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California Smog Check Program, part 2

Helpful tips from Don’s Pro Tech Automotive

A smog check is required every other year (biennially) as part of the vehicle registration process. The DMV registration renewal notice will indicate whether or not a smog check is required. Depending on the year of manufacture, a smog check is also required when a vehicle changes ownership or is registered for the first time in California.

Remember to take the vehicle registration renewal form with you when going for a smog check. This helps ensure that the correct vehicle information and smog check certificate are electronically sent to the DMV. To locate a local smog station go to http://www.bar.ca.gov.

There are three types of smog check stations. The first type is a Test-Only Station, which is licensed by the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) to only perform smog checks. These stations are not authorized to diagnose the reasons for a smog check failure or to perform repairs on vehicles. A Test-and-Repair station is licensed by the BAR to perform smog checks, diagnose and perform emission-related repairs on vehicles. A Repair-Only station is licensed by the BAR to diagnose and perform emissions-related repairs on vehicles.

Consumers can be assured that the equipment upon which their vehicle is tested is working correctly as all smog check equipment must be certified by the BAR and must meet stringent accuracy standards. BAR certified smog equipment requires calibration every three days. If the equipment is not calibrated within that period of time, the equipment will not allow any further tests to be performed until a full calibration is complete. Additionally, if the equipment experiences any type of system failure, it automatically locks out the smog check technician from conducting further tests until a representative of the equipment manufacturer has identified and corrected any problems.

Geographic areas around the state of California are designated as basic smog check areas or enhanced smog check areas. Test stations in an enhanced area can smog check vehicles registered in Basic Areas but the reverse is not true. An Enhanced Area is an urban region designed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as not being in compliance with federal health standards for ozone. Vehicles registered in an Enhanced Area are subject to a treadmill emissions test on a dynamometer and may require testing at a STAR-certified station.

STAR-certified stations have met specified performance standards established by the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR). Some STAR stations are licensed to perform only tests while others are licensed to perform both tests and repairs. A STAR station is required to post a sign as to the services it is licensed to perform. The DMV registration renewal form will indicate whether or not the vehicle requires a smog check at a STAR station.

State law requires that a percentage of vehicles have their smog checks performed at a STAR station. One reason may be that the vehicle was identified as being more likely than others to emit unhealthy levels of harmful pollutants even if it has never failed a smog check. It is also possible that the vehicle was chosen as part of a random selection.

The vehicle may be identified as being a gross polluter if it emits excess hydrocarbon, carbon monoxide or oxides of nitrogen emissions as established by the Department of Consumer Affairs and California Air Resources Board. Gross polluters can only be certified at a STAR station which will confirm the vehicle was repaired and brought into compliance with required emission standards.

A smog technician is authorized to refuse a vehicle that is determined to be unsafe to test.

OBDII (On-Board Diagnostics II) is the second generation of self-diagnostic equipment requirements for California certified vehicles. On-board diagnostic capabilities are incorporated into the hardware and software of a vehicle’s on-board computer to monitor virtually every component that can affect emission performance. OBDII systems routinely check each component to verify that it is functioning properly. If a problem or malfunction is detected, the OBDII system illuminates a warning light on the vehicle instrument panel to alert the driver. This warning light typically displays the phrase “Check Engine” or “Service Engine Soon” most often accompanied by an icon. The system also stores important information about the detected malfunction so that a licensed smog check repair technician can accurately find and fix the problem. Clearing the light with an automotive scanner or detaching the battery cable(s) and reattaching them wipes out the diagnostic codes which hampers the diagnostic process. This delays performing the repairs needed to pass the smog check so is not advisable.

If the vehicle fails the smog check, the smog check station will provide the owner with a vehicle inspection report that shows the results of the test and the reason(s) for the failure. Any needed repairs should be performed by a station licensed to perform smog check repairs. After completing the repairs, the vehicle will need to be retested. Before the second smog check, however, a drive cycle must be performed. The drive cycle and emissions readiness monitors are methods used by the powertrain control module (PCM) to determine whether an emissions system repair was properly performed. A drive cycle is a special test drive that duplicates the scenario of a person starting his or her car and making a short freeway trip, as if he or she were driving to work. While the drive cycle test is being performed, the engine computer runs little tests or “readiness monitors” to see if the emissions system is working properly. When the monitors have reset, the vehicle is ready to be retested.

If the consumer has any concerns about the testing or repair of the vehicle, please log it on the complaint page for the Bureau of Automotive Repair at http://www.bar.ca.gov or contact the Department of Consumer Affairs at (800) 952-5210.

For all of your smog inspection needs, stop by Don’s Pro Technology Automotive Repair at 230 E. Tehachapi Blvd. or call the shop at (661) 822-1600. Don’s Pro Technology Automotive Repair is a STAR station licensed to test and repair vehicles.