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Vehicle Emissions Testing in California
For the majority of California residents, having a car is a necessity. Aside from properly registering and titling a vehicle, many residents in counties across the state will also have to pass emissions test for their vehicles. Whether or not you have to undergo an emissions test depends on your resident status, what type of vehicle you drive and where in California you reside.
Not every vehicle needs a smog check. See the list below for vehicles which are exempt from emissions check regulations in California:
- Gas-powered vehicles from 1975 and older
- Gas-powered vehicles weighing more than 14,000 pounds
- Diesel-powered vehicles from 1997 and older (or weighing more than 14,000 pounds)
- Electric-powered vehicles
- Hybrid vehicles
- Vehicles six years old or younger (vehicles in this category require a $20 smog abatement fee; after six years, regular smog check requirements apply)
If you are a new resident in California, you are required to bring your vehicle to a smog check station prior to applying for a car registration transfer. Once your vehicle passes the smog check, you will be issued a smog check certificate. Bring this document with you when visit your local California DMV office to transfer your out of state car registration and car title.
If you are a California resident, you will have to get smog checks prior to getting car registration and renewing your registration.
If you are selling a vehicle in California, you are required to provide the buyer with smog check certificates so the buyer can process his or her DMV car registration.
If the car you are selling is four years old or younger, then you do not have to provide a smog check certificate. In this case, the new owner is responsible for getting a smog certificate.
Where to Get Emissions Testing Done
If you are required to get a smog check to register your vehicle, you will need to visit a smog inspection site. When processing your car registration renewal, check your registration renewal notice to see if you are required to renew your smog check certificate. Typically, emissions check recertification is required every two years.
Smog checks are conducted at STAR stations, which meet specific requirements set by the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR). There are different types of STAR stations:
- Test-Only Stations: Licensed to perform smog inspections but not repairs.
- Test-and-Repair Stations: Licensed to perform smog inspections and necessary repairs.
- Repair-Only Stations: Licensed to diagnose and repair vehicles failing tests at test-only stations.
At your smog check, you will need to present certain documents prior to beginning the inspection process. Required documentation include:
- Drivers license
- Proof of minimum liability insurance
- Car Title (unless vehicle is under lien)
- Car registration
- Smog inspection fee (varies by county)
Once you have passed your smog check, you can continue with the car registration process. To learn more about how to register cars in California, visit the Car Registration page.
Smog Check Specifics and Penalties
Smog checks take place at STAR smog check stations and are divided into two parts:
- The visual test involves a technician checking that there is no blue or black smoke coming from the vehicle’s tailpipe.
- The machine test connects the vehicle to a smog check machine, at which point it must pass each of the various codes.
If a vehicle fails either the visual or machine smog check test, you will need to repair the issue prior to getting car registration.
DMV.com recommends renewing your car registration from a secure and reliable source. Using a company that you trust is important, and one that makes keeping your information confidential a priority. DMV.com has partnered with eTags to give you the quickest and most efficient way of getting your registration.
Fill out the form above to renew your car registration.
If you don’t get your vehicle emissions checked, then you cannot renew your car registration.
The cumulative effect of not passing a smog check is missing your registration renewal date. Late car registrations involve a number of fees, including:
- Percentage of standard renewal fee
- Flat late fee
- Flat California Highway Patrol (CHP) late fee
Late car registration fees also increase the longer you wait to renew your registration. Moreover, driving with expired car registrations will result in additional fines, along with a potential suspended license and/or registration.
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