A simple answer, each state has different standards of what they check for vehicle inspections. Some states are far more involved and detailed, and others are less demanding in other states.

At a minimum, here’s what the mechanics will look for during your inspection:

  • Lights: First and foremost, headlights are the first on the list of things that are checked during an inspection. Make sure that your headlights, taillights, directional signals, and hazard flashers work? Ensuring that you are visible is one of the more important aspects of driving on public roads.
  • Brakes: The major factors that mechanics look at when you are doing a vehicle inspection is the breaks. The mechanic will look over all four wheels, making sure there is adequate brake lining left on the pads or shoes and check the rotors or drums for excessive wear, cracks, and warpage. Check the brake master cylinder and individual brakes for leaks. Leaks are bad, as the hydraulic pressure necessary to operate the brakes won’t be strong enough if they’re present. The parking brake should be properly adjusted and able to hold the vehicle’s weight on an incline. The breaks system is one that is checked in every state very throughout through their inspections.
  • Steering: Check the power steering system for leaks and make sure the belt that runs the power steering pump (if it has one) is in good condition. If you hear clunking, you’ll know it’s time to replace some parts.
  • Suspension:  There should be no play in your suspension. If there is, ball joints or suspension bushings, which affect the car’s handling and stability, are the likely culprits and will need to be replaced.
  • Fuel System: Another system that is heavily inspected is the fuel line. This is because not only does this become a concern for personal safety but also for environmental safety as well.
  • Tires and Wheels: The tires should have adequate tread (the rule of thumb is if you put a penny in the tread and can see the top of Lincoln’s head, you need new tires) and you should not be able to see any steel belting.
  • Windshield/Doors/Windows: The windshield should be free of cracks and pitting so that you can see out of it clearly, a vehicle can fail by just the windshield alone. All of the windows should work, but especially the driver’s side window.
  • Windshield Wipers/Defroster: The windshield wipers should work, as should the defroster.
  • Exhaust System: Once again, both a personal and an environmental concern if there are leaks in your exhaust system. If you even have a pea-sized hole near your manifold can cause poisonous carbon monoxide to leak into the passenger compartment which can cause death.
  • Seats/Seatbelts/Airbags: The seats should all be intact, and solidly anchored to the floor. Make sure the seatbelts aren’t frayed or otherwise damaged. The airbag system lights (SRS) should not stay on after startup, and you should check airbag locations for any damage.
  • Emissions System: Inspectors will want to see that this equipment is all in place. States with emissions testing programs will check its functionality as well.

These are the highlights of the points that are looked at on your vehicle during an inspection. The mechanics are not only looking for safety points for your safety as the driver but also for the safety of your passengers and others around you.