Golden Gate Bridge with smog

Many people walk into a used car dealership wanting a car that day. Often the customer has seen an ad for a particular car and hopes to drive out of the dealership with that car. This hope or expectation is one that dealers can take advantage of in many ways. A dealer will try and get you committed to a car before you realize all of the downsides, so that you will willingly increase your financial burden as you now think of the vehicle as yours.

Don’t Forget the Smog Test

One specific way dealers do this is by ignoring the smog test. In California, a vehicle must pass a smog test before it can be sold. This test is the seller’s responsibility, and, without a recent smog certificate on file, the Department of Motor Vehicles will not transfer registration. (More details about the smog test are here.)

Many things can prevent a vehicle from passing a smog test, and sometimes the required repairs are expensive. Dealerships do not want to put out the cash to make these repairs. They would rather force you to do it. So the dealerships will sell vehicles that have not passed smog and tell you to go take care of the smog test yourself. Often, they will assure you that the vehicle will pass with no problems.

But that is not always the case.

Instead, you may find yourself with a car that is “yours” but is not registered to you. And it can’t be registered to you until you make expensive repairs so that the vehicle will pass the smog test. If you ask the dealership for help, they will likely tell you to jump in a lake. They’ve got your downpayment and your signature; the problems are yours now.

How should you deal with this?

Before the sale, you should ask to see the smog certificate. You should also go to the Bureau of Automotive Repair’s website and check the VIN for the test history. Watch out for vehicles that show several failed tests in short succession before a pass. This can be a sign of “funny business.”

After the sale, if you find yourself with a vehicle that won’t pass the smog test, do not take care of the repairs yourself. By getting the car to pass smog yourself, you make it very unlikely that you will ever see that money again, even though those repairs should not have been your responsibility. Instead, write to the dealership and insist that you get your money from your auto purchase back. The dealership may refuse you, but you can also get a lawyer to help you fight this battle. If you are in this situation, send me an email or call me at (408) 599-3277 for a free consultation.

Photo credit: pixabay

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Comments (63)

  • Chastity on February 10, 2016 at 7:03 PM

    I just purchased a 2007 dodge charge. It had a check engine light but the dealer promised he would fix it . We brought it back twice and still had not fixed it. I just dropped it off for a 3rd time hoping the problem will be fixed. I think he's just removing the light instead of fixing it..it's been having starter problems since day 1.. I asked him to see the smog check or what have they done to the car because I don't feel like it should have passed the smog and I don't feel safe driving it and I'm having a baby in 2 months.. he said he's not required to show me anything or smog test or anything... Is that true? Reply

  • Kevin Faulk on February 11, 2016 at 3:52 PM

    Chastity, Thank you for contacting me. I hope to be able to help you. I'm sending you an email so that we can talk about the problem. Reply

  • Heather on May 25, 2016 at 8:20 AM

    Received a call last night..7 weeks after we purchased a car...to tell us they forgot to smog it. They want to take it back to the dealership (San Diego to Newport Beach) to smog it. Whole deal has been shady from the start. Can we require them to get it done in our area rather than take the car back, adding miles to the vehicle? We don't trust them! Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on May 25, 2016 at 8:32 AM

      Heather, You have a lot of options in this situation. It's really unbelievable that it took them this long to notice the deficiency! Feel free to call me and we can talk about some of the different possibilities. Kevin Reply

  • Rhonda on June 18, 2016 at 9:40 AM

    Hi my name is Rhonda I have a two part situation 1. Purchase pontiac no brake lights the night of purchase said bring back would fix. Beought back. Not fixed. Car accident. Advised dealer unsafe want money back or new car. Took car back gave me a Cadillac. He advised not smog come get in a couple of days. 2 weeks later gave car said atill not smog. Nees ro drive ro put miles on. Unfamiliar with this practice. Took to Cadillac dealer informed of situation. Said illegal. Did diagnosis. Gave copy to dealer. Said would fix. Interm have not made payments. 3months now has not passed smog. Vehicle in their possesion i have a loaner from them. They say their looking into problem Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on June 18, 2016 at 4:41 PM

      Rhonda, I would love to see if I could help you. This sounds like a crazy and terrible situation. The first thing that needs to happen is for you to send the documents to me. On the "Contact" tab, you'll see my email address. If you can send me the documents, I can begin to figure out how to help you. You can also feel free to call any time, I really hope to help you with this situation. Kevin Reply

  • Norma on August 1, 2016 at 4:05 PM

    I purchased a 2002 Nissan Sentra from a small dealership two days later check engine light comes on the car came with a smog certificate although I think he somehow got the light off and get a smog certificate illegally. Now the car won't start and is only been a week I've called him on the second day to report problems what should I do? Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on August 2, 2016 at 1:04 PM

      Norma, I'm emailing you directly so that we can talk about the situation. Kevin Reply

  • godon buck tel 3103750475 on August 8, 2016 at 12:49 AM

    Went to dealer and paid cash for car. He could not give me pinkslip as he had to pay it off with titling company. He let me drive car away promising pink slip would follow. It has taken 8 months to get pink slip. I went with him to AAA to do transfer and paid fees etc including registration. Car needed smog test so they could not do registration. Dealer gave me pink slip signed over to me as new owner and told me to get car smogged then register car. I new no better so i agreed. Due to unforeseen circumstances I have not been able to do this yet and now the car transmission has failed and car is irreparable -junk! Dealer is still registered owner and as it is illegal for him to sell car without smog cert can I just rescind the deal and get my money back-about $6000? Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on August 8, 2016 at 7:28 AM

      Dear Mr. Buck, thanks for your comment. I would love to try to help you with the problem. I emailed you. If you don't get the email, just let me know here. Reply

  • Joe Flannery on August 12, 2016 at 1:27 PM

    Hello, my name is Joe. On 8/11/16 I purchased a vehicle from a dealer. Paid 12k cash and the car is beautiful. Upon purchase the dealer said it passed smog. We live 27 miles from the dealer and 1/2 way home the check engine light had come on. One home I find that the the car has a major internal issue that didn't "just happen". That being the balancer shaft inside the block. Ultimately it triggers the timing to be off thus won't pass smog 1 hour later. How does on prove that the check engine light was just reset and the smog cert. Falsified? Mercedes has quoted $7500 for the repair. I really need help returning the vehicle which they knew had a problem. Thank you for any help offered. Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on August 12, 2016 at 6:58 PM

      Joe, I'd love to see if I can help you with this. It sounds like there is definitely something wrong. I've emailed you directly. Get in touch when you can. Reply

  • Hebergement web on August 29, 2016 at 1:39 AM

    Nevada requires used car dealers to issue a valid emissions test, when required, on any vehicle they sell. In private transactions, the test is the buyer's responsibility. Reply

  • Jim on September 28, 2016 at 12:33 PM

    6 months ago I leased a 2015 exotic car. I never received the registration from the CA DMV. Turns out the dealership brought this car from out of state and did not get it smog tested prior to selling it to me. The dealership is now asking me to get it smog tested and they will reimburse me. The lien holder has also called me asking so they can get the title. Can I make them buy the car back if I do not want to go and get it smog tested? Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on September 29, 2016 at 1:43 PM

      Jim, I'd be glad to take a look at this and see how I can help you. There are some complicating factors, but it may be possible to get the car bought back. I'm sending you an email. You can also feel free to call me. Reply

  • Jim Cunning on September 28, 2016 at 3:36 PM

    Automotive Can't smog my car apparently it had an illegal cold intake filter installedon me vehicle when purchased a little over 2 years ago I found this out when trying to have it smogged this last week. I called the the dealer and they said that I need to talk to the owner about my situation, but they never know when he'll be showing up,just keep calling and that maybe I'll get lucky and catch him when he is in. Getting lucky isn't going to help smog my car with an illegal cold air filter system.. Thank you for you time. Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on September 29, 2016 at 1:40 PM

      Jim, I'm sending you an email about the situation. You can also feel free to call. I've helped many people out with similar problems, and you'll be amazed at how quickly a letter from a lawyer can get a reaction. Reply

  • Osvaldo Garcia on October 5, 2016 at 8:12 AM

    I bought a Chevrolet Tahoe a month ago. Within a week of purchase the vehicle had the "Service Engine Soon" light. I took it to his mechanic and the car required some sensors that cost $400 to repair. He refused to fix it. I needed my car so I paid for the repair. Is there anything I can do to get my money back? He had a 1000 mile 30 day limited warranty that expires today. Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on October 6, 2016 at 4:12 PM

      Osvaldo, I emailed you. This definitely sounds like a situation that I can help you with. Please contact me so that I can give you a hand. Kevin Reply

  • Elaine on January 2, 2017 at 12:50 PM

    Do you help people who have purchased a car that won't pass smog from a private individual? My 25 year old daughter bought a Nissan Pathfinder from a man via Craigslist. When she went to register it, she realized it needed smog test. It didn't pass, and she was told it would cost $1500 to fix it to pass smog. This man ripped off my daughter: she has a car that she cannot legally own because it wont pass smog, and he took her money. She did not know enough to ask if he had the smog certificate. I know that what he did is illegal. What can she do? Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on January 2, 2017 at 12:53 PM

      Elaine, The best thing to do would be to take the person to small claims court. If you'd like more advice and information, feel free to call and I'll talk you through the whole process. Reply

  • Cynthia on January 13, 2017 at 8:12 PM

    Hi their, My question is " Is it the responsibly Of the dealer to PAY for the cost to smog a used car purchased from them Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on January 17, 2017 at 4:43 PM

      Yes, it is. They had to have paid for it before they sold the car to anyone, so it must be their responsibility. Are they asking you to pay for a smog test after the sale? Reply

      • Thomas Luther on June 26, 2018 at 11:32 PM

        I just bought a 2012 Honda through my CU car buying program. When doing the paper work from the dealer who had the car there was a $50 fee for "Emissions Testing Charge (not a govermental fee)" . Are they allowed to charge me for the test? Reply

  • Vanessa Mendez on April 7, 2017 at 8:29 AM

    Hi so i bought a car from a small dealer with no warranty since the car is old its a ford taurus 1996. the guy told me i had to do the smog so i went ahead and take it to the smog there was no engine light on, when i took it to the smog the guy told me it did not pass . that the computer said the engine light was on and it turned out to be it was the problem was that the engine light bulb was blown out thats why i didnt see it. so i called the guy from the dealer and he said that he was gonna fix it to call him later thats how he had me for a while and the guy from the smog said that if its a legit dealer they have to sell me a car thats gonna pass the smog so is that true? and so i was driving the car waiting for the guy to call me and yesterday the car just wont start anymore , so now i am not sure what i can do since i bought the car with no warranty.. is there anything i can do??? Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on April 7, 2017 at 1:22 PM

      Vanessa, I'm so sorry you're having so much trouble! I think I can help you with this situation though. Feel free to call my office. I am sending you an email as well. Reply

  • Daniel on April 12, 2017 at 10:31 PM

    So I recently bought a car from a small dealership and it had an okay smog okay sticker on it. I'm getting buyer's remorse in this car. It was an 2008 Subaru Sti. When I signed the contract I saw that there was a part where I signed away my right to cancel the contract. But when I drove it off the lot the check engine light turned on. I'm want to back out of my contract nowans get my money back, but its been a week and I want to know if I can do anything? I think this small dealership maybe passing smog illegally. Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on April 13, 2017 at 9:25 AM

      Daniel, Sadly, there are smog stations that help dealerships pass cars that should fail smog. Dealerships like that often have other violations that are easier to pursue. I'll be emailing you about how to look further into this. Reply

  • Calin on April 17, 2017 at 12:20 PM

    I have a similar issue, I purchased a car in March from a dealership and was informed that they would send my registration in the mail, then last week I got a call from the dealership saying that they needed me to bring the car in to be smogged and I wont get registration until then, This may be a stupid question, but should I just being the car in to get smogged or was it illegal that they had sold it to me without doing that in the first place Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on April 17, 2017 at 3:51 PM

      Calin, Whether you should just bring it back really depends on what you want to have happen. Could you call me and we can discuss it? Kevin Reply

  • Carlos on April 26, 2017 at 11:09 PM

    Hi I purchased a car from a shady dealership that got shut down once and got reopened as another name. Purchased the car 2 months ago. Has no cats from day 1. I bought the car with some issues nothing put on the due bill. The radiator fan broke before we left the dealership supposedly fixed month and a half later breaks again. Had other issues that I brought up to the salesman and the service manager and after that I got the run around that they are busy and waiting for the part. And now they called me to go back because to get the car inspected and VIN verified for the DMV so under suspicions I looked up on the bar website to see if they smog my car and they didn't. I love the car just don't like how I had to fork over the money to repair the car with issues that the car had before. Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on April 27, 2017 at 2:30 PM

      Carlos, I would love to try and help you with this. In this kind of situation, I usually advise people to give the car back, though. When a dealer is crooked you're best off getting as far away from them as possible. Give me a call when you can! Reply

  • Tee on May 16, 2017 at 8:13 PM

    I have the same problem as Heather; I purchase my Car Several weeks ago and now they are calling to tell me my car needs a smog. What should I do? Also, I paid them car. Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on May 17, 2017 at 11:12 AM

      Tee, I would be glad to help you out with this. Can you call or email me to discuss the situation? Kevin Reply

  • Terry on May 18, 2017 at 11:23 PM

    Hi Kevin. I'm looking at a used car with out of state title and plates but the seller is in CA and claims that he bought the car out of state two weeks ago with the intention of selling it here. But he never registered the vehicle and seems to think he has no responsibility to smog the vehicle. I don't want to pay for a PPI if the whole thing is a scam. How do I know? Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on May 19, 2017 at 12:15 PM

      You can't register the vehicle in California without a smog test, and you can't transfer title without the smog test. This is exclusively the seller's responsibility. He may tell you that he is selling you the vehicle, but DMV won't transfer the title to you unless they have a smog certificate. I would tell him that he needs to get it done, and if he is unwilling to do so, you should be ready to walk away. Reply

  • Alex on June 1, 2017 at 9:02 AM

    I purchased a car "as is," and it was supposedly smogged on the day I purchased it. The check engine light came on a couple days later, took it to mechanic and found out there were several issues with the car that would have prevented it from actually passing smog. Mechanic told me they probably cleared codes and "clean piped" it (the bureau of auto repair says they probably just paid off tech to pass it). Is the dealership responsible for the repairs that would have been necessary for the vehicle to pass smog, even though it was sold as is? Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on June 1, 2017 at 10:14 AM

      Alex, I think I can help you out in this situation. Right now, the best thing is to not get the car repaired if you're planning on taking action against the dealership. Give me a call. Kevin Reply

  • Maynor Estrada on June 5, 2017 at 6:02 PM

    I bought a car "as is" from dealership After 4 days the check engine came out, I called them to tell the problem and they toll me bring in 2 weeks.. they just deleted the codes and told me run the car for 50 miles and go to pass the smog test. I couldn't pass the smog test. They told me we can't fix catalytic converter. Now I have around 3 months since a bought the car and I dont know what should I do. I need help Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on June 5, 2017 at 6:10 PM

      Maynor, Give me a call. I think I can help you. Reply

  • rita on July 3, 2017 at 4:10 PM

    i bought a used 2007 Acura from Acura dealership "as is". i figured it'd be best for me to buy from them than someone on the street. the emission check light came on. i took it in and they gave me an estimate of $1000 to repair (CAT). i was so livid i asked to speak to the manager. manager i spoke to was just the used sales manager whom told me there's nothing he can do. he went to speak to service area and they "told him" they can knock it down to $900. i was like wth? seriously? aside his customer service being very horrible i feel he could've have done more on his end. i asked for his manager and he said that he knows his manager well and will say the same. i actually plan on going to dealership after work since i went during my lunch break and couldn't stay longer. this doesn't seem fair to me, and that manager made me feel like the money i spent there wasn't worth anything to them Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on July 3, 2017 at 4:43 PM

      Rita, Give me a call so that we can talk about the whole situation and I can see how I can help you. Reply

  • Lisa Ardo on July 6, 2017 at 4:10 PM

    Not sure if I'm posting to the right place trying to get ahold of Kevin Faulk. It's October 6th or 7th I recently purchased the car just last night I got in the car halfway driving home the check engine light came on they the dealer Hardin Honda in Anaheim charge me for the smog set it pass smog but never really showed me the certificate. The service guy today said it's all done electronically as they took care of the registration and everything last night and there's no way this car would have pass smog with the check engine light coming on with a misfire in cylinder 2 so I told him that I wanted to see the smog certificate itself and if they didn't do the smog and they're saying they shipped it out to a third party for the smog well I want to still want to see the certificate is that that's well within my rights isn't it my email is a r d o f a q u e s at yahoo.com Reply

  • Abdul on August 21, 2017 at 1:31 AM

    I have purchased a used car on AUG 7th of 2017 . A 2015 Toyota Camry Se from a used car dealership. 1)The is 2.5 years old and the dealer charged me smog fees( I have just found out in California 4 years or newer cars are exempt when title transfer is made). 2) The car's registration is valid and expires on March 2018 yet the dealer charged me registration $300, documentation $60, and title transfer $15. 3) A $295 stocking fee. I feel like I am a victim of a fraud activity. Please help thanks Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on August 21, 2017 at 8:34 AM

      Abdul, I think I can help you with this. Contact me via phone to discuss. Kevin Reply

  • Haylee Ferguson on September 10, 2017 at 11:20 AM

    I bought a car from a man he told me it would pass smog..I just turned 18 I don't know much about the law n Requirements..the cAR has a salvaged title I didn't even know what that was until my mom told me when I showed her the car I bought.I spent money for the smog and it didnt pass.the fuel is to rich..needs a tune up in was told. The cars taillights never worked but I didn't know it at the time I bought it it was daytime.I went strait 2 work.I was pulled over by a cop who told me.he let me go with a warning.I needed a car badly ebough to pay this man 900.cash.he taillights and the smog problem are preventing me from driving it.I'm broke and stuck with no car.will lawyer cost to much and what's the possable outcome? Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on September 11, 2017 at 2:08 PM

      Haylee, Give me a call so that we can discuss this. I can possibly help you or at least point you in the right direction. Kevin Reply

  • Diana on September 30, 2017 at 2:03 PM

    Hi i hi purchased a vehicle and made payments at to this finance company which is also owned by the same dealer and after 11 months of making payments they stated that the deal fell through and that the dealer bought the vehicle paid it off the loan and due to title and no one has contacted me not one letter or the dealer the only thing I got was a dealer saying to bring the car in for smog check and it's already been a year what should I do Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on October 1, 2017 at 11:58 AM

      Diana, Please call me! I think I can help you. Reply

  • Ian Judge on October 4, 2017 at 11:29 AM

    Hi, bought a car in April. Dealer told me we had six months on temp plate. Coming close to that so I chased them up. They told me problem with SMOG as it was previously on a Disabled Plate. Took it and got smogged at their place so didn't have to pay. Week later chased up again to be told they can't register because of Disabled Plate it needs a new number and only I can do it. They have given me all the paperwork but now the bill of sale says sold in September. The sale price of the car was $10,500 but on the form it says $3,495. Also the mileage on sale says 69k but on the smog it says 75k which is right. They have said pay DMV and they will refund me. I fear they do this devaluing to defraud sales tax and I'll be implicit in it but also that I'll never get my money back. Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on October 5, 2017 at 10:52 AM

      Ian, Give me a call! Lets talk about this and see if I can help you. Reply

  • Jorge Morales on October 4, 2017 at 11:38 PM

    I recently purchase an old truck f350 diesel 1998 , no less than 90 days. I decided to sell the truck and in the process to have a new smog certificate , the technician found out that the truck came with no catalytic converter, seems like it was removed on purpose, I try to find a solution with the car dealer and they won't offer any solution. What can I do? Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on October 5, 2017 at 10:50 AM

      Jorge, I emailed you. I think I can help. Thanks, Kevin Reply

  • Brian Becker on February 15, 2018 at 9:41 AM

    Hey i bought a 1991 honda accord from a private seller and she said it would pass smog fine but when i tried to get her to smog it she refused and said for me to smog it after i buy it. Well it just failed smog by like 40 points and I had heard its the sellers responsibility to ensure it pases smog but idk if tgats for a private seller too. We do have a bill of sale if that helps. Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on February 15, 2018 at 4:39 PM

      Brian, You're probably going to need to take the seller to small claims court. Feel free to call me if you want more information. Reply

  • Louis Leveriza on March 9, 2018 at 10:32 AM

    Hello Kevin, I bought a used car from a Mercedes Dealership 6 years ago. Transferred title no problem. 2 years later, had to smog it, passed. Another 2 years had to smog again, passed. This year, I need to smog it, failed because there is an aftermarket exhaust, with 2 cats. OEM is 4 cats. Do i have any recourse? Thanks Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on March 12, 2018 at 12:51 PM

      After that amount of time, I wouldn't hold out a lot of hope. Reply

  • Steve cardenas on June 29, 2018 at 12:50 AM

    I bought a used car from a new car dealer in Orange County. It has been close to years since the purchase. I received the renual for registration which also asked me to have it. Smog checked. I took it to a near by smog check station where in was told one of the two catalytic converters was not OEM moreover the converter in question was missing a "Stamp" and the xand so the car failed the check..I took it to another smog station and found the same result. I then returned to the place of purchase (45 miles away) they too told me it had an illegal converter and that they could not get the car to pass the smog check. I spoke with the general manager and asked how did the car pass smog before they sold it to me to which he replied that he didn't know, I asked if he would pull the file and look at the paperwork to which he said the company had a new system and that my history could no longer be found..what about the physical file I asked? Same answer. He said the repair would be expensive and how would I Handel it. I said I would not pay and then he offered to buy my car back..I shopped around and could not find another car like mine within 500 miles were all at least 3000.00 dollars more that what I paid for mine..can I make them repair my car? Anor if they buy it back can I get market value in order to replace my current car with a "like" automobile? I don't wish to get left holding the bag. Please reply Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on June 29, 2018 at 8:23 AM

      I'm emailing you directly. I may be able to help. Reply

  • Beverly Wilkerson- Aldabashi on July 2, 2018 at 1:49 PM

    I purchased a BMW from an auto broker about 5 weeks ago. I paid cash. As I drove the vehicle away, the check engine light came on and I contacted them and they told me that they would take care of it. About three weeks ago, the dealer started calling asking me to bring the vehicle in to him because it needed a smog and safety inspection done in order to transfer ownership. I had a family emergency and have not taken the car to the dealer as yet and yesterday while driving the car, the drive belt broke, actually shredding and possibly causing 3k damage to the engine although it still starts. The drive belt should not have done this if the car passed the dealers inspection less than 1000 miles ago. Now, the engine needs major work because of this failure on the dealers behalf and the car is not even in my name despite me giving them 10,800 dollars! How should I proceed? Reply

    • Kevin Faulk on July 3, 2018 at 11:46 AM

      Beverly, I think that I can help you. I emailed you separately. Feel free to call or email at your convenience. Reply

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