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  • Smog Check in California

    SUMMARY: Smog Inspections in California

    In California, vehicles must undergo a biennial smog inspection in order to renew your registration. New residents to California will be required to have an initial inspection to register, even if you have a current certificate from your previous state. Testing can be completed at DMV-approved locations throughout your county. Safety inspections are not generally required for registration or renewal.

    In California, vehicles are required to be smog checked every 2 years. Keep reading below for information about smog inspections in California, including forms and fees you’ll need to provide.

    New California Residents

    The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) requires new residents to bring their vehicles to a smog inspection station (see Completing a Smog Check in California below) for a smog check before registering their vehicles, which must be completed within 20 days of establishing residency.

    You must then present the smog inspection certificate when registering your vehicle.

    Even if they’re current, out-of-state smog inspection stickers or certificates do not suffice this requirement.

    Once you’ve completed your initial smog check, you will then be subject to the standard schedule of re-certification every 2 years.

    NOTE: The CA DMV does not require regular vehicle safety inspections, but does require a vehicle identification number (VIN) inspection upon first registering your vehicle when you move to the state. This inspection takes place at the DMV.

    Inspection Requirements and Exemptions

    California requires all vehicles to undergo a smog inspection EXCEPT:

    • Gasoline-powered vehicles model year 1975 and older.
    • Natural gas-powered vehicles weighing over 14,000 lbs.
    • Diesel-powered vehicles that:
      • Are model year 1997 and older.
      • OR
      • Have a gross weight rating of over 14,000 lbs.
    • Electric vehicles.
    • Hybrid vehicles.
    • Motorcycles.
    • Trailers.

    Additionally, the following counties require smog checks in certain zip codes only:

    • El Dorado
    • San Diego
    • Placer
    • San Bernardino
    • Sonoma
    • Riverside

    You can enter your zip code to determine if smog inspections are required for your vehicle in these counties.

    You do not have to have your vehicle regularly inspected for safety measures in California. If you are registering an out-of-state vehicle for the first time, you WILL be required to have a VIN inspection at the DMV when you go to register.

    NOTE: Your smog certification is valid for 90 days upon inspection. You must register your vehicle or renew your registration within this time period (unless you are a new resident; see New California Residents above).

    Smog Inspection Exemptions

    If your vehicle is 6 years old or less, you do NOT have to have your vehicle smog checked every 2 years. Instead, you’ll pay an annual $20 smog abatement fee for your first 6 years of registration. After these first 6 years, you will be subject to the regular smog check program.

    The smog abatement fee does not apply to:

    • Nonresident vehicles.
    • Diesel-powered vehicles model year 1998 and newer weighing over 14,000 lbs.
    • Specially constructed vehicles model year 1976 and newer.

    These vehicles are still part of the biennial smog certification program and must be inspected every 2 years.

    Transferring a Vehicle

    When you transfer a vehicle title, it doesn’t have to undergo a smog check as long as it’s 4 years old or less*; however, the new owner will have to pay the $8 smog transfer fee.

    If the vehicle is more than 4 years old, you must provide a current smog certification UNLESS:

    • You’re transferring the vehicle to a:
      • Spouse or domestic partner.
      • Sibling.
      • Child.
      • Grandchild.
      • Grandparent.
    • You submitted a smog certification to the DMV within 90 days before the date of transfer.

    * This rule does not apply to diesel-powered vehicles.

    Selling a Vehicle

    When selling a vehicle in California, sellers must provide buyers with valid smog inspection certifications at the time of the sale. Understand that “valid” means the certification is within 90 days of the issuance date.

    However, an actual inspection isn’t required if the DMV received a biennial smog certification within 90 days of the sale.

    Similar to transferring vehicles, selling vehicles does not require smog certifications for gasoline-powered vehicles 4 years old or less*; the new owner will pay the smog transfer fee. Diesel-powered vehicles are not included in this exemption.

    Completing a Smog Check in California

    Depending on your situation (and what your registration renewal reminder indicates), you’ll bring your vehicle to one of the following California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) station locations:

    • STAR stations: Meet BAR-established performance standards. Some perform only tests; others perform both tests and repairs.
      • Often, “gross polluters” are instructed to visit STAR stations, but STAR stations aren’t limited just to vehicles with high emissions levels.
    • Test-Only stations: Only test vehicles; they don’t make repairs.
    • Test-and-Repair stations: Can both test and repair vehicles.
    • Repair-Only stations: Only repair vehicles; they don’t perform tests.

    You must present your:

    • Driver’s license.
    • Proof of insurance.
    • Title (if you own the vehicle outright).
    • Registration.

    Fees vary by location. Call ahead for fee and schedule information.

    Once your vehicle passes inspection, you’ll receive a smog inspection certificate to present to the CA DMV when you register or renew your vehicle registration. Generally, most smog check stations also report inspections to the DMV electronically. This helps in case you want to renew your registration via mail or online.

    See “Failed Vehicle Inspections” below for more information if your vehicle doesn’t pass the smog check.

    Failed Vehicle Inspections

    If your vehicle did not pass its smog check, the CA Department of Motor Vehicles recommends contacting the BAR Referee Program at (800) 622-7733. Here, you’ll find help with smog check dispute resolution.

    Some vehicle owners are eligible for low-income repair assistance via the BAR’s Consumer Assistance Program. Contact (800) 952-5210 for more information.

    Consumer Assistance Program (CAP)

    The government provides financial assistance for repair work (or to retire high polluting vehicles) to consumers who qualify. Depending on the availability of funds and the approval of your application, you could be eligible to collect $500 from the state for emissions-related diagnostic and repair services.

    For more information (or to check on the status of an existing application) call (866) 272-9642 or visit the Bureau of Automotive Repair site for details and applications.

    About the California Inspection Program

    For counties requiring a smog inspection, the CA DMV employs a biennial smog certification program; meaning, your qualifying vehicle must undergo a smog check every 2 years. Your registration renewal reminder should indicate whether it’s time for your smog inspection.

    Smog inspections consist of a visual test and a machine test.

    • During the visual test, the inspector will check for any blue or black smoke emitting from the tailpipe. As long as there is no blue or black exhaust, the vehicle passes this part of the exam.
    • During the machine test, the inspector will attach vehicle components to a smog check machine and run the test for certain codes. If the vehicle components pass each code, the vehicle passes this part of the exam.

    NOTE: If a vehicle fails either part of the exam, it fails the entire exam. Please refer to “Failed Vehicle Inspections” above.

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