Clean Air Cars: Why Fuel Emission Tests Are So Important

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

For a vehicle owner, fuel emission tests are just something their cars have to pass by law in some states. But why are these tests important? How can cars pass?

Did you know that the average passenger vehicle in the United States emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year? To help combat the amount of smog and pollution produced by vehicles.

State transportation departments (in response to pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency) have put rules in place requiring drivers to have regular emission tests performed on their vehicles. 

Do you live in a state that requires these tests? Have you been thinking all this time that they’re just another hurdle the government makes you jump through? It’s true that taking your car in for an emission test can be a pain. It’s also pretty important, though. 

Read on to learn more about the importance of regular emission tests, as well as what you can do to ensure your car passes with flying colors.


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What are Emission Tests?

In short, an emission test looks at your vehicle to ensure it’s not producing a higher amount of emissions than what the law states are acceptable.

The test used to involve a dynamometer, a special device that works like a treadmill, and hooking up equipment to your tailpipes to measure the emissions your car produced.

For cars produced in 1996 or later, though, the process is much easier. In most states, technicians simply hook a diagnostic tool up to the onboard diagnostic port in your car. They also perform a quick visual inspection to ensure everything is as it should be. In some states, such as Virginia, the process is even simpler.

The state has roadside equipment set up that takes a sample of the air released from your car’s tailpipe. You’ll then receive a notification letting you know if you passed or failed the test. The majority of states in the U.S. require regular emission tests. The only exceptions are the following states:


  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Alaska
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Kansas
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Minnesota
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • North Dakota
  • Nebraska
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Wyoming
  • West Virginia

If you live outside of these states, by law, you must have your car tested on an annual basis before you can register your car for the year.


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Why Do They Matter?

There are lots of reasons why so many states require regular emission tests. Some of the key benefits that come with regular testing include the following:

Reduce Air Pollution

Cars, especially those that produce higher than average levels of carbon emissions, are a major contributor to poor air quality. If you live in a densely populated area or a part of the country that regularly experiences poor air quality days, it’s important to make sure your car’s not contributing to the problem.

Getting regular emission tests helps you ensure your car does not produce an excessive amount of emissions when you drive it.


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Reduce Environmental Pollution

Inefficient vehicles don’t just contribute to air pollution. They can also cause pollution in water and soil. This pollution can even lead to faster building and monument corrosion. Regular emission tests help to ensure that all aspects of the environment are as healthy as possible.

Ensure Vehicle Efficiency

When you have your car undergo regular emission testing, you get to ensure that it’s operating in the most efficient way possible. If your car produces a ton of pollution every time you drive it, chances are it’s not the most functional vehicle. An emission test can alert you to other issues that could cause you problems later on, too. 

Reasons Cars Fail Emission Tests

There are lots of reasons why your car might fail an emission test. The following are some of the most common contributors:

  • Past-due for an oil change
  • Rich air/fuel mixture
  • Worn out spark plugs
  • Loose or leaking gas cap
  • Dirty air filter

You will also fail your emission test if your car’s “Check Engine” light is on at the time of the inspection.


How to Pass an Emission Test

Is your yearly emission test coming up? Do you need to get it done as soon as possible so you can register your car? Before you start searching for an “emission test near me” online, take some time to make sure your car is in good shape.

That way, when you take it in, you can feel confident that you’ll pass.


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Get the Oil Changed

An oil change is a must before you have your car’s emissions tested. Fresh oil will result in a cleaner-burning engine since gunk can build up in the engine’s oil over time.

Turn Off the Check Engine Light

If your check engine light is on, take your car to a mechanic and figure out what you need to do to get it turned off. It doesn’t matter if your car “seems” fine. Something is likely wrong if the engine light is on.

Replace Your Air Filter

Replacing your air filter is an easy way to improve your car’s emissions. You also get the added bonus of knowing you’re not breathing in dirty air every time you get in your car.

Inflate Your Tires

If your tires are properly inflated, your car will run in a smoother and more efficient way. This will put less stress on your engine and allow for a cleaner burn.

Use a Fuel Additive

You may want to use a fuel additive as well. Certain fuel additives like Cataclean can help to clean your car’s combustion chamber and get rid of carbon deposits.


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As you can see, regular emission tests are imperative if you want your car to last as long as possible and want to minimize your carbon footprint. You also can’t forget the fact that they’re required by law in most states. Now that you know more about the why behind these tests, though, you may see them as less of a nuisance moving forward.

Do you want to learn more about other tests you can have done to check on your car’s health? If so, we’ve got lots of helpful articles available on our site. Give them a read today for more advice and tips on how to get the most out of your car.


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