The Complete Guide to California Smog Check Requirements

January 27, 2021

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Key Takeaways

If your government fleet operates in California, it’s important to know about the state’s smog check requirements in order to remain compliant. Continue reading to learn how telematics can help cut down the time it takes to complete smog checks so you can reduce costs and increase vehicle uptime.

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What are smog checks? 

Smog checks are state-sponsored programs designed to identify cars that release excessive tailpipe emissions. Instituted shortly after the Clean Air Act in 1966, these programs aim to reduce air pollution and vehicle emissions, and improve regional air quality to comply with local emissions regulations. 

What happens if you don’t pass a smog check?  

In most cases, failing a smog check means that you cannot complete your vehicle’s registration renewal, making it illegal to drive until you pass the smog check test. Once your vehicle passes, you are allowed to renew your registration and drive legally. 

How much does a smog check cost? 

On average, a smog check can cost anywhere between $30-$60. Once your vehicle passes, the smog check administrator provides you with a state-issued sticker to display on your dashboard, proving that your vehicle has passed the smog check. 

Who administers the smog check program in the State of California? 

The California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) administers the California Smog Check Program and there are more than 7,000 state-licensed and independently owned smog check stations throughout the state. 

The California STAR Program is a certification program for Test-Only Stations, Repair Stations, and Test-and-Repair Smog Check stations that wish to certify gross-polluting vehicles. 

Who needs a smog check in the State of California? 

The California Smog Check Program requires vehicles that were manufactured in 1976 or later to participate in the biennial smog check program in participating counties. If you live in one of the following California counties, you need a smog inspection when you renew your Department of Motor Vehicles vehicle registration: Alameda, Butte, Colusa, Contra Costa, Fresno, Glenn, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Madera, Marin, Merced, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sacramento, San Benito, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Solano, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Tulare, Ventura, Yolo, or Yuba. 

If you’re looking for a location to complete your smog check, the California Bureau of Automotive Repair has a convenient auto shop locator for shops that are certified STAR stations. You can also complete a smog check at your nearest California DMV.

What to expect during your smog check inspection 

In order to receive a valid smog certificate, your vehicle must pass all parts of the smog check inspection. A smog check may include any of the following tests:

  • Visual inspection of emission control components and systems

  • Functional inspection of the vehicle's check engine light, ignition timing, exhaust gas recirculation system, fuel evaporative system, and gas cap

  • Functional inspection of the vehicle's On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) system

  • Tailpipe emissions inspection, or emissions test

LEARN MORE: The Importance of Fleet Maintenance Management 

What vehicles qualify for smog check exemptions? 

There are many exemptions to the California smog check program. These exemptions apply to newer vehicles, older vehicles, hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles, and more. If you’re wondering which vehicles qualify for an exemption, check the following list: 

  • Gasoline-powered vehicle that is a 1975 year model or older (this includes motorcycles and trailers)

  • Diesel-powered vehicle is a 1997 and older year model OR with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of more than 14,000 pounds

  • Powered by natural gas and weighs more than 14,000 pounds

  • An electric vehicle

  • Gasoline-powered and less than eight model-years old 

In addition, effective January 2019, vehicles that are eight years old or less are exempt from a biennial smog check. If your vehicle qualifies, you can avoid a smog check by paying an annual $25 smog abatement fee or smog transfer fee.  

How to prepare for your smog check inspection

Taking your gasoline or diesel vehicles into a STAR station for a smog check can be time consuming. To ensure you’ll pass on the first try, be sure to complete the following in advance: 

1. Clear your check engine light: Before you go in for your smog inspection, make sure your vehicle does not have its check engine light on. An illuminated check engine light is one of the few things that will cause an automatic failure of your smog check.

2. Drive the vehicle at highway speeds: It’s recommended that before you head in for your inspection, you drive the vehicle for at least 20 minutes. This will ensure that your vehicle is properly warmed up so the dynamometer can measure your vehicle’s torque.  

3. Change the oil if it needs to be changed: If you’re approaching your next oil change milestone, it’s important to change the oil before your smog test. If the oil in your vehicle is too low or contaminated, it may cause an automatic failure. 

4. Make sure your vehicle is tuned up: If something in your vehicle is not running properly, the inspector is more likely to fail your vehicle’s smog inspection. Before you take your vehicle in for a smog check, make sure it’s been tuned up recently so that you save both time and money. 

5. Get a pre-inspection: Most smog check stations perform pre-inspections to provide you an opportunity to correct anything with your vehicle that could cause an automatic failure. 

LEARN MORE: A Guide to Understanding DTC Codes 

A telematics platform built with maintenance in mind 

Samsara fleet maintenance management software can track and improve fleet maintenance, from analyzing individual driver behavior to informing your maintenance crew which spare parts they might need ahead of time. 

Fleet managers who use Samsara can simultaneously check engine performance indicators, record speeding drivers, and ensure that future smog check inspections go smoothly. Thanks to historical fleet performance data and real-time emergency alerts, their fleets operate more safely and efficiently.

See for yourself why Samsara is trusted by more than 15,000 fleets across the United States. Request a free trial to get started today—we’ll ship you our fleet maintenance management system to try free for 30 days, along with access to our online dashboard and expert support team.

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