What’s Involved in a Safety Inspection?

Posted Tuesday, Oct 12, 2021

What’s Involved in a Safety Inspection?

Drivers often don’t think of how safe their vehicles are until a problem arises. Unfortunately, by the time they realize there’s a safety issue, it may be too late.


Depending on the state in which you live, periodic vehicle safety inspections may be required.


Why is a Safety Inspection Important?


There are many things that affect the safety of a used car or truck, many of them not obvious or simply unknown to the average driver. Regardless, safety problems can manifest at the worst possible time. Regular inspections keep drivers informed of the condition of their cars. If a vehicle fails inspection, it should be repaired as soon as possible.


Failing a safety inspection can result in fines or a disqualified registration. Even if your state doesn’t require an inspection, it’s good to have your vehicle checked by a competent technician at least every six months. October and April — designated as National Car Care Months —  are good semi-annual checkpoints to get cars ready for the winter and summer driving seasons.


What’s Involved in a Safety Inspection?


Estimates suggest more than 30,000 parts make up the average vehicle, and perhaps a few thousand parts directly affect safety. Professional technicians follow a standardized checklist. In states that don’t require periodic inspections, the checklist may be more general. Here are some common safety inspection items and how they can fail.


Headlights fail if they are inoperative or have cracked lenses. Lamps also will not pass if they are incorrect or different colors, or if the lenses are excessively fogged.

Taillights, turn signals, marker lights, hazard lights, license plate lights, brake lights and reverse lights fail if they are inoperative, have cracked lenses, are an incorrect color or are too dim.

Tires fail if their average tread depth is lower than 1/32” or any cut exposes the belts. Tires also will not pass because of dry rot, bubbles, shifted belts or other damage.

A windshield will fail if there are any cracks directly in the driver’s vision. It also won’t pass if there is sufficient scratching or pitting obstructing the driver’s view.

Wipers fail if they streak or chatter, or are missing. Wipers also fail if the washer fluid jets don’t spray sufficiently to clean the windshield.

Mirrors fail if they are cracked, broken or missing.

Seat belts fail if they are frayed, don’t latch, fail to retract or if the auto-locks don’t engage.

Brakes fail if there is metal-to-metal contact between shoes and drums or pads and rotors. They also won’t pass if the booster is inoperative, if there are brake fluid leaks, or if the brake pedal travels more than halfway to the floor.

The horn fails if it is inoperative or too quiet.

Steering may fail if joints are too loose.

Suspension may fail if shock absorbers are leaking.

It’s good to know that state inspection requirements are the absolute minimum and that the list above may not be the same for all states. For example, while most state inspections require a minimum 1/32” tire tread depth, rain requires at least 3/32” and snow at least 5/32”.

At home, the average DIYer should be able to inspect most, if not all, of these things, but it’s good to note that that doesn’t replace a state-mandated safety inspection. By following this checklist, though, any safety issues can be fixed before an inspection is due or problems surface.


All states require a safety inspection when the vehicle is sold, transferred or registered, and 16 states require annual or biannual safety inspections. Thirty-four states have no regular safety inspection requirement.