Emissions testing in North Carolina is required for most vehicles registered in 48 counties in the state. Licensed NC drivers of vehicles in these counties will need a two-part safety and emissions test before renewing a car registration.

Multiple tests are performed to ensure that the vehicle meets standards for safe performance with the least amount of pollution emitted into the environment. Learn about the process of a smog check, whether your vehicle requires testing and how to find an emissions testing center near you by reviewing the information contained below.

North Carolina Emissions and Smog Check Requirements

The state Division of Motor Vehicles, or DMV, sets the North Carolina vehicle inspection guidelines. The multi-step safety and emissions inspection consists of the following procedures:

  • Checking headlights, accessory lights and directional signals.
  • Testing the braking systems, including the foot brake and parking brake.
  • Checking the steering and windshield wipers.
  • Completing an Onboard Diagnostic (OBD) test on vehicles manufactured after 1996.
  • A tampering visual inspection to make sure emissions components are present and functional.

Vehicles manufactured in 1995 or earlier will not have an OBD emissions test, because these vehicles were not equipped with this computerized system. However, these vehicles must still undergo the safety portion of the inspection if they meet other qualifications and are less than 35 years old.

Safety and emissions testing in NC is only required for residents of the following 48 counties: Alamance, Brunswick, Buncombe, Burke, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Carteret, Catawba, Chatham, Cleveland, Craven, Cumberland, Davidson, Durham, Edgecombe, Forsyth, Franklin, Gaston, Granville, Guilford, Harnett, Haywood, Henderson, Iredell, Johnston, Lee, Lenoir, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Moore, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Orange, Pitt, Randolph, Robeson, Rockingham, Rowan, Rutherford, Stanly, Stokes, Surry, Wake, Wayne, Wilkes, Wilson and Union.

In these counties, gasoline-powered light-duty vehicles manufactured in 1996 or later with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) under 8,501 pounds must obtain an annual emissions inspection as well as a safety/tamper inspection.

Smog Check Exemptions in North Carolina

Certain vehicles are exempt from emissions testing in NC, including vehicles registered in counties other than those listed above. Other vehicles exempt from smog testing are those manufactured in 1995 or before, diesel vehicles, heavy-duty vehicles with a GVWR over 8,501 pounds and vehicles powered by alternative fuels without gasoline.

Although these vehicles are exempt from emissions checks, they still must obtain an annual safety inspection. Motorcycles, recreational vehicles (RVs) and motor homes are exempt from emissions testing for vehicle registration purposes. Vehicles older than 35 years are not required to undergo any type of inspection in any NC county.

New motor vehicles that have never been titled before will receive a safety/tamper inspection for its first year of registration. During the second year of registration, the full safety and emissions test will be required if the vehicle is registered in an emission county. Effective in 2015, vehicles within the three most recent model years that also have fewer than 70,000 miles may also qualify for an inspection exemption.

Out-of-State Emissions Testing in North Carolina

If your NC emissions inspection is due while you are out of the state, you can have your vehicle tested in the state you are in if that state’s standards meet those set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If you cannot obtain an emissions test locally, contact the NC DMV Headquarters at (877) 421-0020 for guidance on your particular situation.

If you are out-of-state on active military duty when your vehicle inspection is due, Senate Bill 509 allows service members to waive the penalty for not obtaining the smog test within the 4-month grace period following expiration. You must obtain an inspection upon returning to North Carolina. Contact your local NC DMV office to learn more about this waiver for active duty military personnel.

Emissions Waivers in North Carolina

Vehicles that fail the North Carolina emissions inspection but pass the safety tests may be eligible for a waiver if they meet certain requirements. Waiver-eligible vehicles must pass the visual inspection but fail the OBD test on the first inspection attempt. The vehicle owner must then have the necessary repairs performed by a certified mechanic and obtain documents that prove the repairs cost $200 or more.

If upon re-inspection the vehicle once again passes the visual tests but fails the OBD emissions check, the driver may apply for a waiver. Before issuing the vehicle emissions testing waiver, a DMV agent must review the receipts and inspection reports provided by the owner.

Testing Fees in North Carolina

The state caps the maximum annual fee for NC vehicle inspections at $30 for emissions tests and $13.60 for safety tests. However, emissions testing stations may choose to charge less through the issuance of smog check coupons or other cost-reducing measures. Most testing stations accept a range of payment methods, including cash, checks and major credit cards.

Where to Perform an Emissions Check in North Carolina

Vehicle testing is available at any of the 7,500 licensed inspection stations located across the state. Many emissions testing centers are located within repair shops and other businesses, all of which will enter your inspection results into the DMV registration database.

Failing a North Carolina Smog and Emissions Test

If your vehicle fails its emissions inspection, you are required to obtain the necessary repairs and have a re-inspection as soon as possible. Be sure to keep all repair receipts. If the vehicle fails the second inspection, you will need receipts to apply for an emissions waiver, as described above.

Last updated on Tuesday, March 10 2020.