Virginia inspection stickers are peeling off car windshields because of faulty glue or improper application, officials said yesterday.

The stickers, which rose in price on July 1 from $6 to $10, signify that a car has been checked for safety and can be driven legally in the state. This year's stickers are the same kind that were used last year.

"It's pretty bad," said State Police Sgt. Joseph Weathersbee. "We've seen a good number of them in Northern Virginia. It's not uncommon at all to see them peeling right off windshields."

Weathersbee received a sticker for his police cruiser in February, and it peels away from the glass in hot weather, but contracts into position when the temperature falls, he said.

State Inspector Chris Malof, who works out of the McLean Exxon service station on Old Dominion Drive, said five motorists have come to the station with peeling stickers, most of which were issued in January, he said.

"It's a problem with application, and it's been hit and miss around the state," said Capt. J.P. Henries of the State Police.

There are two layers of adhesive on the stickers, and the part meant to keep them in place the year between inspections often is not coming in contact with the windshield, Henries said.

Even when stickers are applied with the proper tools, however, they occasionally fail to stay on the windshield, which leads some police to believe some stickers are defective.

"We're in the process now of contacting stations to tell them how to properly apply the sticker," Henries said.

Police have expressed concern that the peeling will make it easier for thieves to take stickers out of cars.

"If it's sitting there for the taking, then they're going to take it right off," Weathersbee said.

If a sticker is stolen, the driver of the car must pay for a replacement. Police are advising motorists to tape or glue their stickers to their windshields to keep them in place.