What Happens If Your Vehicle Fails a Car Smog Test?


In California, cars must undergo a smog test every two years. Many individuals are eager to reduce pollution while driving, and servicing and testing vehicles for smog is one way. However, car smog tests can be failed.

Failing one of these tests will have implications for the car owner, and their ability to register their vehicle and drive freely. But, what exactly happens when you fail the car smog test?

What exactly is a smog test?

A car smog test is designed to check whether a car is releasing too many emissions and pollutants into the air. When a vehicle is tested for smog, several parts of the car will be inspected.

When Robbins Automotive & Smog carry out emissions tests, they inspect many areas of the vehicle. A full inspection of the gas cap, exhaust recirculation system, and onboard diagnostic system, will take place along with other checks.

If a car is releasing too many pollutants, then it will fail the car smog test, and this leads the owner to 4 main choices.

If your vehicle fails the smog test what happens next?

The first option isn’t really a choice at all. If you fail the car smog test you could continue to drive but in time your registration will expire and you will be driving illegally. This will result in heavy penalties and possible impounding of the vehicle.

Realistically, there are three options available for anyone whose car has failed the smog test.

Make repairs and retest your vehicle

Passing the smog test means minimizing emissions, and you can do this by maintaining your exhaust system. However, every car will eventually fail a smog test, and when this happens, repairs will be needed.

One tip worth remembering is when you retest your car, avoid going to a test-only center. Test and repair stations will save you time if you need to make further repairs. And they can notify the DMV of your test results instantly.

If the repairs are too expensive, then drivers can apply to the Consumer Assistance Program. Qualification depends on household income levels.

You can retire your vehicle permanently

If the vehicle requires substantial repairs which make it financially unfeasible, then the car can be retired.

Retiring a car might seem drastic, but the smog program is designed to improve air quality for all. The current air quality in California is good. Historically though, the state has experienced high levels of ozone pollution. And rather than penalize car owners, the state has an assistance program for people who retire vehicles.

Under California’s Consumer Assistance Program, a car owner can receive up to $1,500 to retire a car.

Sell the vehicle

Cars that fail a smog test can still be sold. But, the value of the car will be far less than if you carry out repairs first. If you cannot afford to repair the car, and you don’t want to retire it, then selling it might be an option.

How long do you have before you must take a smog retest?

There is no upper time limit for retesting, but there will be a problem with DMV registration if a smog test isn’t passed.

Once the car’s registration expires you will be unable to register the vehicle again until you have a smog test certificate. Late registration brings financial penalties, so ideally you will get retested before expiration.

What happens if the repairs don’t fix the problem?

Carrying out repairs can be expensive. You don’t need to understand how a catalytic converter works, but you might be interested to know how much a replacement costs.

Failing a smog test might result in you needing a catalytic converter replacement which can be up to $2,400. So, failing a retest can be very disappointing after spending a considerable amount of cash.

However, there are options for when tests are failed more than once. If you have been tested twice and made repairs in between these tests, then you may be eligible for a Repair Cost Waiver.

If you have spent $650 or more at an accredited smog repair center and failed a retest, then you can apply for a waiver. Visit a smog referee station with documentation to prove you have failed two tests, plus proof of repair costs.

If you qualify then you will receive a waiver from making further repairs and your car will be given a pass rating.


At the moment, the car smog test is only mandatory in certain areas, but if it improves the air quality for Californians, then it may be rolled out countrywide.

Failing a car smog test will happen to most people at some point, but there are options and assistance available for car owners when this happens.

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