Frequently Asked Questions (Part 2)
Q: What is a "pre-inspection" and how do I get one?
A: Motorists who believe their vehicles may not pass initial smog certification at local Smog Check stations may request that an inspection be conducted before an official smog certification test. This procedure can help vehicle owners avoid their vehicles being designated as "Gross Polluters," requiring final inspection at a Test-Only Center or a Gold Shield station. Smog Check stations may charge for this service only if authorized by the consumer; BAR does not regulate those charges and receives none of the proceeds.
Q: What are the elements of a Smog Check?
A: In order for your vehicle to receive a Smog Check certificate, it must pass all the following elements of a Smog Check inspection:
- A visual inspection, in which required emissions control components and systems are identified, and must appear connected and functional.
- A 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.
- A 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.
Q: What is the "underhood" inspection portion of the Smog Check? Why is it necessary if you pass the tailpipe inspection?
A: The tailpipe test alone cannot guarantee that a car is not emitting harmful amounts of pollutants into California's air. In fact, to obtain a Smog Check certificate, a vehicle must pass all three portions of the Smog Check inspection-the visual, functional and tailpipe inspections (see previous question).
An "underhood" inspection comprises the visual and functional portions of the Smog Check inspection. The visual inspection ensures that the vehicle has all of the proper equipment and that none of its parts are disconnected or modified. The visual inspection helps prevent evaporative emissions. These occur even when the vehicle is parked, and may be the result of poorly connected or improper equipment.
On the old, two-speed idle (TSI) test, the functional inspection ensures that the ignition timing is set to the manufacturer's specifications and that the EGR valve is functioning. The functional portion of the TSI test is especially important because the tailpipe inspection cannot measure oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions-a key precursor to smog. The EGR test is not a part of the new dynamometer test, because that test does measure for NOx. The newest part of the functional test is the fuel cap test, which is used to help prevent evaporative emissions.
The visual and functional tests help identify vehicles with tampered emissions control systems. These vehicles may be configured to pass the tailpipe portion of the Smog Check inspection, but altered later to produce more emissions than allowed. This gave the previous program the reputation of passing vehicles which were "clean for a day," rather than clean until the vehicles' next Smog Check. Vehicles which were only "clean for a day" hindered California from meeting its clean air goals.
Q: What do I need to know about engine modifications?
A: In general, state and federal law prohibit modifications to your vehicle's emission control system. When repairing your vehicle, the emission-related parts used must be original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts or be replacements for the OEM parts, as specified by the part manufacturer. Modifications to your emissions controls are not acceptable unless the parts used are approved/exempted by the California Air Resources Board.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) grants exemptions in cases where the changes do not modify the performance of the emission controls in a way that causes an increase in emissions. CARB assigns the exempted parts an "executive order" (EO) number that may be used to verify acceptability. CARB provides a listing of EO exempted parts on the CARB website.
Minor changes that do not affect the connectivity with or operation of other emission controls may be acceptable, for example, the installation of universal replacement hose in place of a preformed hose.
Q: Can I change the engine in my vehicle?
A: An engine change may not be performed if it degrades the effectiveness of a vehicle's emission control system. For more information, see BAR's Engine Change Guidelines.
The following apply to any modifications or deviations from the original emission control configuration:
You must use Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) specification parts for use
in your specific year, make, and model of vehicle.
The part must have an Executive Order (EO) number that shows it has been
exempted by the California Air Resources Board for use in your vehicle.
- The equipment used must be certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for use in your specific year, make, and model of vehicle.
Check out the Bureau's "Engine Change Guidelines" brochure on this Web site for additional information.
Q: What if I can't afford to repair my vehicle?
A: Please see the fact sheet: Consumer Assistance Program
Q: Do repairs I make to my vehicle count toward the $450 cost repair minimum?
A: The only emissions-related repairs which count toward the $450 minimum are those completed by a licensed smog technician in a licensed smog station. Although BAR does not discourage the home mechanic from making the necessary emissions repairs to his or her vehicle, home repairs do not qualify as credit toward the $450 minimum.
Q: Have California vehicle emissions standards changed?
A: 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 n ewer 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.
Q: How can I be sure a smog technician has had proper training?
A: 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.
Q: How can I be sure a Smog Check analyzer machine is accurate?
A: 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.
Q: What if I go to the DMV to register my vehicle and my electronic Smog Certificate is not there?
A: 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.
Q: I received a "Notice of Incomplete Registration" from the DMV requesting a smog certification. What do I do?
A: 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.
Q: Is the Smog Check program biased against older vehicles?
A: 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.
Q: I am not sure that my smog test was done properly. Who do I call ?
A: Call the Referee Scheduling Center at 1-800-622-7733 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.
Q: My vehicle continues to fail inspection after repairs. What can I do?
A: 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. 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.
Q: How do I contact a Referee?
A: Call the Referee Scheduling Center at 1-800-622-7733 Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to make an appointment. Mondays are typically the busiest days. Some Referee Centers are also open on Saturdays.
Q: Where does the money from the Smog Check go?
A: 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.
Q: Are pollution reductions achieved under Smog Check sold to big industry?
A: 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.
Q: What would be the repercussions if the Enhanced Smog Check Program was repealed?
A: 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.