Tahoe/Truckee car care: What if your vehicle fails a smog test?

Special to the Sun

TRUCKEE, Calif. – California has one of the strictest smog tests standards in the country designed to pinpoint polluting vehicles. A regularly maintained vehicle that is running efficiently should have no problems passing the smog test.

But what if your vehicle fails? Typically this means that some system on the vehicle is not functioning efficiently and does not meet the requirements set by the State of California Air Resources Board. A failure will have occurred in one or more of the three areas tested: the visual inspection, the functional test or the emissions test.

In some cases of failed smog, a diagnostic service is necessary in order to pinpoint the problem. This diagnosis is not included in the Smog Check fee. Although this can be a frustrating situation, know that the diagnostic service includes more than retrieving the code that caused the failure.

The code only indicates the system where the problem is occurring; it takes an experienced technician to diagnose where in the system the problem or problems are occurring and how to fix it.

A diagnostic service will also be needed if your check engine light is on since this is an automatic fail for the California Smog test. Diagnosing and fixing any problem will not only help you pass the smog test, it will keep your vehicle running clean and fuel efficient.

It is also important to know that if your Check Engine light, also called the Malfunction Indicator Lamp (MLF), was recently on but now cleared, the vehicle will need to be driven in order to allow the vehicle monitor to run the self tests.

This also includes if the battery was disconnected or failed. Driving the vehicle allows the computer to collect and store current information from the monitors which the smog technician uses during the test. How far the vehicle needs to be driven will vary, 100 miles is likely sufficient.

When a vehicle is Smog checked and the levels are extremely high, it becomes identified by the State of California as a Gross Polluter. A Gross Polluter is a vehicle that emits much more than the allowable limit. This designation requires the vehicle owner to have the vehicle fixed and retested at a Star Station. A Star Station designation also requires the vehicle to be test yearly as opposed to every other year.

If you have failed a smog test and substantial repairs are needed on the vehicle you may be eligible for California’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP). Eligibility requirements are available on BAR’s website qualification, up to $500 in emissions-related repairs are paid for after a $100 co-pay. Vehicle owners may also retire a vehicle and receive $1,000 or $1,500 if all requirements are met.

Every California Smog Check Station or Star Station is regulated by the Bureau of Automotive Repair and continually monitored to be sure the station and the technician are correctly administrating the test. Vehicles designated to visit Star Station may only be tested at such a station.

All other vehicles may be tested at any Certified California Smog Check Station. It is a good idea to visit a station that allows for a thirty-day free retest. If the vehicle fails the smog test, you may retake the test again within 30 days at no charge.

– This article was submitted to the Sun from Quality Automotive and Smog, located at 11357 Deerfield Drive in Truckee. Learn more about the business at

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