Vehicle Emissions Inspection FAQ

If you can't find the answer to your emissions inspection question here, call the Air Check Virginia staff during normal business hours. For information about vehicle registration, please call the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles at 804-497-7100 or visit their website.

Does my vehicle need an emissions inspection?

Most vehicles that are registered or operated primarily in the program area are subject to the vehicle emissions inspection program.  See Which Vehicles Require an Emissions Inspection. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles notifies vehicle owners whether or not an emissions inspection will be required in order to renew the vehicle’s registration.  Check the middle or bottom left corner of the registration renewal card for the following statement:  “Emissions Inspection Required.”

You can also start the registration renewal process on DMV's website at www.dmvnow.com and click on 'Vehicle Registration Renewal.' You only need your title number and part of the VIN to see if DMV will require an emissions inspection to renew the registration.

In most cases, if your vehicle is less than four model years old, you do not need the emissions inspection until it is five model years old.

If your vehicle is due for an emissions inspection, please do not wait until the last minute to have the inspection performed. The wait time for an inspection at an emissions inspection station is generally lowest during the middle two weeks of each month. Waiting until the last weekend or day before your registration expires can result in frustration due to long lines at the inspection station and the local DMV branch office.

For more information about vehicle registration, contact DMV at 804-497-7100 or visit their website at www.dmvnow.com.

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I did not receive my renewal notice. How can I find out if I need an emissions inspection to renew my tags?

If you are unsure if you need an emissions inspection to renew your Virginia vehicle registration, please use the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicle's online renewal process to quickly and easily check. A username and password is not required to access the online renewal process. Go to www.dmvnow.com. Under 'Online Services', click on 'Vehicle Registration Renewal' and follow the instructions. You will need your title number and the last four digits of the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), all of which will be listed on your current registration card. If you had an emissions inspection performed one year ago during your registration renewal, you will only be allowed to renew for one year without a new emissions inspection. If the system is asking for inspection date, inspection result and Transaction Identification Number, then a new emissions inspection is required.

You can also review the emissions inspection history for a vehicle by following this link. You will need the complete Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to search the inspection records.

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Which vehicles require an emissions inspection?

Certain vehicles require a Virginia Emissions Inspection PASS or WAIVER before DMV can complete the registration process. The requirements are categorized by fuel type,

  • Gasoline-powered passenger or property carrying vehicles with a model year that is less than 25 model years old before January 1 of the current calendar year and with a manufacturer's designated gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less
  • Diesel-powered passenger or property carrying vehicles with a model year of 1997 or newer and with a manufacturer’s designated gross vehicle weight rating of 8,500 pounds or less
and apply to vehicles that are registered in one of the following localities:
  • Counties of: Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, and Stafford
  • Cities of: Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park

All local, state, and federal government vehicles registered or operated primarily in the Northern Virginia program area are subject to the emissions inspection program. In addition, Section 118 of the federal Clean Air Act requires that any employee of the federal government commuting into the program area and operating their vehicle on a federal installation comply with the emissions inspection program. Federal employees should contact their individual agency about compliance with this federal requirement.

Virginia law exempts vehicles manufactured for the current model year or any of the three immediately preceding model years from the biennial emissions inspection requirement, unless identified by the remote sensing program as violating the emissions standards established for that program. However, DMV may require an emissions inspection for newer vehicles that were originally titled in another state.

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Does my hybrid vehicle need an emissions inspection?

Some hybrid vehicles are exempt from the biennial emissions inspection requirement. According to the Code of Virginia (§46.2-1178.B.1.), a “qualified hybrid motor vehicle” is exempted from the vehicle emissions inspection requirement if it obtains a rating from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of at least 50 miles per gallon during city fuel economy tests unless observations from the On-Road Emissions program indicates that the hybrid vehicle may not meet current emissions standards. 

A “qualified hybrid motor vehicle” is a motor vehicle that meets applicable regulatory requirements, meets or exceeds federal motor vehicle standards for gasoline powered passenger cars, and can draw propulsion energy both from gasoline or diesel fuel and a rechargeable energy storage system.

You can view the city and highway fuel mileage ratings for most vehicles sold in the United States by visiting www.fueleconomy.gov , where you will find annual fuel mileage reports from the USEPA.

Note: All hybrid vehicles are subject to Air Check Virginia’s On-Road Emissions Program.

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How far in advance can I have the emissions inspection done on my car?

You may have the emissions inspection done up to 90 days prior to your registration expiration date to apply for a two year vehicle registration. If the emissions inspection is done any earlier than 90 days prior to your registration expiration date, you may only be eligible for a one year vehicle registration.

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What type of inspection is performed?

Gasoline-Powered Vehicles
There are three types of tests:  two-speed idle test, acceleration simulation mode test and an on-board diagnostic system test. 

  • 1980 and older model year vehicles receive a two-speed idle test. This test measures hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide at 2,500 rpm and curb idle.
  • Most 1981 to 1995 model year vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating up to 8,500 pounds receive an acceleration simulation (ASM) mode test. The ASM test is performed on a dynamometer (also known as a treadmill) which allows the inspector to run the vehicle at only 15 mph and 25 mph. This type of test is performed to measure nitric oxide, as well as hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. Some vehicles may not be able to receive the dynamometer test due to mechanical features such as all-wheel drive, full-time four-wheel drive, or traction control that cannot be turned off. These vehicles will be tested using the two-speed idle test. 
  • Most 1996 and newer model year vehicles will receive a test of the vehicle's on-board diagnostic computer system instead of or in addition to the regular tailpipe emissions test. 

Most vehicles receive an emissions control component inspection. The inspector will check for certain emissions control systems that were originally installed on the vehicle by the manufacturer. Most vehicles will also receive visible smoke inspection.

Diesel-Powered Vehicles
1997 and newer diesel vehicles with a manufacturer’s designated gross vehicle weight rating of 8,500 pounds or less will receive the on-board diagnostic computer system test.  Diesel vehicles will not receive the tailpipe test, visual component inspection, or the visible smoke inspection.

Note: There may be some confusion between the emissions inspection and the state safety inspection. The safety inspection is required once a year. The month and year on the windshield sticker indicate when the vehicle needs the safety inspection performed. For more information on the Virginia Safety Inspection, visit the Virginia State Police's web site.

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Can my vehicle be tested safely?
Or ... I was given a 'Rejection From Testing' Form. What does it mean?

To ensure the safety of your vehicle, the inspector, and other people around the inspection bay, the inspector is required by inspection regulations to perform a 'Pre-Inspection Safety Check.' Items that could result in a rejection from testing can include tires in an unsafe condition, fluid leaks, exhaust leaks, visible smoke, missing gas cap, or mechanical problems with the engine and/or drive train. A 'Notice of Rejection From Vehicle Emissions Testing' form will be filled out by the inspector to identify the vehicle and the reason it is being rejected from testing. The items that are indicated on the form must be corrected/fixed before the emissions inspection can be safely performed.

Diesel powered vehicles will not be rejected from testing due to tire condition or a missing fuel cap. Diesel vehicles with a manufacturer’s designated gross vehicle weight rating of 8,501 pounds or more may receive a Rejection from Testing Form from the inspection station with instructions to contact the Department of Environmental Quality.

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How much does the inspection cost?

The maximum inspection fee is $28. If the vehicle fails the inspection, the vehicle is eligible for ONE free retest at the original emissions inspection station within 14 calendar days of the Initial inspection.

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Do I need to take anything to the inspection station?

You do not need to provide any other paperwork to receive a regular biennial emissions inspection. 

Important Note: The vehicle should be warmed up to operating temperature for the inspection.

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Where can I get my vehicle inspected?

There are more than 400 permitted emissions inspection stations available to the public in the Northern Virginia area. The inspection is performed at various local facilities including service stations, repair shops, and motor vehicle dealerships. Every emissions inspection station has a poster with a white background and green lettering on the outside of the building indicating 'Emissions Inspection Station.' (Click here to view the poster.)

You can find Emissions Inspection Stations in your area by following this link:

Inspection stations are required to be open for inspections for an eight hour period Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. Many stations also have weekend and evening hours. It is recommended that you call the stations in advance to verify their hours of operation before visiting that station.

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My vehicle has passed the emissions inspection, now what?

Once the vehicle has received a pass or waiver result, the registration for that vehicle may be renewed for up to two years. When the inspection is completed, the emissions analyzer automatically contacts the Vehicle Inspection Database to download the results of the inspection; the results are then transmitted to DMV, usually within 24 hours.

Occasionally, communications may be interrupted for a short period of time. In this event, you may need to present the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Report to DMV to complete the registration process, or use the 'Transaction Identification Number' printed on your report if renewing by phone or on-line. This is a rare situation, and the data transfer system is continually monitored to reduce this type of problem.

You can renew by mail, in person at a local branch office, or on DMV's website at www.dmvnow.com. For specific questions regarding vehicle registration, branch locations, hours, or other information, call DMV at 804-497-7100 or visit their web site.

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What should I do if my vehicle fails the inspection?

Vehicles that fail the initial inspection are eligible for one free retest at the original station within 14 calendar days of the initial inspection.

Follow this link to learn more about emissions inspection failures, the repair process, and emissions inspection waiver information.

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I don't have enough time before my license plates expire to have the vehicle fixed. What can I do?

Under certain circumstances, the Department of Motor Vehicles may offer a one-time extension for vehicles in the Northern Virginia program area for a nominal fee. DMV will not extend the registration if the registration has already expired, you must ask for the extension BEFORE the registration expiration date. Contact DMV at 804-497-7100 or visit a branch office for more information.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000


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