What is a Smog Check?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 January 2020
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A smog check is a test done on the exhaust system of a motor vehicle to determine how many pollutants, and of which type, the vehicle is emitting. It also includes an assessment of other parts of the vehicle to make sure that they are in working order, especially those parts which pertain to emissions control. In the United States, most states require exhaust tests, although the vary from state to state, in a nationwide effort to address clean air issues.

Some states have a biannual smog check program, while others require testing every year. Most states exempt certain vehicles, such as vehicles more than 30 or less than five years old. Many places require that a vehicle be able to pass this check before it can be sold, and will require a smog certificate before the title can be transferred. Consumers should check with their state's Department of Motor Vehicles to find out more about the requirements for their area.


All states have emissions limits which vehicles cannot exceed. During a test, a device is connected to the tailpipe while the engine is run to determine the emissions of the car in idle and while being revved, which are measured against the state standard for that type of vehicle. The technician also checks to make sure that the muffler is in working order, and usually opens the hood to make sure that all hoses and pipes are properly connected, and that the car's internal computer is working properly.

Emissions loads that exceed the state limit, an improperly maintained muffler and exhaust system, or a "check engine" light that's on can cause a vehicle to fail the smog check. If this happens, the vehicle must be repaired and tested again or it cannot legally be driven. Most necessary repairs are relatively simple and do not involve great expense, and they are well worth it to ensure that the vehicle is safe and legal. In some cases, the repair may represent a substantial expense. Some states have smog abatement programs, in which drivers who can prove that the car requires repairs over a certain dollar amount can be exempted from testing requirements.

Drivers should get a smog check for their vehicles regularly, not only because it is legally required in most areas, but because, if their vehicle is not in alignment with emissions standards, it should be repaired. Personal vehicles contribute almost 40% of pollution in some states, and responsible drivers should aid the national effort to reduce emissions. In addition, some factors which may cause a vehicle to fail a check are also unsafe, and should be addressed to prevent an accident or injury.


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Post 5

Yes, California has the most restrictive laws. There is new regulation coming into effect in January 2013 that will simplify smog tests for vehicles with model years 2000 or later. You can find more info at the BAR website.

It may surprise people, but most smog check stations still use manual paper forms. Using an automated work order system such as Smog Advantage ensures that the station follows regulations. For example, by law, these stations are supposed to check and fill your tires and you must receive an estimate before work is done.

Post 3


It is also possible that smog check centers may become obsolete as the world shifts to more sustainable energy sources for their vehicles.

Post 2

Smog check stations seem to exist only in California. The practice of regular smog checking seems to be less popular in other states. Smog check centers and locations may begin to crop up elsewhere in the near future, as the world goes green.

Post 1

You can usually find a coupon on line and have your total bill somewhat reduced. You will still have to pay for the certificate and for electronic transmission of the results to the Department of Motor Vehicles. At least that is what I had to do.

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