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This post addresses the California Smog Check program. Many states have emissions programs with California being the most stringent. In general in other states the test will be less frequent and less complicated.

What is a Smog Check in California

Unless you own a vehicle that is exempted from smog checks, at some point you will have to have your vehicle tested for vehicle emissions in California.  This test is sometimes called an emissions test, a smog check, or a smog test.  They are all the same thing though the type of test performed depends on your vehicle type and where you live.

The purpose of a smog test is to ensure that your car's tailpipe emissions to not exceed the levels set by the BAR Smog Check Program. This is beneficial to both the car and the environment because the test can identify repairs which will improve your engines performance while also helping our environment. Depending upon where you live the frequency with which your vehicle needs inspection and the type of test will differ. See our post When is a Smog Check Required

Should I be Nervous about Passing the Test

In general as long as there are no problems with your vehicle's emissions systems and your vehicle is operating properly you should have no issues passing a smog test.

What Steps are Taken During a Smog Check

The steps taken during the test depend on where you live, see When is a Smog Check Required. In addition the bill AB 2289 comes into effect in 2012 and will alter tests steps What Does AB 2289 Mean for Consumers Needing to Smog Check Their Vehicles.  As many people live in enhanced areas that test will be described below. If you live in a different area then this test will be simplified and less frequent.

Steps Take For an Enhanced Smog Check

A smog test is done by a certified technician at a location that is also certified. In order for your vehicle to receive a Smog Check certificate, it must pass all the following elements of a Smog Check inspection:

  • Visual inspection, in which required emissions control components and systems are identified, and must appear connected and functional.
  • Functional inspection which includes, as applicable, checking the functionality and/or integrity of the emissions control malfunction indicator light (“Check Engine”, etc), the ignition timing, the gas cap, and the Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) system, if the vehicle is so equipped and a Two-Speed Idle (TSI) test is being performed. A Low Pressure Fuel Evaporative Test (LPFET) is performed on all 1995 and older vehicles. A functional check of a vehicle’s On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) system is also performed on 1996 and newer vehicles. Diagnostic information stored in the vehicle’s computer is reported on the Vehicle Inspection Report (VIR) that the motorist receives at the end of the Smog Check inspection. OBD information can save time and money when repairs are required.
  • Tailpipe emissions test, which measures exhaust emissions using a probe inserted into the vehicle’s tailpipe during testing. Vehicles pass or fail this part of the Smog Check inspection based on established emission standards, sometimes called cutpoints.

Okay I Passed Now What

At this point you are done. The smog check station will issue a certificate and transmit the result to the DMV.

Yikes I Failed My Smog Test Now What

Check out our post here on what to do if you fail your smog check for assistance. In general you must:

  • If you are at a test only facility, then while they can tell you what is likely wrong with your vehicle but they can't repair it. You will likely recieve a free retest from that shop.
  • Bring your vehicle to a Test and Repair facility who will repair the vehicle. While they can repair and to a test to ensure the vehicle is fixed, they cannot certify your vehicle as passed with the DMV.
  • Bring your vehicle back to the test only shop you originally visited for a free retest. Once you have passed the test there will be a fee for the certificate and transmission to the DMV and you are done!