The Complete Guide to California Smog Check Requirements

January 27, 2021

California smog check regulations

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Key Takeaways

California’s smog check requirements impact fleets, especially for government fleets operating vehicles in the state. 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.

Local law in the state of California mandates that fleets must follow Smog Check Program requirements. The law requires that vehicles more than eight-model years old must be smog tested and reported to the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) every two years. While smog checks are important for minimizing gas emissions, they can also lead to inefficiency and downtime. 

Streamlining this process is especially important for government fleets that operate in California—vehicles must remain on the road so agencies can continue to serve the community. In response, BAR launched the Continuous Testing Program (CTP) pilot, which allows government agencies to use telematics technology to achieve smog certification while bypassing manual in-person smog inspection.

With the right technology partner, government fleets can participate in the CTP pilot to streamline smog check inspections and ensure they remain compliant with California’s standards. This comprehensive guide covers what you need to know about smog checks—including how government agencies can use vehicle telematics to improve efficiency and reduce emissions.

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 BAR’s California Smog Check Program requires vehicles that were manufactured in 1976 or later to participate in the biennial smog check program in participating counties. Vehicles more than eight-model years old—including government vehicles owned and operated by California cities and municipalities—must be smog tested every two years. 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 

Bypass manual inspections with Samsara's BAR-CTP integration

Any fleet in California will need to meet the state’s Smog Check Program requirements, but government fleets in particular have unique requirements for environmental management. By passing smog check inspections, government agencies are reducing emissions and ensuring city vehicles remain BAR compliant, while also marching towards reaching sustainability goals. 

According to BAR’s Smog Check Program requirements, vehicles more than eight-model years old must be smog tested every two years. For government agencies in California with thousands of city vehicles in their fleet, this can create a number of challenges, such as:

  • Inefficiency: The hassle of in-person smog checks can create inefficiency, since drivers must go to designated smog check stations for smog inspections, deviating from scheduled routes and tasks.

  • Vehicle downtime: With smog emissions tests taking 20 to 30 minutes per vehicle, in-person smog checks can cause fleet downtime. 

  • Errors: Manual smog test reporting can be error-prone.

Recently, Samsara was approved to participate in the California BAR CTP program, providing government fleets the opportunity to bypass in-person inspections and streamline smog certification with Samsara’s Vehicle Telematics solution. With Samsara’s certified BAR CTP integration, BAR gains full visibility into vehicle diagnostic and engine data for all enrolled CTP vehicles—enabling them to grant compliant vehicles a passing score on their smog check, without the inefficiency of in-person manual inspections.

Samsara offers government fleets looking to streamline their smog checks a number of significant benefits, including:

  • Enhanced productivity: Alleviate the effort of in-person smog checks using telematics technology to automate reporting for key vehicle diagnostics data. 

  • Reduced downtime: Eliminate the time needed for in-person smog inspections and keep your city vehicles on the road. 

  • Improved efficiency and sustainability: Ensure that your city vehicles are running as cleanly and efficiently as possible by proactively monitoring maintenance needs.

To learn more about how Samsara can improve the efficiency of your fleet, reach out for a free trial or demo today.

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