Paid Registration But Failed Smog [What to Do]

Paid Registration But Failed Smog

If you paid registration but failed smog, that can leave you feeling a bit lost on the next steps. A smog test is not only necessary but also mandated by law in many states, hence its significance cannot be understated.

Failing to comply with the emissions test requirement may prevent you from selling or registering your vehicle, and it could also lead to fines and penalties.

Now, for the purpose of this post, do you forfeit the registration fee if you fail the smog check? You will find out about this and also the actions to take post-failure. But before we start, note that failing the smog test indeed means losing the registration fee. Moreover, unless your car passes the emissions test, you can’t complete the registration or sale of the vehicle. In California, for example, “Smog inspections are required when you register or renew registration for a vehicle in California, but there are some exceptions.”

Paid Registration But Failed Smog

What can I do if my car won't pass smog in California

A smog test involves examining and assessing a vehicle’s emissions control systems. Smog tests are required in most states, though the specifics may vary slightly between states. According to OLR Research Report, there are currently motor vehicle emissions inspection programs operating in 34 states and the District of Columbia.

Each smog test (regardless of these slight variations) measures the quantity of pollutants a vehicle emits as exhaust. A registration fee is typically required for this test. This therefore brings about the question, “What happens if you paid registration but failed smog?” Unfortunately, you will not be reimbursed for the registration fee if you fail a smog test. Instead, you may get a waiver on your next registration as long as the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) or the relevant agency in your state can confirm your passed smog test certificate.

A key fact to remember is that vehicles contribute substantially to the formation of smog, particularly through the emission of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.

List of States that Require Emissions Testing

The Environmental Protection Administration reveals that there are currently 34 states and the District of Columbia running motor vehicle emissions inspection programs. These programs are mandated by the federal Clean Air Act in regions that fail to meet the national ambient air quality standards regarding vehicle-related pollutants.

However, due to the standards being primarily associated with metropolitan air quality, the majority of these states do not enforce testing programs across their entire jurisdiction.

Only six states, namely Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont, along with the District of Columbia, have implemented these inspection programs statewide. The remaining states typically restrict their programs to counties that contain and border their significant metropolitan areas. Arizona’s emissions testing program, for example, is mainly concentrated in Pima and Maricopa counties, which includes the cities of Phoenix and Tucson.

States that do not require emissions testing include Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

How Long Is Emissions Test Good for?

How long an emissions test is good for depends on your state. Check with your local DMV, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or equivalent agency in your state. Generally, some states require annual inspections, while others may require them every 2 years. In general, most emissions tests are valid for 1-2 years.

For instance, in states like Massachusetts and New Jersey, emission tests are required every 2 years, while in California, a biennial smog certification is needed for most vehicles.

Meanwhile, in states like Arizona, most vehicles from 1981 and newer are required to pass an emissions test every 2 years, and vehicles from 1967 through 1980 must pass an emissions test every year.

Some exemptions and variances apply depending on the age, make, and use of the vehicle. Moreover, new cars might not need emissions testing until they are a few years old.

What is a Report of Deposit of Fees?

Smog Incomplete application DMV

Once the DMV receives the registration payment, they also verify the status of the vehicle’s emissions test. If a smog test is required, the DMV registers the payment as RDF, which stands for Report of Deposit of Fees (also called Incomplete Application). This means that while the registration fee has been paid, there is no valid test certificate in place.

Your car remains unregistered and is not permitted for legal use until the DMV receives the smog test certificate. The RDF status can be removed and the registration process can either proceed or remain pending, depending on whether the vehicle passes the test.

Why Did My Car Fail Smog?

There could be several reasons why your vehicle failed its smog test. A vehicle might fail its smog (emissions) test due to issues that impact its exhaust emissions. Here are a few common reasons:

Possible IssueDescription
Rich Fuel MixtureToo much fuel and not enough air in the air-fuel mixture, causing high CO and HC emissions.
Faulty Oxygen SensorA malfunctioning oxygen sensor can disrupt the balance of unburned oxygen, causing increased emissions.
Faulty Ignition SystemWorn out or malfunctioning spark plugs, wires, or ignition coils can cause engine misfires, leading to high emissions.
Evaporative Emissions Control (EVAP) System LeakA leak in the EVAP system that contains and recycles fuel vapors can cause a high level of HC emissions.
Catalytic Converter ProblemsA malfunctioning or damaged catalytic converter can lead to the transformation of harmful gases into less harmful substances before they leave the car’s exhaust system, resulting in high emissions.
Excessive Oil ConsumptionIf your vehicle consumes oil excessively, it can produce more pollution than allowed, causing a failed smog test.
Check Engine Light OnThe presence of a mechanical or electrical problem signaled by the check engine light can lead to a failed smog test.
Reasons you failed an emissions testing

Can You Drive a Car Without Smog?

You can’t legally drive a car in a state that requires emissions testing until you pass the smog check test. Emissions system repairs can be costly. For instance, replacing a catalytic converter including labor could amount to a few thousand dollars.

However, these minor oversights can challenge your commitment to consistent smog testing. Yet, neglecting to do so carries legal consequences, leaving you with only two choices – repair the vehicle or stop driving it.

The fines and penalties for failing a smog check or not complying with smog check regulations can vary greatly depending on the jurisdiction, as these laws are set at the local or state level.

When an automobile fails a smog test in a state like California, it does not automatically mean that you can’t drive it. But driving it is illegal and if you get pulled over, you could be fined.

Possible Expenses After Failing a Smog Check

Registration SuspensionSome places will not allow you to register your vehicle or will suspend your registration if your vehicle hasn’t passed its smog check.
Inspection FeesIf your vehicle fails its smog check, you may have to pay for another inspection after repairing it.
Repair CostsThe cost of repairing your vehicle to pass the inspection could potentially be quite significant.

What to Do After Failing Smog Check

Can you pay your car registration without the smog check California

So, you just paid registration but failed smog! Failing a smog check can be an inconvenience, but you must follow the right steps to rectify the issue. Here’s what you should do after failing a smog check:

1. Understand the Reasons for Failure

Obtain the Vehicle Inspection Report (VIR) which details the reasons for failure. It could be due to high emissions, malfunctioning emission control systems, or other mechanical issues.

2. Consult a Certified Mechanic

Take your vehicle to a certified mechanic or a smog check repair center. They will be able to provide a better understanding of what repairs are needed based on the VIR.

3. Get the Necessary Repairs Done

Have the necessary repairs done on your car. Ensure that your mechanic is qualified to carry out emission-related repairs.

4. Re-Test Your Vehicle

After the repairs are completed, you will need to have your vehicle re-tested. Remember, you have to pass the smog check to renew your vehicle’s registration.

5. Apply for Assistance or Waiver if Necessary

Some states offer financial assistance programs for vehicle owners who cannot afford the necessary repairs. In addition, there might be an option to apply for a waiver that allows you to bypass the emissions testing for a certain time. Check your local DMV’s website for more information on these programs.

6. Maintain Your Vehicle Regularly

Regular vehicle maintenance helps prevent smog test failures in the future. This includes routine oil changes, maintaining clean air filters, and getting your vehicle serviced regularly.


After may have paid registration but failed smog, you may get a waiver on your next registration. Or, your payment may remain on the record until the DMV receives your passed emissions testing certificate.

Although failing a smog check piles up hassles, it is also a sign that your vehicle may be contributing more than its fair share to air pollution. Unfortunately, this can have serious environmental and health consequences. Try to address the issues as soon as possible to reduce emissions and get your vehicle legally back on the road.

Read also: Some ways people pass smog

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