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What is Car Emissions Testing & What's a Smog Check?

Owning a car is part of the way of life in California. What fun is living in SoCal without driving to the Pacific Coast Highway once in a while? But keeping your car in good working order is critical. Thanks to California’s car emissions testing laws, it’s mandatory. If your car isn't in ideal working order, you can sell your car fast with CarBrain, otherwise, read on for more info. 

A vehicle that burns gas or diesel has emissions – that’s why the tailpipe is there. Unfortunately, gas engines just don’t burn totally clean, and neither do diesels. Chemical compounds are the result of the combustion process – mainly hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide, and other volatile organic compounds. These are the concentrated components of vehicle smog.

Your car emissions system — specifically the catalytic converter — was developed to reduce the impact on the environment. These pollutants are treated before they leave your vehicle’s exhaust, turning most of them into harmless elements like carbon dioxide and water.

Typical components in your car emissions system are:

  • Exhaust Gas Recirculation system (EGR)

  • Catalytic converter

  • Evaporative emissions charcoal canister

  • Oxygen sensor

  • Purge control valve

  • Powertrain Control Module (PCM)

  • Fuel filler cap

If there’s a problem with any of these parts, your car emission test is all but guaranteed to fail.

How a Vehicle Smog Check Works

To accurately complete your vehicle testing for emissions-related issues, the testing facility has a few things to do. They have to:

  • Bring your car up to normal operating temperature.

  • Physically observe your car’s exhaust for an abnormal appearance of exhaust.

  • Check your tailpipe emissions with a sniffer, or car emission tester.

  • Check if your Check Engine Light is illuminated on your dashboard.

If you’ve heard of a car getting ‘smogged,’ this is what they mean. Having your car smogged is the process of having a smog check or car emission test performed.

How Often Do I Need a Smog Test?

In California, most counties require mandatory smog checks every two years. If you drive a vehicle that’s six years old or less, you’ve gotten lucky. You won’t need your car emissions test until it reaches six years of age.

Car Emissions Testing Near Me

You’ll want to find a location for your smog test that’s not far from you. You can perform a Google search for ‘Car emission testing near me’ or ‘smog check near me’, then browse the results online. You might come across some incorrect results that way, so the more reliable source for test facility information is to visit the official California Bureau of Auto Repair site. Here you can search for a car emission test near me but station name, city name, county, zip code, or by field office.

Make sure you call ahead to confirm the shop can test your particular make and model. It’s also a good idea to find out if they also repair vehicles or if they are strictly a test facility.

How Long Do Smog Checks Take?

To accurately determine the state of your car emissions system, it takes a bit of time. The tester has to plug in a diagnostic computer and check for codes related to emissions failures. They need to use a sniffer tester to check vehicles for safe levels of hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides, and other pollutants.

All in all, you can expect your smog check to take around 20 to 30 minutes.

What Happens if My Car Doesn't Pass a Smog Check?

Your smog check is a requirement by the DMV for vehicle registration in the State of California. If your vehicles smog check doesn’t pass, you have two choices: repairing the faulty components or stop driving your car. Your DMV registration can’t be renewed if your smog check fails. Now, your failed smog test might cost you in repairs.

My Car Failed Smog, Now What? What are Emission Repair Costs?

Once you fail a car emissions test and you decide to pursue repairs, the cost might come as a surprise.  Many of the problems that can cause your smog check to fail are pricey to repair. A catalytic converter replacement is routinely between $1,000 and $2,000 for part and labor. An EGR failure on a Ford 6.0-liter engine, though, could very well run several thousand dollars, requiring a new EGR valve, oil cooler cleaning or replacement, and the labor to change them.

Maybe you’ll get lucky – sometimes the only repair necessary is a replacement fuel filler cap or a minor repair like an EVAP purge control solenoid. There’s a chance you’ll get away with a bill under $200, but that’s not the norm.

Even with a Failed Smog Test, You Can Sell Your Car Fast

After your car is fixed, make sure your shop tests repairs it completes. The last thing you want is to have your smog check redone and still fail. It’s a common problem when aftermarket parts are used in an attempt to save money, however the components aren’t always up to the California emissions standards.

You have one other option if your car fails its smog check. You can sell your car to CarBrain and totally avoid the cost and annoyance of emissions repairs. We’ll buy your car from you as it is. The process couldn’t be more simple (unlike smog check programs): just click to request a guaranteed offer from us, based on your vehicle’s current condition. We’ll make you an offer, and all you need to do is accept the quote. Once you do, we’ll send a truck to pick up your car from you and put money in your hand on the spot.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What Do They Check During A Smog Check?

Smog checks have multiple components that your vehicle must pass in order to pass the test:

  1. Visual inspection of the emissions control components and systems
  2. Functional inspection of the vehicle’s check engine light, ignition timing, exhaust gas recirculation system, fuel evaporative system, and visible smoke.
  3. Functional inspection of the vehicle’s On-Board Diagnostic or OBD system.
  4. Tailpipe emissions inspection.

How Old Does A Car Have To Be To Not Require A Smog Check In California?

Vehicles from 1975 and older are not required to get a smog check. However, owners of those vehicles still have to ensure the emissions systems are intact. If you’re trying to sell a vehicle over four years old, it must have a smog check performed beforehand.

Can You Pay Your Car Registration Without The Smog Check?

You can pay to renew your vehicle’s registration without a smog check, but you will receive your new registration card and sticker only after a passing smog check is verified.

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