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Driving is a privilege California drivers enjoy only after their vehicle passes a smog check every two years.

Did you just move to California? New residents must take their vehicle in for a smog check inspection before registering it with the California DMV.

The smog test keeps California a great place to live by examining the vehicle’s emission production.

The test also reduces pollutants in the air, causing less contamination, breathing problems, and other concerns. Until a vehicle passes a smog check, you cannot legally drive it in California.

Where to Complete a Smog Test

Drivers will receive a notification in the mail from the Californian DMV when it is time to schedule a smog check. At this time, drivers can take their vehicle to one of over 7,500 state-licensed smog testing stations available throughout California.

Each testing station sets its pricing but must adhere to testing requirements set forth by the state.

There are three types of testing stations available in California.

  • Test-Only
  • Test-and-Repair
  • Repair-Only

Each station performs different services, as you probably guessed by the 3 different types of facilities. Decide which type of station you wish to take your vehicle to for service.

Test-Only Station

A Test-Only station is licensed by The California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) to perform smog checks. They are not authorized to diagnose the cause of failure of the smog check.

Test-and-Repair Station

A Test-and-Repair Station can perform smog checks and make repairs in California. They are licensed by BAR.

Experts agree that a test-and-repair station is the best option for drivers interested in saving money on this expense.

Repair-Only Station

A repair-only station is licensed by BAR to repair smog check failures but cannot test or diagnose the reasons for failure.

How Much Does a Smog Check Usually Costs in California

The smog test cost varies from one testing station to another. Other factors that affect the smog test cost include the vehicle’s make, model, and year, as well as its current condition.

The area of residence is another big factor that affects the cost. People who live in L.A., for example, pay more than someone who needs a smog check in a smaller city or town.

The fee ranges from $29.95 to $89.95. Additionally, an $8.25 BAR fee is added to each smog test. This BAR fee helps funds the Smog Check Program.

The California Bureau of Automotive Repair offers a free online tool that helps locate a Smog Check station in your area. Simple access the tool, enter your zip code and find a list of area providers to choose from.

Prefer to speak to someone in person? No computer or internet access? Find a testing station in your area by calling toll-free 1-800-952-5210.

Tips to Find the Cheapest Smog Check Testing Station

Rather than call each smog testing station in your area to learn the cost of service, use the following tips to save money on the costs of your smog check.

Coupons and Promotions

Smog check stations offer coupons and promotions on their website, in the local newspaper, and from various other sources.

The savings vary from one offer to the next, but typically offer percentages off or a reduced-price smog check cost.

Groupon is a great source to find smog check deals.


Over 70% of vehicles need repairs before passing a Smog check. If you suspect that your car is amongst them, schedule service at a test-and-repair station where you can get both diagnosis and repairs completed. You’ll spend considerably less money at a test-and-repair station.

Avoid Car Dealerships

Numerous dealerships are licensed smog check stations. Nine out of 10 times, however, they charge significantly more for services than other stations. Avoid them if saving money on costs is important.

Warm it Up

Before the smog test, allow your engine to run for a few minutes. A warmed engine is more likely to pass a smog check when the engine is warm.

A smog check is necessary if you drive a vehicle in California. It is important because it keeps the air clean so everyone breathes better and our environment thrives.

There are consequences in place for anyone who skips the test, including a registration that is considered “incomplete”. In California, this can be deemed as a misdemeanor or felony crime. If you are pulled over, an officer can arrest you and charge you with a crime for driving without the smog check.

While the cost of a smog check may be more than you would like to spend, it’s a far better option than skipping a test and dealing with the consequences.

Plus, the ideas above are simple enough anyone can use them to keep costs of the smog check to a minimum.

CAP Repair Assistance Program

Drivers in California whose vehicles fail the smog check must get repairs made so that it passes.

These repair costs can be quite large, depending on the results of the smog test, the age of the car, etc. Some repairs can cost thousands of dollars.

This is money many drivers cannot spare.

Low-income individuals can apply for financial assistance through the Consumer Assistance Program for help with up to $500 in emission-related repairs so the vehicle passes the smog check.

California Smog Check FAQs

What Is Required To Pass A Smog Check In California?

For the CA counties that require a smog check, the CA DMV requires its residents to have their vehicle checked every 2 years. Your registration renewal reminder will indicate whether it’s time for a smog check.

You must have a vehicle that runs properly and does NOT have any major issues. We suggest driving your vehicle for at least 20 minutes before arriving at the smog station to warm up the engine and catalytic converter. You will need your CA driver’s license and vehicle registration.

How Much Is A CA Smog Check?

A California smog check can range between $29.95 and $69.95. In California, smog check fees vary based on the kind of vehicle you have and the county in which you reside. Be advised that the smog check fee may or may not include the $8.95 fee to obtain your CA smog certificate. Even if your vehicle is exempt, you are still required to pay the $8.95 fee.

There is also a smog abatement fee. If your car is 8 years old or less, you are NOT required to have your vehicle smog checked every 2 years. Instead, you will pay a $20 smog abatement fee for the first 8 years of registration. After the first 8 years, you will be subject to the standard California smog check program.

The CA smog abatement fee does not apply to the following:

  • Non-resident vehicles
  • Diesel-powered vehicles from model year 1998 and newer that weight no more than 14,000 lbs.
  • Specially constructed vehicles model year 1976 and newer

These cars are still a part of the biennial smog certification program and are required to be inspected every 2 years.

What Will Fail A CA Smog Test?

You will fail a California smog test if your vehicle has any of the following:

  • Leaking fuel injectors
  • Fuel metering malfunction
  • Broken oxygen sensor
  • EVAP system fail
  • Compromised emissions system
  • Poor quality oil and gas

Who Is Exempt From Smog In California?

California requires all vehicles to ensure a smog check except the following:

  • Gasoline-powered vehicles model year 1975 and older
  • Natural gas-powered cars that weigh at least 14,000 lbs.
  • Diesel-powered vehicles that are the model year 1997 and older or cars that have a gross weight rating that exceeds 14,000 lbs.
  • Electric vehicles
  • Motorcycles

The following CA counties require smog checks in specific zip codes ONLY:

  • El Dorado
  • San Diego
  • Placer
  • San Bernardino
  • Sonoma
  • Riverside

You are not required to have your car regularly inspected for safety measures in CA. If you are registering an out-of-state vehicle for the first time, you must have a vehicle identification number (VIN) inspection at the CA DMV when you register your vehicle.

Do Hybrids Need Smog Check In California?

Yes. Hybrid cars in CA must have a smog check. CA hybrid vehicle owners must get routine checks to ensure their emissions control system is functioning properly. Beginning this year, older model hybrids are required to pass a smog check before CA hybrid vehicle owners can receive a vehicle registration sticker.

How Long Is A Smog Check Certificate Good For In California?

In California, a smog check certificate remains valid for a maximum of 90 days. If you neglect to register your vehicle within this time, you must have another smog check performed.