Frequently asked Questions.
Below find some answers to some of our most common Questions.
Q: What is the difference between Test Only and other smog stations?
A: It’s actually very simple, a test only station can do exactly that, test only, or only test vehicles. This means that we cannot perform other automotive repair related services, or diagnostic advice. Which means that if your vehicle were to fail we would not be able to repair your vehicle.
Q: When do I have to have a smog check?
A: For gasoline powered vehicles, you will need a smog under the following circumstances: Once your vehicle is six years old, it will require a biennial smog check for its sixth year of registration and every other year from then on. You will need a smog if your vehicle is 4 years old or older when selling it. Any year of vehicle that was purchased in another state, previously registered in another state, and is now going to be registered in the state of California. For diesel vehicles: The biennial smog requirement begins once the vehicle is two years old, and any time you change ownership regardless of age (on model years 1998 and later only, and under 14000 GVWR).
Q: My notice says that I have to go to a STAR station? What is that and why?
A: Ok boys and girls grab a snack and have a seat…Certain vehicles will be designated as “directed vehicles” directed vehicles are designated by the state at random, and others which have proven based on test results across the state of similar vehicles (same year, make and model) to have a higher probability of failing, others are completely random (even a car up for its first smog can be randomly selected). This is done for two main reasons: 1) to ensure that vehicles are being tested properly which leads to the second reason 2) initially directed vehicles had to go to a test only station, to ensure that both the integrity of the smog program was protected as well as the consumer. It did this by required the vehicles to go to a test only station which did not provide repair services and did not have a conflict of interest by potentially benefiting from failing a vehicle, and also by not being able to apply temporary fixes to vehicles to pass and then reverting the vehicle back once the test was done. Customers were also able to go to a test only station of their own choice for the same reason, no benefit or potential to upsell repairs using the pass/fail of the smog inspection as leverage. In the past if your notice said “Test only” on it you were a directed vehicle. In spring of 2013 a new station structure was created: STAR. The criteria for a vehicle to be designated “directed” did not change, only the name of the station, you must now take your vehicle to a STAR station. There are now four types of smog stations in California: STAR Test only, STAR test and repair, Test and repair and repair only. If your notice says STAR you must go to a station that is start certified. If your notice says it must go to a “smog check station” then you have the option of going to any station (however a repair only station can do just that, repairs but cannot issue certificates). A STAR station is a station that is, according to the state, conduction smog tests appropriately according to applicable procedures. All smog check stations are certified by the state, they are just structured differently and you may be required to go to a particular station. Many people feel as though this is a punishment of some sort, but the tests are all the same at each and every station and no test is meant to be harder to pass than another just because your vehicle is “directed”.
Q: I’m selling my car, who is responsible for the smog check for the change of ownership?
A: The seller is the party responsible for ensuring that the vehicle is delivered to the buyer with a valid certificate of compliance (with very few exceptions pertaining mostly to dealers and wrecking yards). See vehicle code section 24007 (b)(2).
Q: Can you check the pressure on my tires and fill them if necessary?
A:Yes, as a matter of fact it is state law that every automotive repair dealer in the state ensure that tires are inflated to the proper pressure. However, we are a one man show and checking and filling tires literally takes away time from our primary function: Helping customers and performing smog checks. As such we charge $5 to check your pressure, and $20 for a check and fill service (if your tires require inflation in order to safely perform an ASM test you will NOT be charged a fee in addition to the smog test for a service on the drive axle). We cannot perform this service on vehicles whose tires have been filled with nitrogen. **Customers may decline the service if they affirm that they have had a tire pressure service in the last 30 days or will have one performed within the next seven days.**
Q: Should I get an oil change before getting a smog?
A: If you are due for an oil change, might as well do it…it has to be done anyway right? But in actuality, it should not have any effect on the smog check.
Q: My car smokes, will it fail?
A: YES! While smoking is a bad habit, it is problematic for smog as well. The current smog inspection conducts several visible smoke tests on both gasoline and diesel powered vehicle. A snap test is performed (rapidly bringing the vehicle to 2500 rpm and returning it to idle as fast as possible) three times, as well as a tailpipe idle test (gas vehicles) and a crankcase inspection. For gas vehicles any Smoke emitted from the tailpipe is a failure. For diesel vehicles any smoke that is emitted and lingers for longer than three seconds during the final two tests is a failure, and any smoke emitted from the crankcase is a failure (i.e. through broken PCV, cracked valve covers, valve cover gaskets etc.). However if the smoke is caused by oil dripping from the engine onto hot parts such as the exhaust that is OK.
Q: I think my car will fail, what should I do?
A: Why do you think your car will fail? There has to be something that gives you this feeling, whether it be nervousness (an acceptable reason), recent repairs, past failures etc. The best thing to do is to tell me why you think your car will fail so that we can eliminate concerns, and address other issues that may need some attention. The smog program is not designed to be a cloak of secrets, ask me and I will answer honestly, plain and simple 🙂
Q: If I fail, can you tell me what is wrong?
A: Unfortunately the short answer is NO (see above). However if your vehicle fails for a visual failure, or a malfunction indicator has generated a trouble code (i.e. you emissions light/check engine light is on) the trouble codes will be automatically printed on your vehicle information report (VIR), and we will explain to you exactly what we “saw” that is causing the failure so that you can choose to repair it yourself or have repairs performed at a repair station. We will sometimes make notes and drawings to help assist in the repair so that “mystery” of locating the visual failure is eliminated.
Q: What is a pre test and should I get one?
A: A pre test is an entire test, but regardless of the test result you will still need a “actual” test in order to receive a certificate. Should you get one? NO! To be honest, it will cost you more to get a pre test, and a regular test than to fail and then have to re test. You will not be black listed by the state for gross polluting, or required to go to a certain station because you failed etc. Your designation as a “directed” vehicle is not determined on your individual vehicles past, but at random and based on the history of other similar vehicles throughout the entire state.
Q: Will my results automatically be forwarded to DMV?
A: YES! Each and every station in the state transmits your results automatically, even pre tests. You will also receive a hard copy for your records.
(NOTE: All smog stations will only electronically send VIR’s to the state of California. States such as Illinois have a dedicated fax line for submission. Check with your home state if you are requesting a smog inspection for that state for the best method of submitting your test results. We are always happy to fax forms for you at no extra charge)
Q: How long is a smog check good for?
A: A vehicle is required to obtain a smog certificate biennially (every other year) regardless of when its last smog was performed. A smog certificate is good for any number of transaction for a period of 90 days. (i.e. you smog your car for registration, and a month later decide to sell it, the same certificate will satisfy your requirement to provide the buyer with a valid smog, it is up to them to complete the transaction before the end of the 90 days [DMV requires change of ownership to be completed within 20 days])
Q: I just bought a brand new car in another state, do I need a smog to register it in California?
A: YES, every vehicle brought into California that is model year 1976-present (yes even a brand new car with 500 miles etc) must have a smog to be registered.
Q: Do you offer “Pass or Don’t Pay”? Is that the law?
A: We do not offer a pass or don’t pay, because frankly, you could then take your results and pass somewhere else and basically we would not get paid for our time…and you did have a test performed right? In my experience most stations make up this cost in other ways by requiring that repairs be performed at the same station where the vehicle failed, or other less scrupulous methods… We do however offer discounts (around 50% off) for retests. There is no law that states that if you fail you do not have to pay, however there are laws covering not paying for services performed.
Q: Will my vehicle fail if my “check engine” or “service engine soon” light is on?
A: YES! Your check engine light, or malfunction indicator light (MIL) is actually called an emissions light in many user handbooks that come with a new vehicle. As such, when the light is on there is a compromise in your vehicles emissions system that is causing it to pollute at a higher rate than it was initially certified for. Many of these codes relate to fuel economy, the government certifies vehicles based on the projected amount of pollution a vehicle will create. If your vehicle has a faulty sensor (or other malfunction) that is causing your vehicle to burn more fuel per mile than originally certified for, even though the emissions at the tailpipe are within a passing parameter, you are still technically polluting more because you are burning more gas than the vehicle was anticipated to burn. Some codes are very straight forward to understand such as an oxygen sensor fault, however transmission codes are often harder to realize the impacts on smog, but it boils down to the burning of excess fuel and simply exceeding the vehicle initial certifications for emissions output. (Any other lights such as ABS, SRS, airbag, Brake, etc. will not cause a failure)
Q: If my car will fail with the check engine light on, why the heck did you test it!
A: Plain and simple, the answer comes down to numbers, and business.
1) The state monitors all of our tests and keeps track of all tests state wide. Based on the entire population of cars in the smog program, statistically a certain number of vehicles should fail. Each station is then compared to that statistical estimate as well as compared to actual rate of failure among other stations state wide. In our particular situation, if we were to not test all check engine light vehicle, our failure rate would be exceptionally low compared to those statistics and would trigger suspicion from the Bureau of Automotive Repair. So while there is no quota for failures, it is our responsibility to fail vehicles which require repair, so those repairs can be made and enhance air quality. The state of California also takes no particular stance as to whether or not a station should test or reject a vehicle with its check engine light on.
2) From past experience I have encountered several instances that have made me decide to test vehicles with a check engine light: Some customers I rejected because of the check engine light had repairs done and return only to fail for something else on the test. Those people are often times more upset because they feel as though I manufactured the failure to compensate for the lack of failure the first time. This is not only not true, but I have never failed a vehicle simply for personal gain. Also, during a sample of 10 rejected vehicles which were rejected, one came back and failed for another test parameter (and caused a scene and disputed his credit card charge etc.), two came back after resetting the light themselves and not making repairs of any kind (and failed for incomplete monitors), three came back and thanked me, and had repairs completed, and four never returned at all. So if that were all in one day I would have essentially lost 40% of my business, just for being nice. Where did these people go? Often times they clear the light themselves and go to another station in an attempt to pass without the technician having prior knowledge of the light, or they go to a dishonest station who turns the light off and tests the vehicle. In the end its about upholding my business model, and complying with state law, and consistency. I do my best not to play favorites, and to be fair to everyone.
Q: I don’t believe that your test was performed according to the law and regulations outlined in the Smog Check policy and procedures manual, and as a result failed the inspection when it otherwise should have passed: What do I do?
A: I do my best to ensure that each smog check is performed properly, and that all failures are in fact as a result of a vehicle malfunction and not human error. If you do not agree with your results you may ask for a second opinion from the Smog Check Referee. He/she is an impartial employee of the state whose job is to conduct a smog inspection in an instance where there is a question on the part of the consumer as to the validity of their vehicles test results. In the event that your vehicle passes at the referee, he/she can then certify your vehicle and issue a certificate.