State Inspections are a Sham

It’s that time of year again when pretty much everyone needs to visit the nearest registered State Inspector to pay our annual bribe or “tax”. This is a necessary bribe that allows car owners to display a permit showing we have permission to use the car we already paid a hefty sales tax on. I guess the over 20% in hidden taxes that go into our $3-ish per gallon of gas isn’t enough to support the services our government provides[1]

What is the annual state inspection and why is it necessary?

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety (Tx DPS) website, an annual inspection is required to ensure compliance with safety standards. The website lists 20 or, depending on how you look at it, 21 items the state inspectors need to certify as functional[2]. The website also states that emissions testing is only required in the state’s 17 most densely populated counties (basically, the areas around: Houston, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Austin, and El Paso)[3].

And that’s pretty much it.

Why are state inspections a sham?

There’s a few reasons why I think state safety inspections are a sham. First, there’s no proof these required inspections make cars safer, and it only seems to be an extra tax imposed on drivers. Then, if you read the language of the inspection process, it becomes very apparent that one industry in particular stands to benefit from these inspections (and from pretty much every single traffic stop in the state[4]). And finally, it’s too obvious that Texas half-asses emissions testing.

Despite several attempts to drop the state-mandated safety inspection, Texas is still one of 15 states in the country that requires them. The last real and widely publicized attempt to remove the requirement was passed in the Texas Senate in 2017. But since I’m writing this article today, it means the bill didn’t go through[5].

Supposedly, the purpose of the annual inspection is to ensure that 20 listed safety mechanisms on a vehicle are functional or comply with the state’s safety standards. But before the list even starts, the inspector is required to check for evidence of “Financial Responsibility” (also known as insurance). Financial responsibility is better known as “proof of insurance”, because most people can’t afford the $55,000 bribe to the state Comptroller or County Judge where the car is registered[6].

That means the Inspector won’t look at your car unless you have proof of insurance, which also means you can’t pass the inspection.

Now I’m just a simple American writer, but it sure seems like one particular industry has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and holding our ability to drive hostage. Which also ensures the over 22 million registered vehicles in Texas are insured by a paying customer[7].

In Texas alone, that’s at least $11 billion every year.

Another official part of the test is to ensure general conformity of the federally mandated clean air requirements. However, out of the 254 counties in Texas, only 17 require emissions testing. Which explains why we see vehicles, that obviously can’t pass an emissions test, continue to belch black smoke on the road.

If the state wants to refute my claim that the annual safety inspections are a sham, then they should require emissions testing across all counties in the state. If they do that, the fact they’re fleecing drivers for more money will be less obvious.

And the environment may thank us too.

But state-wide emissions testing won’t happen because Rednecks from across the state will go up in arms when they find out those muscle cars and trucks won’t pass inspection. They will demand a change, and/or they’ll vote someone else into office. With that scenario, we’re more likely to see our politicians ignore the insurance lobbyists and do away with the annual safety inspection altogether. 

Now, I’d like to describe how different my first and second inspections were.

I bought my first car 2 years ago and when it came time to renew the inspection, I made the mistake of going to a scummy shop. The inspector claimed my gas cap failed the emissions test, but I can easily fix it by purchasing a new cap from a nearby AutoZone.

I had no knowledge of the gas cap emissions test and what it actually did beyond the inspector telling me my cap didn’t pass the test. I didn’t care all that much about buying the gas cap. I simply didn’t want to waste any more time on this needless inspection, and was willing to jump through any hoops to get it over and done with.

While driving to buy a new gas cap, I brooded over how this whole inspection stinks of a scam. There’s no way a gas cap can determine what emissions are coming out of the car. Gas goes into your tank and the cap keeps contaminates out and prevents fuel from evaporating into the atmosphere. 

If there’s something wrong with any residue on the cap, then the state needs to go after the gas manufacturers for producing low-quality or contaminated gas. Or, the “Inspector” is getting a kickback from AutoZone for sending customers to buy gas caps or some other unnecessary part. 

When I returned with the replacement cap, the inspector told me the new one didn’t pass. I couldn’t believe what I just heard.

This is a brand-new cap! How the Hell can it fail the test?!

I must have given him one of my “gay fury” expressions, because he tested the new cap again. After a couple attempts, he handed it back and said it barely passed. He also said I may need to have the fuel filler examined in the future, but I didn’t care. I was overjoyed my car passed and I didn’t have to waste any more time on this damn inspection.

Fast-forward one year…

While doing research for this article, I learned a few things about the fuel cap test:

  1. There’s no official or technical information available online about them or what they do[8]. The most informative website I found on the subject is Amazon, and that’s only because the site needs to describe the product to sell the testers (by the way, the average price is about $1,000).
  2. They are called Fuel Cap Pressure Tests, and they check a fuel cap’s ability to hold pressure.
  3. The testers come with several adaptors to fit different makes and models of cars.

Now that I know more about the test, there probably wasn’t a problem with my gas cap to begin with. I could swear the tester being used at that shop was corroded. Either that, or the guy wasn’t using the correct attachment.

Regardless of what shady business happened last year, I was determined to get this year’s inspection done at a different business. The business I went to didn’t even do the gas cap test. All he did was ask for my insurance (of course), plug my car into the computer[9], and test my lights and horn. 

I was in and out in less than 20 minutes.

Now, all I need to do is pay for the sticker which tells police that I paid my annual tax/bribe. The easiest way to do that is to log into the state website and pay online, but I’ll have to pay a $2 online payment fee…


[1] U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2021, March 2). Gasoline Explained: Factors Affecting Gasoline Prices. Retrieved from US EIA: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/gasoline/factors-affecting-gasoline-prices.php#:~:text=Taxes%20add%20to%20the%20price,of%200.1%20cents%20per%20gallon.

[2] Safety Standards: The website has a list of 20 items to inspect, which includes:

0. Proof of Insurance, 1. Horn, 2. Windshield Wipers, 3. Mirror, 4. Steering, 5. Seat Belts, 6. Brakes (system), 7. Tires 8. Wheel Assembly, 9. Exhaust System, 10. Exhaust Emission System, 11. Beam Indicator, 12. Tail Lamps, 13. Stop Lamps, 14. License Plate Lamp, 15. Rear Red Reflectors, 16. Turn Signal Lamps, 17. Head Lamps, 18. Motor, Serial, or Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), 19. Gas caps on vehicles, 20. Window Tint.

[3] Texas Department of Public Safety. (2021). Vehicle Inspection Program Overview. Retrieved from https://www.dps.texas.gov/section/vehicle-inspection/vehicle-inspection-program-overview

[4] Every officer doing a traffic stop asks/orders us to show our “driver’s license and proof of insurance.”

[5] Texas Senate Bill 1588: The bill was passed by the Texas Senate, but never made it to the House floor before the session ended.

[6] Texas Transportation Code, 7, Subtitle D. § 601.122 & 601.123 (1995). Retrieved from https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/docs/TN/htm/TN.601.htm

[7] Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. (2022). About Us. Retrieved from Tx DMV: https://www.txdmv.gov/about-us#:~:text=Currently%2C%20there%20are%20more%20than,’%20highways%2C%20roads%20and%20bridges.

[8] No Information: There may be some official or scientific information about them available online. But I spent about an hour tearing the internet apart using various search parameters, and I think it’s safe to say there’s “no information”.

[9] Computer: We don’t know what data is being recorded when the inspector plugs the analyzer into your car’s computer. Supposedly, it’s monitoring emissions and running a diagnostic, but I wonder is what else is being collected and saved. Keep in mind this this device is plugged into the same port Progressive’s Snapshot uses.

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