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Vehicle upkeep is one of your responsibilities as a car owner in California. California takes roadway safely seriously. To bring down the number of unfit and un-roadworthy vehicles on the road, the state enacted car inspection laws. The law requires certain types of vehicle inspections and car maintenance – particularly related to vehicle emissions.
It is against the law to drive an unregistered vehicle in the state of California. If you purchase a new car in California or come from out of state, you must register your vehicle within 10 days. This takes submitting a title application, showing the vehicle’s title to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), paying a fee and providing a valid smog certificate. Other requirements may apply to out-of-state drivers. If you purchase a car from a dealership, it will typically take care of vehicle registration for you.
One of the registration requirements in California is a smog certificate. A smog certificate is a piece of paper certifying that you took your vehicle to an approved emissions inspection center and the mechanics believe your vehicle complies with the county’s smog requirements. Many counties in California require regular smog checks for almost all registered vehicles. Renewal periods are typically once every two years. The DMV will mail you a notice stating your vehicle requires smog recertification before renewing your registration.
Not all counties in California require emissions inspections. Search for your zip code in the state database to find out if you need a smog check where you live. Your smog check requirements may also vary based on location. California requires smog and emissions inspections to help keep the air we breathe cleaner. These inspections flag vehicles that are emitting an unreasonable amount of smog. Vehicle owners are responsible for repairing vehicles to prevent excess emissions before they may take them on the road.
Although 30 other states require emissions tests, California has the toughest smog standards in the country. California lawmakers are serious about protecting the public and the environment from vehicle-related air pollution. It is up to you to obey the smog inspection law by paying for the costs of smog checks once every two years. A smog check can cost between $30 and $70 depending on your location and vehicle type.
Not all vehicles in California require emissions inspections. The state has exceptions for heavy diesel vehicles manufactured in 1997 and earlier. A diesel-powered vehicle must weigh over 14,000 pounds in Gross Vehicle Weight to qualify as an exception. Vehicles that use natural gas are also exempt if they weigh over 14,000 pounds. Any motorcycle, trailer or gas-powered vehicle model year 1975 or older also does not need to get a smog inspection.
Newer vehicles (six years old and younger) may not need smog inspections, in some cases. Owners of new vehicles will have to pay a $20 emission inspection abatement fee rather than paying for a smog check. The $20 fee may also apply to other exempt vehicles. If you own one of these vehicles, you must still keep up with vehicle maintenance and registration; however, you will not need to get smog checks.
If your vehicle fails an emissions test, you must pay for repairs until your car passes the check – or else retire your vehicle from the road. It is against the law to operate a vehicle that does not pass an emissions test in most counties in California. The DMV will not allow you to renew your registration unless you can pass an inspection. If you cannot afford repairs, you can apply for statewide assistance programs that could provide up to $500 for related repairs. Refusing to comply with California’s vehicle inspection laws could lead to traffic tickets and fines.