Californians and Out-of-State Vehicles

If you want to register a new vehicle in California, you need to think about where you purchase it and if it is going to meet all the state Smog Check requirements. In a nutshell, you can buy a new car or truck from another state, but there are some caveats. The main thing that you must do is to make certain that it meets all of California’s emission requirements. You cannot register an automobile in California until it meets all the strict smog emission codes. This state is serious about controlling air pollution because of the poor air quality in certain areas.

Here’s where it gets tricky: a new vehicle does not have to be brand-spanking new with zero miles to qualify as “new.” Technically, the DMV is going to label any vehicle with less than 7,500 miles on it as new. And don’t try to drive it all over to get the mileage up to get around this rule – the DMV is onto that game.

Federal emission standards simply are not the same as California emission standards. The other forty-nine states do not face the same air quality problems, so their states are less stringent. When shopping for a new car, you need to look for trucks, cars, or motorcycles that are labeled as either “50-state certified” or “California certified” – either label is acceptable. You need to look under the hood on the emission control label to confirm that the car or truck is legal for sale in California. (With a motorcycle, the emission information should be somewhere on the frame or headset.)

There are a few very rare circumstances that will allow you to have a new vehicle that doesn’t meet California’s smog requirements. For example, if you were on active military duty in another state and registered your car in that other state, you are exempt from meeting California’s new-car emission standards. If you receive a new car as part of a divorce or inheritance, you also are exempt from the rules. There is another rare and unfortunate situation that will allow you to be excused from the rules: If you are out of state and your car is stolen or destroyed, and you then have to replace that car while you are out of state, your new vehicle does not have to meet the California emission standards.

The DMV will excuse you from meeting the emission requirements if you were a resident of another state when you bought your new vehicle and can provide proof of your registration and residency in that other state.