What is the California Smog Check Program?

The below article talks about the California smog check program, the conditions that may exempt your vehicle from the smog check, along with some frequently asked questions about the same. 

What is the California Smog Check Program?

The smog check program introduced in 1984, is a vehicle inspection strategy aimed towards identifying largely polluting vehicles and to encourage citizens to take mitigatory measures with respect to vehicular emissions to produce cleaner air. The program helps to identify vehicles that cause major emissions, so that it can be repaired or retired to reduce the load on pollution caused by faulty vehicles. 

The smog check program 

The smog check program introduced in 1984, is overseen by the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR). They oversee the program through independently licensed smog check stations that have been set up across California. Under the program, a vehicle’s emission control equipment is evaluated, and the vehicle is monitored so as to understand the kind of emissions it produces and the pollutants it releases. A smog check could include the following components:

  • A visual inspection of the emission control equipment and vehicle systems
  • A functional capacity demonstration and evaluation of the vehicles’ different elements such as the check engine light, the ignition systems, exhaust systems, fuel systems, and gas cap. 
  • A functional inspection of the vehicle’s on-board diagnostic system (ODB)
  • Tailpipe emission evaluation 

According to the framework set up by the BAR, a vehicle must undergo a smog check biennially (every alternate year), as part of its periodical vehicle registration process. The department of motor vehicles (DMV) registration would indicate if the vehicle requires a smog check, and it is also compulsory in the case the vehicle changes ownership or when it is registered into the city for the first time (BAR, n.d.). 

What vehicles require a smog check?

A smog check of a vehicle depends on the vehicle type and its model year, its date of manufacture is not considered. Below are the characteristics in a vehicle that would require a smog check (BAR, n.d.):

  • Any vehicle that is gasoline powered, hybrid vehicles, and alternative fuel vehicles 
  • Any vehicle newer than a model year of 1976, there are certain exemptions in this case which will be discussed below. 
  • Diesel powered vehicles that hold model year of 1998, or newer and weighs less than or equal to 14,000 pounds. There are no model year exceptions for other diesel powered vehicles. 

What vehicles do not require a smog check?

Below are the vehicles that do not require a smog check (BAR, n.d.):

  • Any gasoline powered, hybrid vehicle, or alternative fueled vehicle that are model year 1976 or newer do not require a smog check under the following circumstances:
    • Eight model years and newer vehicles do not need to get biennial smog checks 
    • Four model years and newer vehicles do not require the change in ownership smog check
  • Gasoline-powered vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and alternative-fuel vehicles that are model-year 1975 and older.
  • Diesel-powered vehicles that are model-year 1997 and older.
  • Diesel-powered vehicles that weigh more than 14,000 pounds.
  • Electric-powered vehicles
  • Motorcycles

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): What vehicles are exempt from the California Smog Check program?

What is the fees for a smog check in California?

The fee for a smog check on your vehicle would depend on where you live in California, the kind of vehicle you own, etc. It can cost anywhere between 30 USD to 70 USD, this may not include the charge for the smog certificate which would cost around 8.25 USD. Even if your vehicle has been excluded from a smog check, you would still need to ay for the certificate which says the same. 

How do I check the if model year for my vehicle would require a smog check?

To identify whether your vehicle requires a smog check with respect to its model year, add 4 or 8 to the model year of the vehicle (BAR, n.d.). 

For example, a 2010 model-year vehicle will be subject to a biennial Smog Check in 2018 (2010 + 8 = 2018). 

That same vehicle will require a change-of-ownership Smog Check if sold in or after 2014 (2010 + 4 = 2014).

Where do I take my vehicle for a smog check in California?

The BAR licenses several different types of Smog Check stations across the city to perform Smog Check Program services and meet the needs of consumers and their vehicles. Below are some types of the stations that have been set up: 

  • Test-and-repair stations can perform Smog Checks and address emission-related repairs on vehicles.
  • Test-only stations can only perform Smog Checks and are not authorized to diagnose the reasons for any Smog Check failure that may be observed, or perform any emission-related repairs on vehicles.
  • Repair only stations can diagnose and address any emissions-related concerns on vehicles that may not have passed their smog checks. However, these stations are not authorized to perform Smog Checks.
  • STAR stations are BAR licensed test-and-repair stations or test-only stations that meet performance standards as established by BAR. The user’s DMV registration renewal notice will indicate whether their vehicle requires a Smog Check at a STAR station.

Stations are required to post a sign indicating the services it is licensed to perform, and are not allowed to perform any unauthroized functions. The different stations in California can be identified via this link.  


AutoTech Blackhawk. (n.d.). How do I get smog exempt in California? Viewed on 01-29-2022. https://autotechblackhawk.com/how-do-i-get-smog-exempt-in-california/ 

Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR). (n.d.). Frequently Asked Questions: Smog Check Program. Department of Consumer Affairs. Viewed on 01-29-2022. https://www.bar.ca.gov/Consumer/Smog_Check_Program/FAQ 

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