Living in California means familiarizing yourself with the state’s strict vehicle emissions laws. As a car owner, one question that often comes up is “how long is my smog certificate valid for?” Here is a quick visual guide to summarize the validity period:
|Biennial Smog Check
|– Required for gasoline, hybrid, and alternative-fuel vehicles older than 8 years
– Not required for vehicles 8 model years and newer
|Every 2 years
|Biennial checks align with vehicle registration renewal.
|Change-of-Ownership Smog Check
|– Required for selling vehicles over 4 years old
– The seller is responsible for providing a valid smog certificate at or before sale
|Valid for 90 days from the date of issuance
|The buyer should receive a valid smog certificate during the sale. Exemptions for family transfers.
|– Required for out-of-state vehicles being registered in California
– Must be completed within 20 days of establishing residency
|Upon establishing residency
|Register at the DMV with a valid smog check certificate.
|– Exempt from biennial smog checks for first 8 model years
– Smog abatement fee paid instead
|First 8 model years
|After 8 years, biennial smog checks are required.
|Out-of-State Short Visits
|– Valid out-of-state registration
|Up to 20 days
|No smog check required for short visits.
|Out-of-State Long Visits
|– Register and perform a smog check if staying longer than 20 days
|Upon vehicle registration
|Register at the DMV and provide a valid smog check certificate.
Related Articles To Read:
- How to Transfer a Car Title in California
- How to Transfer a Car Title to a Family Member in California
Table of Contents
When Smog Checks Are Required in California
Whether and how often you need to get a smog inspection depends on your vehicle’s age and type. The DMV sends notices when a current smog certificate is required.
- Newer gasoline/hybrid/alt-fuel vehicles are exempt from regular smog checks:
- 8 years or newer – never need biennial smog checks
- 4 years or newer – don’t need smog checks for registration renewals
- Older vehicles need periodic inspections:
- 4-8 year old vehicles need smog checks every 2 years
- 1975 or newer vehicles need checks when ownership changes
- Smog checks take around 20 minutes at certified test centers
- Cost is approximately $50 depending on your area
I’ve created tables below summarizing the vehicle smog check requirements and certificate validity periods to make it easier to determine what applies to your situation.
Biennial Smog Check Requirements
|8 years or newer
|Exempt – Only for ownership transfer
|4-8 years old
|Required every 2 years
|1975-4 years old
|Required every 2 years
Change of Ownership Smog Check Requirements
|4 years or newer
|Exempt from smog check
|1975 or newer
|Smog check required
Smog Certificate Validity Timeline
- Smog Test – Takes 20-30 minutes
- Smog Certificate Issued – Valid for 90 days
- Use Certificate to Renew Registration – Covers next 2 years
- New Smog Test Required at Next Renewal Period
What if My Car is from Out-of-State?
If you moved to California from another state and brought your vehicle, you still need to follow the smog check guidelines. Any gasoline vehicle model year 1975 or newer that stays in California over 20 days must complete a smog inspection to register.
Some key steps when moving in your vehicle:
- Get a temporary registration permit prior to driving into California
- Transfer your out-of-state title/registration to California
- In some cases, modifications may be needed to meet stricter emission standards
- Use smog exemptions only if eligible based on situation
Check the DMV website for the most up-to-date details on registering out-of-state vehicles.
Renewing Registration with a Valid Smog Certificate
As long as you have submitted a valid smog certificate to the DMV within the last 90 days, you can renew your registration for another two years. The test data is saved in the DMV system to verify compliance.
In some cases, they may request you show proof if records were unavailable when you tried renewing. But typically the process is straightforward if your smog check was done properly and recently.
The key is making sure you do not let your smog certificate expire before submitting it with your renewal application. As long as it was issued in the prior 90 day window, you are all set registration-wise for another two years!
- Smog certificates are valid for 90 days from test date
- Submitted certificates cover registration renewal for next 2 years
- Requirements vary based on vehicle age and type
- Out-of-state vehicles entering California need smog checks
- Renewals just need a valid certificate from the last 90 days
Following California’s vehicle emissions testing requirements helps improve air quality for all residents. While smog checks may be inconvenient, they ensure our vehicles run cleanly.