Hybrid Vehicle Smog Testing Under Way For First Time


Many hybrid vehicle owners might think that California’s biennial Smog Check test is in their rear view mirror because the vehicles’ hybrid, near-zero emissions motor exempt them from such tests.  Not so.  Beginning this year and for the first time, older hybrids must pass a smog test before their owners can obtain a vehicle registration sticker. Why? Because new technology now makes it possible to test hybrids’ fuel component and emission controls.  These systems experience the same wear-and-tear that occurs in traditional gasoline-engine vehicles and causes pollution. 


Owners of older hybrid vehicles have begun receiving Dept. of Motor Vehicle notices in the mail to get their vehicle a Smog Check test.  "Once the hybrid passes the test, a smog certificate is issued and a registration sticker can be obtained,” according to Dave Skaien, the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Approved Auto Repair Program Manager. “The Smog Check will ensure that any hybrid emission-related problems are isolated and repaired so that these vehicles’ emissions remain low,” he added. 


Like gas-powered vehicles, hybrid vehicles that are six model-years and newer are exempt from the biennial  Smog Check requirement. Hybrids that are four model-years and newer are exempt from the change-of-ownership Smog Check requirement, said Skaien. If a motorist brings a hybrid into California from out of state, they will need to have the vehicle smog tested, he said.


Hybrid vehicles entered the marketplace in 2000, according to Megan McKernan, manager of the Auto Club’s Automotive Research Center, which publishes the AAA Green Car Guide, but these greener vehicles could not be tested on smog test equipment used at that time.


Will the Smog Check Test be Different for Hybrid Vehicles?


“What hybrid vehicle owners will experience is a 21st Century smog test that’s quicker, more convenient and can be less expensive,” said Skaien. 


“Testing only takes about 10 minutes because at least 40 percent of the older testing procedure has been eliminated due to technology advancements,” said Skaien.  “Newer technology makes the costlier tailpipe emissions procedure unnecessary.”


The Smog Check for hybrids includes a visual inspection of emission control components and a scan of the vehicle’s On Board Diagnostic (OBD) system much like gasoline-powered vehicles, Skaien said.  But hybrids do not need a visible smoke test or a tailpipe emissions sample, he added. 


The Auto Club operates two test-only smog centers which can test hybrids.  One is in Los Angeles at the Auto Club’s historic headquarters, and the other is in Orange County, at the Costa Mesa branch.  Motorists also can find smog test stations within the Auto Club’s Approved Auto Repair (AAR) Network.  To find a smog test center, go to www.AAA.com.  For more information about smog requirements, visit www.smogcheck.ca.gov.