California Smog Check / Emissions Test
California motorists must complete an emissions test every two years. For new residents, the smog check is required before you can register your vehicle. This test looks at your vehicle’s emission productions and gives an overview of its functional state. Without it, unless your vehicle is exempt, your vehicle will not be legally drivable here.
Requirements to Pass the California Smog Check
The state of California requires that the majority of gas and diesel vehicles in all of the state’s counties (with the exception of six) have vehicles get an inspection.
Some California counties require vehicles to participate in a smog inspection certification program and submit evidence of the smog certification every other year. The certificate consists of a print out of a vehicle’s emissions testing results. The counties require this smog certification in order to a vehicle’s registration renewal. They are:
There are also counties in California that only require smog inspections within certain designated zip codes for vehicle owners living in the following six counties:
Check to see if your California Zip Code requires a smog certification.
Smog Check Exemptions for California Drivers
Some California drivers are exempt from the biennial emissions test. Look below for possible exemptions to see if you can avoid testing your vehicle.
- Classic vehicles: Vehicles manufactured in 1975 or prior
- Newer automobiles: Vehicles manufactured in the last six years
- Diesel powered: 1997 or older, or 14,000lbs or greater GVWR rating
- Natural gas vehicles: 14,000lbs or greater GVWR rating
- Electric/hybrid vehicles
If your vehicle does not fall into any of the categories above, passing the California smog check will be required. Plan ahead for this as your vehicle will not be road-legal without a current in-state smog certificate. For validation purposes, the smog certificate will stay current for 90 days after receiving it. Thus, whether inspecting and registering or selling a vehicle, the smog check must be done leading up to it and the certificate must be 90 days old or newer.
Smog Check Fees
The cost of a smog check in California varies based on your vehicle and exactly where you live. You can expect to pay anywhere from $29.95 to $69.95 to get yours done. This fee might not include the $8.25 cost for your smog certificate. Keep in mind, you have to pay even if your vehicle is exempt.
For newer vehicles (six or less years old), a $20 abatement fee is due each year to avoid the smog check. For classic vehicles (1975 and older), a $200 abatement fee will apply. Owners of older vehicles are recommended to try and pass the test first and use the abatement fee as a last resort, since passing would be much cheaper. This fee does not apply for diesel vehicles from 1998 or newer, specially constructed vehicles from 1976 or newer or nonresident vehicles.
Performing Emissions Testing in California
During a smog check, your vehicle will be inspected for its emissions and a visual and functional inspection will also be performed. During the emissions test, measures will be taken to see how much CO, CO2, HC, O2 and NOx your vehicle emits. The physical inspection will look at whether your vehicle, and its exhaust system, works to limit emissions.
You can visit a STAR station, a testing location or a testing and repair location. For vehicles with higher levels of emissions, it’s recommended you go to a STAR certified station. If you live in an Enhanced area, you must go to a STAR station. Some of these places will just do the test, while others also handle repairs. When visiting a testing location, make sure to bring your driver’s license, proof of insurance, vehicle title and registration. Three smog check methods are currently used in the state of California, and they are as follows:
- TSI Test – the two-speed idle test measures through the tailpipe to determine the level of emissions while the vehicle is in idle. This measure is taken both at low and high speed. The TSI test typically applies for older vehicles, although your location also plays a factor. If your vehicle is registered in a Basic area, this test will be required.
- ASM Test – the acceleration simulation mode test measures is typically used with very old vehicles. This test incorporates a drive-on dynamometer which measures exhaust emissions while the vehicle is being “driven.”
- OBDI Test – the on-board diagnostics test measures data provided via your vehicle’s computerized diagnostics system. This test is applied for any vehicle from 2000 and up.
The measurements received are registered and provided to the Bureau of Automotive Repair. From here, if you pass, you can get your smog certificate. The results can also be pulled by a STAR certified repair shop if you fail and need to determine what needs done to fix your vehicle’s issues.
The person that performed your test will provide you with a dated vehicle inspection report (VIR) and a receipt. The VIR will state whether your vehicle passed or failed its emissions test. Your certificate can then be provided to the DMV when registering or renewing your vehicle in California.
How long is a Smog Inspections Certificate Valid in California?
All California smog certifications are valid for 90 days. California requires a vehicle smog inspection when reinstating a suspended vehicle registration, obtaining an original vehicle registration, or applying for a registration renewal.
Failed Smog Inspections – Next Steps
Your vehicle cannot be driven with a failed smog check. You must get the repairs needed to make your vehicle pass the test. A diagnosis will be completed to determine why your vehicle failed. After the repairs are done, another test will be performed to see if the repairs brought your vehicle up to standard.
Aside from emission issues, keep in mind other variables can cause your vehicle to fail. The most obvious is a lit check engine light. Also, taking the test shortly after recharging or reconnecting your battery could cause your vehicle to fail. You can always request a pretest if you are concerned your vehicle will fail. This type of test will not grant you a certificate if you pass, but your vehicle must be 1999 or older and it might not be worth the cost.
Also, the shop you go to can require another payment for the retest. There is no requirement to perform this test for free, even if the same shop handles the repairs. This is a common misconception, likely derived from the fact that some other states offer one free retest each year.
Low Income? Try the CAP Repair Assistance Program
Did your vehicle fail the smog check? If so, you will need to get the required repairs so you can retest and make it road-legal. These repairs could be costly, depending on what you need done. For example, some older vehicles were made with catalytic converters that automatically cause a failed result and replacing this part can cost $750 to $1,500 or more.
Thankfully, low income individuals can qualify for some financial assistance. CAP (Consumer Assistance Program) is offered through the California Bureau of Automotive Repair. This repair program provides as much as $500 toward emissions-related repairs if your vehicle does fail the smog check. For more info, view the program page on the bureau’s website.
Moved to California – Smog Check Requirements
Newcomers must have their vehicle pass the California emissions test prior to registering their vehicle in the state. This test must be done within 20 days of becoming an official resident of the state. Once you pass the smog check and receive a certificate, this must be provided when registering your vehicle at the DMV.
Your vehicle will also receive a VIN inspection at this time, which is done to confirm the VIN on your vehicle matches with your paperwork. However, on the plus side, California residents are not required to pass any safety inspection. As long as your vehicle passes the smog check, it will be legally drivable. You will then have to redo the smog check every two years.
California Vehicle Title Transfer – Smog Check Needed?
Are you buying a vehicle in California that already passed a smog check in the past two years? If so, the smog certificate can be transferred to you from the seller for an $8 fee. When registering your vehicle, prepare to pay $56 for the registration and $24 for the California Highway Patrol (CHP) fee. Other costs include title fees and taxes.
Remember, you must register the vehicle within 10 days of the purchase date or you will face a penalty. If you wait up to a year the registration fee penalty is $30, one to two years is $50 and more than two years is a $100 fee. These fees double once the penalty for the CHP fee gets added. If you buy from a dealership, they typically process the transfer on your behalf and prevent you from needing to visit the DMV at all.
For private transactions, make sure the seller provides a smog certificate if their vehicle is four or more years old. Also get the vehicle title signed by the both of you, the purchase price stated and a statement of the odometer reading for any vehicle that’s less than 10 years old.
Things are a bit more complicated if you buy a vehicle from a different state. For this situation, you need the registration from the other state, active license plates, Verification of Vehicle (Form REG 31) and Statement of Facts (Form REG 256).
Do Sellers Give Buyers a Valid Smog Certificate?
A current smog check certificate must be provided upon completion of a private sale. This certificate must be no more than 90 days old. The only exception here is when your vehicle is no more than four years old. If the model year is this year or no more than three years back, the smog check will not be required. However, this does not apply for diesel vehicles. Remember that the new owner (the buyer) must also pay the $8 smog transfer fee.
Find Smog Check Stations Near Me
As of January 1, 2013, California vehicle owners are required to perform the smog check at a recognized STAR testing location. Some STAR-certified shops will only perform the test or repairs, while others do both. Certain stations also handle the BAR-OIS and BAR-97 inspections. For low income individuals, these stations qualify for repair subsidy through the Consumer Assistance Program.
Check our full list of smog check stations by choosing a location from one of our DMV and Emissions Testing Location pages below to find a DMV or emissions testing location in your area.
Are you a resident in El Dorado, San Diego, Placer, San Bernardino, Sonoma or Riverside? If you live in any of those counties use the zip code checker to see if your vehicle needs to pass a smog check. These counties have different criteria based on where you live.
Smog Check Stations in Los Angeles County
Los Angeles County is the largest county in California with more than 10 million residents. The cities in Los Angeles County with the highest populations are Los Angeles and Long Beach. Visit our ‘Los Angeles County Smog Check Stations’ page to find a list of all the STAR certified stations in Los Angeles County.
Los Angeles Emissions Testing Locations
With a population of roughly 4 million, LA is the largest city in the county. They are also home to more than 250 different STAR testing and repair locations. Visit our ‘Los Angeles Smog Check Stations’ page to find a list of all the STAR certified stations in the city of Los Angeles.
Long Beach Emissions Testing Locations
Roughly half a million people live in Long Beach, CA. This city is home of more than 60 different STAR testing and repair locations. Visit our ‘Long Beach Smog Check Stations’ page to find a list of all the STAR certified stations in Long Beach.
Smog Check Stations in San Diego County
San Diego County is the second largest county in California with more than 3 million locals living in the area. The cities in San Diego county with the highest populations are San Diego and Chula Vista. Visit our ‘San Diego County Smog Check Stations’ page to find a list of all the STAR certified stations in San Diego County.
Smog Check Stations in San Diego
The city of San Diego is home to roughly 1.5 million Californians. This city also holds close to 250 STAR testing and repair locations. Visit our ‘San Diego Smog Check Stations’ page to find a list of all the STAR certified stations in San Diego.
Smog Check Stations in Chula Vista
Chula Vista is home to more than 250,000 people. This city also carries close to 50 STAR testing and repair locations. Visit our ‘Chula Vista Smog Check Stations’ page to find a list of all the STAR certified stations in Chula Vista.
Smog Check Stations in Orange County
Orange County is the third largest county in California and is home to more than 3 million residents. The cities in Orange County with the highest populations are Anaheim and Santa Ana. Visit our ‘Orange County Smog Check Stations’ page to find a list of all the STAR certified stations in Orange County.
Anaheim Emissions Testing Locations
Approximately 350,000 people call Anaheim home. This city is also host to nearly 50 STAR testing and repair locations. Visit our ‘Anaheim Smog Check Stations’ page to find a list of all the STAR certified stations in Anaheim.
Santa Ana Emissions Testing Locations
More than 300,000 people live in Santa Ana. This city also houses greater than 75 STAR testing and repair locations. Visit our ‘Santa Ana Smog Check Stations’ page to find a list of all the STAR certified stations in Santa Ana.
Testing Locations in Other Large Cities in California
Outside of the three largest counties, below you will find information on STAR stations in some other largest California cities.
San Jose Emissions Testing Locations
San Jose, of Santa Clara County, is the third most populated city in the state. The population is just over 1 million, and it’s also home to more than 200 STAR testing and repair locations. Visit our ‘San Jose Smog Check Stations’ page to find a list of all the STAR certified stations in San Jose.
San Francisco Emissions Testing Locations
San Francisco, of San Francisco County, is the fourth most populous city in California. This city is home to more than 850,000 people and contains more than 80 STAR testing and repair locations. Visit our ‘San Francisco Smog Check Stations’ page to find a list of all the STAR certified stations in San Francisco.
Fresno Emissions Testing Locations
Fresno, of Fresno County, is the largest city in California. This city has a population greater than 500,000 and contains more than 100 STAR testing and repair locations. Visit our ‘Fresno Smog Check Stations’ page to find a list of all the STAR certified stations in Fresno.
The state of California has many emission/smog inspection testing areas. Below is a list of where you can get your vehicle’s smog certification test done. It is recommended that you call the location you are planning on visiting ahead of time to confirm that they still offer smog testing certification and to check their hours and availability.