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How to Get A Smog Check in California

Summer is finally here, which means it’s time to get outdoors and breathe in some of that fresh, smog-ridden California air! While we may have gotten used to having smog around, it’s not really the best for us or for the environment, seeing how it’s air pollution and everything. That’s why the DMV institutes a smog and emissions test for drivers in California. In California, most vehicles are required to be smog checked every 2 years to ensure they’re not harming the air quality. To help you out, we’ve compiled some info about smog inspections in California, including forms and fees you'll need to provide.

For counties requiring a smog inspection, the CA Department of Motor Vehicles employs a biennial smog certification program. This means that your qualifying vehicle must undergo a smog check every two years. Your registration renewal reminder should indicate whether it’s time for your smog inspection.

Smog Check Exceptions

As with most rules, there are a few exemptions to the smog check rule.

Vehicle Exceptions:

California requires all vehicles to have a smog inspection except:

  • Gasoline-powered vehicles that were made in or before 1975
  • Natural gas-powered vehicles that weigh over 14,000 lbs
  • Diesel-powered vehicles that were made in or before 1997 OR have a gross weight of over 14,000 lbs
  • Electric vehicles
  • Motorcycles

Zip Code Exceptions:

In addition to vehicle exceptions, there are also zip code exceptions to the smog check rule. The following counties require smog checks in certain zip codes only:

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

If you live in one of these counties, but aren’t sure if your zip code is exempt, enter your zip code here to determine if smog checks are required for your vehicle and where to find the nearest smog check station.

Smog Abatement Fee:

If your vehicle is six-years-old or less, you do not have to have your vehicle smog checked every two years. Instead, you’ll need to pay an annual $20 smog abatement fee for your first six years of registration. After these first six years, you will be subject to your regularly scheduled smog checks to make sure your car is up to standards.

The smog abatement fee does NOT apply to:

  • Non-resident vehicles
  • Diesel-powered vehicles that were made in or after 1998 that weigh under 14,000 lbs
  • Specially constructed vehicles that were made in or after 1976

Alright, now let’s get to the good stuff: HOW to complete a smog check.

How to Complete a Smog Check

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: They both test and repair vehicles (if necessary)
  • Repair-only stations: You can get your car tested here, but they can make any repairs you need

You must present your:

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

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

New Residents

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) requires new residents to bring their vehicles to a smog inspection station 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 satisfy 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.

Failed Inspections

Uh oh, did your car fail the inspection? Have no fear, the CA DMV 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.

Once you’ve passed your smog and emissions check, you are good to go for registration! However, remember that your smog certification is valid for 90 days upon inspection. You must register your vehicle or renew your registration within this time period. Now, go get ‘em!