Why did my vehicle fail? / Waiver Information

Vehicles that fail the initial inspection (or On-Road Emissions Confirmation Test) are eligible for one free retest at the original station within 14 calendar days of the initial inspection (or initial On-Road Emissions Confirmation Test).

A vehicle that fails the emissions inspection (or On-Road Emissions Confirmation Test) must be repaired and reinspected until it passes or a waiver is obtained. If your vehicle fails, the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Report, which indicates the failed item(s) and a second page, the Emissions Repair Data Form will be given to you by the inspector. Emissions related repair and diagnostic work performed and/or approved by a Certified Emissions Repair Technician employed at a Certified Emissions Repair Facility can be applied toward an emissions inspection waiver. If repairs are done by someone other than a Certified Emissions Repair Technician at a Certified Emissions Repair Facility, the cost of the repairs will not apply towards an emissions inspection waiver. In order to qualify for an emissions inspection waiver, the emissions related diagnostic and repair charges must meet or exceed the waiver amount printed on the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Report, and the vehicle must have failed an initial emissions inspection and completed a retest indicating continued failure.

Effective April 1, 2016, the waiver amount is $815.

In order to qualify towards an emissions inspection waiver, the emissions related repairs must meet both of the following conditions:

  1. The work must have been performed at a DEQ-certified emissions repair facility.
  2. The work must have been performed by, or supervised and approved by a DEQ-certified emissions repair technician employed at that facility.

An emissions inspection waiver will not be granted for:

  • An emissions inspection failure for any vehicle with less than 24,000 miles and is less than two years old and is covered by an emissions warranty
  • An emissions control systems visual inspection failure
  • A visible smoke failure for any vehicle
  • Any situation in which the vehicle is not able to complete the full emissions inspection procedure, i.e. any “rejection from testing”

If the vehicle is taken to a Virginia Certified Emissions Repair Facility, the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Report and the Emissions Repair Data Form must be given to that repair facility. Once the repairs have been performed, the Certified Emissions Repair Technician employed at the Certified Emissions Repair Facility will indicate on the Emissions Repair Data Form what types of repairs were performed and any item(s) that may have been suggested to be repaired and/or serviced. The Vehicle Emissions Inspection Report, Emissions Repair Data Form and business receipts from the Certified Emissions Repair Facility must then be taken back to the inspection station for data entry during the retest of the vehicle.

Although DEQ suggests that the vehicle be taken to a Certified Emissions Repair Facility for repairs, anyone can work on the vehicle. It is acceptable if other than a Certified Emissions Repair Facility works on the vehicle and it then passes the reinspection. However, if money is paid for emission related repairs to a facility or person who is not a Certified Emissions Repair Facility or a Certified Emissions Repair Technician, and the vehicle fails the reinspection, the money CANNOT be applied towards an emissions inspection waiver.

Every Certified Emissions Repair Facility has a poster with a white background and red lettering on the outside of the building indicating 'Certified Emissions Repair Facility.' (View the poster.) Those facilities also have a green certificate issued by the Department of Environmental Quality mounted inside the building. If you are unsure if a repair facility is certified by DEQ, ask to see the green DEQ certificate, or contact DEQ.

Types of Emissions Inspection FailuresMalfunction Indicator Lamp configurations

On-Board Diagnostic Systems  Service Check Soon

Note:  The terms “OBD” and “OBDII” used on this website refer to the On-Board Diagnostic computer system installed on most vehicles beginning with the 1996 model year for gasoline powered vehicles, 1997 model year for diesel powered vehicles.  Some 1996 to 2006 gasoline powered Heavy Duty vehicles (GVWR 8,501 lbs to 10,000 lbs.) do not have an OBDII system.  Those vehicles will get the Two-Speed Idle test.

  • OBD Malfunction Indicator Lamp

By simply turning the vehicle’s ignition switch from the “Off” position to the “Run” position, but with the engine not running, all of the bulbs for the warning lights in the dashboard will light up.  This is the bulb check the Emissions Inspector performs to ensure that the bulb for the Malfunction Indicator Lamp is working.  If the bulb does not come on, this will be cause for a failure and repairs will need to be performed in order to fix the Malfunction Indicator Lamp’s bulb.

  • OBD Diagnostic Connector

The Emissions Inspector must connect the data link cord from the emissions inspection analyzer to the OBDII system’s Data Link Connector.  If this connector is missing, damaged or blocked by aftermarket equipment, the inspection will result in an OBD Rejection From Testing.

If the Emissions Inspector can plug into the Data Link Connector, but the vehicle’s OBDII system computer cannot communicate with the emissions inspection analyzer, the inspection will result in an OBD Rejection From Testing.  This situation may be caused by problems with the wiring of the vehicle’s Data Link Connector.

In these situations, appropriate repairs need to be performed so that 1) the Emissions Inspector can get to the Data Link Connector, and 2) the vehicle’s Data Link Connector is working properly and will allow the vehicle’s OBDII system to communicate with the emissions inspection analyzer.

  • OBD Diagnostic Trouble Codes

When the OBDII system detects a problem that may increase the level of harmful emissions, a Diagnostic Trouble Code will be stored in the OBDII system’s memory.  The Diagnostic Trouble Code provides a simple description of a problem found by the OBDII system.  Emissions related Diagnostic Trouble Codes will also cause the OBDII system to turn on the Malfunction Indicator Lamp while the vehicle is running.  This is to inform the vehicle operator that there is a problem that needs to be checked.

If the emissions inspection analyzer detects at least one emissions related Diagnostic Trouble Code that causes the Malfunction Indicator Lamp to turn on, the vehicle will fail the inspection.  The OBDII system has determined that something is wrong with the vehicle that may cause an increase in harmful emissions.

Up to five Diagnostic Trouble Codes will be printed in the Remarks section, near the bottom of the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Report, click here to learn more about the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Report.  It is important to understand that there may be more than five Diagnostic Trouble Codes present; if so, they will also need attention during the diagnosis and repair process.

If the vehicle fails for Diagnostic Trouble Codes, the vehicle needs to have diagnostic and repair work performed.  By using an OBDII scanner, a repair technician can retrieve the Diagnostic Trouble Code(s) to begin the repair process. 

Important Notes

  • Prior to having an emissions inspection performed, do not attempt to have someone “clear the codes” by resetting the OBDII system with a handheld scanner or by disconnecting the vehicle’s battery unless appropriate repairs have been performed.  Not only will this clear the Diagnostic Trouble Codes, but it will also reset the OBDII Monitors which will cause a vehicle to be rejected from testing, click here to learn more about OBDII Monitors.  In most cases, if a Diagnostic Trouble Code is present, it will go away and stay away only after the cause for the code is found and repaired.
  • If the vehicle does fail for Diagnostic Trouble Codes, and repair work is done to fix the problem, the repair facility may “clear the codes.”  When this happens, the vehicle must be driven in order to allow the OBDII Monitors to meet the required conditions to perform their tests.  Click here to learn more about OBDII Monitors.

Tailpipe emissions failure

The emissions inspection program tests some gasoline powered vehicles for tailpipe emissions. The gases that are checked are:

  • Hydrocarbons: Measured in parts per million, hydrocarbons are made up of unburned fuel molecules. Excessive amounts can be caused by, but not limited to, problems with the ignition system (plugs, wires, timing, etc.), air/fuel mixture or fuel delivery (carburetor or fuel injection), faulty oxygen sensor, diluted engine oil, or a dirty air cleaner.
  • Carbon monoxide: Measured in a percentage, carbon monoxide is partially burned fuel molecules. Excessive amounts can be caused by, but not limited to, problems with the air/fuel mixture or fuel delivery (carburetor or fuel injection), faulty oxygen sensor, diluted engine oil, or a dirty air cleaner.
  • Nitric oxide (dynamometer test ONLY): Measured in parts per million, nitric oxide is a chemical created by high combustion chamber temperatures and pressure. This gas is produced when the vehicle is accelerating or traveling uphill. Excessive amounts can be caused by, but not limited to, an inoperative or clogged exhaust gas recirculation system, ignition timing, lean fuel mixture, or an inefficient or inoperable catalytic converter.

Diagnostic work should be performed on any tailpipe emissions failure. This will help identify the problem and reduce the repair costs. Fault codes stored in the computer's memory can help in the diagnosis and repair of problems that lead to a tailpipe emissions failure. The 'check engine' light on the dashboard is there to indicate to the operator that there is a problem with the engine, fuel delivery system, and/or an emissions control system that needs attention. Poor fuel mileage, poor performance, excessive pollutants and even engine damage can result from ignoring the 'check engine' light.

NOTE: Tailpipe emissions inspections are not performed on diesel powered vehicles.

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Emissions control system(s) failure

All emissions control systems that were originally installed on the vehicle at the time of manufacture MUST be properly connected and working. Emissions control systems that fail the inspection MUST be repaired to original specifications. Vehicles which fail due to a missing, disconnected, or inoperative systems CANNOT obtain a waiver. These items, with the exception of OBD II failures, must be corrected without regard to cost.

Below are links to general descriptions of emissions control systems that are inspected during an emissions inspection. Not all vehicles will have all of these systems installed on them. The inspection process will only check for systems that were installed on the vehicle by the vehicle manufacturer. Different vehicle manufacturers may use slightly different versions/configurations of these systems. For more detailed specifications for your vehicle, visit a local dealership or repair shop. Again, only those systems that were originally installed by the factory are required and inspected.

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Visible Smoke Failure

Vehicles may fail due to visible smoke emitting from the tailpipe or crankcase. The color of the smoke can help determine the problem with the vehicle.

  • Blue smoke can indicate engine oil being burned in the combustion chamber.
  • Black smoke can indicate an overly rich fuel mixture (too much fuel, not enough air).

NOTE: Visible smoke failures MUST be corrected. If the vehicle is found to be exhibiting visible smoke before the emissions inspection begins, the inspection station will issue a 'rejection from testing' and direct the citizen to have the visible smoke condition corrected prior to performing an emissions inspection. A vehicle can also be failed during the emissions inspection for visible smoke if the smoke becomes visible during the conduct of an emissions inspection. A waiver cannot be issued for a visible smoke failure.

Failed/Invalid result

An inspection that results in a failed/invalid due to rpm and/or dilution is an inspection that could not be completed accurately due to a vehicle problem encountered when attempting to perform the test.

  • Invalid rpm readings may indicate that the vehicle is idling at an excessively high or low engine speed or is unable to maintain a stable rpm or vehicle speed within a required range.
  • Invalid dilution readings may indicate an excessive exhaust leak, an air injection system problem (if equipped with this system) or some other vehicle problem which prevents a valid sample of exhaust emissions from being obtained.

Problems causing a 'failed/invalid' result must be corrected before a complete inspection resulting in an overall result of 'pass,' 'fail' or 'waiver' may be obtained. 'Failed/Invalid' tests are chargeable tests, and the owner is then entitled to one free retest within fourteen days of the failed/invalid test at the station that performed the original test.

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Note:  In order for a waiver to be issued, the inspection must be completed.  To complete the OBDII inspection, OBDII monitor requirements must be met.  Click here to learn more about OBDII monitors.

Vehicles that fail the emissions inspection may be eligible for warranty coverage for the required repairs. Vehicle manufacturers are required by federal law to provide an emissions warranty. 1995 and newer model year vehicles are covered for at least eight years or 80,000 miles. 1994 and older model year vehicles are covered for at least five years or 50,000 miles. Warranty coverage may vary depending upon vehicle make and model year. For further information, refer to the emissions warranty section of the vehicle owner's manual.

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


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