Vehicles registered in the state of Texas are required to undergo annual inspections to check their compliance with safety laws. In some counties, this does not include emissions testing, but in 17 counties, emissions testing is mandated.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) performs these inspections at Official Vehicle Inspection Stations where passenger car inspectors use a checklist provided by the DPS of tests that are to be performed.
Not every type of vehicle is given the same tests during the annual Texas state vehicle inspection. The exact testing to be done for each vehicle class is listed online at the Department of Public Safety's Inspection Criteria for the Annual SAFETY Inspection webpage. It is useful to get an overview of procedures before taking a car in for testing.
Preliminary Testing Information
The first question for a vehicle owner in Texas is whether their car, truck or motorcycle is required to be tested. Every vehicle registered in the state must schedule and pass an annual inspection that includes a comprehensive safety inspection.
An initial question in vehicle safety testing involves verifying the owner's financial responsibility in case of an accident. Note that Texas makes mandatory certain minimum levels of liability insurance. At the annual inspection, the vehicle inspector confirms that the vehicle being tested is insured by examining the owner's current registration card as well as the document that constitutes proof of insurance provided by the insurer.
If these documents are not in place or are not current, the car automatically fails the test and the owner must fix the problems before returning for the remainder of the testing. If all is well with registration and insurance, the inspector proceeds with checking the different items on the safety inspection checklist.
Components of Safety Inspection
The components of the Texas safety inspection vary depending on the type of vehicle, which are listed by vehicle type on the webpage of the Department of Public Safety. They include bus, school bus, moped, motorcycle, truck under 80 feet, truck over 80 feet, and exempt vehicles.
For example, a passenger vehicle will be inspected for these items, generally in this order.
- Windshield wipers.
- Seat belts.
- Brake system, including parking brakes beginning with 1960 models.
- Wheel assembly.
- Exhaust system.
- Exhaust emission system (beginning with 1968 models).
- Beam indicator (beginning with 1948 models).
- Taillamps (2); one lamp if 1959 model or earlier.
- Stop lamps (3) if 1986 and newer; (2) if 1960-1985; (1) if 1959 model or earlier.
- License plate lamp (1).
- Rear red reflectors (2).
- Turn signal lamps (beginning with 1960 models).
- Head lamps (2).
- Motor, serial or Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
- Gas caps on vehicles 2 to 24 model years old.
- Window tint.
Exhaust System and Emissions
The safety inspection includes a check of the exhaust system. This is performed on every vehicle tested, regardless of whether or not it is registered in a county that requires dual inspection. It also includes the exhaust emission system for vehicles manufactured in 1968 or later.
Emissions Testing in Texas
In addition, Texas has implemented enhanced vehicle emissions inspections in certain affected areas of the state in order to improve air quality. These inspections are integrated with the annual safety inspection program and operated by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
The emissions testing determines whether the vehicle sufficiently meets the standards for exhaust to comply with federally mandated clean air requirements.
Which vehicles are required to have the emissions test? This is based on several criteria, depending on the type of vehicle, the county in which it is registered and the age of the vehicle, as outlined in this chart:
Type of Vehicles
County of Registration
Age of Vehicle
Gasoline powered vehicles must be tested. Diesel powered vehicles and motorcycles are exempt from emissions testing.
Brazoria, Collin, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Ellis, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Johnson, Kaufman, Montgomery, Parker, Rockwall, Tarrant, Travis and Williamson.
Vehicles between the ages of 2 years and 24 years qualify for testing.
Car owners with gas-powered vehicles registered in any of these 17 counties are not eligible to renew their vehicle's annual registration unless and until their vehicle passes the annual emissions inspection or has complied.
These owners are sent an annual vehicle registration renewal notice that has the words "TCEQ - EMISSIONS PRGM NON-COMPLIANCE" printed on the front page. They must resolve the issue before they can renew the registration.
Types of Emissions Tests
Texas uses three different types of vehicle emissions tests to check the smog levels of the emissions of various vehicles. These are:
- Accelerated simulation mode, or ASM.
- On-board diagnostic or OBDII.
- Two-speed idle test or TSI.
The type of test used depends on the age of the vehicle and the county where the vehicle is registered or primarily operated. Vehicles manufactured before 1995 are tested using the ASM or the TSI.
Today, all gasoline powered vehicles from 2 through 24 years old that are registered or primarily operated in emissions counties are given the On-Board Diagnostic (OBDII) test. Vehicle manufacturers install a computer system in every vehicle that monitors the performance of the emission control equipment, fuel metering system and ignition system.
The OBDII system detects malfunction or deterioration in performance of these components that results in the vehicle missing emissions standards. The Texas Department of Public Safety's website identifies the systems and components that are checked during an emissions inspection.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let's take a look at some of the frequently asked questions relating to state car inspections in Texas.
How often do you need to get your vehicle inspected in Texas?
Vehicles must be inspected annually in Texas. Vehicles in most counties must simply pass a safety inspection, but those in 17 "emission" counties must also pass an emissions test. The inspection cost is determined by the county of registration and the type of inspection required.
Which counties require emissions testing?
Vehicles are subject to emissions testing if they are registered in any of these 17 Texas counties: Brazoria, Collin, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Ellis, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Johnson, Kaufman, Montgomery, Parker, Rockwall, Tarrant, Travis and Williamson. If not registered in these counties, they are exempt from the emissions testing requirement.
How old does a car have to be to be exempt from inspection in Texas?
Vehicles are exempt from the annual safety inspection in Texas if they are older than 24 years.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.