Everything You Need to Know About Smog Checks

Depending on where you live and what type of car you have, you might be required to get a smog check. A smog check is sometimes referred to as a smog inspection or emissions testing and is designed to help limit air pollution and make sure your car is compliant with certain standards. If you need to get a smog check, you probably have some questions about the process. Read on to learn what you should know about smog checks and how they work.

What is A Smog Check, Explained | Metromile

What is a smog check? 

Smog checks were first created in the state of California in 1984 to help combat poor air quality and air pollution (more on that later). 

As of 1990, The Clean Air Act vowed to reduce toxic air emissions and part of that is through smog checks. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates air emissions in passenger vehicles in the following ways, according to their website:

  • Standards for exhaust and evaporative emissions;
  • Control of hazardous air pollutants and air toxics; 
  • National Low Emission Vehicle Program;
  • CAP 2000 (Compliance Assurance Program);
  • Onboard refueling vapor recovery; and
  • Inspection and maintenance.

But what is a smog check, exactly? A smog check is a type of inspection that looks at a vehicle’s exhaust and pollution risk. According to AskTheRef.org, a website in collaboration with the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) and the Foundation for California Community Colleges (FCCC), smog checks include the following:

  • A visual inspection, to look over your emissions systems 
  • A functional inspection, which checks out the ignition timing, engine light, exhaust gas, smoke, fuel evaporation, and the On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) system 
  • An emissions inspection with the tailpipe 

After the smog inspection is completed, you’ll get a Vehicle Inspection Report (VIR) which shares the result of the test and if approved, you’ll also receive a certificate that shows you’re in compliance with local authorities. 

Not all vehicles or even all states require a smog check or require that you do all the steps above. Each state has different standards and requirements, so it’s best to check with your local transportation authority such as the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). 

Certain states like California have some of the toughest inspection requirements, thanks to the widespread smog making visibility difficult in 1943.  

Changes came about in 1967 with the Mulford-Carrell Air Resources Act, which created the State Air Resources Board. On top of that, the Federal Air Quality Act was passed that same year, allowing California to set its own stricter standards to help combat air pollution. 

How long does a smog check take?

If you need to get a smog check but you’re a busy person and need to fit it in your schedule, you probably are curious and wonder just how long does a smog check take? The good news is the process isn’t too long. Of course, the actual time can vary based on the smog check testing site but in general a smog check should take 20 to 30 minutes. 

How much does a smog check cost?

We all know that owning a car comes with expenses like paying for gas, car insurance, maintenance, repairs — oh and actually paying for the car, either outright or through monthly payments. Well, you can add a smog check to the expense list but the good news is it’s not terribly expensive. 

If you’re wondering how much does a smog check cost, according to SmogTips.com, the average cost of a smog check can range from $29.95 to $89.95 depending on where you live and what is required as part of the inspection. 

That’s just the cost of the test though. If you don’t pass the smog check, you may need to pay for repairs. However, there may be limits in place and additional support if you need it. The state of California caps costs at $450 for smog check repairs and you may qualify for a cost waiver if you’re considered low-income. 

It’s important to note that smog check costs can vary based on the provider and state. For example, The Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) in California doesn’t regulate prices, so it’s best to shop around to compare prices as you’ll be dealing with private enterprise. However, smog check stations are required to list prices clearly. 

How long is a smog check good for? 

If you’re getting a registration renewal or selling your car, you may need a smog check. Typically, you’ll be notified by the DMV (or similar authority in your state) if a smog check is required. 

You want to bring the notice to the smog inspection and when it’s completed, your smog certificate is typically good for 90 days and should be submitted to the local transportation authority. You may have to pay a smog certificate fee as well, which in California is $8.25. 

If you’re wondering how often you need to get a smog check, that will depend on the state, county, and type of car you drive. For example, in California a smog check may be required every other year as part of the registration process. You’ll want to check with your local state transportation authority on guidelines, but again you’ll likely get a notice if it’s required. 

According to YourMechanic.com, there are 33 states that require a smog inspection:

  • Arizona: Certain Areas (Phoenix and Tucson)
  • California: All Areas
  • Colorado: Some Areas (Denver and Boulder)
  • Connecticut: All Areas
  • Delaware: All Areas
  • Georgia: Certain Areas (all 13 Atlanta Metro Counties)
  • Idaho: Certain Areas (City of Boise and Ada County)
  • Illinois: Certain Areas (Chicago and East St. Louis)
  • Indiana: Certain Areas (Gary Metro Area)
  • Maine: Certain Areas (Cumberland County, and the Portland Metro Area)
  • Maryland: Certain Areas (all DC Metro and the City of Baltimore)
  • Massachusetts: All Areas
  • Missouri: Certain Areas (Jefferson County and Franklin County)
  • Nevada: Certain Areas (Cities of Reno and Las Vegas)
  • New Hampshire: All Areas
  • New Jersey: All Areas
  • New Mexico: Certain Areas (Albuquerque Metro Area)
  • New York: All Areas
  • North Carolina: Certain Areas (48 Counties – See the NC DMV site for more info).
  • Ohio: Certain Areas (Cities of Akron and Cleveland)
  • Oregon: Certain Areas (Cities of Medford and Portland)
  • Pennsylvania: Certain Areas (Cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia)
  • Tennessee: Certain Areas (Cities of Nashville and Memphis)
  • Texas: Certain Areas (Cities of Austin, Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth and El Paso)
  • Utah: Certain Areas (Cities of Ogden, Provo and Salt Lake)
  • Vermont: All Areas (1996 or Newer Vehicles Only)
  • Virginia: certain Areas (all DC Metro and Arlington)
  • Washington: Certain Areas (Cities of Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma and Vancouver)
  • Washington DC: All Areas
  • Wisconsin: Certain Areas (all of SE Wisconsin and the City of Milwaukee)

You’ll want to check with your local state transportation authority to see what current smog check requirements are, as things could change year to year. Also, some vehicles are exempt from the process so you can check out the local requirements to see if and when you need to get a smog inspection. 

How can you pass a smog check? 

If you’re concerned about passing a smog inspection, you want to make sure you’re taking care of your car and doing regular maintenance as required. That means not messing with any of the emission-related equipment and getting your car fixed if the engine light comes on. 

If there are blinking lights, that could be another warning sign that there is an issue that needs to be remedied. Taking good care of your car is the best way to pass a smog check. 

Also, staying on top of the requirements. So if you get a notice, get a smog check ASAP and bring the notice. Go to an approved testing site and get the results. If you’re in California, you can use this tool to find a shop to get a smog test. 

If you don’t end up passing the smog check, you’ll want to take action and get repairs to fix the emission issues. You may be eligible for assistance in your state if you’re low income, such as with California’s Consumer Assistance Program.  

The bottom line 

Getting a smog check is a routine process in many states. Not all states require a smog check though and you may be exempt depending on the type of car you have or where you live. Check with your local transportation authority and if you do need a smog check, shop around for the best places to get one at an affordable cost. 

While you’re keeping up with your vehicle’s requirements to stay in good standing on the road, consider looking into other car insurance options that may be more beneficial for your situation. Metromile offers affordable pay-per-mile insurance that is geared toward low-mileage drivers. Grab your free quote today.

Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function.