Is A Smog Check Required Every Year In California?


  1. Introduction
  2. What is a smog check?
  3. Air pollution concerns in California
  4. The smog check program in California
  5. How often do you need to get a smog check?
  6. Smog check exemptions and requirements
  7. Penalties for not getting a smog check
  8. Benefits of regular smog checks
  9. Tips for passing a smog check

What is a Smog Check?

The term “smog” might make you think of shady characters from old noir films or the mysterious haze hanging over Los Angeles, but in reality, it refers to air pollution caused by vehicle emissions and various chemical reactions in the atmosphere.

In simple terms, a smog check is an assessment that evaluates the amount of pollution emitted by your vehicle’s exhaust system and ensures its compliance with emissions standards set by environmental agencies such as the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

Air Pollution Concerns in California

California, known for its beautiful beaches, blockbuster movies, and Silicon Valley tech giants, has also gained an unfortunate reputation for poor air quality due to its high population density and heavy traffic.

The state experiences unique meteorological conditions, such as temperature inversions and coastal foggy conditions near urban areas, which trap pollutants close to the ground level leading to increased health risks for residents.

To combat this issue and protect public health, California has implemented several measures over the years as part of its commitment to cleaner air.

The Smog Check Program in California

As an integral part of California’s efforts to reduce vehicular emissions and combat air pollution effectively, the state established the Smog Check Program back in 1984.

Under this program, every motorist must have their vehicles undergo regular inspections at licensed testing centers called “STAR” stations to ensure they meet state emissions standards.

How Often Do You Need to Get a Smog Check?

Now, let’s get to the heart of the matter. How often do you need to subject your cherished vehicle to the scrutinizing eyes (and technical tools) of smog check technicians?

In general, most vehicles in California are required to have a smog check performed every two years. However, there are some exceptions and special cases we’ll discuss later.

Remember though that some counties within California require all residents, regardless of whether they live in metropolitan areas or rural locations, to have an annual smog check inspection.

So, before embarking on your journey while imagining yourself driving into the sunset with hair blowing in the wind (we won’t ask whose), make sure you’re well-informed about how frequently you need a ‘clean bill’ from the smog check station.

Smog Check Exemptions and Requirements

Surprisingly enough, not all vehicles are subject to mandatory biennial or annual smog checks in California. Here is a list of exemptions:

  1. Gasoline-powered cars manufactured prior to 1975
  2. Diesel-powered vehicles older than model year 1997
  3. Electric vehicles (EVs)
  4. Motorcycles

However! There’s always an “however, ” isn’t there? These exemptions may vary depending on where exactly you reside within California!

For example: if your vintage beauty is from another state but spending her golden years residing in sunny California – Lucky her! She’s not obliged by Californian law to put herself through these emissions tests.

Is a Smog Check Required Every Year in California?

Q: How often do I need to get a smog check in California?

A: In most cases, you are required to get a smog check every two years in California. However, some vehicles, such as gasoline-powered cars older than 6 model years or hybrid/electric vehicles, may be exempt from biennial inspections.

Q: Do brand new cars need smog checks in California?

A: No, newly purchased or leased cars are generally exempt from needing a smog check for the first six model years. Once the vehicle turns seven years old, it must undergo regular smog inspections every two years.

Q: What if my car fails the smog check? Do I have to fix it immediately?

A: If your vehicle fails the initial smog test, you will receive a notice that indicates why it did not pass. While there is no immediate requirement to repair it right away, driving with an invalidsmog certification can lead to penalties and fines. It’s recommended to address any necessary repairs promptly before attempting another test.

Q: Are there any specific situations that may require more frequent smog checks?

A: Yes, in certain cases where your vehicle has failed previous tests or been identified as a high polluter by the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR), you might be subjected to additional inspections called “change-of-ownership” or “STAR” directed tests. These tests ensure compliance and minimize excessive emissions.

Q: Can I obtain a temporary exemption for my car’s smog check requirements?

A: Temporary exemptions may apply if your vehicle meets certain criteria such as being gas-powered and manufactured prior to 1976, primarily used off-highway (e. g. , agriculture), or registered within specific low-emission areas like Lake County. Detailed information on eligibility can be obtained from your local DMV office or BAR.

Q: Are there any penalties for not completing a smog check when required?

A: Yes, failing to get a smog check as mandated by the State of California can result in penalties. The DMV may refuse registration renewal until a valid smog certificate has been obtained. Additionally, driving with an expired registration due to lack of compliance can lead to further fines if pulled over by law enforcement.

Note: The information provided above is subject to change and it’s always recommended to consult official sources such as the California DMV or BAR for the most up-to-date regulations and requirements regarding smog checks in California.