What You Need to Know About Emissions Testing in North Carolina

Your vehicle might be subject to North Carolina emissions testing depending on where you live and what you drive. Learn more here.
Written by Melanie Krieps Mergen
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Where you live in North Carolina and what kind of car you drive, emissions testing may be required to register your vehicle. If your car meets the required criteria, you’ll need annual inspections.
Emissions testing… Do I need it? How do I take care of that again? If it’s time to register your car again, questions like these might be creeping up in the back of your mind. While emissions tests are an important step toward cleaner air, it can be difficult to figure out what’s required of you and how often you need to have them. Requirements can vary from state to state, and in North Carolina, it varies from county to county. 
Whether you’re new to emissions testing or just need to get back up to speed,
, the top-rated
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, is here with what you should know about emissions testing requirements in North Carolina. 

North Carolina emissions testing regulations

Some states require passing an emissions test before
vehicle registration
and North Carolina’s one of them. However, whether you’ll need to get one depends on your county and the type of vehicle you drive. 
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Which counties in North Carolina require emissions testing?

North Carolina requires emissions tests in 22 of its 100 counties: Alamance, Buncombe, Cabarrus, Cumberland, Davidson, Durham, Forsyth, Franklin, Gaston, Guilford, Iredell, Johnston, Lee, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Onslow, Randolph, Rockingham, Rowan, Union, and Wake.

Which cars need emissions testing in North Carolina?

If you live in one of the above counties and your vehicle is gasoline-powered, has a model year that’s 1996 or newer, and has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of less than 8,501 pounds, you’ll need to have an emissions inspection annually to register your vehicle, as well as a safety/tamper inspection. (And yes, that includes hybrid vehiclesthat use gasoline.)
That safety/tamper inspection will also check for potential tampering with a vehicle’s emissions system.
If you’re unsure of your vehicle’s GVWR, you should be able to find it on a label on your driver’s side door.
If you recently moved to a county requiring emissions tests from another North Carolina county that doesn’t, you won’t need an emissions test until your current registration nears its expiration date. If you’ve moved to North Carolina from out of state, you can re-register your vehicle without an emissions test. You will need one the following year if your vehicle meets the required criteria.
The maximum fee for emissions testing in North Carolina is $30. According to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), $23.75 of that will go to the testing site, and $6.25 goes to other state programs. 

Exemptions from North Carolina emissions testing

If your vehicle in question is a
, recreational vehicle (RV), motor home, or is 35 years or older, North Carolina emissions testing isn't required. 
Brand new vehicles aren't required to get an emissions test the first year it's
, but you may need one in the following years if your car meets other requirements. 
However, there’s also the
three-year and 70,000 miles exemption
, which exempts vehicles with model years from the last three years with less than 70,000 miles on them. 
If you own a kit or custom vehicle, there’s a chance it could be exempt from emissions testing, too. To find out if your car meets the definition, you’ll need to contact the
MORE: How to pass emissions testing

How does North Carolina emissions testing work?

As your vehicle’s current registration expiration date draws near, it's time to consider emissions testing. In North Carolina, you can renew your registration and get an emissions test up to 90 days before the expiration due date.
Not sure how to arrange an emissions test? Here’s how you can go about it:
  • Locate a testing center: In North Carolina, there are various service stations, repair shops, and vehicle dealerships that can perform an emissions test for you. You can use the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (DOT) handy search tool
    to find testing locations near you 
  • Bring your car in for an inspection: When they’re ready for you, an inspector will evaluate your vehicle to determine whether it meets emissions requirements
  • Pay your testing fee: As stated above, the maximum fee for North Carolina emissions testing is $30. You can expect the
    safety inspection
    to cost $13.60
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What happens during the emissions test

What happens during your emissions test is pretty straightforward. The inspector connects a device to your vehicle's OBDII system (basically its onboard computer) to ensure all the emissions components meet the required specifications. Along with that, they'll conduct a visual safety/tamper inspection

What happens if you fail emissions testing in North Carolina?

There are all kinds of reasons a vehicle might fail an emissions test. When that’s the case, your inspector should explain why to you, and you should receive a Vehicle Inspection Receipt/Statement (VIRS)
From there, you can take the necessary steps to help your vehicle pass the next inspection. According to the DOT, if you make your repairs and get for vehicle inspected again within 60 days, that re-inspection is free—so make sure to hold onto that VIRS!
Depending on the circumstances, if your vehicle fails again at re-inspection, you might be eligible for a one-year waiver from the DMV. 
Various types of waivers include:
  • “Not Ready” waivers: Certain maintenance done on your vehicle can cause this alert. Sometimes it’s just a matter of driving your car for several days so your OBDII can reflect the necessary data, but some vehicles can be a little more challenging.
  • Parts waivers: These can be issued if an emissions component is tampered with, faulty, or a replacement part is no longer available (which will require certain documentation to prove). 
  • Repair waivers: Issued when a vehicle fails but the owner has made a reasonable effort to correct the issue. 
  • Non-communication waivers: You might receive this waiver if for some reason your OBDII system couldn’t communicate with the inspection device but still passed its visual safety/tamper inspection.
You can find more information about waivers and their requirements on the
DEQ website
MORE: How to choose an eco-friendly car

How to save on car insurance in North Carolina

Registering your vehicle and taking care of your North Carolina emissions test can be a real hassle, but it sure is a great feeling to get it out of the way!
It’s not just an emissions test you’ll need to pass to register your vehicle in North Carolina—you’ll also need to meet or exceed the
minimum car insurance required by your state
. Luckily, with the
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Generally, yes. Annual emissions tests are typically required in certain North Carolina counties for vehicles with a 1996 or newer model year.
Not all types of vehicles require emissions testing in North Carolina. For example, motorcycles and RVs are off the hook, and so are cars that are 35 years old or older. However, if your vehicle meets the required criteria, you can’t legally get your car registered without an emissions test.
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