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What’s the Difference Between a Regular Smog Center and a Star Smog Center?

What’s the Difference Between a Regular Smog Center and a Star Smog Center?

By Jack Bulko, AutoAid


You’re about to pay your car registration, and then you see it. That line indicating that you need a smog check. Ugh. Finding a place shouldn’t be difficult; there is one on almost every corner. Testing can be completed at any DMV-approved location within your county. So, what’s holding you back from getting it done? It’s deciding which type of service to use. Some are smog test stations, others smog test and repair stations and still others Star Certified Smog Check Test centers or Star Test & Repair Centers. What’s the difference between a regular smog center and a Star Smog Center?

It’s about how they have been certified by the California state Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) to perform smog checks, but basically:

  • Smog test centers can perform the test itself and give you a certification.
  • Smog repair stations can repair your vehicle so it can pass the test.
  • Smog test and repair stations can do it all.
  • STAR stations, whether they are test only or test and repair, are more closely monitored by the Bureau of Automotive Repairs, and are required to go through an extra layer of certification and perform more involved testing. STAR Test and Repair Centers are the only smog centers that can inspect, repair and certify your vehicle.

Your registration form will tell you if smog certification by a Star station is required. You can easily identify these stations as they typically have signage outside their establishment.

State law mandates that a certain number of vehicles be referred to STAR smog stations. How does the DMV choose which automobiles grow through simple or rigorous testing? They look at:

  • Gross polluters (vehicles which have failed a previous smog inspection with very high emission readings)
  • High Emitter Profile vehicles. These are vehicle types designated by the Bureau of Automotive Repair as having high chances of failing the smog inspection.
  • A random sample of all vehicles registered in California and being driven on public roads.

If you’re unsure if your automobile will pass the test, you can always have a pre-test inspection done. A pre-test is an unofficial test provided as an option to vehicle owners prior to having an official smog check on their vehicle.

Following the pre-test, speak with the technician about the results. If you passed, great! Go ahead and have the shop put your vehicle through the standard smog test. If your vehicle came up short on the test, ask what needs to be fixed prior to going through the smog certification process.

BAR Programs

If your automobile does not pass the smog test you always have the option to appeal to the BAR Referee Program at (800) 622-7733. In the meantime, you’ll want to request a 60-day temporary operating permit (TOP) from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

To apply for the permit, send DVM:

  • A copy of the failed smog test.
  • Proof of insurance
  • Your original registration or transfer fees.
  • Renewal fees, if your registration expires in 30 days.
  • Brake and light certificates, if required.

If the cost of repairing your car exceeds your budget, you may also qualify for low-income repair assistance through BAR’s Consumer Assistance program, (800) 952-5210.

For those who don’t qualify for the Bar Program, AutoAid provides its own payment program, its Auto Pass card.

What Can You Do to Keep Your Car in Smog Test-Ready Condition?

Performing regular and proper maintenance according to your owner's manual and not tampering with the emissions control equipment will help improve your vehicle's chances of passing a smog test. Also pay attention to the “check engine” lights and blinking or flashing lights on your dashboard that may indicate problems with the engine or emissions system. Always refer back to your car’s owner's manual to see if any repairs are covered by your vehicle manufacturer's emissions warranty.

How Much Will a Smog Test Cost?

Smog stations such as the one at AutoAid, are independently owned and operated businesses. The owners of these smog test centers set their own pricing for each type of test, although they must include an $8.25 State Certificate fee. Prices range from $29.95 to $59.95, plus the service fee.

Recently, AutoAid became a Star Certified Smog Test and Repair Center. Call AutoAid today and see what we can do to get your car certified and safely back on the road. We service American, Asian and European makes and models. To find out how we can get your vehicle in shape for your next smog test, call us at (818) 305-6632 or visit us at

AutoAid is committed to ensuring effective communication and digital accessibility to all users. We are continually improving the user experience for everyone, and apply the relevant accessibility standards to achieve these goals. We welcome your feedback. Please call AutoAid (818) 901-1113 if you have any issues in accessing any area of our website.