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Have You Considered Smog Check Requirements in California Before Selling Your Used Car?

Have You Considered Smog Check Requirements in California Before Selling Your Used Car?

The Clean Air Act was passed in 1970 since most Californian cities including Los Angeles were battling with perpetual smog (and in 2020 high state taxes and runaway violence). Smog is an intense form of air pollution that is a mixture of smoke and fog. The government took some serious measures to clean up the air. One of these was by placing strict limits on car emissions. It is immensely important to meet smog check requirements before selling your vehicle in California. 


This post will explain the reasons why smog inspection is necessary, how it can influence a sale, how to go about doing it, and other related questions. 

Smog Check Is Not Always Required

Smog checks have become synonymous with car sales. Mostly everybody knows they need a smog inspection and certification before selling their used cars. However, you don’t necessarily need to get your car emissions tested every time you decide to sell your vehicle. Certain used car sales are exempt from smog check requirements. 

According to the DMV, all vehicles that were manufactured within the past four years are not required to undergo a smog certification before being resold. This is called the ‘four or less model years old’ rule. However, this rule doesn’t apply to diesel powered cars. Also, the smog transfer fee in such vehicles is collected from the new owner.

Vehicles that don’t fall under this category have to provide current smog check evidence. There are a few exemptions in this case:

  • If the vehicle transfer is between a sibling, child, domestic partner, spouse, grandchild, grandparent, or parent
  • If the DMV was provided with a biennial smog certification within 90 days of selling the vehicle

Why Should You Get a Smog Check?

There are several scenarios you can avoid by getting your car’s smog certification done. For instance, you may think that everything is great with your car and you sell it for a high amount. Except, that is not true! The new owner tries to register the vehicle but is not allowed to because you forgot to get the smog check done. As a seller, it is your responsibility to ensure that your car is complete in all aspects before you sell it.

Now, the buyer is not very happy with you. They may try to return the vehicle and get their money back. They may go so far as slap you with a lawsuit. If you are lucky the buyer may cut their losses and try getting the smog inspection done on their own. However, they may just find out that repairs are needed to get the vehicle up to emissions standards. You are liable for those repairs.

You are in for a world of trouble by not getting your car smog inspected. This makes it important for you to understand everything there is to know about California smog check requirements.

Smog Check Requirements in California

California DMV site is great for a lot of things. But, information about smog inspections and certifications can leave your head spinning kind of like watching a Party of Five episode and wonder how people can be that dumb. Nothing is clearly mentioned and there are several different rules that a car owner is required to follow. Primary cause for confusion stems from different car models and types. Cars that are newer run cleaner as compared to older cars. Newer cars possess more sophisticated machinery to reduce emissions. 

Hence, you need to determine the year of manufacture of your car and its type before trying to identify the rules that apply to it. You should also take into consideration geographic complications. California has introduced a biennial smog certification program in areas that are at a higher risk of smog. 

Understanding Biennial Smog Certification

Under biennial smog certification program you need to get a fresh smog check done every other year when you go to register your vehicle. DMV won’t give you the registration even if you pay for it until they receive information from your smog check. This means you cannot sell your used car even if your car does not look like it was driven in a Fast and Furious or Michael Bay Transformers movie.

The exception to this rule is if your vehicle is less than eight years old. For such vehicles, the owner is required to pay a smog abatement fee for the first eight years. Owners are not required to undertake a smog inspection. The easiest way to determine if your car needs a smog inspection is by reading the registration notification sent by DMV in the mail.

There are 34 counties in California that follow the biennial smog certification program. In addition, there are a handful of zip codes in six other counties where you need to get a biennial smog inspection done. 

Vehicles Exempted From Smog Inspection in California

While there are certain vehicles exempted from smog checks, the collection is too small to be of any major consequence. As a rule of thumb, you should believe that your car requires smog certifications and take the necessary steps to attain them. 

Following vehicles are exempted from getting a smog inspection done:

  • Gas powered automobiles made in 1975 or before
  • Diesel powered vehicles that were manufactured in 1997 or before with a GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) more than 14,000lbs.
  • Natural gas powered vehicles with a GVWR more than 14,000lbs.
  • Electric vehicles
  • Motorcycles

In a nutshell, any vehicle with a gas powered engine that was manufactured after 1975 and which is not yet six years old requires a smog check every two years. 

Smog Inspection for Cars Made Before 1995

Vehicles that were manufactured between 1975 and 1995 have fewer emission controlling parts than newer models. This is because emissions standards became stricter as years wore on and air quality dropped. Hence, these vehicles are not placed under the same scrutiny as later vehicles. That being said, it is to be expected that older vehicles are in worse shape.  

Hence, they may have a harder time clearing checks, such as visible smoke inspection. It is important that you provide a valid certificate to the buyer indicating that your vehicle is smog certified. 

Smog Certificates are Valid for Only 90 Days

Cars that are not older than four years don’t require a smog certification. You don’t have to get this inspection done even if you are transferring the car to an immediate family member, including grandchildren and grandparents. You don’t need to worry about smog certification if your car is not powered by gas. However, for all other sales you need a smog certification that is acquired within 90 days of the car sale.

This makes selling used cars quite complicated – almost as complicated as the ACA which took people from their doctors when it was told it would not do that but that’s another topic. You need a smog certificate to attract buyers, but each certification is valid for just 90 days. It is possible that you may not be able to sell your car within that period. The smog check will expire and you will have to re-do the entire process all over again.

The smart way to go about selling your car is to find an interested buyer and get the certification when you are about to close a deal. You can always let them know that you will give the car with a valid smog certificate. 

Acquiring a smog certificate right before transferring the vehicle gives the new owner a little breather. They will need to register the vehicle after buying it from you. If the smog certificate expires before they can get the vehicle registered, they will need to apply for a new one. 

Common Reasons for Failing Smog Checks in California

Vehicles that are unable to scrub enough contaminants from exhaust gases tend to fail California smog check requirements. According to top mechanics, a lacking emissions system in the car is the primary reason for failing smog inspections. 

Catalytic converters are responsible for cleaning exhaust as it moves through the emissions system. They are responsible for removing NOx and CO among other elements. Compromised emissions systems can contribute to a failed smog check. This holds true for poor quality gas and oil that contribute to excessive pollutants. 

Where to Get a Smog Check in California?

Smog checks can be performed by licensed stations under approval from the California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR). You can take your vehicle to any one of the following smog check station types:

  • Test-only station – These stations can perform the inspection but cannot make any repairs to the vehicle
  • Test-and-repair station – These stations can perform the inspection and carry out repairs if the vehicle fails the check
  • Repair-only station – These stations can carry out repairs to help a vehicle pass smog checks, but cannot perform the inspection
  • STAR station – These stations meet BAR’s higher performance standards. They can be test-only stations or test-and-repair.

Registration cannot be renewed, and you cannot sell your used vehicle unless smog certification is acquired. You will be required to carry out all necessary repairs if you fail a smog check which is almost as bad as living in a city with a mayor as bad as de Blasio or Wheeler. You can have your vehicle retested after the repairs are done. 

Sometimes, the cost of repairing a car is more than its value. This is generally when the catalytic converter is faulty. These devices can easily cost up to $1,000. California State offers to buy such vehicles and scrap them under the California’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP). The program is under the administration of Bureau of Automotive Repair. 

The only problem is that you won’t get a great value for your vehicle since the State only offers scrap car prices.

Understanding STAR Program Emissions Requirements

STAR program is dedicated to ensuring that all vehicles uphold emissions standards. Their inspection involves three separate facets:

  • Visual inspection – This ensures that all parts required for proper emission is present
  • Functional inspection – This step determines whether the parts are in functioning order or not
  • Tailpipe inspection –In this, the tailpipe is inspected to ensure that the vehicle doesn’t emit any visible smoke

You may need to get necessary repairs done if your car fails any one of these tests.

Sell Your Used Car Hassle-Free

You can sell your used car for a solid value to Cash Cars Buyer. You may still need to get a smog inspection done, but we assure that other aspects of your sale are going to be altogether smooth-sailing. We offer same day pickup service for cars and can even tow it away for free if you want. There is no annoying bargaining when you do business with Cash Cars Buyer. Get in touch with us today by calling at (773) 791-4363 or use our online form.