California Car Registration: When a Smog Check Required

January 27, 2012

For a California car registration, you will most likely need to have a smog check for your vehicle. However, you may want to know just when a smog check is required.

  • In California, all vehicles are required to have a smog car registration inspection, except the following: diesel powered, electric, natural gas powered vehicles over 14,000 lbs., hybrids, motorcycles, trailers, or vehicles older than 1975.

  • Car registration in California can cost more if you live in certain areas. In those particular areas, vehicles must submit smog certification with every other registration renewal. This is referred to as the biennial smog certification program.

  • If the vehicle is six or less model years old, owners pay an annual smog abatement fee for the first six years instead of providing smog certification. However, the six or less model years old rule does not apply to all vehicles.

  • A vehicle that is four or less model years old that is transferred does not require a smog certificate, but a smog transfer fee will be collected.

  • If a vehicle is more than four model years old, the seller must provide a current smog certificate. If the transfer is between a spouse, domestic partner, sibling, child, parent, grandparent, or grandchild this does not apply.  Another exception is when a biennial smog certification was submitted within 90 days prior to the vehicle transfer date.  

  • When a car is sold, the seller is required to provide the buyer with a valid smog certificate at the time of the sale or transfer.

  • Smog certifications are only acceptable up to 90 days from the date of issuance.

  • The inspection is not required on a transfer if a biennial smog certification was submitted to DMV within 90 days prior to the vehicle transfer date, but a vehicle inspection report may be required as proof of certification.

Smog inspections are required for vehicle registration in California, but the specifics may vary depending on certain factors. For more information, check the California DMV Smog Information website.

Related Questions and Answers

How is the CA Smog Check Reported to the DMV?

Cars less than six years old are required to pass a CA smog check. This information is then submitted to the DMV when you register your vehicle. In fact, you will be required to pass this test prior to doing that. After you pass your test, you will receive a smog certification that you will present to the DMV at the time of your license renewal. Those that don't pass the test will not be able to register their cars. Not all counties in California require smog check certification.

What are the Required CA Smog Emission Levels?

CA smog check laws are not complicated, and determining your required smog emission levels requires some calculation. The percentage of allowable pollutants your vehicle is allowed to put into the air is based entirely off the gross vehicle weight of your car. To calculate your percentages, you will need to reference the ASM emissions standards, which are set by BAR scientists. Even if you were to determine this number, it would still be just an estimate.

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