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Frequently asked questions about the NC Emissions Inspection Program

Posted Tuesday, January 6, 2004

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Why is the Emissions Inspection Program needed and why doesn't it apply to all 100 counties?
According to the EPA, cars and trucks create about ½ of the ozone air pollution and nearly all of the carbon monoxide air pollution in US cities. Research also indicates that passenger cars and light trucks on our highways emit the majority of vehicle-related carbon monoxide and ozone-forming hydrocarbons. The Emissions Inspection Program is designed to improve our air quality, thus enhancing our health and quality of life, by reducing mobile source air pollution.

Under the Clean Air Act, the most populated and polluted cities are required to adopt an emissions inspection program. The State of North Carolina Has a "decentralized" inspection network consisting of inspection and retest at privately owned facilities licensed by the state - i.e., gas stations, repair shops.

North Carolina's Implementation Plan designates several counties as "emissions" counties.

What vehicles are required to be emissions tested?
Effective July 1, 2002, all 1996 and newer gasoline-powered vehicles registered in an emissions county are required to receive the On Board Diagnostics(OBD II) emissions test.

Additionally, through December 31, 2005, all gasoline-powered vehicles less than 25 years old, up to and including model year 1995, registered in one of the original nine emissions counties, (WAKE, FORSYTH, GUILFORD, DURHAM, GASTON, CABARRUS, MECKLENBURG, ORANGE, or UNION), will require an exhaust (tailpipe) emissions test.

Effective January 1, 2002, all registered motor homes are exempt from any type of emissions testing.

Is there an additional cost for an emissions inspection?
Yes. If you live in an emissions county the total cost of an emissions inspection can range from $6.50 to $30.00, the fee breakdown being:

    Sticker Fee: $ 6.50
    Station Labor Fee: $ 0.00 - $ 23.50
The cost of a regular safety inspection in all counties is $9.10:
    Sticker Fee: $ 0.85
    Station Labor Fee: $ 8.25
Window tint in safety/emission counties is $10.00.

How much time will I be allowed to get an emissions inspection before I am penalized?
You will only receive one (1) official warning letter through the mail within a four (4) month period before the Penalty & Registration Block is actually issued. However, if you are stopped by a law enforcement officer, you are subject to be cited with a traffic ticket any time you are driving the vehicle if the sticker has expired.

You will be liable for a $100.00 fee/penalty if you own a 1977-1980 vehicle and a $250.00 fee/penalty if your vehicle is a 1981 or newer model.

What's all this talk I hear in the news about Registration-Denial and who will it affect?
Under General Statute 20-183.8A, if a vehicle-owner fails to pass a Safety & Emissions Inspection within four (4) months of the expiration of the existing inspection sticker, the vehicle owner will receive the civil penalty and be unable to renew the registration until the vehicles passes an emissions inspection.

I live in an emissions county and own several vehicles. Is each required to pass an emissions inspection?
Effective July 1, 2002, all 1996 and newer gasoline-powered vehicles registered in an emissions county are required to receive the On Board Diagnostics (OBD II) emissions test.

Additionally, through December 31, 2005, all gasoline-powered vehicles less than 25 years old, up to and including model year 1995, registered in one of the original nine emissions counties, (WAKE, FORSYTH, GUILFORD, DURHAM, GASTON, CABARRUS, MECKLENBURG, ORANGE or UNION), are required to have an exhaust (tailpipe) emissions test.

The exemptions from these requirements include current-year model vehicles, diesel-powered vehicles and motorcycles.

I do not currently live in an emissions county, are there future plans to extend the program to other counties?
Yes. The North Carolina General Assembly has extended the program to other counties. The expansion schedule is available through the Future Counties icon.

I do not live in an emissions county, however I work in one. Does that mean that my vehicle must pass an emissions inspection?
No. Your vehicle only has to pass an emissions inspection if the county where you register your vehicle is an emissions county.

What should I do if I receive a warning letter, but I do not live in an emissions county?
Regretfully, you received the letter in error and should contact your local DMV Office immediately. We apologize for the inconvenience.

I am in the military and will be going overseas. What will happen if I'm not back in time to get my car inspected before my inspection sticker expires?
If your vehicle is registered in an emissions county, you will be given ten (10) days once you return to North Carolina, to get your vehicle inspected. It is recommended that you contact your local DMV License and Theft Office in the county you claim as a residence. You should be prepared to submit a copy of your orders to substantiate the claim.

I am a student and attend college in another state. What will happen if I'm not back in time from school to get my car inspected before my inspection sticker expires?
If you are an out-of-state student, you will be given ten (10) days upon your return to North Carolina to get your car inspected. You should be prepared to provide a copy of your transcript or other documents in order to substantiate your case. For more information, contact your local DMV License and Theft Office in the county you claim as a resident.

Is the Environmental Protection Agency requiring other states to request emissions inspections, or is North Carolina the only one?
Actually, the EPA does not require that states adopt an emissions inspection (I/M) program. If a state violates the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, then EPA does require the state to submit a State Implementation Plan (SIP) approved by the state's governor. The SIP outlines the state's plan to improve the air quality so that it will attain the federal standard. The SIP usually includes an I/M program, but EPA does not specifically require accordance with the EPA I/M regulation.

Since I am now required to have both an emissions and a safety inspection, will it take twice as long to have my vehicle inspected?
No. The amount of time it takes to have a vehicle emissions/safety inspection will still take about the same amount of time it takes to have a regular safety inspection.

Are all North Carolina mechanics trained to perform an emissions inspection, or will I have to go to a special designated emissions station?
You can go to any licensed safety/emissions station and they will perform an inspection and issue one sticker to your vehicle.

Are the Emissions Inspection and Registration-Denial programs permanent, or will they become nonexistent within a few years?
Yes, these are permanent programs designed to improve our air quality and ensure it continues to comply with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

I own a motorcycle. Does it have to pass an emissions inspection also?
No. Motorcycles are exempt from the emissions testing requirement.

I just purchased a new automobile. Does it have to pass an emissions inspection?
No. Current-year model vehicles are exempt from the emissions testing requirement. Also, you should be advised that your vehicle must pass an emissions inspection if it is presented for reinspection at anytime after the original inspection.

How is the extra money I'm paying for an emissions inspection going to be used to benefit our state?
The inspection fee, which may range from $0 - $23.50, is the actual fee for performing the inspection regardless of whether your vehicle passes inspection or not. The $6.50 is the fee for the inspection sticker and is broken down as follows:

  • Emissions Program Account
  • $3.00
  • Volunteer Rescue/EMS Fund
  • $0.18
  • Highway Fund
  • $0.55
  • Telecommunication Account
  • $1.75
  • Rescue Squad Workers' Relief Fund
  • $0.12
  • Highway Trust Fund
  • $0.25
  • Division of Air Quality
  • $0.65
The Emissions Program Account is a non-reverting account within the Highway Fund. These monies are used for the sole purpose of funding the vehicle emissions inspection and maintenance program.

What does it mean if my car failed the Emissions Inspection?
When a vehicle fails the emissions inspection, the vehicle is not fuel-efficient. The vehicle is also operating on high levels of carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrocarbon (HC) which are too high for the vehicle and causing an excessive amount of air pollution.

What does it mean if an inspector mechanic advises me that my vehicle has a high CO or HC level?
Normal levels of carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrocarbon (HC) indicate that your vehicle is fuel-efficient. On the other hand, high levels of either CO or HC or both, reveal an inefficiency problem. The probable causes of high carbon monoxide (CO) in your vehicle are listed as follows for you to further discuss with your mechanic:

  1. Rich Fuel Mixture
  2. Plugged PCV Valve or fuel in the crankcase ventilation system
  3. Dirty Air Filter
  4. Malfunctioning closed-loop fuel metering system
  5. Saturated fuel evaporation canister or malfunctioning vapor purge system
The probable causes of high hydrocarbon (HC) in your vehicle are listed as follows for you to further discuss with your mechanic:
  1. Electrical Misfire
  2. Too Much spark advance (or initial timing)
  3. Air-fuel mixture too lean
  4. Vacuum leak
  5. Leaking exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) valve
  6. Malfunctioning closed-loop fuel metering system
  7. Engine wear
Several other parts that can affect emissions are listed below:
  1. Gasoline Tank Cap
  2. Thermostatic Air Cleaner (TAC)
  3. Catalytic Converter
  4. Heat Riser/Early Fuel Evaporation (EFE)
  5. Air Pump/Air Injection Systems

Can you provide a general overview of the inspection procedures for emissions equipment?
Yes, the inspection procedures are listed as follows:

  1. The vehicle's engine must be at a normal operating temperature with all accessories turned off.
  2. An analyzer probe will be inserted 10" to 16" in the end of the tailpipe to determine if it is defective.
  3. The inspection mechanic will use an exhaust emission analyzer approved by the NC Division of Motor Vehicles to conduct the emissions test.
  4. The inspection mechanic must follow all instructions provided by the exhaust emissions analyzer.
  5. The Pass/Fail determination is made based on a comparison of the HC and CO readings against the idle emission standards for that particular vehicle.
  6. The analyzer will test and disapprove a vehicle when the CO or HC reading is higher than the standards in the following charts:
LIGHT DUTY VEHICLES
Model Year COHC
1975-1979 4.5 450
1978-1979 3.5 350
1980 2.0 250
1981-later 1.2 220

HEAVY DUTY VEHICLES

Model Year COHC
1975-1978 5.0 500
1979-later 4.0 400

My car failed the emissions inspection, but the part needed to fix the problem is unavailable. What should I do?
In this case you may be able to obtain a waiver. This is documentation provided by DMV License and Theft stating that you have tried in good faith to replace a missing component or part on your vehicle. You must first obtain letters from a dealership, parts store and salvage yard stating the part is no longer manufactured or obtainable. If DMV License and Theft is also unable to locate the part, a waiver allowing your vehicle to pass the emissions test will be issued.

On the other hand, if DMV locates the part, the vehicle-owner must comply, and the parts waiver will be denied.

I've purchased the necessary parts and made the recommended repairs, but my car still failed the emissions inspection. What now?
In this case, a waiver may also be issued. However, the owner/operator must spend the required waiver amount in parts and/or labor in order to bring the vehicle within compliance standards. If the owner/operator can provide appropriate documentation of expenditures, the vehicle may be issued a waiver. Waiver expenditure amounts will not apply to the reconnection of tampered or removed exhaust emission control devices.

How much are the minimum waiver expenditures?
A minimum expenditure of $75.00 is required for 1976-1980 model year vehicles. Repairs may be performed by the owner/operator. If repairs are performed by the owner/operator, only the cost of parts may be counted toward waiver expenditure. Minimum year will drop each year through 2005.

A minimum expenditure of $200.00 is required for model years 1981 and newer vehicles. Repairs to 1981 and newer vehicles must be performed by a recognized repair technician. A recognized repair technician is considered to be someone who is professionally engaged in vehicle repairs or employed by a business whose purpose is vehicle repair or possessing nationally recognized certification for emission-related diagnostics and repair.

OK. I think I'm going to need a waiver. But just to be sure, what criteria must be met in order to get one?

  1. The vehicle must pass the safety inspection.
  2. The vehicle must have all exhaust emissions components appropriate to the make, model, year, series, and engine size properly installed and visually operating.
  3. The vehicle must fail the initial exhaust emissions tailpipe test although all the exhaust emissions components are installed.
  4. The vehicle-owner must attempt to obtain repairs appropriate to correct the cause of failure and bring the vehicle within compliance standards. All repair receipts must be kept to be used as a part of the vehicle-owner's waiver request. These receipts must be itemized, dated and include the name of each part or component.
  5. The vehicle-owner must have the repairs performed after the vehicle fails the first emissions test and completed within forty-five (45) days of the initial inspection and prior to the final inspection.
  6. The vehicle-owner is advised that only those repairs made to correct emissions problems will be counted for a waiver and must bring the vehicle to emission compliance standards.
  7. The vehicle-owner must have the catalytic converter replaced if the unleaded fuel restrictor has been tampered or removed. The fuel restrictor must also be repaired or replaced.
  8. The vehicle-owner is advised that the cost of tampered or removed emission control components or device, or their cost for reconnection, is not acceptable.
  9. The vehicle-owner is advised that diagnostics is not acceptable.
  10. The vehicle-owner is advised that a written Denial of Dealer Warranty Coverage is required from the manufacturer or authorized dealer if the vehicle is still within the statutory age and mileage requirements as set forth in Section 207(b) of the Federal Clean Air Act.
  11. The vehicle must fail only the tailpipe portion of the re-inspection after repairs have been made.

A waiver will be issued if all of the above-listed requirements are met. The waiver will be issued between the hours of 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM on Monday through Friday, with the exception of State-observed holidays. You can make an appointment, if needed, by calling your local DMV License and Theft Office.

What if I have an emissions component removed or replaced?

  • First, be advised that if you have an emissions component that is defective or in need of replacement or repair, we will count the replaced or repaired emissions control component and the labor or installation cost toward the waiver.
  • Second, be advised that the component repair cannot replace a removed, tampered or disconnected component.
  • Third, if the vehicle passes the initial inspection and the component replacement is done to get the vehicle to pass the exhaust emissions portion of the inspection, then the component cost is allowed.
  • Fourth, if the exhaust emissions component is removed, tampered or disconnected during the initial emissions test, then the component is not allowed.
NOTE: A waiver may be issued for a tampered or removed component if it can be verified that the part in question (or one similar to it) is no longer available for sale. In order to qualify, the owner must produce three (3) signed statements on company letterhead from a dealership, an automotive parts store and junkyard supporting the claim. One (1) of the statements must be from a dealership selling the same make of the vehicle as that of the vehicle-owner who is requesting the waiver.

How do I get licensed as an Inspection Station?
An application for licensing as a Safety Equipment or Safety Equipment Exhaust Emissions Inspection Station can be made on forms furnished by the Division of Motor Vehicles and filed with the License and Theft Section. Applications can be obtained through the local DMV License and Theft Inspector, who will forward them to the DMV Headquarters in Raleigh, N.C.

    An applicant for licensing must have:
  • a specified area used primarily for repair of motor vehicles;
  • at least 45 lineal feet of approximately level floor surface at least 10 feet wide when using a light chart for testing lights, or at least 25 lineal feet of approximately level floor surface at least 10 feet wide when using a light testing machine; (Dirt floors are not acceptable.)
  • sufficient area enclosed to permit a thorough inspection at all times regardless of weather conditions. Trailers may be inspected outside of the enclosed area as long as they are attached to the prime mover.
If a light chart is used to check lights, parallel lines at least 3 feet long must be painted on the floor surface 25 feet from the chart.

What are the limitations?

  • Stations with only a 25 foot lineal inspection lane are not allowed inspect trucks or other vehicles exceeding that length.
  • Stations with mechanical aimers can not inspect vehicles with headlamps that were not manufactured to be aimed with this device. These headlamps were manufactured to be aimed with photoelectric eyes, wall charts, computerized headlight test equipment, or on-board headlight aiming devices.
  • Stations not equipped with an exhaust emission analyzer can not inspect vehicles which are 1976 or newer gasoline powered motor vehicles registered or based in counties designated as non-attainment for air quality standards by either the North Carolina Department of Environment & Natural Resources (N.C. DENR) or U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). However, they are permitted to perform the original safety equipment inspections on new vehicles, vehicles 1975 model year or older, diesel powered vehicles, motorcycles and trailers.

Are motor homes required to have an emission test?
No, as of January 1, 2002, all motor homes have been exempt from the emission test. Motor homes will still be required to pass the safety inspection. Once the vehicle passes the safety inspection a safety sticker will be issued to the vehicle.

Once I move from a non-emission county to an emission county, how long before my vehicle has to be emission inspected?
When a vehicle registration is changed from a non-emission county to an emissions county, the vehicle owner shall have 60 days to obtain a safety/emission inspection.

What equipment am I required to have before I can be licensed?
Each station must have equipment and tools for the carrying out of inspections, which include but are not limited to the following:

  1. one jack or lift with minimum capacity of 2 tons;
  2. one headlight tester or aiming kit adapters to fit all headlights;
  3. one workbench;
  4. one creeper;
  5. one hand paper punch (round, 1/4" cut);
  6. one tire tread depth gauge (calibrated in 32nds of an inch);
  7. one Emission Control System Application Manual (current edition);
  8. one Exhaust Emission Analyzer; and
  9. one active telephone line with jack.
*Items (8) and (9) only applies to exhaust emissions inspection stations.

What is On Board Diagnostics (OBD)?
It is a system that assesses and monitors the performance of engine components, emission controls (including the sensors), and the computer itself, and communicates its findings to the technician by means of diagnostic trouble codes.

What is a MIL light and where is it located?
The MIL light is a malfunction indicator light used by the OBD system to notify the vehicle operator of an emission related fault. The MIL is also known as the "CHECK ENGINE" or "SERVICE ENGINE SOON" lamp. It is located in the instrument panel of the vehicle.

What is the meaning of a drive cycle?
A drive cycle is a series of startup, warm-up, and driving tasks that checks all OBD functions. The drive cycle is complete when diagnostics are performed on all systems being monitored by OBD. Drive cycle requisites may or may not be fulfilled in a single driving event since the cycle may require information from both city and highway driving operations. All drive cycle specifications are defined by vehicle manufacturers.

What are readiness codes and how are they cleared?
The OBD system monitors the status of various components of the vehicle including emission controls. Some components are monitored continuously and others periodically. Each component has a corresponding readiness code that indicates if the test for it has been performed. Readiness codes are set to either "ready" (test has been run), "not ready" (test has not been run), or "not applicable" (vehicle not equipped with component in question). Pertinent codes must be in "ready" status before an OBD inspection can be performed.

Readiness codes are cleared after a vehicle is repaired, or the battery or PCM has been disconnected. When this occurs, the readiness status for each non-continuous diagnostic monitor must be reset. This means that the vehicle must be operated through a complete drive cycle to reset the codes.

What type of inspection is required for gasoline-operated vehicles with a GVWR greater than 8,500 lbs.?
If your vehicle is a 1996 or newer and registered in an emissions county, it requires a safety inspection only. If your vehicle is a 1995 or older and registered in one of the original nine emissions counties, (WAKE, FORSYTH, GUILFORD, DURHAM, GASTON, CABARRUS, MECKLENBURG, ORANGE or UNION), it requires an emission/safety inspection. The 1996 and newer vehicles that fall into this category are excluded from OBD testing because they are not equipped with the components necessary to perform an OBD inspection.

How do I become an inspection mechanic?
To become a North Carolina Safety Inspector, an applicant must have an valid driver license and an attend and pass an eight-hour Safety Inspection Course offered by a North Carolina Community College. The individual must pass a written examination with a score of no less than 80% correct answers. An additional eight-hour Emissions Inspection course is required if the individual desires to be licensed as an Emissions Inspector. This certification process requires- that a person have the ability to read and write. No oral exams may be given.

What are the requirements to be a North Carolina DMV License and Theft Officer?
Must be 21 years of age, high school graduate, one year of law enforcement experience or equivalent combination of training and experience.

Special qualifications: Certification as a law enforcement officer in accordance with the provisions of the North Carolina Criminal Justice Training and Standard's Commission.

No prior criminal record, required to pass a physical abilities test which includes the Cooper Fitness Test; must complete an License and Theft Panel Interview, pass an in-depth background investigation, drug testing, physical examination, and psychological screening.

 
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