The elastic properties of carotid arteries of spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) and normotensive controls (Wistar-Kyoto rats [WKY]) were examined in vivo, in situ, and in vitro. The changes of internal diameter were measured with a high-resolution A-mode echo-tracking device simultaneously with the intra-arterial pressure at the carotid. The internal diameter at mean arterial blood pressure (MBP) was substantially smaller in vitro than in vivo in SHR (-33.8%) and WKY (-48.3%). The arterial distensibility was lower in vitro in all arteries compared with in vivo conditions (SHR, -30.1%; WKY, -60.4%; at MBP) despite a reduced incremental elastic modulus in vitro (SHR, -56.9%; WKY, -45.1%; at MBP). However, the in vitro and in vivo measurements show consistent elastic behavior of the carotid arteries between both strains of rats. Carotid arteries from WKY were also examined in situ. Although no significant reduction in internal diameter could be observed in situ, distensibility was dramatically decreased (-87% at MBP). These results emphasize the importance of considering the original vascular geometry when determining elastic properties of arteries. We conclude that experimental conditions are likely to be a critical determinant for the assessment of the mechanical properties of conduit vessels.