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Frequently Asked Smog Check Questions

Here are some Smog Check questions that we've been frequently
asked over the past several months. SmogTips is dedicated to providing you with the most, up to date information and emissions support. Q & A sections are added and updated weekly.

Smog Check Question? Ask-A-Tech. Get expert answers. Click Here.

Selling or Buying a Vehicle and the California Smog Check

  1. I am buying a vehicle, do I need a smog check?
  2. I am selling my vehicle, who is responsible for the smog check?
  3. I am buying a vehicle from Out-of-State, will it pass the California smog check?

California Smog Check and Registration Questions

  1. Do older vehicles need smog checks?
  2. I own a new vehicle, when will I need a smog check?
  3. How often does the DMV require smog inspections?
  4. I am moving to California from out of state,
    will my vehicle pass the California smog inspection?
  5. My vehicle is currently out of state, how can I
    renew it's registration with out a smog check?
  6. I can't make the DMV Registration deadline,
    what can I do?
  7. How much does an average smog inspection cost?
  8. What is a Fuel EVAP Test (LPFET) and why are some smog stations charging additional fees for this test?

Test-Only Smog Check and Gold Shield CAP Stations

  1. What is a Gold Shield Smog Station?
  2. How long does the CAP application process take?
  3. What are the differences between the Test Only smog inspections and the regular smog inspections?
  4. Why does my vehicle need a Test Only smog check?

Smog Check Failures

  1. I want to modify my vehicle's engine, will it pass
    the smog test?
  2. My vehicle's "Check Engine" light is illuminated,
    will I fail the smog inspection?
  3. My vehicle failed the smog test because the "Check Engine" light was illuminated. Why didn't the Smog Technician inform me I would fail the inspection, BEFORE completing the test and charging me a lot of money?
  4. I own a 1996 vehicle, and the smog technician says it won't communicate with the smog equipment. What can I do?
  5. I want to add on an aftermarket performance product. Will I pass my smog test?


Selling or Buying a Vehicle and the California Smog Check

1. I am buying a vehicle, do I need a smog check? back to top

Section 24007 (b)(2) of the Vehicle Code states it is the responsibility of the seller to provide a valid smog certificate at the time of delivery of the vehicle. There is no provision in the law to sell a vehicle "as is." Therefore the seller is always responsible for the smog certificate even when selling "as-is". If you are buying a vehicle, make sure to ask the seller for a smog certificate. You will not be able to register your vehicle without it.

A California smog certificate is valid for 90 days.

2. I am selling my vehicle, who is responsible for the smog check? back to top

As discussed in question 1 above, Section 24007 (b)(2) of the Vehicle Code states it is the responsibility of the seller to provide a valid smog certificate at the time of delivery of the vehicle. There is no provision in the law to sell a vehicle "as is." Therefore the seller is always responsible for the smog certificate even if they are selling "as-is".

If a seller sells his/her vehicle with out a valid smog certificate, the buyer may pay for any repairs necessary to get the car to pass the Smog Check and may end up taking the seller to Small Claims Court to recover their costs.

To avoid running into problems, if you plan on selling your vehicle, obtain a smog inspection first. A California smog certificate is valid for 90 days. You can visit a Test Only or Regular smog station.

3. I am buying a vehicle from Out-of-State, will it pass the California smog check? back to top

It's true, there is a difference with California legal and Federal legal emissions requirements. And, for the most part California is stricter. However, a vehicle which is equipped with at least the Federally required emissions components, will pass a California smog inspection, as long as the vehicle's exhaust emissions fall within California's limits.



California Smog Check and Registration Questions
1. Do older vehicles need smog checks? back to top

Effective 04/01/05: Under the old law, 1975 and subsequent model year vehicles became exempt from Smog Check when they turned 30 years old. A 1976 model year vehicle was exempt in 2005, a 1977 in 2006, etc.

Under the new law... commenced April 1, 2005, exempt from smog check requirements are any motor vehicle manufactured prior to the 1976 model-year. All vehicles 1976 and newer vehicles will be tested according to state emission law. This law repeals the 30-year rolling exemption.

Vehicles with two-cycle engines, vehicles with engines smaller than 50 cubic inches of displacement, electric vehicles, and motorcycles are exempt from the Smog Check program.

To determine your vehicle's actual model year, you can check on the front driver side door jam for a decal indicating your vehicle's production date and weight specifications.

2. I own a new vehicle, when will I need a smog check? back to top

Vehicles four or six model years old and newer are not required to have a biennial Smog Check performed until their fifth/seventh year. However, these vehicles must have a Smog Check performed if the vehicle is sold or being registered in California for the first time during that time.

3. How often does the DMV require smog inspections? back to top

The DMV requires smog inspection for 90% of vehicles, biennially. Some vehicles registered in rural areas are only required to complete a smog inspection during Change-of-Ownership and initial registration in California.

To determine the type of smog check program you are in, you may call the Bureau of Automotive Repair at (800)952-5210.

4. I am moving to California from out of state, will my vehicle pass the California smog inspection? back to top

As discussed in question 3, section A above, there is a difference with California legal and Federal legal emissions requirements. And, for the most part California is stricter. However, a vehicle which is equipped with at least the Federally required emissions components, will pass a California smog inspection, as long as the vehicle's exhaust emissions fall within California's limits.

5. My vehicle is currently out of state, how can I renew it's registration with out a California smog check? back to top

Unless your vehicle is currently in Nevada or Mexico, you will not need a California smog inspection in order to complete the registration process. Do not obtain a smog inspection in another state; it will not be valid in California.

Simply fill out and sign DMV's "Statement of Facts" form explaining that your vehicle is out of state and the registration tags will be mailed to wherever the car is currently located. You can obtain a "Statement of Facts" form by calling the California DMV at (800)777-0133.

6. I can't make the DMV Registration deadline, what can I do? back to top

Go ahead and pay the DMV your vehicles registration fees and get your "half way papers" (Not valid registration, but an attempt to show responsibility, plus not be charged late fees). You may then explain to the DMV agent your vehicle's repair/smog situation and ask for at least a 30 day Temporary Registration Tag. You can post this Document on your vehicle's rear window, and drive your vehicle legally for 30 days or more, depending on the Temporary Tags you are given. In the mean time you need to attempt to resolve your vehicle smog situation.

7. How much does an average smog inspection cost? back to top

The State of California does not regulate the actual cost of smog inspections because the smog industry is privately owned. Smog Test, and Repair stations, except for State Referee Centers, are not owned nor operate by the State of California.

The average smog inspection price will vary shop to shop. It will normally range anywhere between $29.95 to $69.95 depending on the county you live in and the type of smog inspection your vehicle requires. This price may or may not include the State's Certificate Fee of $8.25.

The $8.25 Certificate Fee is an administrative fee collected by the State of California for the Smog Check program and is deposited into the Department of Consumer Affairs Vehicle Inspection and Repair Fund. The fee funds research and development operations, engineering, administration, complaint mediation, enforcement, and public education necessary to run the Smog Check program.

8. What is a Fuel EVAP Test (LPFET) and why are some smog stations charging additional fees for this test? back to top

November 1, 2007 is the date BAR has targeted as the start date for the EVAP Functional Test (LPFET). This will be in addition to the Smog Check test. All 1976 to 1995 model year vehicles will be tested, which includes all pre OBDII vehicles subject to Smog Check.

The most important impact on consumers is that the emission reductions will improve air quality and reduce their health risks. This test is designed to insure your vehicle's fuel evaporative system is not leaking gas fumes in to the atmosphere. It is estimated that over 7,000,000 vehicles will need to be tested each year and of those 11% will fail. The average cost to repair a failed EVAP system is estimated to be approximately $250.00.

Most smog stations are charging an extra fee for this test (usually around $10.00) due to the additional time required to hook up the evap machine and perform the test procedure.

Test-Only Smog Check and Gold Shield CAP Stations

1. What is a Gold Shield (CAP) Smog Station? back to top

In order to make the Smog Check Program more convenient for motorists, the Department of Consumer Affairs/Bureau of Automotive Repair (DCA/BAR) has created a new Gold Shield Program.

The Gold Shield Program allows a licensed Smog Check station, which meets higher performance standards, to provide a variety of inspection and repair services to California motorists. In addition to its regular Smog Check inspection and repair services, Gold Shield stations can issue certificates to Gross Polluters, perform Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) repairs, and perform an "after repairs" certification test on vehicles that were directed to have a Smog Check at a Test Only station and failed that test.

The Gold Shield Program helps consumers locate higher performing Smog Check stations that can repair, retest, and certify Gross Polluters. Having a Gold Shield station repair and certify a vehicle means that the owner does not have to return to a Test-Only station for the certification after it has been repaired.

Gold Shield Eligibility Criteria A Gold Shield station must:

  1. Have no disciplinary actions against its Automotive Repair Dealer Registration (ARD), Smog Check station license or the licenses of its technicians or managers;
  2. Meet strict testing and repair performance standards each calendar quarter; and
  3. Submit to periodic performance inspections and monitoring

2. How long does the CAP application process take? back to top

The CAP application process will normally take 3 to 4 weeks. This is the time it will take for the State to return your application with an answer. If your application is accepted, you will receive a confirmation letter. You may then find a local CAP/Gold Shield Smog Station and set a repair appointment. Keep in mind, CAP/Gold Shield stations are at times very busy, you may be asked to leave your vehicle with the smog station at least one week. You will need to present the CAP smog station your CAP approval letter.

3. What are the differences between the Test Only smog inspections and the regular smog inspections? back to top

Test-Only stations, as the name suggests, can only test vehicles and are not allowed to perform smog related automotive repairs. A Test Only station's main obligation is to insure a non-bias and accurate smog inspection. If your vehicle fails the smog inspection and requires repairs to pass, they must be conducted at a State Certified Test and Repair smog station.

The State of California uses the following three strategies to determine whether a vehicle is Test-Only designated or not:

  1. Gross polluters (vehicles which have failed a previous smog inspection with very high emission readings)
  2. High Emitter Profile vehicles. These are vehicle types designated by the Bureau of Automotive Repair as having high chances of failing the smog inspection.
  3. A random sample of the vehicles on the road.

If your vehicle needs a Test-Only inspection don't be alarmed. Simply locate a convenient test center and proceed with the inspection. The smog technician conducting the test can inform you of any serious issues. There are several Test-Only centers throughout California.

4. Why does my vehicle need a Test Only smog check? back to top

As discussed in question 3 above, the State of California uses the following three strategies to determine whether a vehicle is Test Only Smog Check designated or not:

  1. Gross polluters (vehicles which have failed a previous smog inspection with very high emission readings)
  2. High Emitter Profile vehicles. These are vehicle types designated by the Bureau of Automotive Repair as having high chances of failing the smog inspection.
  3. A random sample of the vehicles on the road.

If your vehicle needs a Test-Only inspection don't be alarmed. Simply locate a convenient test center and proceed with the inspection. The smog technician conducting the test can inform you of any serious issues. There are several Test-Only centers throughout California.



Smog Check Failures

1. I want to modify or replace my vehicle's engine, will it pass the smog test? back to top

If you are deciding to change your vehicle's engine, these guidelines must be observed to ensure that the vehicle will be eligible for smog certification or registration.

Remember, these are guidelines for performing engine changes -- not certification procedures. All exhaust emission controlled vehicles with engine changes must be inspected by an official referee station and must have a Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) Vehicle Identification Label affixed to the doorpost.

Remember also, state and federal anti-tampering laws generally prohibit any modification to the vehicle's original emission control system configuration as certified by the manufacturer. And, Section 3362.1 of the California Code of Regulations prohibits any engine change that degrades the effectiveness of a vehicle's emission control system.

  1. California Certification
    A federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified (federal or 49-state) engine cannot be used in a vehicle that was originally certified for California.
  2. Certification Standards
    Make sure the engine and emission control configuration on exhaust - controlled vehicles are certified to the year of the vehicle or newer, and to the same or a more stringent new vehicle certification standard.
  3. Classification
    Don't mix engine and vehicle classifications which will degrade the emissions certification standards. For example, a heavy-duty engine cannot be installed in a light-duty exhaust-controlled chassis even if they have the same displacement. Non-emissions controlled power plants such as industrial or off-road-use-only engines may not be placed in any exhaust-controlled vehicle.
  4. Computer Controls
    If a computer-controlled engine is installed in a non-computerized vehicle, the "CHECK ENGINE" light, the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) diagnostic link, and all sensors, switches, and wiring harnesses needed to make the system fully functional must also be installed.
  5. Emission Control Configuration
    Mixing and matching emission control system components could cause problems and is generally not allowed. Engine and emission control systems must be in an engine-chassis configuration certified by the California Air Resources Board (ARB) or U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The engine must meet or exceed the requirements for the year and class of vehicle in which it is installed.
  6. Emission Warranty,br> Voiding the vehicle manufacturer's emission warranty is not allowed.
  7. Engine Modifications
    No internal or external engine modifications (cams, pistons, intakes, etc.) may be performed unless the parts are ARB-exempted or EPA-certified for use in the installed engine. Use the database on this site to search for aftermarket parts covered by ARB Executive Orders.
  8. Original Equipment
    The installed engine and host chassis must retain all of their original emission control equipment. Diesel-to-gasoline conversions must have all gasoline engine and chassis emission control systems installed (such as fillpipe restrictor, catalytic converter and evaporative emission system).
  9. Smog Inspection
    These vehicles must pass a complete smog inspection (visual, functional, and tailpipe).

2. My vehicle's "Check Engine" light is illuminated, will I fail the smog inspection? back to top

Contrary to public belief, the Check Engine light being constantly illuminated is an automatic smog check failure. The Federal government requires vehicles to be equipped with an engine monitoring system which illuminates the Check Engine light as soon as it detects an emissions system malfunction. To avoid spending hundreds down the road, the Check Engine light should be diagnosed as soon as possible by a certified smog repair station.

3. My vehicle failed the smog check test because the "Check Engine" light was illuminated. Why didn't the Smog Technician inform me I would fail the inspection, BEFORE completing the test and charging me a lot of money? back to top

The State of California requires smog technicians to perform the smog test in the following order:

  1. Emissions (Tail Pipe) Inspection
  2. Visual Inspection - Inspect for presence of Emissions Components
  3. Functional Inspection - Inspect Check Engine Light, Ignition Timing, EGR valve operation, Gas Cap pressure test)

It doesn't seem right for a smog technician to smog test a vehicle which he/she knows will fail the test due to the Check Engine light, but the law does require shops to perform the test this way in order to gather accurate data about the condition of vehicles currently being driven in California. This information is used for studies and up-to-date surveys.

It is true that the technician can inform you, IF you ask about a specific visual problem, but unfortunately they are supposed to and are required to test vehicle's as they arrive to the test site.

5. I own a 1996 vehicle, and the smog technician says it won't communicate with the smog equipment. What can I do? back to top

It is possible your vehicle has an earlier model of the OBD II Engine Control System. These computer systems were not designed to work with the new California State mandated smog machines. There are simply two solutions to this problem. First you may see your vehicle's dealer/manufacturer and explain your problem. They may be able to reprogram your engine's computer to function with the new smog equipment. Your second option is to have your vehicle inspected by the State Referee's Office. They may be able to bypass the smog equipments OBDII connection system and PASS your vehicle. You may reach the Referee's Office at (800)622-7733.

6. I want to add on an aftermarket performance product. Will I pass my smog test? back to top

Aftermarket performance products MAY not be authorized for California street use. If you want to enhance your vehicle's performance but don't want to fail the smog test, read the fine print on some of the products out there. You're going to want to find a product which has an Executive Order number. EO numbers are given only to performance products which the State of California has inspected and approved for street use. Performance Products with EO numbers can pass the smog test. Most manufactures of these products will stamp the EO number on their product. In some cases EO Numbered decals are provided with the component and required to be placed under the vehicle's hood. At any rate, the smog station which will be inspecting your vehicle must have the EO number readily available, either via a decal, stamp or the specific component's manual. Your vehicle will fail the smog test if you are not able to provide EO numbers for you performance products.