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Auto FraudAuto RepairsLemon LawClear the Air: The Importance of Passing the California Smog Check


“Patience is a virtue.”

We should add a second part to the timeless expression that goes like this: “Especially when it comes to buying a car.”

Many car buyers want to walk into a dealership and drive away in a car on the same day. Maybe a customer saw an ad that particularly appealed to her or another customer already did his due diligence by conducting thorough research and obtaining an auto loan. Whatever the reason, unethical car sales reps capitalize on the haste some car buyers have when they shop for a motor vehicle.

When it comes to buying a used car, haste makes waste because some unscrupulous sales reps bypass the California smog test.

The Importance of a Smog Test

California law dictates that a motor vehicle must pass a smog test before it goes on the market for sale. However, some car buyers do not ask for proof of a certificate that proves a vehicle passed the California smog test. This oversight leaves the buyer of the vehicle with a car that cannot be driven because it is illegal to drive a car that has not passed a smog test. Another ramification of a vehicle that does not have a smog test certification is the lack of certification might mean the vehicle is unsafe to drive.

The responsibility of passing the California smog test rests on the shoulders of the seller, not the buyer. This means an auto dealership and a private seller must present a certificate that demonstrates the car for sale has met the smog standards established by the State of California. However, some car dealers do not want to pay for a smog test because of the cost of an inspection and a smog test might reveal the need for expensive repairs.

Failing to make the necessary repairs to pass a smog test can put the buyer of a vehicle in harm’s way.

Who Needs a Smog Certification in California?

If you own a gasoline-powered car that is under the age of four years old, then you do not need to obtain a smog certification. However, owners of gas-powered vehicles that are less than four years old must pay a smog abatement fee.

If you plan to purchase a gasoline-powered car that is older than four years, the dealership where you plan to purchase the car must put the vehicle through a smog inspection before selling it to you.

These are the types of vehicles that do not need a smog certification:

  • Trailers
  • Off-road vehicles
  • Diesel-powered vehicles that weigh more than 14,000 pounds
  • Electric cars
  • Natural gas-powered vehicles
  • Motorcycles

What is the Biennial Smog Certificate?

Under the guidelines set for the California biennial smog program, motor vehicle owners need to go through a smog check every other year. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) cannot hand over the registration paperwork for a vehicle until the owner presents the results of a smog check. This means anyone that wants to sell a used car must present proof of passing the biennial smog check.

The program applies to cars that are older than eight years. A seller who wants to sell a vehicle that is under eight years old must pay a smog abatement fee. Reading the registration notice sent in the mail by the DMV should let the seller of a car know if it is time to undergo a smog check for the used car. Thirty-four California counties participate in the biennial smog certification program.

The Cost of Not Having a Smog Certification

Finding yourself stuck with a car that is not registered to you because of the lack of a smog certification can be incredibly frustrating. It is up to you to make the expensive repairs that qualify the vehicle for a California smog certification. If you ask the dealership that sold you the car to pay for the repairs, the response will be along the lines of “Take a hike.”

Before you sign a vehicle purchase agreement, you need to ask the auto dealer to show you the smog certification. If the sales rep refuses to show you a smog certification, then you should leave the dealership to restart your auto search.

A car dealer might tell you to “Take a hike” when you try to recover the cost of the expensive repairs required to pass a smog test. The auto dealership should have a different perspective of your dilemma if you have a California-licensed consumer protection lawyer fight the battle for you.

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