A California smog check taking place

Selling a Car That Doesn’t Pass Smog in California

Milad Hassibi August 15, 2019


Selling your car can be a difficult and even stressful situation. This can be especially true for those of us in California, where smog checks are regularly required. In California, all used cars that are sold must pass a California smog check, sometimes referred to as an emissions test. Smog testing helps to protect our environment while ensuring the buyer gets a car that is not a complete lemon.

If you are curious to learn more about selling a car that doesn’t pass smog in California, here is everything you’ll need to know.

What Cars Must Be Smogged?

According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, smog inspections are required for all vehicles EXCEPT for:

A smog testing computer
  • Diesel-powered cars and trucks that are a 1997 model year or older are smog-exempt
  • Vehicles made in 1975 or earlier are also completely exempt from needing a smog inspection
  • Vehicles that are 4 or fewer model years old

All cars, other than the ones listed above, must be smogged at a valid smog station prior to the sale of the vehicle. When selling your car, the seller is required by law to provide the buyer with a smog certificate that is no more than 90 days old. The buyer is never legally responsible for smogging the car themselves.

All smog certificates are valid for a period of 90 days after the test took place.

  • Example #1: If you smogged your car 95 days ago and a buyer is ready to buy it now, you will need to re-smog it since that smog certificate does not meet the 90-day requirement.
  • Example #2: If you smogged your car 75 days ago and a buyer is ready to buy it now, your smog certificate is still valid for another 15 days. The new buyer must register the car in their name within the 15-day remaining time frame.

How to Sell a Car That Does Not Pass Smog in California

If your car doesn’t pass smog, you have a few limited options. Your first option is to sell the car to a licensed dealer. When selling a car to a dealer, you are not required to provide a valid smog certificate. Additionally, selling your car to an out of state buyer is also an option, as many states do not have a smog test requirement.

You can also sell your car as “non-operational”, meaning it cannot be driven on public roads or highways. Your last option can be to sell your car to a vehicle junker, who will often come to pick up the car right from your home and then sell it for parts.

Selling your car to a private party that does not pass smog can backfire on you rapidly. Even if you tell the buyer that the car doesn’t pass smog, you cannot legally sell it without a passing smog certificate. The buyer may take you to court for damages or the cost of the needed repairs.

Even if the buyer understands that the car doesn’t pass smog and it is clearly written it in the sale contract, it is still an invalid sale in California. The state of California does not consider private contracts in relation to smog testing to surpass the law requiring sellers to smog cars before a sale.

In California, any car sold other than the examples above must come with a valid smog certificate. When a buyer goes to the DMV or AAA to transfer a title in their name, they must present a valid smog certificate that is provided by the seller.

A car cannot be sold in the state of California without a valid smog certificate. The buyer of your vehicle will be unable to register the car and title in their name unless they have a valid, and most importantly, passing smog certificate. Legally speaking, if the car does not pass smog and is sold to a buyer, the buyer can take additional action against you in court.

Final Note

Selling a car that doesn’t pass smog can make it difficult to find a buyer. If you are looking to get into a new car but are unsure of where to go, CrediReady can help. Our network of dealers and lenders will work with you to get you into a brand new car, regardless of credit. To learn more, fill out our free no-obligation loan inquiry form.



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