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Temporary Plates and Shady Mechanics Let Millions of Texas Cars Skip Safety Inspections

Texas investigators allege that millions of cars on state roads may have skirted inspections due to shady tactics.

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Image for article titled Temporary Plates and Shady Mechanics Let Millions of Texas Cars Skip Safety Inspections
Image: Eric Gay (AP)

Something sketchy may be going on down in Texas state inspection shops. Dallas NBC affiliate NBC 5 DFW reports on an investigation where state fraud investigators believe millions of cars that never went through emissions or safety inspections could be on the roads right now. And it all may be because of money exchanging hands.

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The grift has been going on for a while. Back in 2021, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles discovered that small car dealers in the state were selling fake DMV registrations. People who simply didn’t want to pay state fees for vehicle registrations or criminals that didn’t want to be found would go to these dealers, pay cash, and receive a paper plate that looked as legit as a real temporary registration from the DMV. Since then, that has snowballed into even greater illegal activity. Investigators now believe people are paying inspection facilities across the state to “pass” vehicles, and technology is the key that makes it easier.


One investigator, Sgt. Jose Escribano with Travis County Constables estimates that there are at least five million vehicles on the state’s roads annually that are skipping safety inspections. That estimate come from emission inspection data taken from the state’s Commission on Environmental Quality. The emission system’s design almost allows fraud to happen.

NBC 5 did its own investigation and set up cameras outside of a local auto shop that does state inspections. For over an hour, NBC 5 didn’t see a single vehicle enter or leave the facility. However, at the exact same time the shop was being monitored, records from the state’s environmental quality commission show the shop claimed to inspect 23 vehicles. That would have been difficult for a shop that never actually saw a single vehicle enter its premises. Escribano said this signals that the shop is engaging in fraud.


The grift to get cars to pass inspection is straightforward. An investigator with the Dallas County Sheriffs said that some inspection facilities pass cars by plugging the emissions analyzer device into a vehicle that will pass inspection. Mechanics will then then attach that passing result to a vehicle that wouldn’t pass. Tech has made that even easier, with a device like a flash drive can be used to plug directly into the emissions analyzer. The device can simulate a vehicle’s emission control system and give a passing result.

This is when the state’s huge loophole kicks in: a vehicle that gets a pass doesn’t have to be inspected in person, where things like a vehicle’s brakes, lights, and other safety items would be checked in order to satisfy the state’s safety regulations.

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered, and Texas officials don’t seem to be aware of the full scope of this fraud. Head on over to NBC 5 to check out the full scope of the investigation.