Required Smog Inspections
The California DMV will mail you a registration renewal notice telling you whether you are required to get your vehicle smogged; it will also tell you if your vehicle requires a smog check at a test-only station. Exceptions include:
Vehicles made in 1975 or prior
Diesel-powered vehicles manufactured prior to 1997 (or a GVWR of more than 14,000 pounds)
Natural gas powered vehicles weighing more than 14,000 pounds
Also, if your vehicle is 6 years old or less, you are not required to obtain biennial smog certification as long as you pay the annual $20 smog abatement fee.
If your vehicle DOES NOT fall under one of the above categories AND you live in one of the affected counties, you must take the vehicle for a smog inspection every other renewal period.
Counties That Require a Smog Inspection
Many counties in California require a smog check for all residents, except for those who may be exempt. It is important to know if your vehicle will require a smog check every 2 years. Six counties require smog certifications only within certain zip codes. These include: El Dorado, Placer, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Sonoma.
If you are not sure which type of smog check program area you are in, enter your California Zip code here.
When to Smog and Where to Go
Every 2 years when you renew your vehicle registration you must obtain a "smog certificate"―a printout of your vehicle's emissions test results. You must register your car within 90 days of your emissions inspection.
Numerous smog-check stations pepper the state. To find one nearest you, visit the official website of the Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Automotive Repair.
If Your Vehicle Fails
If your car fails the smog test, you'll be unable to register it until you make repairs, retest and pass the inspection. But keep in mind that you don't need to have the car fixed at the same facility that failed it. Consult the state for some helpful info on what to do should your vehicle fail.
If the state determines your vehicle will most likely fail a smog check, the California DMV will send you a registration renewal notice stating whether you must take your vehicle to a test-only station. Owners of vehicles that fall under this High Emitter Profile will see the following printed on their renewal: smog certification Required at Test-Only Center.
By law, the test-only facilities cannot repair your vehicle. You must take it to a Test-Repair or Gold Shield station. For more info on station specifics, visit the official site of the Bureau of Automotive Repair. This site also offers a station list so you can find an appropriate facility nearest you.
The CA DMV may request that you take your vehicle to a STAR station. These stations meet higher testing standards than regular smog check centers. Some STAR stations only offer testing, while others offer testing and repair. If required, it will be noted on your vehicle registration renewal notice.
State law mandates that a specified percentage of cars be tested at STAR stations. Reasons for being selected vary:
Your vehicle was selected at random.
Your vehicle was identified as a possible emitter of an inordinate amount of emission pollutants.
Consumer Assistance Program (CAP)
The government provides financial assistance for repair work (or to retire high polluting vehicles) to consumers who qualify. Depending on the availability of funds and the approval of your application, you could be eligible to collect $500 from the state for emissions-related diagnostic and repair services.
For more information (or to check on the status of an existing application) call (866) 272-9642 or visit the Bureau of Automotive Repair site for details and applications.
On that site you will also find a handy program fact sheet, FAQs, and a reference guide in Spanish.
Because the government does not regulate smog-check prices, your best bet is to shop around. You will find that prices vary from station to station.
Cars Six Years Old and Newer
Most newer cars will be exempt from smog testing for a certain amount of years. You will be charged an annual smog abatement fee when you register your vehicle, rather than being required to provide smog certification.
Title Transfer and Smog Requirements
When you sell a gas engine vehicle that is 4 years old or fewer model years old, a smog certificate will not be required in order to transfer the title. The buyer will pay a smog transfer fee of $8. If the vehicle sold is more than 4 years old model years old, the seller must provide evidence of a current smog certification except in any of the following situations:
The vehicle transfer occurs between a spouse, sibling, child, parent, grandparent, or grandchild.
The vehicle was registered and biennial smog certification was submitted to the DMV within 90 days before the date the title transfer took place. A vehicle inspection report may be required for proof of certification.
Vehicles Inspected in Other States
Because California has such stringent rules regarding smog emissions, vehicles that passed smog inspections in other states might not meet California's standards. Therefore, if you buy a vehicle from out of state, you should double-check with the DMV to find out whether you need to get your vehicle inspected in California before you will be allowed to register it.
If your registration expires while you are out of state and you require an update of your smog inspection sticker, you must submit your registration fees immediately to avoid late fees. Upon your return to California, you must get your car's emissions checked and submit the proper paperwork to the DMV. You will not receive your new registration or new sticker until the DMV receives the updated inspection report.
To report a smoking vehicle, complete a Smoking Vehicle Complaint form or simply dial #SMOG if you are calling from a cell phone. Be prepared with the following information:
The offending vehicle's license plate number
Make and model of the vehicle
Time and date of the incident
Location of the incident