There are federal smog and safety laws that all vehicles must meet to be sold here when new. But, the United States is famously the land of the free, and in 11 of the 50 states, you are truly free, with no form of smog or safety inspection required, ever. More than half of the states, 32 out of 50, require a smog test in at least some areas, to keep cars from polluting as they age. Surprisingly few states periodically inspect cars for road worthiness.
Have you just acquired an older vehicle, put a car back on the road that has been in storage, or moved into a new state? A few states require a safety inspection for road worthiness on transfer of ownership or when registering from another state, but don’t have a really formal inspection process. Haynes looked into it and has you covered with this state by state with a rundown of requirements, and links to their DMV offices.
Alabama - You only need to have an inspection here with an ownership transfer, and it is done at the DMV, but it seems to be just a cursory inspection since no details can be found online.
Alaska - Despite the beating vehicles take in the largest state from the roads and the weather, there is no safety inspection. It truly is the last frontier with no VIN or smog check either.
Arizona - There are no safety inspections here, and unless you live in Phoenix or Tucson, no smog inspection or test either.
Arkansas - You can drive whatever you want here, no one at the DMV will care.
California - Despite having some of the strictest smog laws in the country, there are no safety inspections, just a VIN verification. Every two years there is a smog equipment inspection and tailpipe test in 41 out of 58 counties. You can look up your county's requirements here.
Colorado - There are no safety inspections just a VIN verification, and only a few counties have smog tests. If you live or work in Boulder, Broomfield, Denver Douglas or Jefferson, you need a smog test, as well as parts of Adams, Arapahoe, Larimer, and Weld.
Connecticut - You will have to get the VIN verified, but there is no safety check here except for a cursory inspection when transferring registration between owners. However, every two years you do need a smog test.
Delaware - Every two years you must have a smog and safety inspection. The DMV checks that all lights work, your brakes are good, your windows aren’t cracked (small cracks allowed in windshield), tires are good, wipers work, mirrors are present, fuel doesn’t leak, latches all work on doors, hood, and trunk, horn is loud, and muffler is quiet. Some things that can fail you: Hood scoop opening more than 3” tall, or a bumper more than 22” above the ground. The full list is here.
District of Columbia - Every two years you must have a smog test and inspection. Commercial vehicles and for-hire vehicles are also required to have a safety inspection as well, every year.
Florida - No smog or safety inspections, but vehicles brought in from another state will have their VIN verified.
Georgia - No safety requirements, but Atlanta residents will need a smog test every year.
Hawaii - While there is no smog testing in this island paradise, there is a periodic safety inspection. The inspector will check the steering, brakes, tires, fuel system, exhaust, headlights, mirrors, speedometer, odometer, windows, and seat belts for proper function and normal wear. You can review a PDF of the inspector’s manual on their DOT website.
Idaho - There is no periodic safety inspection here, but residents in Ada and Canyon counties will need a periodic smog test. There is a VIN verification if you bring a car in from out of state.
Illinois - There are no inspections required, unless you live near Chicago or St. Louis, MO. In those metropolitan areas there are smog checks every other year, and at the time they may fail the car if it appears unsafe as well.
Indiana - There are no safety or smog inspections in Indiana, except for smog checks in the counties near Chicago, Lake and Porter Counties. Out of state vehicles will have their VIN verified at registration.
Iowa - This state is wide open, with no inspections by the DMV. They don’t even check VIN numbers at registration.
Kansas - No smog and no safety requirements, but out of state vehicles will have their VIN checked at registration.
Kentucky - No smog, no safety, no VIN verification.
Louisiana - There are only smog checks here if you live near Baton Rouge, but safety inspections are required yearly (unless you pay for a two year inspection sticker). The inspectors check brakes (including parking brake), lights (cannot have cracked lenses of tape on taillights), mirrors, windows, seatbelts, speedo/odometer, and rust through in passenger compartment. You can also be failed for headlights being less than 24” above the road or more than 64”, and taillights less than 15” or more than 72”. The entire list is here.
Maine - Only Cumberland County has an annual smog test. You do need to get a safety inspection, and they will check the VIN at that time, also on 1996 and newer cars they will check the OBD system for codes too. Inspection checks the normal things like working lights, brakes, safety gear, and no major rust, but inspectors vary widely and there is a 200 page rule book. You can read the whole thing here.
Maryland - There are no annual safety inspections, but there will be one for the new owner if the vehicle is sold. A biennial smog check is needed in 13 out of 23 counties, plus the Baltimore metro area. You can get specifics on their website.
Massachusetts - You can expect to see an inspector yearly for both safety and emissions here. The inspection will look at all the typical things, like brakes, lights, and steering, but can also fail you for the car being raised or lowered too far from the factory ride height. More details are listed here.
Michigan - There are no annual safety or smog checks in this state, nor do they check the VIN when you bring a car in from out of state.
Minnesota - There is no inspection of any sort in this state.
Mississippi - No inspection of any sort in this state either.
Missouri - There are no smog checks needed unless you live near St. Louis, but there is a biennial safety check. The inspection will check for proper function of lights and brakes, proper suspension motion, seatbelts, no cracked windows, and many other criteria. Be aware, there is a maximum bumper height as well, which varies from 22” for passenger cars to 27” for light trucks. You can check out the checklist here.
Nebraska - This state only requires an inspection to vehicles coming in from other states, otherwise no safety or smog needed.
Nevada - There are no safety inspections in this state, but areas of Clark and Washoe county do have annual smog tests. They also will verify your VIN if you register an out of state vehicle.
New Hampshire - There are annual safety inspections here, as well as smog tests for vehicles made in 1996 or later. The inspection is typical, with brakes, lights and steering checked over, as well as windows, wiper, horn, and defroster. You can get more information here.
New Jersey - There is no vehicle safety inspection in Jersey, but there are smog tests every other year.
New Mexico - No safety inspections and only the area in Bernalillo county near Albuquerque has to get smog tests. They will verify the VIN when registering an out of state vehicle though.
New York - Annual safety and smog checks here, though cars more than 26 years old don’t have smog tests. The safety inspection covers all the bases including seatbelts, glass and tint, tires, brakes, lights, and more. The details are all on this site.
North Carolina - In the 48 most populated counties (out of 100) there are annual smog tests for cars made since 1996, and everyone must get a safety inspection. The safety check is fairly basic covering lights, brakes, horn, tires, and the like. You can get the details here.
North Dakota - There are no inspections in North Dakota, they don’t even need to verify your VIN when you come from outside the state
Ohio - There are no safety checks in Ohio, but there are smog checks every other year if you live in the Cleveland area.
Oklahoma - There are no smog or safety inspections here, but out of state vehicles must have the VIN verified when they are registered.
Oregon - No safety inspection, but residents of the Portland and Medford area must get smog checks. Out of state vehicles must be VIN verified.
Pennsylvania - This state requires yearly safety checks, and in some more heavily populated counties there are smog test requirements too. The inspection is basic, with tires, brakes, lights and the like inspected, as well as checking for rust through. You can read the over 100 page inspection guidelines here.
Rhode Island - Every two years drivers in Rhode Island must have their cars inspected for both safety and smog controls. The safety check includes all of the big ones: Brakes, lights, steering, seat belts, tires, exhaust system, structural integrity due to rust, wipers, horn, and windows. You can read a more detailed list here.
South Carolina - Nope, no inspections needed, so you could conceivably drive a NASCAR stock car on the street (once you got a plate for it).
South Dakota - Same here, no inspections needed ever, so build yourself a monster truck and go to town.
Tennessee - There are no safety inspection requirements here, but annually in Davidson County, Hamilton County, Rutherford County, Sumner County, Williamson County, and Wilson County there are smog tests. They do not check VIN numbers though.
Texas - The lone star state requires annual safety checks, plus smog checks are needed in the bigger city areas, like Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, and El Paso. The safety check starts by verifying your VIN, then goes on the check tires, brakes, lights, exhaust system, steering, seat belts, and more. The whole checklist is here.
Utah - There were biennial safety checks here, and the more populated areas have smog checks as well, including Davis, Salt Lake, Utah and Weber counties. As of January 1st, 2018 there will no longer be safety checks needed though.
Vermont - If you live here you will need to get yearly smog and safety checks. Besides the basic stuff, the DMV also list checking tires for proper size, checking trunk and floor for rust, checking the structural body mounts, and making sure the muffler is “certified”. The whole list is here.
Virginia - Has an annual safety inspection, and also a smog test in certain areas, most notably the northern counties near Washington, D.C. There are no surprises on the checklist for inspection, though mixing of bias ply and radial tires is specifically mentioned, as is a driver’s seat that isn’t properly bolted down. You can see the list here.
Washington - The state has no safety inspections but the areas of Clark County, King County, Pierce County, Snohomish County, and Spokane County do have smog checks. They will also inspect your VIN when you register an out of state vehicle.
West Virginia - While there are no smog checks deep in the heart of coal country, you will have to get a safety inspection every year. The state will check the integrity of the windows and body panels, make sure the mirrors are present, and the horn and lights work, check the brakes, tires, and steering, and make sure the exhaust isn’t too loud. You can read the detailed inspection manual here.
Wisconsin - The dairy state has no annual safety check, but if you live in Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Sheboygan, Washington, or Waukesha County you will need to get a smog check. However, only cars made in 1996 and later need to be tested.
Wyoming - The last state alphabetically is also one of the last for population density. This great big wide open state has no safety or smog testing requirements, but they will have to verify the VIN number for you to register your out of state vehicle.