Emissions Inspections in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania vehicle emissions testing is a tool used by the state to help combat air pollution. Also called a smog check, it is a reliable way for the state to make sure individual vehicles are not emitting harmful gasses and pollutants while in use. The current emission program came about as a result of the settlement of lawsuits brought against the state of Pennsylvania, which contended that the state was slow in bringing about measures to help control air quality. The car inspection program focuses on what is called on-board diagnostic (OBD) systems that have been integral in cars for over 20 years. The OBD system allows a technician to plug cables into a car's computer system to retrieve data from the engine and on-board systems. Typically, emissions testing is required once per year for all motor vehicles registered in Pennsylvania. However, there are some exceptions to this requirement. Drivers may wonder, “How can I perform a car inspection near me?” Continue reading to find out more about PA emissions tests, and where they can be conducted.

What is an emission inspection in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania uses an emissions test to find out if automobiles on the road are spewing noxious gasses and pollutants. They are conducted in conjunction with a mandatory yearly vehicle inspection as required by Pennsylvania state law. There are different types of tests used to determine the output of pollutants. The tests rely on the on-board diagnostics systems that come with standard cars today. The on-board computers can monitor the various systems and can detect issues with the performance of a car before its driver may notice something.

One version of emissions testing is called the tailpipe test. A tailpipe test uses a wand to collect a sample of the exhaust emitted by a particular vehicle for analysis while it is idling. After collecting samples for a proscribed period of time, the emissions test determines if the vehicle is putting out an excess of pollution based on its model year. The tailpipe smog test is also run simulating driving at 15mph. The tires of a car are placed on rollers and the engine engaged so that it simulates driving. This version of the tailpipe emissions testing is used in areas where there is more severe air pollution, such as Philadelphia.

Another version of a smog check is called the gas cap test. This test determines whether or not pollutants may be escaping from a car's gas tank and into the atmosphere. To perform the gas cap test, a technician who is certified to perform an emissions test removes the cap from the fuel tank on a car and uses a device to test the gas cap for any leaks under pressure. This ensures that no fumes or pollution can escape. A third form of vehicle emissions testing is called a visual anti-tampering check. This part of a smog check has technicians visually examine the components of a vehicle installed during manufacture that are designed to reduce emissions. These include parts like a catalytic converter, an air pump and various types of valves. The technician performing the emissions inspection looks to see that the valves are properly connected and are the ones intended for use with a particular vehicle, whether they are original equipment or after-market replacement parts. If the parts installed are not those meant for the vehicle being inspected, the vehicle fails the smog check. The technicians also examine for tampering. Specifically, smog testing looks for any modifications to configurations that deviate from what is acceptable under federal and state law. An example of tampering with a configuration would be removing a catalytic converter and replacing with a straight pipe. Another violation of emissions testing would be using technology to circumvent the on-board diagnostics. There are chips used for the on-board computers that can be used to defeat emissions protocols. This is also considered tampering, and will result in a failure of an emissions test. Learn more about different emissions tests in Pennsylvania by downloading our complimentary guide.

Emissions Testing Locations in Pennsylvania

“Where is emissions testing near me?” is a question Pennsylvania motorists may ask themselves when it comes time to submit their own vehicles for testing, which should occur as regularly as renewing a vehicle registration. Knowing what counties require the smog testing is useful information. Those counties include: Allegheny, Beaver, Berks, Blair, Bucks, Cambria, Centre, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mercer, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Washington, Westmoreland and York. These counties are grouped into regions. Each region may have different standards and variations on smog testing, such as what tests are conducted and the model years of vehicles subject to testing.

Smog Check Exemptions in Pennsylvania

Although emissions testing is required in Pennsylvania in those counties who have made it mandatory, not all vehicles are subject to these tests. There are exemptions that exist. You may qualify for an exemption from having to get a smog test if you have a vehicle that is any of the following:

  • A motorcycle
  • A new vehicle with less than 5,000 miles
  • A vehicle registered as an antique or a classic collectible vehicle
  • A vehicle that has a street rod registration
  • A vehicle that has been owned for a year or more, and was driven less than 5,000 during the year prior to emissions testing

It is important to maintain and keep your smog check history in order so that you may apply for an exemption. By keeping records, you will have them accessible, should they be required. To find out more about scheduling a smog test in PA, download our free guide.