Emissions testing in California must be completed every 2 years prior to renewing a car registration. Residents can complete a smog check at a DMV-authorized site in their county of residence. Inspections that examine the safety of a vehicle are not required in the state of CA, but vehicles must undergo emissions testing to have their registration renewed. Vehicles being registered in California for the first time must also undergo an emissions test before they can be registered.

California Emissions and Smog Check Requirements

As mentioned above, vehicle emissions testing in California must be completed every 2 years for the majority of vehicles in the state. Testing can only be done at a DMV-approved location. Residents new to the state must also have their vehicles inspected before registering the car. Smog check fees vary, and some counties do not require testing. It is important to note that out-of-state smog testing stickers will not be honored in the state of California.

Smog Check Exemptions in California

The emission test requirements in California vary from county to county, but if you need to take your vehicle for testing, the state will send you a notice in the mail. You can also find your DMV smog check notice printed on your registration renewal notice. Testing is not required for the following vehicle types:

  • Motorcycles
  • Electric vehicles
  • Natural gas-powered vehicles in excess of 14,000 pounds
  • Gasoline-powered vehicles produced after 1975
  • Diesel-powered vehicles produced before 1997 or weighing in excess of 14,000 pounds

Since emissions test requirements vary by county, not all vehicle will need to be taken for testing. The emissions inspection process only needs to be completed by residents in specific zip codes for the following counties:

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

Out-of-State Emissions Testing in California

New residents must complete the California DMV emissions testing process within 20 days of moving to the state. Inspection documents from other states will not be honored, so residents will need to present their California smog certificate before registering a vehicle. After the first test, drivers will receive a notice every 2 years when the time to renew arrives.

Emissions Waivers in California

Emissions testing and the repairs necessary should a vehicle fail inspections are often too expensive for some households to afford. For this reason, the state of California provides financial assistance to qualifying low-income and elderly drivers. This assistance can be used to cover both vehicle emissions testing and any necessary smog-related repairs.

You may download a CA safety and emissions test waiver application for assistance at the Bureau of Automotive Repair website. If you qualify, you may be able to receive up to $500 worth of assistance from the state of California.

Testing Fees in California

You do not have to pass the car emission test in California every 2 years if your car or truck is 6 years or younger. However, you will have to pay a $20 smog abatement fee for your first 6 years of ownership. Your vehicle must undergo testing every 2 years once your vehicle is 6 years old. The following vehicles are not eligible for smog abatement, and will need to renew their vehicles every two years:

  • Diesel-fueled vehicles that weigh less than 14,000 pounds and were manufactured in 1998 or later.
  • Specially constructed vehicles that were manufactured in 1976 or later.
  • Vehicles owned by nonresidents.

Drivers will need to pay the smog abatement fee each year until the initial 6 years of ownership come to an end. Drivers of older vehicles will be required to contact their local DMV for current testing prices, but most inspection fees are between $29.95 and 69.95, depending on the location and type of the car.

Where to Perform an Emissions Check in California

Undergoing an emissions inspection in CA is relatively simple. At the time of your vehicle inspection, you will need to present the following items to a Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) station:

A smog test can be performed at any of the following locations:

  • Star Stations – These stations meet or exceed the state BAR standards. You may be required to visit a Star Station if your vehicle emits a high volume of pollution.
  • Test-and-Repair Stations – Non-Star station that test and repair smog-related vehicle issues.
  • Repair-Only Stations – Testing is not performed at these stations, only repairs.
  • Test-Only Stations – These stations can only perform smog testing.

You will receive your smog certification certificate once your vehicle passes inspection. You must present this certification when you go to renew your registration. All drivers will be required to pay a smog test fee, however, since fees vary from location to location, you will need to call ahead for additional information. The vast majority of locations will also electronically send the results of your test directly to the DMV.

Failing a California Smog and Emissions Test

Your smog check history will impact your ability to renew your registration, and if your vehicle fails the test, you will need to make the necessary repairs to your vehicle. To dispute the results of your safety and emissions test, the California DMV recommends calling the BAR Referee Program for additional information. If you have difficulty finding a mechanic, state DMV locations can provide you with a list of businesses that perform emissions repairs.

Last updated on Tuesday, March 10 2020.