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BDR Automotive

Decoding the Inspection Sticker: A Guide to Massachusetts Vehicle Compliance

The colors, the numbers … what do they all mean?

It’s that time of year again: time to bring your vehicle in for your annual Massachusetts inspection sticker. Vehicle inspection stickers are crucial in ensuring that vehicles are safe to drive on the road. These stickers are issued following a thorough inspection of your car by a licensed mechanic, who checks for things like brakes, tires, lights, and emissions.

The dreaded “R” on the Massachusetts inspection sticker

There are two different color “R” stickers – a Black R means your vehicle failed the emissions portion of the inspection. A Red R indicates that your automobile or truck failed the safety portion of the inspection (or it failed both the safety AND emissions tests).

If your sticker has a red R on it, you shouldn’t drive your vehicle as it has been determined that it is unsafe to drive on public roads and must be repaired immediately. A black R sticker indicates that your vehicle is safe to drive. However, you are endangering the environment when you do. 

In either case, you are required to get your vehicle repaired and re-inspected within 60 days of the date it failed inspection. If you bring your vehicle back to the same inspection shop where it failed within the 60-day timeframe, the re-inspection is free. You’ll have to pay another $35 for the re-inspection if you are not within the 60-day period or bring it to another different shop. If your vehicle fails again, you are required to pay $35 for each additional attempt to pass. Keep in mind, you only have 60 days from the date of the initial inspection to have the vehicle repaired. If it fails a second time, you do not get another 60 days.

The number on the inspection sticker

The number on the sticker currently on your vehicle indicates the month your inspection is due. For example, if your sticker sports the number 5, your inspection is due in May. Let’s say you have a busy month and forget to get the car inspected in May. You take it in June, and it passes! Great. But your new sticker will have the number 5 not 6 for June. You don’t get an extra month’s time for the coming year by waiting. You may be stopped by the police for not having had the inspection when you should if the sticker is expired.

Massachusetts vehicle inspection sticker on windshield.

Let’s say your vehicle fails the inspection in January. After making the needed repairs, you take it back for re-inspection in February. Your new sticker will reflect the month of the initial inspection (January), and not the month it passed.

To make things a bit confusing, if your vehicle fails in December of the year, but passes in February of the next year, you will get a sticker that expires in January of the following year. Why? Because the inspection law says, “When a vehicle fails near the end of the year and passes its re-inspection the following year, it will always receive a windshield sticker that expires in January of the following year.”

Reasons you may get a red “R”  on your Massachusetts inspection sticker

If your car is missing windshield wipers, a gas cap, any rearview mirror, or front or rear bumpers it will fail the safety portion of the inspection.

If your check engine light is on, there may be a problem with the vehicle. You will not pass the safety portion of the inspection. It could be a faulty light, but inspectors won’t know that. Be sure to have this checked before the vehicle inspection if it is an issue.

Windshield cracked? It won’t pass inspection. It may be possible to have it fixed without having to replace the windshield if you have a small or minor chip. Contact a local windshield repair company for information. Check with your insurance company to see what coverage you have for windshield repair or replacement.

One of the most common reasons to fail a MA car inspection is for modifications that are non-compliant with MA law. Here are some common modifications that can mean a failed inspection:

  • Window tints that are too dark
  • Vehicle height – too high or too low
  • Exhausts that exceed acceptable emission levels
  • Wrong color or wrong size lights

Be proactive, not reactive

Before you drive to a MA Inspection, examine some of the things that you know will be tested. Be sure your windshield doesn’t have cracks or chips. Make certain all your lights are working and that your rear-view mirrors are in position. When was the last time you had your brakes checked? Suspension or wheel alignment? 

Better still, learn about the comprehensive MA Inspection points we check and make an appointment to bring your vehicle to BDR Automotive, where safety is our top priority. 

Print Your Vehicle Inspection Report (VIR)

Need a copy of the VIR for your vehicle? Follow the instructions below to look up your VIR and print it yourself from this page.

Have your vehicle’s registration number (same as license plate number) and the vehicle identification number (VIN) ready. This information can be found on your vehicle registration document.

If you have questions about the MA Vehicle Check Program or if you have a specific issue that needs attention, call 508-429-4720 or schedule an appointment online.

Jarred McGee
Jarred is not only an amazingly competent and capable technician, he is a confident leader and source of incredible knowledge. Known for being a tireless and dedicated technician, he is always friendly and professional, always willing to go the extra mile to ensure BDR customers leave with peace of mind about their vehicle. Jarred attended Mass Bay Community College where he earned his Associates Degree in Automotive Technology. He went on to receive a Toyota T-TEN Certificate while working in Toyota’s dealership system. Jarred has also worked at an auto-body repair shop that specialized in complex high-end vehicles such as the Tesla.

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