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What is an Auto Inspection?

By Katharine Swan
Updated May 17, 2024
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An auto inspection is usually required by law to ensure that the vehicles on the road are safe for people and for the environment. Owners are required to take their cars to a shop that specializes in or is licensed to perform an auto inspection. Safety inspections check a number of the car's systems, such as brake operation and condition of components, to be sure that the car does not pose a threat to the driver or anyone else on the road. Clean air inspections test the chemical content of the exhaust to ensure that the car's emissions control system is working properly. If a car fails an auto inspection for any reason, the owner will be required to have the car repaired so that it complies with the inspection's standards.

An auto inspection is also frequently performed prior to purchasing a car. This type of auto inspection ensures that a car will be a good investment for the buyer, and is usually performed by a mechanic that the buyer trusts. These auto inspections generally follow a list of points, such as braking system, cooling system, and so on; this is to ensure that each car gets the same thorough inspection. If any of a car's vital systems shows signs of future or developing problems, the mechanic needs to let the buyer know. A pre-purchase auto inspection can potentially a save buyer from unwittingly buying a car that will end up costing him or her a lot of money.

An auto inspection should also be performed once every year or two by a mechanic or an automotive-savvy owner. These periodic auto inspections ensure that the car is operating normally. Locating a problem when it is small often prevents other problems from developing. For example, a burst radiator hose causes a major coolant leak, and the engine could overheat before the driver notices the problem, potentially causing serious engine damage. However, a regular auto inspection could detect brittle or spongy radiator hoses, allowing the hoses to be replaced and averting complications from a blown hose.

Auto inspections keep people safe, keep our air clean, prevent buyers from making a bad decision, and avoid expensive repair work. Whether required by law, used as a precaution before purchasing a car, or simply performed in the spirit of good preventative maintenance, auto inspections are an important part of owning a car.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Sporkasia — On Feb 26, 2014

One of the best aspects of mandatory car inspections is that they include an auto emissions inspection, which hopefully decreases the number of cars with high emissions on the road, and decreases some of the pollution in the air.

Have you ever been in traffic and seen a car that is emitting so much smoke that the car appears to be on fire?

By Animandel — On Feb 25, 2014

Though you have to spend more money, getting a used car inspected before you buy the vehicle is always a good practice. Even with an inspection, there are no guarantees that the car will be worth what you pay for it, but without an inspection you are taking a big and maybe costly gamble.

Also, if you don't already have a trusted and reliable mechanic, be sure to locate a licensed auto inspection station where you can take the car to be looked over.

By Drentel — On Feb 25, 2014

The state I lived in before my last move stopped requiring that car owners get an auto inspection in order to have a car registered or to get the registration and tag renewed.

The main reason this practice was eliminated was that some of the stations authorized to do the inspections were more concerned with collecting the fees, and not so concerned with whether or not a car was road worthy when they handed out the auto inspection sticker.

I understand the need to regulate the quality of the vehicles on the road, but the system wasn't working. I applaud the state for scrapping it.

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