Buying a Car and Smog Check Considerations

In most states in the U.S., buying a used car is a pretty simple process. The buyer might take the car or truck for a test drive, get a loan, and transfer the title. But in California, things are different; California is in a special league of its own. There is that fine little detail that sometimes gets overlooked: the Smog Check certificate. Buyers should ask some questions before handing cash over to the seller.

First of all, did you know that you can look up a vehicle’s Smog Test history? You simply input the vehicle’s VIN number or license plate number into the California Bureau of Automotive Repair’s website, and presto, there is the data you were looking for.

As you are probably aware, the seller is required to provide the buyer with a passing Smog Check certificate under California’s vehicle code. But did you know that family members are exempt from this rule? You can skip the Smog Check if the car is from a spouse, domestic partner, sibling, child, parent, grandparent, or grandchild. You will have to complete a Statement of Facts form with the DMV. Other relatives, such as aunts and uncles, do not count and a Smog Check certificate is still required.

Smog certificates are good for 90 days, so a seller has up to 90 days to sell a car before another inspection would be required. Keep in mind that you do not need a Smog Check certificate when buying a vehicle that is four years old or less (going by model year). A simple way for you to calculate the oldest-qualifying model year is to subtract three from the current year.

Just be sure to not forget about the Smog Check certificate BEFORE you complete your purchase of a used car. Let’s suppose that you buy the car, and then realize that the seller did not have a Smog Check done. You then decide to just get the check done yourself, but discover that repairs are going to be needed after all. What’s your recourse then? You can go back to the seller and show him or her the vehicle code, and try to agree on how to handle the repairs. But what if the seller will not budge? You are then stuck paying for the repairs out of your pocket. Sure, you can bring the seller to court, but that has an uncertain outcome no matter what the details are.