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Vermont wants to know: How Safe Is your Car?

inspectionDo you own a car? Is it registered in Vermont? Did you know that Vermont requires you to take your vehicle to a State Licensed Inspection Station once a year for a safety and emissions inspection?

Interestingly this is not a national requirement. Each state government is free to decide whether to require a safety inspection as well as the specifics of what the requirements are to pass that state’s inspection.

In 1990 Congress passed federal vehicle emissions regulations called The Clean Air Act. States were told to implement vehicle emissions testing programs to make sure vehicles are in compliance with the EPA standard, but again, programs vary from state to state, region, and even by metropolitan areas.

Some states have state-operated garages that only do inspections. Other states, including Vermont, have the inspections done by licensed repair shops and dealership service departments.

Only about 18 states still have mandatory vehicle inspections. The states that have no inspection claim that the mandatory inspections are not a cost-effective way to improve road-traffic safety. From experience, I would disagree. Every week I see vehicles that come into my shop that are unsafe to drive. They are old, rusting away, leaking brake fluid, gasoline, exhaust fumes and have broken steering and suspension parts, worn out brakes, let alone worn out windshield wipers and lights out. If it was not for the mandatory state inspection that forces folks to repair or retire these vehicles, folks would keep driving them. This not only endangers the driver and passengers, but it also endangers other vehicles that they share the road with.

If your vehicle fails its state inspection, you have options. You can have the inspection station repair your vehicle, take it to another shop to be repaired, or even take it home and do it yourself. It also does not matterwhere the replacement parts come from as long as it will fix the problem. Most of the time this means you need to purchase a new part, but sometimes you can go online or to a junkyard to find a used part.

Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles gives each inspection station a detailed manual (approx. 300 pages) of what constitutes a pass or fail. Even with this book in hand, the biggest problem I see with Vermont’s inspection system is that it’s open to interpretation.

One shop may fail a vehicle for something another shop may pass. Each shop may honestly feel they are correct because there are ‘grey areas’ where the state of Vermont has not given enough information for the shop to make an accurate judgment.

Brakes are the biggest ‘GREY AREA’. Last year shops were not allowed to remove any wheels to do a brake inspection. The brakes could be worn out 95%, but if they stopped the vehicle at that moment, it passed. Beginning this year, one wheel must be removed and the brakes inspected. AND if on the road test, the inspector detects or suspects a problem with one or more of the brakes; all four wheels must be removed and inspected. So now there is a new problem. The inspector can’t really give an accurate brake diagnosis by just taking off the wheel. To make an accurate diagnosis the brakes need to be taken apart and the state does not allow the inspector to take the brakes apart. So, if you get a phone call asking for permission to take your brakes apart – this is why.

What else you should know about Vermont’s annual vehicle safety inspection:

  • Vermont Inspection stations are allowed to charge an hourly rate or a flat fee. In either case they are required to post how much they charge beside their official inspection station certificate.
  • The inspection stickers itself costs the shop $4.00
  • Stickers are always an even number. So if you have #2 on your windshield, you have from Jan. 1st to Feb 28th to get your vehicle inspected.
  • There are seventy five things inspectors need to check on your vehicle for the official Vermont State Vehicle Inspection sheet.
  • This year the state has added ‘worn, frayed or cracked belts’ to the “don’t pass” inspection list.
  • You need to show the inspection station proof of car registration & proof of car insurance to get your car inspected.
  • No items are allowed to be hanging from the rearview mirror – so take off your fuzzy dice before you take your rig in for its annual state inspection!
  • Vermont does not require a smog check per se, but 1996 and newer vehicles include an on-board diagnostics (OBDII) inspection.
  • If you have a vehicle newly registered in Vermont the state gives you 10 days to get the vehicle inspected.
  • To get a copy of the Vermont State Vehicle Inspection sheet, go online to:

Whether you think having a mandatory state safety inspection is smart or stupid, it is the law and if you get caught with an expired sticker on your windshield it is a $99.00 fine.

Safe and Happy Motoring,

Amy Mattinat
Author: How To Buy A Great Used Car
Automotive Expert Advisor on
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