full compliance when a car fails an emissions test. Depending on their needs, owners can apply for a Mileage Waiver, an Individual Vehicle Waiver, a Parts Availability Time Extension, or Low-Income Time Extension annually per testing cycle.
The state puts the cost of the repairs toward the waiver; the vehicle owner must present receipts and repair orders when applying for it. The DPS website shows the location of waiver/challenge stations around Texas.
If a vehicle owner goes to a state Recognized Emissions Repair Facility to repair their emissions problem, all diagnostic, labor and parts costs associated with the repairs go toward the waiver. However, if they choose a facility that the state does not recognize, is independent, or the owner decides to do the work themselves, the waiver will only cover part of the emissions-related repairs.
Inspection and Registration for Out-of-State Vehicles
Even though there is only one sticker for vehicle registration and inspection in Texas, they are separate processes. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles handles registration, while vehicle inspection goes through the state Department of Public Safety. New residents must get an inspection, and register and title their vehicle within 30 days of moving to Texas. All cars must pass a safety inspection before they can get a valid registration and title.
A person moving to the counties of Collin, Brazoria, Dallas, El Paso, Denton, Ellis, Galveston, Fort Bend, Harris, Johnston, Kaufman, Montgomery, Rockwall, Parker, Tarrant, Travis, and Williamson will also need to get an emissions test. Both processes require proof of financial responsibility.
- Texas Department of Public Safety: Emissions Testing
- Texas Department of Public Safety: Vehicle Inspection Program Overview
- Two Steps One Sticker: FAQ
- Texas Department of Public Safety: Waivers/Challenge Station Locator
- Texas Department of Public Safety: Recognized Emissions Repair Program
- Texas Department of Public Safety: Cost of Inspection
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.