What You Need to Know About Emissions Testing in Wisconsin

Is your car subject to Wisconsin emissions testing requirements? It’s time to find out (and save the planet).
Written by Katherine Duffy
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Wisconsin’s Vehicle Inspection Program requires most vehicles in certain counties to undergo emissions testing every two years. If your car is a 1996 model or newer, you’ll likely need to bring your car in for regular emissions tests. 
Routine emissions testing can be a major hassle. The process can be time-consuming and clunky, and if your car is rejected or even fails the emissions test, repairs to get your car into compliance can be expensive. 
To help you prepare,
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is here with all the answers to your questions about emissions testing regulations in Wisconsin. Read more to learn about the regulations, how emissions testing works, what to do if your car fails the emissions test, as well as how to find cheap
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Wisconsin emissions testing regulations

While not every state requires your vehicle to undergo an emissions test, Wisconsin has emissions testing regulations. The
Wisconsin Vehicle Inspection Program
was implemented as part of a plan instated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to reduce the number of toxins in the air, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). 
The Wisconsin Vehicle Inspection Program has reduced motor vehicle VOC emissions by 7% and NOx emissions by 5%. It’s safe to say that Wisconsin’s emissions testing regulations are crucial to keeping Wisconsin’s air clean and safe! 
However, not every car in Wisconsin requires emissions testing. Check out the regulations below to see if your car is exempt. 

Which counties in Wisconsin require emissions testing? 

Wisconsin’s Vehicle Inspection Program is regional, which means that you’ll only need to undergo an emissions test if you live in certain Wisconsin counties
If your car is registered in one of the following counties, you’re inside the Wisconsin Vehicle Inspection Program region and subject to emissions testing: 

Which cars need emissions testing in Wisconsin? 

If you live in one of the counties listed above, you may need to put your car through an emissions test. Wisconsin’s vehicle emissions testing program requires the following vehicles to pass an emissions test every two years: 
  • Vehicles with auto or light truck plates
  • Vehicle model years 1996 - 2006 with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) less than 8,501 lbs. (gasoline, Natural gas, or hybrid)
  • Vehicle model years 2007 and newer with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) up to 14,000 lbs. (diesel, gasoline, natural gas, or hybrid)
You’ll also need an emissions test within 45 days if your car fulfills one or more of the following criteria: 
  • When a vehicle is purchased
  • When an owner is added or removed from a vehicle title 
  • New residents transferring a vehicle to Wisconsin 
These requirements mean that most vehicles registered in the counties above will need to go through an emissions test regularly. Fortunately, vehicle emissions testing in Wisconsin is free at all of Wisconsin’s emissions testing centers. 

Exemptions from Wisconsin emissions testing

There are certain vehicles exempt from Wisconsin’s Vehicle Inspection Program. If your car fits one of the following descriptions, you will not need to bring your car in for regular inspections: 
  • Diesel vehicles manufactured before the 2006 model year
  • All gasoline vehicles manufactured before the 1996 model year
  • All vehicles manufactured after 1996 that are not OBDII compliant
  • Motorcycles and mopeds
  • Vehicles weighing more than 14,000 lbs
  • Trucks with farm registration
  • Electric vehicles
  • Non-motorized vehicles
  • Service vehicles (such as school buses) with a 16-person seating capacity or more
  • Vehicles with specially designed Medal of Honor registrations, or apportioned plates

How does Wisconsin emissions testing work? 

If your vehicle is subject to an emissions test according to the criteria listed above, here’s how to make sure you’re compliant: 
  • Locate the closest testing center: First, you’ll need to find the closest emissions testing center. The
    Wisconsin Vehicle Inspection Program
    website allows you to search the closest inspection center by city and zip code. 
  • Drive your car to the inspection center: Make sure you bring one of the following documents with you so the center knows you’re due for an inspection: 
  • The license plate renewal notice (for renewal-based tests), or
  • The letter from WisDOT giving notice of a required test (for a change of ownership or first registration in Wisconsin), or
  • A previous vehicle inspection report (for re-inspections of a failed, aborted, etc. test).
  • Follow the testing center instructions: The test is free, so all you need to do is wait for your vehicle to pass the emissions test to proceed with your vehicle’s registration. 
  • Types of emissions tests 

    All vehicles subject to an emissions test in Wisconsin will undergo an
    On-Board Diagnostic Inspection
    (OBD). This type of inspection includes verifying that your check engine light is working and that it’s communicating with your vehicle’s onboard computer. The technician will use an OBD-II scanner to check for any trouble codes associated with emissions problems. 

    What happens if you fail emissions testing in Wisconsin? 

    If your car was rejected or failed the Wisconsin vehicle emissions test, you can take the following steps to get your car into emissions compliance and back on the road in no time: 
    Step 1: Review your Vehicle Inspection Report to determine if your test result was a Reject or Fail. A rejected vehicle means the car’s OBD system wasn’t ready for testing because it hasn’t been long enough since your last test, or you’ve recently changed your battery. You can consult your owner’s manual to learn about how to get your OBD system ready for testing. 
    Step 2: Review your vehicle’s warranty to find out what repairs may be covered. Federal law requires that the emission control systems on 1995 and newer model-year vehicles be warranted for a minimum of two years or 24,000 miles.  Coverage for the onboard computer and catalytic converter is extended to eight years or 80,000 miles.
    Step 3: Fix the issue. Take your car to the dealership or to a trusted mechanic to make sure your emissions system is up to par and that your OBD system is functioning correctly. 
    Step 4: Return to an Emission Inspection Facility for a re-test.  If any repairs were made to your vehicle, the person who made the repairs must complete and sign the back of your Vehicle Inspection Report before you go back to an inspection system for a retest. 
    MORE: How to pass emissions testing

    How to save on car insurance in Wisconsin

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    No, you should only need to bring your car in for an emissions test every other year, or when you need to renew your car’s registration. You’ll also need to bring your car in for an inspection if you add or remove someone from the car’s title, when you buy a new car, or if you’ve just moved to Wisconsin in an area that requires an emissions test.
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