Who Needs a Smog Check in California?

California requires smog checks for most vehicles every two years—however, some counties are excluded.
Written by Andrea Barrett
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Smog checks, or emissions inspections, are required in California on a biennial basis as part of the vehicle registration process. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) registration renewal notice will inform you if a Smog Check is required.
California is known for many things—celebrities, Silicon Valley, exceptional wines, and jaw-dropping coastlines… But clean air is not on that list. Vehicle emissions are a big problem in California, so gas-powered vehicles (even hybrids) need a smog check every two years. 
Not sure if your vehicle requires a smog check—or are you trying to determine how to dodge the requirements?
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Is a smog check required in California?

Yes—the California Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) requires all vehicles over eight years old or vehicles over four years old that have changed ownership. All diesel vehicles that are model-year 1998 and newer with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 14,000 pounds or less require a Smog Check. 
California is the only state allowed to adopt its own emissions standards—and they also happen to be the toughest in the country. Most states require drivers to smog test their vehicles every two years, but in California, whether you need a smog check depends on the vehicle type, model year, and area where the vehicle is registered. 
Certain counties in California are exempt from smog checks. These include: 
  • El Dorado
  • Riverside
  • Placer
  • San Diego
  • San Bernardino
  • Sonoma
If you live in one of these counties, your vehicle does not require a smog check. For all other counties, your registration renewal notice will indicate whether you need a smog check. If you’re unsure whether you live in an area where smog checks are required, the California DMV has a handy
Smog Check Program Area Lookup
to help you!

Emissions testing requirements and exemptions

If you’re unsure what the smog check involves, we’ll break it down for you. If you live outside of one of the counties listed above, you’ll need to get a smog check every two years—but the requirements vary based on the type of vehicle and the model year
The following vehicles are exempt from California’s smog check requirements: 
  • Gas-powered vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and alternative-fuel vehicles from 1975 and older
  • Gas-powered vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and alternative-fuel vehicles eight model years and newer (these do not require a biennial Smog Check)
  • Gas-powered vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and alternative-fuel vehicles four model years and newer (these do not require a change-of-ownership Smog Check)
  • Diesel vehicles from 1997 and older
  • Diesel vehicles with a GVWR of 14,000 pounds or more
  • Electric vehicles
  • Motorcycles 
If your vehicle doesn’t fit into those categories, it will require a smog check every two years. Additionally, if a vehicle has transferred ownership and is more than four years old, it will require a smog check. The vehicle's seller is responsible for getting and paying for the test. 

How to get out of your California smog check: emissions waivers

Although there’s no way of getting out of the California emissions testing requirements, the California DMV may issue a temporary exemption in specific circumstances.
Eligible low-income vehicle owners may be granted a one-time two-year extension to complete any necessary emissions-related repairs. The State of California allows these applicants to register their vehicles through the California DMV and receive the proper registration tags/stickers for two consecutive years without passing the smog check and without a smog check certificate.
However, there are specific qualifications for a Repair Cost Waiver:
  • Your vehicle must have been registered in California for a minimum of two years
  • You must have failed a "biennial" smog check inspection
  • You must not have a tampered emissions control system
  • You must not be in the process of selling or registering the vehicle in California for the first time
  • Your vehicle has undergone emission-related repairs of $650.00 or more performed by a licensed Smog Check repair technician at a licensed Smog Check repair station, and you cannot afford any additional repairs required for your vehicle to pass a smog inspection 
Before applying for a smog certificate waiver, you must complete and apply for the
CAP Program
—this will provide up to $1,200 in free smog check repair assistance from the state. 
Vehicles temporarily located out-of-state may also qualify for a temporary exemption from biennial smog requirements. You’ll have to complete an
Application for Temporary Smog Exemption for a Vehicle Located Out-Of-State
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What is a California vehicle emissions test?

If you’re bringing your car in for the California Smog Check Program, the smog check can include several tests depending on the vehicle type and model year:
The most basic inspection is the functional inspection that checks the engine light, ignition timing, exhaust gas recirculation system, fuel evaporative system, and gas cap.
When visiting a smog check location, there are three smog check methods currently used in the state of California:
  1. TSI Test: The two-speed idle test measures through the tailpipe to determine the emissions level while the vehicle is idling. This measure is taken both at low and high speeds. The TSI test is usually conducted on older vehicles, but it may be done depending on your location.
  2. ASM Test: The acceleration simulation mode test is generally used with very old vehicles. It incorporates a drive-on dynamometer that measures exhaust emissions while the vehicle is being “driven.”
  3. OBD Test: The on-board diagnostics test measures data provided through your vehicle’s computerized diagnostics system. All vehicles 2000 and newer will require this test.
If you pass these tests, you’ll receive your smog certificate. If you fail the smog test, a STAR-certified repair shop can access the results to determine what repairs need to be done to fix your vehicle’s issues.

What do I need for a smog check in California? 

To get a smog check in California, you’ll need to bring yourself and your vehicle, along with your driver’s license,
proof of insurance
, title (if you own the car), and registration. You can
find a DMV-authorized smog check station
near you or visit

How much is a smog check in California?

The average cost for a Smog Check in California is between $30 and $50—buyers cannot exceed a charge of $50 for the emissions testing plus the actual fee charged for issuing the smog certification. However, the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) does not regulate smog check prices, so you should shop around and compare prices at different check stations before taking your vehicle for a Smog Check. 

How to save on California car insurance costs

Shopping around for the best price on your smog check in California is an easy way to ensure you’re not overpaying for the same service you could get for half the price elsewhere. But did you know you can also save on
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