As efforts to improve air quality continue around the Commonwealth, the focus in Northern Virginia is to reduce emissions from motor vehicles. Vehicles are the single greatest source of pollutants in this region of the state. Vehicle emissions inspections are required for certain vehicles registered or operated in Northern Virginia.
This inspection program, called Air Check Virginia, is operating in the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Stafford and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park. In addition, Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality has further enhanced Air Check Virginia by implementation of "On-Board Diagnostics" testing, and operating an "On-Road Emissions" program.
Vehicle emissions (as well as other natural and artificial sources) contain pollutants that contribute to the formation of ozone, the main component of smog that builds up at ground level in hot, sunny weather. Vehicle emissions also contain pollutants that may affect water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Vehicles are the single greatest source of pollutants in Northern Virginia.
Most of the nearly 1.7 million vehicles in Northern Virginia have emissions control equipment. Newer vehicles typically run much more cleanly than the vehicles they replace. But the total amount of vehicle emissions continues to increase with the number of vehicle miles traveled. To ensure that vehicles operate as cleanly as possible, an emissions inspection program has been an important part of Northern Virginia's air quality plan since 1982.
Although air quality has improved significantly since 1970, the Clean Air Act Amendments passed by the U.S. Congress in 1990 required Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality to enhance the vehicle emissions inspection program -- to keep improving air quality and to reduce emissions further. In compliance with this federal mandate, DEQ has designed the program for maximum convenience, efficiency and reliability.
Basic Program Information
Vehicle owners in the Northern Virginia counties, as well as regular commuters into the area and vehicles operating on federal installations, are subject to the emissions inspection program. A vehicle's inspection date is based on the registration deadline, and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will notify owners six to eight weeks before an inspection is due. DMV can complete vehicle registration only after the inspection has been passed or a waiver has been issued.
An inspection must be performed every two years at a permitted emissions inspection station. Most inspections should take about 20 minutes or less, and the inspector issues a vehicle inspection report after the appropriate tests are performed.
If the vehicle does not pass the inspection, necessary repairs must be made. This often may be done at the same facility that performed the inspection. The vehicle then must be re-inspected, which is free if performed within 14 days at the facility that performed the initial inspection. A vehicle that does not pass the re-inspection may be eligible for a waiver only if appropriate repairs were done at a Virginia certified emissions repair facility.
Vehicle and Test Information
The program includes gasoline powered vehicles with a model year of less than 25 years prior to January 1 of the current calendar year, with a manufacturer's gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less. The gross vehicle weight rating, which is determined by the manufacturer, is the weight of the vehicle plus the maximum weight the vehicle is designed to carry. In many cases, emissions are tested while the vehicle is driven on a dynamometer at only 15 mph and 25 mph. Most 1996 and newer vehicles will receive a test of the vehicle's on-board diagnostic computer system instead of the regular tailpipe emissions test. For all gasoline powered vehicles, a visual smoke inspection, and an inspection of certain emissions control equipment that was originally installed by the manufacturer will be conducted.
Also, 1997 model year and newer diesel powered vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating up to and including 8,500 pounds will be prompted for an emissions inspection.
Heavily polluting vehicles can now be identified during highway driving and may be required to report to an inspection station for a confirmation test. A vehicle emissions inspection waiver requires that repairs be performed at a Virginia Certified Emissions Repair Facility; and either performed, or supervised and approved, by a Virginia certified emissions repair technician. Emissions test results are immediately transmitted to DEQ and DMV from the analyzers at the inspection facilities.
How the Program Works
These localities are participating in the program: the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Stafford; and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park. A network of service stations, repair shops, motor vehicle dealers and other facilities will perform the inspections and emissions-related repairs.
- Cost and exemptions - A vehicle emissions inspection may cost up to $28. In addition, a $2 annual administrative fee is collected by DMV at the time of registration. Virginia uses this fee to cover the administrative costs of the program. Vehicles exempt from the inspection include motorcycles, registered antique vehicles, fire and rescue equipment, and vehicles powered exclusively by clean fuels.
- Waivers - When a vehicle fails the tailpipe emissions standards or an On-Board Diagnostic (OBDII) inspection, a waiver may be obtained if a specified amount has been spent on emissions-related repairs for that vehicle. This waiver amount is set by federal law and may change periodically based on the Consumer Price Index. Repair work must be performed at a DEQ-certified emissions repair facility and performed, or supervised and approved, by a DEQ-certified emissions repair technician, no more than 60 days before the initial inspection failure. Other conditions apply - please see "Did your vehicle fail?" A waiver is valid for two years.
- Dynamometer - Exhaust emissions are tested while a vehicle operates on a treadmill-like device, called a dynamometer, at 15 mph and 25 mph only. No high-speed testing is performed. This test will be given to most 1981 and newer vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating up to 8,500 pounds. The test is conducted by the inspector at the local testing facility.
- Two Speed Idle Test - Some vehicle exhaust emissions are tested while operating at idle and at an engine speed of 2,500 rpm. This test is only for vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 8,501 to 10,000 pounds, and for 1980 and older model year vehicles or other vehicles that, because of size or other mechanical configuration, cannot be accommodated on the dynamometer.
- On-Board Diagnostic II (OBD II) Inspection - Most 1996 and newer model year vehicles will be subject to a computerized analyzer check that will look for fault codes that may be present in the vehicle's on-board computer. This inspection may be performed instead of, or in some cases in addition to, the dynamometer or two speed idle test on eligible vehicles. See OBD II inspections for more information.
Inspection and Repair Reliability and Professionalism
In cooperation with the automobile service industry and educational institutions, DEQ has developed a certification program for repair technicians and facilities. Northern Virginia Community College provides training in diagnosis and repair of vehicles that fail the emissions inspection, and conducts testing of applicants to be certified as emissions repair technicians. DEQ also recognizes the Advanced Engine Performance Certification from the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) to qualify for certification as an emissions repair technician.
DEQ is responsible for granting permits to emissions inspection stations and licenses to emissions inspectors. Failure to perform inspections properly may lead to suspension or revocation of a permit or license. Certifications of repair technicians and repair facilities also may be suspended or revoked. DEQ operates referee facilities to ensure agreement over individual inspection results.