California Smog Test Program


What is the California Smog Test Program?

We are often asked what is a “Test Only” Smog Check Center.

Technically it is called “The California Smog Check Program”.  It’s purpose is to lessen air pollution in California by checking that cars with large amounts of pollution causing emissions are repaired in a timely manner and meet the state guidelines for not being a “gross polluter”.

The program mandates that vehicles manufactured after 1976 get checked every two years for their emissions levels, and if not fixed in a timely manner are taken off the street.  Exceptions to the 2 year check are:

  • Vehicles under 6 years old (pay a smog abatement fee instead)
  • Electric Vehicles (hybrid vehicles are required to undergo smog checks as of 2015)
  • Diesel powered vehicles built after 1998 and less than 14k pounds.
  • Certain “special cases” of cars built after 1976.
  • Vehicles built before 1976

The program is governed by:

  • The California Bureau of Automotive Repair
  • The California Air Resources Board
  • The California Department of Motor Vehicles.

All cars that qualify to be checked must be checked by the SELLER before being sold, unless the seller is selling or giving the car to a close family member (child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, grandparent, sibling, or grandchild)

The Smog Check program started in 1984 as a result of bill SB 33.  In an effort to make sure smog checks were cost effective it especially licensed specific types of professionals to administer the tests.  The is also became known as the BAR (Bureau of Automotive Repair) program.

The current types of shops licensed to administer tests are:

Test-Only stations
Licensed specifically and only to perform Smog Checks and Tests. These stations typically focus like a laser on providing quick and comprehensive tests for car owners. Since they are setup for this one purpose, they are often the quickest and cheapest stations for getting your car smog checked. They do not do repairs and can often get you in and out within an hour.

Repair-Only stations
These stations are optimized to diagnose the smog problem and fix the issues. If you know your car is a gross polluter and want a shop that specializes in repairing just these issues, these are your best bet.

Test-and-Repair stations
Often these are fully registered car mechanics that provide a full service repair work, as well as being licensed to do both smog testing, diagnosing, and repairs.  If your car has multiple issues, and you want to get it smogged along with those repairs, you can book yourself into one of these mechanics.

What is a STAR station?

STAR stations are the highest quality of smog check station as licensed by the BAR. California state law has strict requirements saying that a large percentage of the states cars must be checked at a STAR station. Often on your DMV form you’ll see that the smog check requirement specifically says the vehicle must be checked at a STAR station.

STAR stations are directly administered by the state of California.

We hope this primer on the California State Smog Check program has been helpful to your smog test research. As always, know that we here at Oakland based San Pablo St Smog Test Only station will provide you the best service found in Emeryville or Oakland!

What is Smog?