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Many if not most consumers in California are completely unaware of the AB-2289 legislation that creates the STAR program scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2013.  According to John Wilson, president of the California Emissions Testing Industries Association, AB 2289 represents the "most dramatic changes to [the smog check] industry in over a decade."

What is AB-2289 and How Does It Affect Me?

AB-2289 enables vehicles that have a model year of 2000 or later to be tested using only information from their vehicles' on-board emissions computer.  All vehicles of that model year or later have emissions diagnosis programming as part of their vehicle program.  It is this monitoring system that is a common cause of your "check engine" light displaying on your dashboard.

Under current regulation, smog check stations use information from this computer as well as a pipe test in which a sensor is placed inside the tail pipe and the vehicle is tested on a dynamometer at specific vehicle speeds.

2000 or Later Vehicles Smog Check Tests Use the On-Board Diagnostics

For consumers, the change is expected to reduce the time and cost of smog check emissions testing by eliminating tailpipe testing and instead using the vehicle's on-board computer.  The change is also intended to improve the reliability of smog check testing. It should also make it more difficult to alter test results or trick the testing computer to provide a passing score than is currently the case with tailpipe testing.

Effectively Identifying High Polluting Vehicles

High polluting vehicles represent a small portion of the cars in the state of California, yet they contribute the majority of pollution contributed by commuter cars, trucks and SUVs.  AB-2289 is the state's initiative to comply with clear air rules by more effectively identifying these vehicles.

AB-2289 - Makes changes to the following smog inspection procedures and guidelines:

A. Authorize the use of On Board Diagnostic II testing to expedite the process.

B. Vehicles known to release large amounts of pollution must test at stations with the highest performance ratings.

C. Stricter fines for improper inspections.

D. Permit the state to contract with the private sector to manage franchise-like networks of independently owned Smog Check stations.

E. Encourage community colleges and other training institutions to develop technician-training programs.

AB-2289 Affects How Smog Check Stations are Licensed and Creates the STAR Program

The STAR Program modifies how smog check stations are licensed and increases the penalties for smog check stations that do not follow testing procedures. It also removes the Gold Shield Program and replaces it with the STAR program. Both of these changes are designed to improve the quality and reliability of smog checks and tests conducted in California and thereby improve air quality.

What is the STAR Program and How Does It Affect Consumers

The STAR Program changes the structure of the smog check industry by removing the Gold Shield Station and replacing it with a STAR certified station. To protect the consumer, smog test only stations cannot repair vehicles that fail a smog test. Nor can they recommend a repair station to the consumer. All auto repairs and smog testing is regulated by the Bureau of Automotive Repair BAR and must follow a process where a consumer is provided with an estimate which must be authorized by the consumer before repairs can begin. Any changes to the required work require another signed estimate by the consumer. All smog test stations must follow this process including STAR stations. A STAR station is a voluntary program whereby the business agrees to follow specific regulations and testing criteria. STAR certified stations are also repair stations and can make repairs as well as test your vehicle. This reduces the inconvenience to consumers because they no longer have to ping-pong between the repair station and test station to certify a failed vehicle. The BAR monitors the testing results of STAR stations more closely in order to ensure that the station is adhering to the regulations.

The examiner recently wrote an article about the STAR program, and AB-2289 introducing California's New Smog Law and STAR program changes that you need to know about.

Automation and the Consumer

It is very common for auto service locations including smog check locations to use manual paper forms for the smog test estimate and invoice. These multi-layered paper forms waste a lot of paper and in addition, the consumer has no assurance that there is any automated record of their visit nor that the process of approved estimate and invoicing is followed. For example, did you know that if your tires are inflated correctly you can dramatically improve your gas mileage? This in turn saves you money and reduces pollution. Software invoicing systems such as Demand Advantage ensure that the station follows regulation and offers to fill your tires free of charge and can even email your estimate copy to you. This feature saves paper and provides an independent electronic record of a customer's transaction apart from any records the State of CA keeps.