Vehicle emissions testing phased out: Inspection cost drops in Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe counties

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Leroy Turner Jr. connects a computer to the on-board diagnostic system of a pickup truck to conduct an emissions inspection.

Quality Tire Alignment & Brakes in Wilson does an average of 20 North Carolina vehicle inspections a day, but this will be one of the last times Turner, the shop’s manager, will be required to do the emissions test as part of an annual state inspection for vehicles being registered to drive in North Carolina.

Due to reductions approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, motorists in 26 counties will no longer be required to pass annual vehicle emissions tests.

The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles said the change goes into effect Saturday. Wilson, Edgecombe, Nash and Wayne are among counties that will be affected by the change.

In total, 78 counties in the state do not require the yearly tests. Some 52 counties have not required emissions inspections since 2006.

According to a release from the N.C. Department of Transportation, the change in inspections requirements is a result of the General Assembly’s Regulatory Reform Act of 2016-17.

“We don’t have to measure the smog components anymore,” Turner said. “We just have to do safety only.”

The OBD tests measured vehicle exhaust in an effort to reduce smog in the atmosphere.

Turner explained that air quality tests conducted in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties determines who must continue with the emissions tests.

Wilson County is among those whose air quality is good enough to release drivers from the requirement.

“We have gone down to the level where they said our air is clean enough to the point to where we don’t have to be so strict on the OBD and they are doing away with it,” Turner explained.“If you live in a big city or county like Charlotte or Raleigh, they are going to have to do it.”
Turner said removing the tests from the state vehicle inspection will drop the cost considerably for motorists.

“It goes from $30 to $13.60,” Turner said. “It’s going to hurt our business because it’s going to hurt us financially, but it’s great for the public.”

Until now, some motorists, particularly those with older vehicles, have not been able to pass emissions tests because their “check engine” light was on.

“I have had little old ladies come in and cry because they couldn’t get their car inspected,” Turner said. “It’s going to cost $300 or $400 and they don’t have it. They are on a fixed income. It makes you feel bad, but it’s the law and you’ve got to follow the law. Now, if the check engine light is on, it doesn’t matter because it’s not part of the safety inspection.”

That will save motorists the expense of purchasing catalytic converters or new pumps, or paying for various other exhaust system repairs.

“That’s when it gets expensive,” Turner said. “I have seen $700 or $800 worth of work done to a car before the check engine light would go off and it would be able to pass.”

Vehicles will still have to pass annual safety inspections before they can be legally registered in the state. This includes registration renewals.

Some 22 counties will still require emissions inspections after Dec 1, including Alamance, Buncombe, Cumberland, Davidson, Durham, Forsyth, Franklin, Gaston, Guilford, Iredell, Johnston, Lee, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Onslow, Randolph, Rockingham, Rowan, Union and Wake.

According to the DMV, there are options for motorists who live in a county no longer requiring emissions inspections if their vehicle failed an emissions inspection prior to Dec. 1.

They can visit a local License and Theft Bureau office, call the DMV Customer Contact Center at 877-421-0020 or visit a license plate agency and show their vehicle inspection report from the inspection station.

For more information on emissions and vehicle safety inspections, visit www.ncdot.gov/dmv.