Cars registered in Texas after 2025 will no longer need to pass a safety inspection, but owners will still pay the fee

BY JAYME LOZANO CARVER  The Texas Tribune

Most Texas drivers will no longer be required to have their cars pass an annual safety exam after state lawmakers removed the rule from Texas code.

Texas is one of 13 states that mandate annual inspections for cars. That will change in about 18 months now that the Texas Legislature has given final approval to House Bill 3297.

Supporters of the bill called the safety inspections time consuming and inconvenient. Opponents of the bill say it could set Texas drivers, and future Texans, on a dangerous path.

“The majority of our business is centered around making sure people’s vehicles are safe,” said Charissa Barnes, owner of the Official Inspection Station in San Antonio, to lawmakers earlier this year. “We need to make sure that their cars, the people joining us in Texas, are safe.”

What did the Legislature change?

The Legislature repealed provisions in state law that mandate annual vehicle inspections. However, the $7.50 fee remains intact under a new name: the inspection program replacement fee.

The 17 Texas counties that require emissions inspections will still mandate annual tests regardless of the bill becoming law. These are Brazoria, Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, El Paso, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Johnson, Kaufman, Montgomery, Parker, Rockwall, Tarrant, Travis and Williamson counties.

Who is affected? 

All Texas drivers outside of the exempted counties stand to be affected by the legislation. According to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, there are 22 million registered cars in the state. Annual inspections are used to determine if certain features of a car, such as the tires, seat belts or brakes, are safe to drive with.

A study mandated by the Texas Legislature in 2017 shows that cars with defects, such as bald tires or bad brakes, were three years older than the average registered vehicle, which is nine years old.

Almost a quarter of the people surveyed in the study were asked by a mechanic to fix slick or defective tires during an inspection, potentially preventing more accidents. Another report found that defective cars in Texas were more than three times as likely to be involved in a crash that resulted in a fatality.

Texas highways are notoriously dangerous. At least one person dies on a Texas highway each day. According to the most recent state data, 4,489 people were killed in auto crashes in Texas during 2021, or about 1.56 deaths per 100,000 miles traveled by drivers. That’s up from 1.36 deaths per 100,000 in 2017.

Who influenced the bill’s outcome? 

Republican Rep. Cody Harris of Palestine and Sens. Mayes Middleton of Galveston and Bob Hall of Edgewood sponsored the bill to do away with annual vehicle inspections.

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“These inspections are a waste of time for Texas citizens and a money-making Ponzi scheme used by some shady dealerships to upsell consumers with unnecessary repairs,” Harris said in a statement to ABC 13 in Houston. “Texans are responsible, fiercely independent, and I trust them to keep their cars and trucks safe while on the road.”

Other groups and businesses — such as former Texas Sen. Don Huffines’ Liberty Foundation, Continental Automotive Group, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texas Conservative Coalition and Tesla — were all witnesses in favor of the bill. Huffines, whose family owns a car dealership empire in North Texas, has been a vocal supporter of the bill.

Representatives with the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas, the Dallas Police Association, the Houston Police Officers’ Union, the Texas State Inspection Association, Toyota Motor North America and more spoke against the bill.

How much will it cost Texans? 

Drivers will still be paying the annual $7.50 when they register their vehicles. The money will go toward the Texas mobility fund, general revenue fund and the clean air account.

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For drivers with new cars — either the current model or preceding model year that has not been previously registered in Texas or another state — there will instead be an initial fee of $16.75 to cover two years.

The Texas transportation department estimates that the state’s economy lost $51.4 billion due to car crashes in 2021.

What alternatives were considered? 

No alternatives were considered for the bill, but there was some pushback from other lawmakers. Sen. Nathan Johnson, a Dallas Democrat, spoke against the bill on the Senate floor before it passed.

“It’s really not going to take any time, and if they want to sell me a windshield wiper while I’m there, I’m OK,” Johnson said. “I would at least vote this bill down until one of you brings out a study that says they’re not effective. The evidence I’ve seen says they are.”

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Johnson urged fellow members to vote the bill down, saying people’s lives are at stake.

The bill passed on a 109-32 vote in the House chamber and a 20-11 vote in the Senate.

What’s next? 

The bill was sent to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk Monday after lawmakers approved a compromise version of the bill on Sunday. Pending the governor’s approval, the legislation goes into effect Jan. 1, 2025.