Vehicle Inspections & TPMS Sensors

Remember those scenes in the movie Gladiator when the draconian Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix, determines the fate of a combatant with a dramatic thumbs up or thumbs down?

Well sometimes a state-mandated vehicle inspection can feel sort of the same. Especially if you have a TPMS warning light illuminated, or some other such issue. So. Much. Angst. As the inspector pokes and prods you wait to learn the fate of your vehicle’s road-worthiness and legality.

In truth, it’s not quite that dramatic. But if your vehicle isn’t up to par, then problematic findings during inspection can lead to some (ongoing) inconvenience and cost. On the upside, inspection findings can bring to light unknown issues that could have resulted in much bigger repair bills down the road, and/or compromised road safety.

So what if you have blown TPMS sensors and your dash warning light is illuminated? Do you fail inspection for TPMS sensors being blown?

Regardless of your state’s enforcement policies Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems [TPMS], is a safety system that you should really not bypass.

TPMS is subject to inspection in states where vehicle safety inspections are mandated. These states are Alaska, Utah, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Maine, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Vermont, West Virginia, New York, Virginia, North Carolina and Texas.

Mississippi and Nebraska also require vehicle safety inspections under certain conditions – upon vehicle sale/transfer of ownership in Mississippi, and whenever an out-of-state vehicle is registered in Nebraska.

In each of these states, the Department of Motor Vehicles is responsible for setting the parameters of the vehicle safety inspection, including what constitutes a failure.

Importantly, and we’d emphasize this point as you consider whether to be proactive in addressing a TPMS issue or other mechanical hiccup, vehicle safety inspection policies are subject to change. According to the latest updates, some states will fail a vehicle for malfunctioning TPMS. Other states may pass a vehicle even if the TPMS warning light is illuminated, but that policy could change.

Rather than take that chance, we suggest you address TPMS issues as soon as reasonable and before any state safety inspection. You’ll gain the very real safety advantages of functioning TPMS and save yourself the headache of potentially failing inspection on these grounds. Stop into your local tire shop for help with diagnosing and resolving any TPMS issue.

Here are answers to some other common vehicle inspection questions:

1. What’s the difference between an emissions inspection and state safety inspection?

Emissions testing involves the verification of your vehicle’s exhaust system function. Specifically, the exhaust system’s proper reduction of pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and hydrocarbons. A state safety inspection is an evaluation of your vehicle’s road-worthiness, from a safety standpoint.

2. What happens if you fail either test?

Expect to have your vehicle retested and verified as “fixed.” In some cases, states are enacting policies to encourage driver proactivity and proper vehicle function at the time of testing. For example, emissions testing is on the state’s dime in New Jersey. However, if you fail that emissions test, you’ll have to get the fix verified at a private emissions test at your cost.

3. What happens during an emissions inspection?

The exhaust is tested for levels of the pollutants detailed above and verified as emitting less than the maximum pollutant threshold.

4. What happens during a state safety inspection?

All your vehicle’s major systems are checked. Everything from headlights, blinkers, and emergency lights, to brakes, wheels, suspension, tires, and TPMS. Your engine will likely be checked for any leaks. Seatbelt functionality may also be verified. The idea of a safety inspection is that all components and systems required for road-worthiness and occupant safety are evaluated.

5. Do I have to address all recommendations?

Your inspector will inform you of all points that require action/repair. During the course of the inspection, other recommendations may be made that don’t necessarily require you to immediately pursue a repair.

6. How long does an emissions test typically take?

Anywhere from 15-30 minutes is common.

7. How long does a state vehicle safety inspection test typically take?

Plan on about an hour, but this is influenced by the mechanic’s findings. Vehicles in optimum running condition are a much quicker evaluation. Vehicles with notable mechanical issues may require diagnosis or troubleshooting, and will likely require more evaluation time.

8. Which states require emissions testing?

Some states have statewide emissions testing requirements, others require emissions testing only in certain areas, i.e., select counties or more densely populated metropolitan areas.

As of late 2019, emissions testing is required statewide, or in at least select areas of the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey,  New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania,  Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Drive safe!

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