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California Bureau of Automotive Repair Station Types

Need to get a smog check done in California? Going to the right type of BAR station is essential. If you’re not sure what type of BAR station you need to visit, or if you weren’t aware different types existed, this quick guide will point you in the right direction!


What is a California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) Station?

Let’s start by going over what a California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) station is exactly. The California BAR has three primary tasks:

  • Consumer protection within the automotive repair industry
  • Administrating safety programs
  • Overseeing the vehicle emissions reduction program
The last task involves the oversight of 6,397 smog check stations in California as well as 1,577 brake and lamp check stations. The stations must be licensed through the BAR to provide smog checks. If a station violates the laws, then the BAR can step in and investigate to possibly revoke the station’s license. There’s also a Referee Program that reviews questionable inspections to ensure consumers are protected.

What is the California Smog Check Program?

The California Smog Check Program was put in place to help reduce air pollution across the state. The program requires that many of the vehicles registered in California undergo a biannual inspection to gauge the level of emissions that are emitted. If a vehicle is emitting more emissions than what is considered acceptable it will need to be repaired or retired from driving.

There are three types of smog checks:

  • A routine smog check that's required every other year
  • A change-of-ownership smog check
  • A new resident vehicle registration smog check

Smog checks in California are part of the vehicle registration process, so there’s no way around it. If you’re required to have a smog check before your vehicle is due for a registration renewal, that will be noted on the vehicle registration notice. But there are some exceptions, so not every driver will need to visit a BAR repair station every few years.

Vehicles That Are Exempt From the Smog Check

There are a few exceptions for the California Smog Check Program. Vehicles that are exempt from smog checks include:

  • Newly purchased vehicles that are less than four model years old
  • Vehicles less than eight model years old
  • Electric vehicles
  • Motorcycles
  • Diesel-powered vehicles with a model year of 1997 or older
  • Gas-powered vehicles with a model year of 1975 or older
  • Gas, diesel or natural gas-powered vehicles that weigh over 14,000 lbs

There are also some counties in the state with varying smog check requirements based on zip code. If you live in El Dorado, Placer, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego or Sonoma County it’s best to check ahead of time to see if you’re required to do a smog check.

Smog Check Checklist

A smog check must be performed in a certain way to pass the state requirements. This helps the state and consumers know that the test was accurate. Here’s what you need to bring with you for a smog check and what to expect during the inspection.

What to Bring to the Smog Check

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

What Will Be Checked During the Inspection

During a smog check a technician will visually inspect and functionally test the following:

  • Entire exhaust system
  • Catalytic converter
  • Fuel cap
  • EGR
  • Fuel evaporative controls
  • Spark controls
  • Ignition switches
  • Thermostatic air cleaner
  • Emissions-control equipment
  • Emissions sensors
  • Check engine warning lights
  • OBD monitor
  • Tailpipe emissions

At the end of the smog check you’ll receive a Vehicle Inspection Report (VIR) that states whether or not a vehicle passed. If you pass, the station will send a smog check certificate to the California DMV. But, if your vehicle doesn’t pass the reason will be noted on the VIR along with the necessary repairs.

Why It’s Important to Go to the Right Type of BAR Station

There are different types of BAR stations that serve different purposes. The BAR station you need to visit will depend on what you need done and if your vehicle has already been inspected. If you go to the wrong type of BAR station it will be a waste of time that could make you miss the deadline for a smog check.

Types of California Bureau of Automotive Repair Stations

STAR Stations

A STAR station is any shop that meets BAR-established performance standards. Some STAR stations perform only tests while 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. Certain “directed vehicles” are also given directives to go to STAR-certified stations for inspections and certifications.

Test-Only Stations

A Test-Only Station will only test vehicles for the smog check. They don’t make repairs of any kind.

Test-and-Repair Stations

Test-and-Repair Stations are a one-stop shop where drivers can get a smog check and the necessary repairs if they fail the check.

Repair-Only Stations

When you only need fixes after a failed smog check you can schedule an appointment at a Repair-Online Station.

Referee Centers

These state-contracted facilities perform specific services related to questionable smog check results. Referee Centers can provide a second opinion on a failed smog check as well as assist drivers with finding repair parts.