NOTE: Be aware that owners of vehicles that are subject to the compulsory defective Takata airbag recall may be required to provide proof that the defective airbags have been replaced by an authorised vehicle dealer before a roadworthy inspection can be performed.
Although vehicle inspections for the purposes of issuing roadworthy certificates are based on the current version of the Light Vehicle Standards Rules, these Rules are not a set of laws in themselves. Instead, these Rules are a set of model rules that allow State and Territory governments to develop localised requirements and prescripts to issue roadworthy certificates and other documents that allow a user to operate a light vehicle on public roads in different states and territories.
Limited space precludes a comprehensive comparison of what each jurisdiction requires in terms of a vehicle’s roadworthiness before it will issue a roadworthy certificate for a light vehicle. However, we can do the next best thing, which is to provide an overview of the components, parts, and systems on light vehicles that are usually inspected by most, if not always all jurisdictions. Below are some details of what a roadworthy inspection generally entails, starting with-
Tyres, including the spare tyre
All the tyres, including the spare tyre, will be checked to verify that they all have at least the legal minimum tread depth across the entire tread pattern. The inspector or examiner will also check that all tyres are inflated correctly and free of cuts, bulges, or other defects such as repairs or patches close to the tread shoulder, or on the sidewalls that could make such a tyre dangerous to use.
Body rust/ damage
Small, inconsequential rust spots, such as are common on the corners of doors, boot lids and bonnets may or may not be flagged by an examiner. However, serious rust that has perforated body panels and structural components that a) weakens the vehicle's overall structural strength, and b) could cause a vehicle's structure to crumple in unpredictable ways during an accident will certainly cause a vehicle to fail an inspection.
Note that this inspection also includes checking the condition of the door hinges, as well as the operation of all door handles and latches.
Interior trim and upholstery
The examiner will check that all trim panels are properly secured to prevent vehicle occupants from sustaining injuries both during accidents and during normal vehicle usage. This inspection will also include a check of the seatbelts to verify that they spool/unspool freely, that all seat belts are free of cuts, tears, and fraying, and that all seatbelt latches work as designed and intended.
Note that while minor tears and abrasions of seat coverings may or may not be flagged, major tears or gaping holes in seat coverings will almost certainly cause a vehicle to fail the inspection.
This inspection will also include a check of the roof liner to ensure that it does not sag or cause the driver to be distracted or hindered in any way from operating the vehicle safely.
This inspection entails a thorough visual inspection to verify that there are no fluid oil and coolant leaks on the engine. Be aware, though, that vehicle examiners know every trick in the book people use to hide or conceal fluid leaks, so we do not recommend that you present your vehicle with a super clean, just-washed engine for an inspection. If your vehicle does have oil and coolant leaks, the wiser option is to have these repaired before you present your vehicle for an inspection.
However, since many modern engines are covered by cosmetic covers, you may have to remove such covers before the inspection. We recommend, however, that you confirm whether (or not) you should remove cosmetic engine covers yourself when you make a booking to have your vehicle inspected.
As a practical matter, the examiner will also inspect radiator hoses and engine mounts for signs of damage caused by oil contamination or rubbing/chafing, as well as the condition of the radiator hose clamps, which should be tight and free of corrosion and damage of any kind.
Note that this inspection usually includes checking that the battery is not visibly damaged and that the battery hold-down device is securing the battery effectively.
Gearbox / Transmission
This inspection entails checking for evidence of oil or transmission fluid leaks anywhere on the gearbox/transmission and driveshafts, including checking for grease seeping out of CV–joint boots. The examiner will also check the gearbox/transmission mounts to ensure they are in good or acceptable condition.
If the vehicle is RWD, the examiner will check that there are no oil leaks anywhere on the differential and that the driveshaft and all U-joints are in a good condition. For the purposes of this inspection, the U-joints in the drive shaft should not be visibly rusted or corroded, and there should not be excessive free play in any U-joint or support bearing on the drive shaft.
All jurisdictions place a particular emphasis on the condition and serviceability of brake systems. This means that vehicle examiners will often remove the wheels from the vehicle to inspect the condition of brake rotors and brake pads, as well as the condition of brake shoes and drums on drum brake systems.
Examiners will also pay close attention to the operation of the hand/park/emergency brakes in general, and to how well the system works on both sides of the braked axle, in particular. In addition, vehicle examiners will inspect brake systems closely for signs of damaged, corroded, or unsecured brake lines, as well as for brake fluid leaks anywhere in the brake system.
A steering system check entails verifying that there is no excessive free play anywhere in the steering system, that the steering wheel turns from full lock to full lock in equal amounts, and that the steering wheel does not bind or stick at any point while turning from full lock to full opposite lock.
In addition, the examiner will check the condition of the drive belts that drive the power steering system, that there are no fluid leaks in the steering rack, and that the power steering pump or electric steering assist motor does not emit mechanical noises.
Suspension checks involve verifying that there are no broken, worn, or damaged suspension components on the vehicle, such as leaking or worn shock absorbers, broken suspension and control arm bushings, weak or broken springs and torsion bars, and visibly damaged ball joints and/or tie rod ends.
Note that while some examiners may test individual components by exerting a force on them with a pry bar or similar instrument, some test stations are equipped with specialized machines that apply large lateral motions to the vehicle. Note that such equipment can typically identify suspension defects that go undetected by other methods.
An examiner will check that the windscreen is free of cracks and/or chips that can obstruct a driver’s view of the road, but in most cases, any cracks or chips in the windscreen that exceed a certain length or size will be flagged. Note that an examiner will also check the condition and operation of all wiper blades during this inspection.
Note that this inspection also involves the condition of the rear window, as well as the windows in all the doors. This includes checking that windows are not cracked or broken and that all the windows open and close correctly. Note that excessively tinted glass may be flagged.
The examiner will check that all exterior and interior lights, including indicator and courtesy lights, work as expected. Examiners typically also check the condition of head and tail light lenses for the presence of cracks or fractures, as well as for signs of fading, cloudiness, and lack of transparency that could cause the lights not to shine as brightly, or to be less visible than they should be.
An exhaust system inspection involves checking that there are no leaks in the system, as well as checking that all exhaust hangers, brackets, and other hardware that secure the exhaust system to the vehicle are present and in good working condition.
While the above list might seem daunting, the fact is that a great many vehicles easily pass these inspections every day. However, it should be noted that even if your vehicle passes the inspection and you receive a roadworthy or safety certificate, this does not necessarily mean that your vehicle is in top-notch condition. All that passing an inspection means is that your vehicle conforms to the minimum legal requirements that allow you to operate it on a public road.
Put differently, this means that although a vehicle examiner considered your vehicle safe to drive, it may still have defects and shortcomings in systems and components that generally do not affect your safety or the safety of other road users.