What You Need to Know About Vehicle Inspection

An extensive guide about the vehicle inspection process, parts of the vehicle to be inspected, how to prepare for a vehicle inspection, and vehicle inspection tool to ensure roadworthiness

Heavy Vehicle Inspection Checklist

What is a Vehicle Inspection?

A vehicle inspection is a process of assessing the overall condition of a vehicle. It is performed to evaluate the operational needs of a vehicle including maintenance, repair, and replacement works. It is a crucial task that helps prevent operational deficiencies such as delays, costly repairs, and non-compliance with safety standards.

Benefits of a Vehicle Inspection

Vehicle inspection is paramount in fleet businesses. It is a mandatory requirement by Federal law to limit the occurrence of vehicle-related incidents. A regular vehicle inspection helps the business to:

  • identify mechanical issues or defects that may cause accidents and operational downtime;
  • eliminate colossal vehicle damages and unexpected vehicular costs; and
  • prolong the vehicle life span.

How Long Does a Vehicle Inspection Take?

A vehicle inspection or car inspection will take depending on the country’s processes, laws, safety policies, and requirements. It varies from the state inspection routine, car condition, make, model, brand, and vehicle damages. Basic inspection processes are as follows:

Vehicle Parts Inspection

Vehicle parts inspection is an essential requirement to maintain the operational condition of a vehicle. It spots car issues before it gets critical and ensures its roadworthiness. A vehicle inspection checklist is used by an authorized inspector to identify defects and mechanical issues for most vehicles.

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Vehicle Inspection Checklist

A vehicle inspection checklist aims to identify mechanical issues of any vehicle. It is used to prevent car issues by assessing all vehicle parts to determine if the vehicle is good to go, needs repair service, or parts replacement.

The following essential car parts need to be inspected:

  • Ignition – It is a switch or a key mechanism that is used to start the engine of the vehicle.
  • Engine – It is the main power of the vehicle. It converts heat from burning gas that converts power into motion.
  • Starter motor – It is used to start the vehicle’s engine by drawing a heavy electrical current from the battery.
  • Distributor – It is a device in the engine which passes a high voltage electrical current from the ignition coil to each spark plug in the correct order and for the right amount of time.
  • Spark plug – it ignites the vehicle’s fuel and fits into the engine’s cylinder head. It is connected to the ignition coil that generates a high voltage that is needed to spark the fuel and create combustion in the engine.
  • Alternator – It is an electrical generator that works by charging up the battery to power the starter motor, ignition, and all other electrical components.
  • Battery – It delivers the electricity needed to start the vehicle’s electrical components including lights, wipers, air conditioners, and more.
  • Oil pressure – It is the resistance oil faces when flowing through the oil passages of the engine.
  • Radiator – It helps the engine to maintain coolness by removing heat from the coolant before it is pumped back through the engine.
  • Fan and compressor belt – It is a flexible rubber belt that puts on certain engine components together. It connects the crankshaft pulley and the alternator to the engine cooling fan.
  • Brake – is one of the most important safety systems of a vehicle. It can be found on all four wheels of the vehicle. A disc brake is a shiny metal disc that is located behind the hub-cap of a car’s front wheels.
  • Shock absorbers – are devices that help control the movement of suspension and springs while keeping the tires in contact with the road at all times.
  • Steering mechanism – It converts the rotation of the steering wheel into a swiveling movement of road wheels.
  • Windshield – the window glass in front of the vehicle that blocks the air pressure and protects passengers from debris, dust, flying pebbles, and weather elements.
  • Side mirrors – placed on the exterior of the vehicle to help the driver see other elements outside the vehicle.
  • Fuel tank – It holds the gasoline that provides power to the vehicle.
  • Exhaust systems – It begins at the engine combustion chambers and runs along the undercarriage of the vehicle, ending with the visible tailpipe. It includes the following:
    • exhaust manifolds;
    • oxygen sensors;
    • catalytic converters;
    • resonator;
    • exhaust pipes;
    • muffler; and
    • tailpipe.
  • Lights – It is placed on the different areas of the vehicle such as headlight, fog light, signal (left, right, and flasher) light, reverse light, brake light, tail light, rear reflector, and registration plate light.
  • Tires – are rubber covering placed around a wheel.

The above-mentioned are not only applicable to light vehicles (e.g., motorcycles) but to commercial vehicles as well including trucks, buses, and other heavy vehicles. A heavy vehicle inspection is conducted by the Department of Transportation (DOT) requiring all commercial motor vehicles (CMV) weighing more than 10,000 pounds to be evaluated to ensure vehicle parts are safe and in good working condition.

Heavy Vehicle Inspection Checklist

A heavy inspection checklist is used by a certified technician to identify problems and mechanical issues to prepare heavy vehicles for DOT annual inspection.

Emission Test

Emission testing is a set of emission standards prescribed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to minimize the number of hazardous air pollutants released by motor vehicles. It is a critical protocol used to determine if the vehicle passes the inspection. An emission test is performed to confirm the specific condition of the vehicle to secure it does not belch hazardous fumes or exhaust excessive smog.

Smog technicians in emission testing centers use smog checklists to record any findings and observations that may indicate unsafe vehicular conditions or non-compliance with regulatory standards. It helps technicians to assess the overall condition of the vehicle to decide if it passes the inspection.

Smog Checklist

A smog checklist is used to document the measured vehicle emissions and indicate if they are within acceptable levels according to regulations. It helps record the measured Hydrocarbons (HC), Carbon Monoxide (CO), and Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) to see if the vehicle passed or failed the smog check.

Depending on the state’s processes, emission testing can vary with the following test types.

  • On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) inspection – This test verifies the data from the vehicle’s internal emissions diagnostics system and ensures the Malfunction Indicator Light (MIL) and the “check engine” light, are working properly.
  • Acceleration Simulation Mode (ASM) test – This test is used with cars that don’t have an OBD system installed. It uses a dynamometer and a tailpipe sensor to simulate driving conditions to measure the vehicle’s emissions.
  • Two-Speed Idle (TSI) test – This test tracks exhaust emissions when the engine is idling at a high and a low speed.

Road Test

Vehicle roadworthiness is necessary to ensure road safety. Road test helps establish vehicle safety under practical operating conditions. Before hitting the road, a pre-trip inspection and a pre-start check help proactively catch vehicular issues and avoid unscheduled disruptions to vehicle operation.

Pre-trip Inspection Checklist

A pre-trip inspection checklist is a tool used to conduct a thorough inspection of vehicles to catch issues that may deem the vehicle unfit for operation. It is used before operating vehicles to lower the risk of road incidents and conform to regulations.

The road test helps evaluate the mechanical safety of the vehicle to pass the vehicle inspection. It thoroughly observes the following defects:

  • gurgling or growling sound produced while running the vehicle;
  • mechanical errors;
  • conditional assessment of repair works; and
  • defective brake systems.


Certification shows the overall summary of vehicle inspection. It is a declaration that the vehicle passed the inspection testing process. Certification is necessary when seeking approval for vehicle registration. A sticker is given to be placed on the vehicle windshield and license plate as evidence that the vehicle passed the inspection process.

How to Prepare for a Vehicle Inspection?

Avoid the hassle of wasting time and the risk of failing the test. Prepare the vehicle by conducting regular car parts inspection to ensure roadworthiness. This can help expedite the vehicle inspection process and ensure no common issues can be detected including defective brake systems, worn-out tires, or battery-related problems. Addressing found issues immediately can prevent worsening the damage, costly repairs, and failing vehicle inspections.

Get Started with SafetyCulture as Vehicle Inspection App

Vehicle inspection is critical to fleet management and technology plays an important role to streamline inspection processes. A cost-efficient digital solution like SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor) can help maintain vehicles’ roadworthiness through regular inspections. It helps promote driver and customer safety by clearly identifying vehicle issues and taking corrective actions immediately.

Get started with SafetyCulture as a vehicle inspection app to oversee and manage fleet conditions easily. It can help save time capturing photo evidence in-app using a mobile device and create vehicle inspection reports easily right after the inspection with just a tap of a finger.

Taking advantage of this flexible vehicle inspection software, enables fleet managers to identify issues immediately and experience these benefits:

  • conveniently perform vehicle inspections using phone or tablet even offline;
  • spot vehicle issues before they get worse and address them immediately;
  • get real-time updates when vehicle inspections are completed; and
  • never miss another vehicle inspection.

FAQs about Vehicle Inspection

A vehicle inspection or car inspection may take at least an hour or so to complete. Vehicle inspections involve document reviews, road tests, physical inspections, and mechanical/electrical testing and inspection. It will take additional time if mechanics find significant issues on the vehicle but less so if none.

Depending on local regulations, vehicles may be required to do periodic formal vehicle inspections. But as a rule of thumb, it is best to have your vehicle inspected by a mechanic at least once or twice a year. This will help you stay on top of any vehicular issues that may occur.

Jona Tarlengco
Article by

Jona Tarlengco

SafetyCulture Content Specialist
Jona Tarlengco is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture since 2018. She usually writes about safety and quality topics, contributing to the creation of well-researched articles. Her years of experience in one of the world’s leading business news organisations helps enrich the quality of the information in her work.