Introduction to Massachusetts Vehicle Check

Clean air and safe roads are important for you and all residents of Massachusetts. The Commonwealth started to inspect vehicles for safety defects over 60 years ago, and has one of the longest-running safety inspection programs in the country. In 1983, Massachusetts became one of the first states in the country to start testing vehicle emissions. As vehicles have become more sophisticated, the tests have been updated to ensure that emissions-related problems are identified and repaired promptly to help improve air quality and prevent possible damage to additional components.

Introduced in October 2008, the Massachusetts Vehicle Check Program provides a combined safety and emissions inspection highlighted by the following: 

  • All vehicles driven on Massachusetts roads must pass an annual safety inspection.
  • Vehicles with onboard diagnostic systems manufactured after model year 2002 must pass an annual emissions test.
  • Inspections are offered at more than 1,800 licensed inspection stations in Massachusetts.
  • Fleets of commercial motor vehicles can be tested by mobile inspectors who bring testing equipment to company lots, or by a company employee who is licensed to conduct inspections.
  • The Massachusetts Commercial Motor Vehicle Inspection is equivalent to the annual Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) inspection. This allows commercial motor vehicle owners to meet state and federal requirements with one inspection.
  • The Massachusetts Vehicle Check annual inspection fee is $35 for most vehicles. Inspection stations providing a commercial inspection are permitted to charge more, consistent with nationwide industry practice.
  • For a complete description of inspection fees, please click here.

Why We Test

Emissions: Vehicle engines and air pollution
The health risks of air pollution are extremely serious. Poor air quality increases respiratory ailments, such as asthma and bronchitis; heightens the risk of life-threatening conditions, such as cancer; and burdens our health care system with substantial medical costs. Particulate matter is singlehandedly responsible for up to 30,000 premature deaths nationwide each year

Transportation is the largest contributor to smog and air pollution in United States, far exceeding industrial, commercial and residential sources. It accounts for one-third of all carbon dioxide (CO2), more than half of the carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), almost one quarter of the hydrocarbon emissions, over 30% of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and over 20% of particulate matter (PM emissions) in the U.S. In total, motor vehicles can emit up to 40 hazardous air pollutants.

More than 60 percent of transportation-related emissions come from gasoline-powered private passenger vehicles and the remainder from diesel vehicles, construction equipment, aviation, shipping and other transportation activities.

Clean air is imperative to public health and a strong economy. State and federal clean air standards have reduced pollution that causes illness and death, contributing more than $2 trillion in economic and health benefits.

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards (adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)) establish maximum levels for ozone, particulate matter and other air pollutants. Massachusetts’ air does not meet the standard for ground level ozone, so the Commonwealth, in accordance with the U.S. Clean Air Act, must implement programs that will reduce ozone levels.

Greenhouse Gases & Climate Change In addition to harming health, poor air quality has negative environmental and economic impacts. There is scientific consensus that our climate is changing, largely as a result of the combustion of fossil fuels. This produces carbon dioxide (CO2) and other “greenhouse gases” that form a “blanket” of pollution, trapping heat in our atmosphere, warming the earth and causing climate instability that can lead to severe storms, droughts, floods, heat waves, rising sea levels and hostile changes to ecosystems.

Testing motor vehicles through the Massachusetts Vehicle Check Program helps ensure that vehicles run as cleanly as they were designed. If an emissions test shows a problem with the emissions control system, the vehicle’s owner is required to make the appropriate repairs.

What You Can Do
You can do your part to improve air quality in Massachusetts by maintaining your vehicle on a regular basis: have the engine tuned and the oil changed according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, watch for tell-tale signs of potential problems with the emissions control system of your vehicle, such as your “Check Engine” light staying illuminated, or black or bluish smoke coming from the tailpipe, and take note of a sudden decrease in your vehicle’s gas mileage.

To learn more about the quality of Massachusetts’ air, as well as programs and initiatives in the Commonwealth, visit theMassDEP website.

Safety
Safety is an equally important part of the Massachusetts Vehicle Check Program. A broken taillight, cracked windshield, defective suspension component or  other defect can make a vehicle unsafe to drive. That’s why it’s important to make sure your vehicle is always in good repair, not just when you’re going to have your vehicle inspected. Fourteen key components of your vehicle are evaluated during the safety inspection. During the commercial inspection, over 70 items are subject to a thorough inspection meeting federal standards to ensure that commercial vehicles are in safe operating condition.


What Happens When I Take My Vehicle for an Inspection?

First, a state-licensed inspector will give your vehicle a brief visual inspection to make sure there are no conditions, such as a gasoline leak, that present an immediate danger to either the inspector or the general public. These conditions must be fixed before the inspection proceeds.

Once your vehicle has passed the visual inspection, you will need to provide:

  • A current (and active) registration document with a valid vehicle identification number (VIN) that matches the one found on the left front side of the dashboard; and
  • The $35 inspection fee.

Safety Inspections

1. Visual Overview

  • Certificate of registration
  • License plate(s): For more information about the license plate inspection requirements, check the Motorist Resources section.
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

2. Brake Tests

  • Parking brake
  • Service brake

3. Exhaust System

  • Exhaust system components/muffler
  • Excessive blue or black smoke

4. Steering and Suspension

  • Steering wheel and box
  • Suspension/front end
  • Springs
  • Shocks

5. Horn

  • Sound horn to test for adequate signal
  • The horn must be securely fastened to the vehicle

6. Glazing, Glass and Windshield Wipers

7. Rear View Mirror

  • Rear view mirror
  • Mirrors (general)

8. Lighting Devices

  • Tail lights
  • Directional (turn signal lights)
  • Head light aim
  • Hazard lights/Reverse lights/License plate light(s) and reflectors
  • Aftermarket lighting

9. Tires and Wheels

  • Tires
  • Wheels

10. Bumper, Fenders and Fuel Tank

  • Bumpers
  • Fenders
  • Floor pans
  • Fuel tank
  • Vehicle frame or unibody

11. Altered Vehicle Height

12. Seat Belts

13. Airbags

14. Fuel Tank Cap


Emissions Tests

Vehicles listed below must receive the following types of emissions tests each year, in additional to mandatory safety tests for all registered vehicles:

On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) Test:

  • Model years 2003 and newer passenger cars, trucks and SUVs
  • Model years 2003 and newer light-duty diesel vehicles (with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or "GVWR" of 8,500 pounds or less)
  • Model years 2007 and newer medium-duty diesel vehicles (with a GVWR of 8,501 to 14,000 pounds)
  • Model years 2008 and newer medium-duty non-diesel vehicles (with a GVWR of 8,501 to 14,000 pounds)

Opacity Test:
Model year 1984 and newer, medium- and heavy-duty diesel vehicles (with a GVWR of 10,001 pounds or more) not subject to an OBD test

OBD Testing
On-board diagnostics (OBD) inspections are an important part of the Massachusetts Vehicle Check Program. No one wants to drive a vehicle that is wasting fuel or polluting. An inefficient engine or emissions control system adds pollutants to the air in our region and reduces a vehicle’s fuel economy.

The OBD test typically takes about three minutes. The inspector connects your vehicle's on-board computer to an analyzer in the station, and then downloads engine and emissions control data. The analyzer relies on the self-checks the vehicle’s OBD system makes of several functions:

Communication. Does your vehicle’s OBD system communicate with the analyzer? If your vehicle’s OBD system cannot communicate with the station’s analyzer, the OBD system must be repaired before the emissions test can be completed.

Readiness. Is your vehicle’s OBD system “ready” to be tested? As you drive your vehicle, the internal OBD system checks the performance of various emissions-related components and systems. If the OBD system has not performed enough of these self-checks, your vehicle may not be ready for an emissions test, and the analyzer will return a “Not Ready” result.

When a vehicle fails or is turned away from the inspection because its OBD system is "not ready," this simply means that at the time it was presented for inspection, the vehicle’s OBD system did not have enough valid data stored to accurately evaluate the vehicle’s emissions control system. Certain common repairs or maintenance procedures can temporarily interrupt power from a vehicle’s battery to its OBD computer, leaving monitors “not ready” for an emissions test because the power loss cleared all diagnostic results from the computer’s memory. After power is restored, in order for the vehicle to be “ready” for an emissions test, the computer needs to monitor various driving conditions long enough to run the required number of checks again, determine whether emissions-related systems or components are performing correctly, and once again properly store this information.

Until the vehicle’s on-board computer is “ready” for OBD emissions testing, the vehicle will fail its initial inspection or be turned away from a re-test. There may be nothing otherwise wrong with the vehicle; the computer simply needs to complete its checks. One week of combined highway and city driving is normally enough to reset the system and provide an accurate reading of vehicle performance.

To pass the emissions test:

  • 2003 and newer model year non-diesel vehicles may have a maximum of one “not ready” non-continuous monitor.

  • Diesel-powered 2012 and newer vehicles may have one monitor not ready, while those older than 2012 may have two.

  • If the vehicle failed the emissions test with a catalytic converter-related diagnostic trouble code, the vehicle’s catalyst monitor must be “ready” to pass the re-test.

Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs). Why does the OBD system turn on the Check Engine light? Diagnostic trouble codes indicate which vehicle systems or components are not performing as designed. Reviewing these codes is the first step in diagnosing an emissions-related problem. These codes, along with other information in the OBD system, help guide emissions repair technicians to faulty parts and help take the “guess-work” out of the process.

Check Engine Light. Is the Check Engine light (sometimes labeled as “Service Engine Soon”) turned on? When this light illuminated, it indicates that one or more components of your vehicle’s emissions control system is not working as it was designed to work, and repairs are needed. If the light does not turn on when the OBD system tries to turn it on, this problem must be corrected.

Emissions Test Results. The results of your emissions test are printed on the Vehicle Inspection Report (VIR), which the inspector will give you when the inspection is finished. The VIR provides information that a repair technician can use to diagnose and repair your vehicle before it adds more pollutants to the air. This will also save you from more expensive repairs down the road.

If your vehicle passes both its OBD emissions test and its safety inspection, it will be issued a new windshield sticker with a black number indicating the month of expiration. If a problem is detected during the OBD test, your vehicle will fail its inspection and will need to be repaired. It will receive a windshield sticker with a black R. When it passes a re-test, the black R sticker will be replaced with a black number sticker representing the month of expiration.

Common Reasons Vehicles Fail the Emissions Test
The most common causes of emissions test failures include:

  • Malfunctioning components that regulate fuel/air ratio, such as oxygen sensors
  • Exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) valves
  • Engine misfire
  • Catalytic converters
  • Evaporative controls, including poor-fitting gas caps

The VIR provides information that a repair technician can use to diagnose and repair your vehicle. This may also save you from more expensive repairs down the road.

Opacity Testing of Heavy-Duty Diesel Vehicles
"Snap acceleration opacity" tests are used for diesel trucks, buses and other heavy-duty vehicles (with a GVWR of 10,001 pounds or more) not subject to an OBD emissions test.

In this test, the inspector uses an opacity meter or “smoke meter” to measure the smoke from the vehicle’s exhaust pipe. The darker the smoke, the more the vehicle is polluting and the higher its opacity reading will be.

Readings from three acceleration “snaps” are averaged. The final average is compared to the emissions standard for the model year and type of vehicle. Newer vehicles have more sophisticated emissions controls, and must meet stricter standards.


Inspection Fee Information

Inspection fees are established by state regulation based upon the type of inspection a vehicle receives. The four types of inspections available are listed below. Please check with your inspection station for the forms of payment (cash, check, debit or credit card) that they accept.

Inspection Fees as of July 1, 2014

Inspection Type Description Inspection Fee Frequency
Non-Commercial Vehicle Inspection
For vehicles such as light-duty passenger sedans, minivans, pickup trucks and SUVs with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 10,000 pounds or less pounds
$35.00 Annual
Commercial Motor Vehicle Inspection
For vehicles such as heavy-duty trucks (GVWR of 10,001 pounds or more) commercial trailers and placarded vehicles
$35.00 + cost of labor to complete commercial inspection Annual
7D Inspection
For passenger light-duty vehicles used to transport schoolstudents
$35.00 Semi-annual, in addition to annual Non-Commercial Vehicle Inspection Fee
Motorcycle Inspection $15.00 Annual
 

Re-inspection Fee Questions

  1. How long do I have to obtain a free re-inspection at the station that my vehicle originally failed?

    Answer: Every vehicle is entitled to one free re-inspection within 60 calendar days at the station that originally failed the vehicle. Every failing or passing inspection thereafter will be a paid inspection.
     
  2. I thought that my vehicle would receive a free re-test, but I was charged again for my vehicle's inspection. Why?

    Answer: You may have paid for a vehicle re-inspection for one or more of the following reasons. 
    1. More than 60 calendar days passed after your vehicle's initial inspection failure. 
    2. Your vehicle previously received its only free re-inspection within the last 60 calendar days. 
    3. You had your vehicle re-inspected at a different station than where it was initially inspected and failed. 
    4. The vehicle was sold or transferred to a new owner after the vehicle initially failed its inspection.
  3. My vehicle failed at one station, but I thought my vehicle should have passed, so I took my vehicle to another station, and I had to pay the second station also. Why?

    Answer: Your vehicle is entitled to one free re-inspection within 60 calendar days as long as it is at the station that originally failed the vehicle. If you take your failing vehicle to another inspection station, that inspection will be a paid inspection. If you disagree with the failing inspection results your vehicle received, you may request a challenge inspection from the Registry of Motor Vehicle (RMV). See the the Test Results section for more information about challenge inspections.
     
  4. My vehicle failed at one station, but I was unable to return my vehicle to the original station within 60 calendar days because when I returned, the inspector was either not available or on vacation, or the inspection station was under renovation. I went to another station, and I had to pay the second station also. Why?

    Answer: If you could not obtain your free re-inspection at the original station, please fill out and send to the RMV an Inspection Station Complaint Form, available in the Motorist Resources section. The RMV will investigate and contact the first inspection station on your behalf.

Safety & Emissions Recall Information

Safety Recalls
Vehicles subject to recall must be repaired by the manufacturer. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration maintains a public listing of safety recall issues, some of which are provided below:

Takata Air Bags recall campaign
http://www.safercar.gov/rs/takata/index.html

Chrysler recall campaign
http://www.safercar.gov/rs/chrysler/index.html

General recall information for vehicle owners
http://www.safercar.gov/Vehicle+Owners

General questions and answers about vehicle recalls
http://www.safercar.gov/staticfiles/rulemaking/pdf/Recalls-FAQ.pdf

Safety recalls by light-duty (passenger) vehicle or motorcycle manufacturer
http://www.safercar.gov/Vehicle+Owners/vin-lookup-sites

Vehicle safety recalls by year, make and model
http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/owners/SearchSafetyIssues

Vehicle safety recalls by Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/

To sign up for automatic e-mail notifications of specific vehicle safety, tire and child restraint recalls
http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/subscriptions/

Emissions Recalls
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency no longer maintains a public listing of emissions recall issues that have been identified; but they do provide the following emissions campaign and recall information:

Ongoing campaign regarding Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche diesel-powered vehicles, plea
https://www.epa.gov/vw

Light-duty (passenger) vehicle emissions recalls
http://www3.epa.gov/otaq/recall.htm

Heavy-duty vehicle emissions recalls
http://www3.epa.gov/otaq/cert/eng-recall/recall.htm