Frequently Asked Questions
In 1996, BAR adjusted some standards to increase their fairness. As a result, some standards are slightly more stringent than they were previously and some are slightly more lenient than before. Updated emissions standards categories were created for many of the newer cars; the new groupings take into consideration the dramatic changes in automotive technology which have occurred during the past 15 years. California's emissions standards consider the model year, vehicle type, and gross vehicle weight. Older cars have looser standards than newer ones. No vehicle is ever held to a standard intended for a car which is newer or technologically more advanced, and allowance is made for normal wear and tear in a vehicle's emissions control system as it ages. In fact, Smog Check failure rates for all vehicles have decreased since the new guidelines were implemented.
Technicians licensed by the Bureau to conduct emissions testing must meet very stringent requirements for education and experience and must pass a written qualification exam. Continuing education is required and advanced licensing is necessary for those technicians inspecting and repairing vehicles in Enhanced Areas (California's smoggiest urban areas). To be sure the individual inspecting or repairing your car is licensed, look at his or her license posted in the station. The license contains the technician's photograph. Licensing requirements cannot always ensure a technician's work ethic or product. Therefore, the Bureau of Automotive Repair's I/M Field Operations Division strictly monitors technicians and stations for fraudulent activities and takes legal action against those who are involved in such activities, including the revocation of licenses. In addition to licensing information, the Bureau of Automotive Repair issues a monthly newsletter, Auto Repair and Smog Check News, emphasizing technical and legal information about the Smog Check Program. This publication is received by approximately 36,000 individuals, including Smog Check station owners and technicians, and is also available on this Web site's General Information main tab from its Libraries menu item by following the link for Auto Repair and Smog Check News.
This program has been officially approved by the USEPA as meeting federal Clean Air Act requirements. The state's failure to meet federal Clean Air Act requirements would, among other potential penalties, jeopardize California's receipt of billions of dollars in federal funds. As a result of the major public health hazard caused by smog-forming emissions, Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, and in so doing, required that California enact new laws to further reduce the pollutants in our air, especially those generated from automobile combustion. An advanced vehicle emissions control program is required by the federal government and has been implemented to achieve state and federal clean air objectives. AB 2018 (Katz), SB 521 (Presley), and SB 198 (Kopp) were enacted by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Wilson in 1994, creating California's enhanced emissions inspection and maintenance (Smog Check) program. A primary purpose of Smog Check is to identify and fix the small percentage of vehicles responsible for the vast majority of excess pollution.
All Smog Check inspection equipment must be BAR certified and in doing so meets stringent accuracy standards. Additionally, BAR certified Smog Check equipment requires calibration every three days. If the Smog Check equipment is not calibrated within that period of time, the equipment will not allow further tests until a full calibration is complete. In addition, if the equipment experiences any type of system failure, it will automatically lock out the technician from conducting further tests until a representative of the equipment manufacturer or the Bureau of Automotive Repair has identified and corrected any problems. These procedures apply to all BAR certified Smog Check equipment, whether the equipment is being used at a Smog Check station or at a Referee facility.
If you are going to register your car in person at a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) field office, be sure to bring your Vehicle Inspection Report (VIR) and any notices sent by the DMV with you. When you pay for a smog inspection at a licensed Smog Check station, they are required to give you a copy of the VIR generated by the Smog Check analyzer, which states whether your car passed or failed and the level of pollutants emitted. Located on the VIR is an identification number which will help the DMV track your electronic certificate.
The DMV sends this notice when it cannot locate a Smog Check certificate for your vehicle. You may do one of two things:
- If you have not yet completed a Smog Check inspection, do so. Once DMV receives the electronic transmission, the DMV database will be updated and your registration and sticker will be issued. No further action is required on your part.
- If you have already successfully completed a Smog Check inspection and 30 days have elapsed, contact DMV for additional instructions.
No. While California law requires the Smog Check program to focus on high-polluting vehicles, it does not discriminate based on vehicle age or a specific vehicle make or model. All types and model years of vehicles can be a high emitter, which is based on a comparison of each vehicle with similar makes, models and years. Furthermore, Smog Check does not require owners of "classic" or "older" vehicles to retrofit these vehicles to meet newer standards. BAR's emissions take into consideration the age, make and model of each vehicle. No vehicle is held to a more stringent standard than the standard which applied when the vehicle was new.
Call the Referee Scheduling Center Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to make an appointment. The Referee system assists consumers with concerns about smog test procedures and vehicle emission equipment requirements. In addition, Referees can issue limited parts exemptions and repair cost waivers, inspect vehicles incompatible with testing at smog stations and perform inspections for some Vehicle Code Violations.
California law limits the amount of money required to be spent on repairs needed to pass a biennial Smog Check inspection to $450 minimum. If you have spent at least $450 on repairs at a Smog Check station and your vehicle continues to fail inspection, you may qualify for a Repair Cost Waiver. A Repair Cost Waiver postpones the certificate requirement and allows you to complete the vehicle registration renewal. The Repair Cost Waiver can only be issued by the State Referee. Please note that the repair cost limit only applies to the biennial Smog Check requirement and does not apply to the repair of tampered emission controls or repairs performed prior to inspection. A vehicle receiving a waiver must be fully repaired by the next Smog Check requirement. A waiver may only be issued once to an owner of a particular vehicle and may not be issued if a waiver was issued during the previous biennial inspection. The Consumer Assistance Program provides excellent repair options for low income motorists and motorists whose vehicle are directed to Test-Only stations for inspection. For more information, see the Consumer Assistance Program fact sheet.
There are more than 7,500 privately owned and operated Smog Check stations in California. The inspection and repair fees they charge are neither set nor collected by BAR. Rather, prices are set by market forces. The only money BAR receives is a portion of the $8.25 Smog Check Certificate fee. The $8.25 is an administrative fee for the Smog Check program and is deposited into the Department of Consumer Affairs' Vehicle Inspection and Repair Fund. The fee funds research and development operations, engineering, administration, complaint mediation, enforcement, and public education necessary to run the Smog Check program.
Emissions reductions achieved as a result of the Smog Check program are not eligible for use as mobile source emission reduction credits and cannot be used as offsets for industrial sources of pollution. This is because those emission reductions are required by, and properly attributed to, the Smog Check program, and therefore do not qualify as "surplus" pollution reductions available for trade. Smog Check emissions reductions are required by federal and state law and are an important part of California's overall effort to achieve healthier air.