In Massachusetts inspections are conducted at licensed garages by licensed inspectors. Safety
inspections are required every year; while, emission testing is done every-other year as long as
the plates on the car have not changed.

Myths about car inspections

1. You are allowed to drive your car with a safety rejection sticker for 60 days.

Unlike emission only failures, it is illegal to operate a car that has failed its safety inspection.
With a safety rejection you can get pulled over and your car towed. You have 60 days from the
initial failure to bring the car back for a free retest. With an emissions only failure you can drive
the car for 60 days.

2. If I fail in June, and go back for a retest in August I will get an August sticker.

Nope, stickers are printed with the date of the original failure. If you failed in January and went
for the retest in December you would still get a January sticker.

How to pass a car Inspection

I have been inspecting cars in Massachusetts for over 10 years. Here are some hints that
improve your chances of getting a passing sticker on your first try.

1. Have an oil change done 1 month prior to having your inspection done at the place you
intend to have your car inspected at.

Most oil changes come with a free safety check, which includes lights check, fluid check and
suspension check, tire check. You are actually killing two birds with one stone you probably
needed an oil change and you have just had a free safety check by the same people who will be
inspecting your car. It is important to note these free safety checks are not as thorough as an
safety inspection, but based on my experience most of the cars I have rejected had small issues
that could have been resolved at an oil change. For example lights that are burned out, washer
fluid that is empty etc… Also the technicians know you and they will be more likely to side in
your favor, when a judgment call arises.

2. Take your car to the car wash, vacuum it out.

To you this may seem unrelated to an inspection, but if your car looks like it has been
neglected, a tech is more likely to find something wrong with it.

3. Be polite to the inspector/ technician.

If you are pompous and arrogant the inspector will search real hard for something to fail you
on. If you are polite the inspector in most cases will try to make sure your car passes even if
that includes doing a little repair in the inspection bay. Like a first date first impressions are
everything, never honk at an inspector to get their attention. When you arrive at the station
get out of your car and go to the counter and ask for an inspection.

4. If your car fails, again be polite and make sure you understand why it failed.

If your car ends up failing the inspection, and you followed the above advice, there is a safety
problem that cannot be repaired in the bay. This will happen from time to time, it is important
to stay calm and listen to what the technician is telling you, so you fully understand why your
car failed its inspection. In most states you will get a free retest after a failing your initial test,
so don’t sweat it.

Emissions Testing

In Massachusetts if your car is a 1995 or older it is not required to pass an emissions test. Car
1996 or newer must pass an OBD II emissions test. Basically the inspection machine reads any
trouble codes from your cars computer, if there is a trouble code in most cases your car will fail.
Here are some tips to avoid failing this portion of the test.

1. If for any reason you disconnect your car battery or your battery goes dead, do not go in
for an inspection until you have driven the car at least a week or 200 miles.

When your car battery goes dead, or is disconnected your cars computer codes will be erased.
This is an automatic emissions failure, as the computer needs to reset.

2. Never try to take power from the OBD II plug to power a stereo.

This will prevent the OBD II plug from communicating with the inspection computer and it will
fail the test.

3. If your check engine light is on, you will fail the emissions test.

Your check engine light turns on when there is a code in your cars computer. If this yellow light
is on your car will fail the emissions test. When you bring your car in for an oil change have
your repairer fix the emissions problem. Make sure you drive the car for at least a week or 200
miles as after a computer repair is done.

How to do an at-home inspection

Most people want to know “How can I test my car to see if it will pass an inspection at home.” I
have listed some tests below that you can do at home, these are not all of the tests but a large
portion of them.

1. Check all the lights. Have someone sit in the car and run through all the lights. Left,
right, 4-ways, brake, reverse, plate light. Check the horn, does it work?
2. Put the e brake on and put the car in to drive, if the e brake hold the car at 1200 rpm, it
is good.
3. At night pull your car up to a building approximately 10 feet away. If the headlights are
even and you can see the beams you are probably in good shape. Make sure there is no
moisture in the lenses and they are not foggy.
4. Make sure all your mirrors are on the car, and not torn off.
5. Make sure your tires are inflated, and the tread is not hitting the wear bars.
6. Don’t have customized exhaust on that makes the car louder.
7. If you put tint on make sure to the final percentage is above 35%.
8. Check for rust holes in car.
9. Make sure the wipers and washers work and the wiper blades are not torn.
10. Make sure you do not have any cracks in the windshield.
11. Don’t raise or lower the car more than 2” from factory specifications.
12. Make sure your gas cap is still on the car.
13. Make sure there are no sharp edges. Remove towing hitches.
14. While the car is running is the check engine light on? If it is off you are most likely ok for
emissions.

What to do on the day of inspection

Buckle all of the seatbelts together.
Make sure you have a copy of the cars registration handy.
Make sure the registration is not expired.
Don’t wait till the end of the month if possible to avoid lines.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Massachusetts currently does not emission test light-duty diesel vehicles (under 8,500lbs) built before 1998 therefore you will not need to pass an emissions test.

    See the website link below which will bring you to the inspection website. Here you will find the following:

    All vehicles that are registered in Massachusetts must receive a safety inspection each year. Vehicles listed below must also receive the following types of emissions tests each year:

    On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) Test:
    •Model year 1998 and newer passenger cars, trucks and SUVs
    •Model year 1998 and newer light-duty diesel vehicles (weighing 8,500 pounds or less)
    •Model year 2007 and newer medium-duty diesel vehicles (weighing 8,501 to 14,000 pounds)
    •Model year 2008 and newer medium-duty non-diesel vehicles (weighing 8,501 to 14,000 pounds)

    http://www.vehicletest.state.ma.us/about_whywhat.html#emissionstests

  2. My son’s car was rejected. The garage told him the third tail light was out (it was not..he was looking in the back window and its in the spoiler). He also said his brakes were low. He never took a tire off to look. also, magically, the check engine light came on. that hasn’t happened before. the technician wouldn’t tell us what was wrong or what the code was. He said it would be $50 for him to diagnose the problem. Could he have made the light come on just to fail him? Can I report this garage? Its a red “R” and I don’t want to go back there. can I go to another garage?

    • Good afternoon Robin,

      Sorry for your bad inspection experience.

      1. 3rd Brake Light
      It is OK to have the 3rd brake light in the cars spoiler provided the spoiler is part of the cars original equipment and not “aftermarket”.

      2. In regards to the brakes being “low” the technician may be referring to the service brake. Part of the inspection is to hold pressure on the service brake to check for problems. If the brake pedal is “low” there may be an issue with the brakes. Have your sons brakes checked to make sure they are in serviceable condition/ fluid is full. FYI Most shops will check brakes for free with an oil change… just make sure to ask for a brake inspection.

      3. The check engine light coming on may be as simple as your son forgetting to tighten the gas cap all the way when he filled up last. The car sent a fault code to the computer which turned on the light. You can re-set the light by disconnecting the battery. You will need to drive the car to reset the computer. If the light comes back on you will need to have it diagnosed.
      Note: Most auto part stores will check your light for free.

      In order to have a check engine light come on a fault code needs to be produced. The technician can not make a fault code without manipulating the sensors. Believe it or not it costs inspection stations more money to fail cars than to pass them, because they need to do free re-tests. So failing cars actually hurts profits.

      4. Can you report a garage?
      Yes. If you have a complaint contact RMV or go to http://www.vehicletest.state.ma.us/index.html.

      5. Can you go to another garage?
      Yes. You will not get a “free” re-test but you can go to any garage, just pay $29 to a new garage and have inspection done. Please Note: make sure all repairs are completed because if you fail again you will need to pay for each additional test.

      Good Luck!

  3. Hi, My mother took her truck last year to get inspected. Anyway, her Mileage Never worked since she bought the vehicle. The inspector told her he would fail her this year if she didn’t get that fixed. Can he fail her for that? Never heard of a car failing over a bad mileage clock. Is it true that cars older than 98 don’t need no pass emissions???

    • The odometer is neither a safety or emissions concern; therefore, it will not result in a failure. As part of the inspection process the inspector is required to enter the vehicles mileage. Since the odometer is broken I would recommend the inspector fill the this section with “9s” example 999999999, and make a note about the broken odometer in the notes section.
      It is important to note that if you sell the vehicle in the future you must disclose to the buyer that the actual miles are unknown. Under reporting a cars mileage is a crime.

      Your 1998 vehicle no longer requires an emissions test. Massachusetts no longer requires emissions tests for vehicles older than 15 years.

  4. hi I have this mustang v6 stick it failed for wiper nozzle and the computer was not ready
    tyurns out the tranny is the wrong yr and it has a vss sensor instead of an oss sensor
    so the speedo it 40 mph off , now heres where it gets tricky , the computer wants to see 50 mph to do the o2 sensor tests and stuff
    with the speedo being off it never sees it so it wont run the test , so I have to swap out the tranny , I may not get this done in 60 days
    can I get another rejection sticker to hole me over till I get it fixed , don’t need a ticket thanks

    • Your wiper nozzle will be a safety issue and will need to be fixed ASAP. As far as the emissions issue with the computer, you have 60 days from the original inspection to repair this issue even if you go get another rejection sticker.

      A way around this is on register the car get new plates and registration and go for a new inspection sticker under these new plates. This will give you a new 60 days to repair this computer issue. This may work for the short-term but will be expensive and long run.

  5. Hi, I’m freaking out here. I have a 2000 Ford Explorer that I need to get inspected. I just moved to Massachusetts and have no inspection sticker. Ok so my emergency break doesn’t work and my high beams don’t work either. Also I just got a check engine light that the people at Auto Zone couldn’t diagnose when they plugged into their machine thing. I’m a single mom with 4 children. I don’t have much money and am sure my car won’t pass inspection but I don’t know what else to do. I clearly need my car. I have an appointment tomorrow to get an oil change and have my gas filter replaced. I only have 6 more days to get the car inspected since I just registered it today. What are my options??

    • Welcome to Massachusetts.

      MA has updated the program since we posted this article. Cars 2000 and older no longer require an emissions test. So since your car is a 2000 you won’t need emissions.

      As far as your options. I would recommend having your brakes checked and repaired ASAP. Have the guy changing your oil give you an estimate. You may need just an adjustment.

      The high beam problem is most likely the switch. I would recommend you get your car inspected to see actually what is wrong then work on repairing them as you can.

      Good Luck!

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