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General Smog Check

Solved - The Difference Between “Basic” and “Enhanced” Area Smog Test

I live in Tulare county, and have a vehicle which needs to be smog checked. The car is with my mother in Santa Barbara county. She was told that she could not smog check the car because it’s registered in a different county and under my name not hers. Is this correct? Do I have to smog the car myself in a different county?


All areas of California require Smog Check inspections when a vehicle changes ownership or is registered for the first time in California. Most areas also require testing every two years, at the time of registration renewal. The Smog Check program divides the state into three areas, with different requirements for each:

Enhanced Areas: These areas do not meet federal or state air quality standards for ozone and are California's smoggiest urbanized areas. Biennial Smog Checks are required here. Thirty six percent (36%) of the vehicles in these areas must have their biennial Smog Checks performed at STAR certified smog check centers.

Basic areas: Vehicles in these less-smoggy or less populated areas must have biennial testing at licensed smog check center, either STAR certified or regular.

Change of Ownership areas: These more rural areas of the state require emissions testing only when a vehicle changes ownership or is registered for the first time in California. The smog test can be obtained at any type of smog station.

Can I obtain a smog check in a county where my vehicle is not registered in?

In most cases, you will be able to obtain a smog check in which ever county your vehicle is currently located it. The State of California does not discriminate on the geographical location at the time of the smog check. What is of importance however, is whether or not the smog station you visit, in the county which you are in, is properly equipped to inspect your vehicle.

For example if you are in a "basic" smog check area designated county and your vehicle is registered in an "enhanced" smog check area county, the smog station in the basic area may not have the proper testing equipment to inspect your vehicle. By "proper" smog test equipment, we're mainly speaking about a special machine called a dynamometer or “Dyno”. A dynamometer (sort of looks like a treadmill for your car) is required for smog checks that take place in Enhanced area counties such as Los Angeles, Riverside, Bakersfield, etc. 

To play it safe, here is our recommendation, first off find a STAR certified smog check center. STAR certified smog stations are required by the state to be allowed to inspect all vehicles from all areas; basic, enhanced and change of ownership. You can't go wrong. If you can not find a STAR certified smog station in your county, simply call the non-STAR smog station you plan on visiting ahead of time and ensure they can inspect your vehicle. The technician will be able to tell you if his/her station is equiped to perform a smog inspection on your vehicle.

As far as the vehicle not being in the name of the person driving it in to obtain the smog check (in this case your mom), that is of no concern. Any party may drive a vehicle in to a smog station for a smog inspection. The vehicle's owner is not required to accompany the vehicle.

California Enhanced, Basic, Change of Ownership Smog Check Area Program Map

posted by SmogTips Support 09-12-2018 12:17 PM

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