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All You Need to Know About Smog Certification in California

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Are you new to the Golden State? Did you buy a car recently in California and want to register it? It’s time to familiarize yourself with smog certification ‚Äď a vital document that you need to drive in the state of California. This post breaks down everything you need to know about smog certification in California.¬†¬†¬†

A smog certification is an essential document for all drivers in California. The California smog check-up program is part of the state’s environmentally conscious initiative to curb pollution.

The certification is to make sure your vehicle is up to emissions standards. And driving without a smog certification is considered illegal in California! We’ve answered everything from what a smog check is to how much a smog test costs. Keep reading to know more.¬†¬†¬†

What is a smog check?   

A smog check inspects your car’s exhaust and emission control system. It measures the amount of pollutants your car emits and the type of pollutants. The result from the test is then compared with the standard set by the state. Depending on your car type and model year, the following inspection may be performed on your vehicle: ¬†

  • A visual inspection of emissions-control equipment and systems.¬†¬†
  • Inspect your vehicle’s check engine light, fuel evaporative system, and exhaust gas recirculation system.¬†¬†¬†
  • Inspection of OBD system.¬†¬†
  • Inspection of tailpipe emissions¬†¬†¬†

After these inspections, you will receive your smog certification. The smog check administrator will provide you with a state-issued sticker, and you can stick it on your car.   


When should I get a smog check in California?  

When you first buy a new vehicle, you must get a smog check. After the initial registration, you must get a smog check every two years. The next scenario is if you move to California, you must get a smog certification before registering your vehicle. Also, to sell your vehicle over four model years old, you need a smog certification done.  

Smog certification in California - smog check test

What happens if I drive with no smog certification in California?

Driving without a smog certificate in California is an offense. And if caught by law enforcement, you must pay a huge fine. What’s worse, you can lose the ability to register the vehicle in the state. ¬†

How much does a smog check cost?  

A smog check could cost you anywhere between $30 to $60. The rates can change depending on the type of vehicle you drive.   

Where can I get a smog check in California?  

Here are a few options to get a smog check for your car:  

Test-and-repair stations: As the name suggests, a test-and-repair station is certified to check your vehicle and repair it to fit the emission standards.  

STAR certified stations: There are repair-only, testing-only, and test and repair STAR certified stations. If your vehicle requires a smog check at a STAR station, your DMV registration renewal notice will indicate it.  

Test-only: These smog check stations can only check your vehicle’s emissions, and they are not authorized to perform emission-related repairs to your vehicle.¬†¬†

Repair-only: To bring your vehicle in compliance with the emission laws in California, you can visit repair-only stations. These stations will perform the necessary repairs to your emission system. However, you still need to test your vehicle because these stations are not authorized to test your vehicle.  

How long does a smog check take?  

A smog check should only take about 25 to 30 minutes. Remember, smog repairs can take much longer depending on the emission issue.   

Should all cars have a smog certificate in California?   

Not all cars need to have a smog certificate in California. Here are some of the vehicles that are exempt from smog check in California:  

In addition, there are a few other instances where you don’t need to take your vehicle in for a smog check in California, including:¬†¬†

  • 1975-year model or older model vehicles are exempt from getting a smog check¬†¬†
  • A natural gas-powered vehicle with a gross weight of over 14,000 lbs.¬†¬†
  • Diesel-powered vehicles made before 1998 or have a gross weight of over 14,000 lbs.¬†¬†
  • Electric vehicles¬†¬†
  • Motorcycles¬†¬†
  • Gasoline-powered, hybrid, and alternative-fuel vehicles eight model years and newer are exempt from biennial smog checks. ¬†
  • Change-of-ownership smog check is not needed for gasoline-powered, hybrid, and alternative-fuel vehicles that are four model years and newer.¬†¬†

Can I sell my car in California without a smog certificate?  

According to laws in California, the seller needs to perform a smog check and provide the buyer with a letter of compliance. If your car is over four model years old, you will need a smog certificate to sell it. However, you don’t need a smog certificate if you are trying to sell your electric car.¬†¬†¬†

Here’s more info on top-rated airport parking, the best parking spots in your city, the most affordable insurance for your car, and top-rated car washes near you.

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