2 December 2009

Emissions and Your Collector Vehicle

What you need to know about state-by-state testing requirements.

Few factors have been more influential on collector car owners – and the American automotive landscape – than regulatory efforts to reduce air pollution. In 1970, Congress passed the first major Clean Air Act and set aggressive goals for reducing automotive emissions. U.S. automakers responded by detuning engines and adding primitive emissions control gear. By the mid-1970s, the era of big horsepower seemed all but over.

Due, in part, to subsequent efforts aimed at improving air quality, we’ve had to learn to live with unleaded gasoline, ethanol-blended fuels and the elimination of ZDDP in motor oil. Thankfully, car guys have proven a resilient bunch, and the car hobby has survived. The first “inspection and maintenance” programs began in 1983. These early inspections were intended to ensure that passenger vehicles in the country’s most polluted areas were factory equipped with functional emissions systems.

In 1990, Congress amended the Clean Air Act, giving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) broader authority to regulate tailpipe emissions and requiring that oxygenated gas be sold in the most polluted cities in the country. (Ethanol is currently the most widely used fuel oxygenate. For more information on ethanol and old cars, see Hagerty’s Spring 2009 and Fall 2009 issues.)

Congress also granted the EPA the authority to create National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to be met by every state. Ambient air quality is calculated by measuring amounts of six specific pollutants in outdoor air. NAAQS are the amounts of each pollutant that the EPA deems acceptable.

Each state is responsible for devising its own State Implementation Plan (SIP) for meeting the goals specified under NAAQS. While each state has a degree of autonomy in what it proposes in its SIP, the EPA ultimately must approve the plan. Needless to say, this has led to a wide degree of variation in the way that each state regulates the gases that come out of your car.

It has been proven that testing collectible cars provides little to no measurable benefit to the environment: There simply aren’t enough of them out there, they are usually well maintained and they are used relatively infrequently. Therefore, most states provide some type of exemption specific to older cars.

When considering the purchase of a new collector vehicle, it’s important to know how the regulations in your area will impact your ability to register, drive and enjoy it. If you are moving or purchasing a new vehicle and you have doubts about its emissions status, call the local department of motor vehicles or Hagerty Plus at 888-310-8020.


Here’s a breakdown of the emissions testing requirements in each state as they relate to collectible cars. It’s not meant to be comprehensive, but it does provide a general idea of how each state operates. Keep in mind that while U.S. regulations are made on the state level, they may only apply to certain counties within a state. Find this guide online at hagerty.com/emissions.

Testing is required for 1968 and newer vehicles owned by a person living in the Municipality of Anchorage, including Fort Richardson, Eklutna, Elmendorf AFB, Chugiak, Eagle River, Indian and Girdwood. Testing also is required for vehicles 1975 and newer and owned by a person who lives in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, including Eielson AFB, Fort Wainwright, North Pole and Salcha.

Pima and Maricopa Counties are subject to testing, but there is a broad exemption that includes many collectible vehicles.

Thirty-four counties in California require an emissions test every other year for vehicles 1976 and newer. Six counties require a test for vehicles 1976 and newer and registered in specific ZIP codes within those counties. Confused? Go to smogcheck. ca.gov/Applications/Ziparea/ ZipLookup.aspx and enter your ZIP code.

Horseless carriages, street rods, farm vehicles and motorcycles are exempt from emissions testing. Exemptions are available with the aforementioned vehicle types, but the requirements of the actual test vary by year.

Any motor vehicle 25 years or older is exempt from testing.

No testing required for 1967 and older passenger vehicles. However, 1968–1980 passenger vehicles are required to pass an idle test. Requirements vary for vehicles 1981 and newer.

District of Columbia
All vehicles must have at least a single safety and emissions inspection. After a successful completion of the inspection, a historic vehicle does not need to be reinspected.

No current emissions testing requirements, but a proposal to adopt California standards is awaiting state legislature approval.

Vehicles 25 model years old or older are exempt from emissions testing.

Testing required for vehicles 1965 and newer in Ada County only.

Motorcycles, antique vehicles, custom vehicles, street rods and vehicles of model year 1967 or before are exempt from testing.

Lake County and Porter County require testing for vehicles built after 1975. This rule currently is being revised, however.

Vehicles newer than 40 years old are required to pass a visual inspection, which includes a look at emissions equipment. Vehicles newer than 1996 are required to pass an OBD-II emissions test in the parishes of Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Livingston and West Baton Rouge.

All gasoline-powered cars registered in Cumberland County must be emissions tested.

Pre-1977 vehicles are exempt from testing.

Vehicles manufactured before 1996 do not test, but they will not pass safety inspections if they produce visible smoke.

Vehicles 1995 and older are exempt from testing.

Vehicles registered with classic vehicle, classic rod or old-timer license plates and driven 2,500 miles or less per year are exempt from emissions testing.

New Hampshire
All vehicles 20 years and older are exempt. Vehicles 1996 and older, but less than 20 years old, may receive a visual inspection during the state’s required safety inspection.

New Jersey
Vehicles registered as historic or collector are exempt.

New Mexico
In Bernalillo County, vehicles newer than 1975 are required to pass an emissions test.

New York
Vehicles with historical plates, vehicles older than 25 years old, and homemade or custom vehicles that are registered in the Upstate Area do not require an emissions test.

North Carolina
No testing for pre-1996 cars.

Vehicles more than 25 years old, vehicles registered as historical and collector vehicles, parade and exhibition vehicles and motorcycles are permanently exempt from testing.

In the Portland area, 1975 and newer vehicles are required to pass an emissions test. In the Medford area, vehicles 20 years old are required to test.

Pennsylvania exempts motorcycles and registered antiques, street rods and collectibles from emissions testing.

Rhode Island
Vehicles registered with antique plates and vehicles more than 25 years old with regular passenger plates must pass safety, but not emissions, tests.

Motorcycles and vehicles older than 1975 are exempt from testing.

Vehicles 25 years and older are exempt from testing.

Vehicles 1967 and older are exempt.

Cars without OBD-II equipment are not required to test.

Vehicles older than 25 years are not required to test.

Vehicles 25 years or older are exempt from testing.

No testing for pre-1996 cars.

No testing required in:

North Dakota
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

And in Canada…

Emissions testing isn’t required for passenger vehicles in most parts of Canada, but is required in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland region. However, vehicles with vintage plates (available for cars older than 30 years that meet a number of safety and usage criteria) are exempt. Southern Ontario also requires testing, but vehicles built in 1987 or earlier are exempt.

To see this article in its original format, view the pdf version of the Winter 2009 issue of Hagerty magazine.

5 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Arnie P.A. November 23, 2015 at 20:32
    Have a 1981 vette historic tag regersted......my local shop thinks he has to see a catalytic converter on the car to inspect it. It's exempt from emissions testing. Does he have to look for a cat? I was led to believe that if that if it's exempt form testing it does no need to have a cat on the exhaust? If a reg inspection is needed I thought it was to be JUST THE Mech parts of the car? Any help would be great. Regards Arnie
  • 2
    Ron Bucksaw Toronto March 8, 2016 at 11:16
    Hi Arnie, It makes me wonder if there is some directive to NOT TEST old cars for emissions because they fear that it might PASS or even get better results than a car with clean air devices.. What would that do to the whole program objective? I am a pessimist of the whole clean air industry ever since I saw my 1974 Cougar with clean air devices.. One that made me skeptical was the EGR valve that allowed fresh air to enter the exhaust system... I am no fool... Was that simply to dilute the concentration in the talipipe emissions? Now, we are told that the emission testing does not require the car to be on a treadmill, to test emissions at driving speeds.. All they are looking for is what the car computer finds and the operation of the check engine light.... Could this be due to the problems that Volkswagen is having with computers that are intentionally programmed to LIE about emissions at driving speeds? If you do not put a probe in the exhaust pipe, and test the actual emissions, the fix is in... Why are cars less than 7 years old being tested differently.. Is it the under dash connector, or is it to hide the VW scam? Why are we being pushed to clean air by trying to use electric cars? These are no better, since they run on electricity and that can also be generated with Coal Burning generating plants as well as with Nuclear, Natural Gas and Oil. So.. your Tesla may actually be burning Coal or other fossil fuels..
  • 3
    john casbon Indiana March 8, 2017 at 18:55
    hey all Im insane today over this emissions stuff I have a 1991 Chevy K1500 Sport 4+4 its in very good condition and have passed everytime for the last 15yrs but for some reason its failing on the HC did a complete tune up a couple days ago spent $120 on parts spent 8 hrs in the garage Im dis abled on top of this so the next day i was down flat from burning back and legs anyway took it back and failed again on the HC a buddy of mine has a shop in our little town but he told me just go to the BMV and tell them i want a classic plate and i wont have to ever test again Im in Porter County In. they are right on the edge of doing away with the emission test but is it that easy to get the classic plate im ready to explode here im so mad
  • 4
    Gary Ft Smith, Arkansas April 5, 2017 at 00:44
    The nice thing about living in Arkansas is no emissions testing and a one time fee for an antique vehicle plate of $15 otherwise it's $27 a year. EGR valves, catalytic converters, heat riser valve and air pumps end up in the trash because that's junk.
  • 5
    Alice Jones California May 30, 2017 at 14:48
    By just moving to California, I decided to read through your article to learn more about smog testing requirements for my state. It's interesting how 34 counties, as you explained, are required to take smog tests every other year if they have a car produced after 1976. I need to find out if where I live is affected by this rule. http://www.westcoastsmogtest.com/specials-and-pictures

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