Smog, check before you buy

To quote one of my instructors in smog school, “There’s no such thing as an as-is sale on a car that wont pass smog”.

When a car is sold, who is responsible for the inspection?

The seller is required to provide the buyer with a valid smog inspection certification at the time of the sale or transfer. Smog certifications are good for 90 days from the date of issuance.

Unless a car is being sold to:

  • A licensed dismantler (Junk yard)
  • A spouse, domestic partner, sibling, child, parent, grandparent, or grandchild.
  • A biennial smog certification was submitted to DMV within 90 days prior to the vehicle transfer date (a vehicle inspection report may be required for proof of certification).

porsche star smog checkThe California Department of Motor Vehicles will not complete the transfer of ownership until the vehicle passes a smog inspection.


The short answer is that the State of California is looking out for your interests.  The idea is to prevent someone from dumping their problem car on you.

But I got such a great deal!

We recently had a BMW in the shop.  The customer bought the car without a smog.  He thought he got a great deal until he learned that the vehicle would require several thousand dollars worth of repairs before it would pass a smog inspection. Needless to say, our customer no longer believes that he got such a great deal.

Smog check sign

Just Smogs Star Certified Test and Repair

Protect yourself

The state will allow a transfer to occur if a vehicle has received an emissions certification within the last 90 days, but a lot can happen in 90 days.

Maybe the car squeaked  through its last inspection.  Maybe something that was getting ready to go went. Perhaps fraud was involved.

California Vehicle Emissions Statement

The Vehicle Emissions System Statement is a DMV form that even most smog inspectors don’t know about.

The seller is required to furnish the purchaser this statement if a transfer application is submitted to the department within 90 days of the submission of a valid smog certification that was not obtained specifically for the transfer…

… You may have this vehicle tested at a licensed smog check station prior to completion of this transaction to verify compliance. If the vehicle passes the test, you shall be responsible for the costs of the test.  If the vehicle fails the test, the seller is obligated to reimburse you the cost of having the vehicle tested and, without expense to you, must have the vehicle repaired to comply with specified emissions standards prior to completion of this transaction.

Excerpt from :
DMV REG 139 (REV.5/2007)
Vehicle Emissions System Statement

While having a current smog certificate can be a selling point, it can be in the interest of the buyer to have the results of the last smog inspection independently verified.

In today’s vehicles emissions problems are often related to issues that affect fuel economy and driveability. You might be out the price of a smog inspection, or you could save yourself a lot of headaches down the road.

Check the History

I always recommend checking a vehicles smog check history.


The smog check history of every vehicle that has been inspected under the modern smog check program in the State of California is available at:

You can search for a vehicle’s smog check history by license plate or vehicle identification number (VIN).  I always recommend searching by VIN, especially if that old car you’re thinking about just happens to have a brand spanking new license plate.

If you spot a repeating pattern of several failed smog inspection followed by a single pass, the car in question might not be the car you’re looking for.

We can’t all afford to buy or lease new cars

Just Smogs® 7722 Talbert Ave, Huntington Beach, CA

I hear you.  Some of us can’t afford a new car, while others don’t want a new car.  Either way, it’s important to protect yourself.

When buying a used car, always remember to:

And most important of all, to ensure peace of mind, have the vehicle inspected by the dedicated STAR certified professionals at Just Smogs® in Huntington Beach. Click here to make an appointment.