A certificate of title shows ownership of a vehicle, and as is the tradition, you need a title to transfer ownership in California. But what if you need to transfer title without smog in California? California is strict when it comes to smog checks, so a buyer will need a smog certificate to register the car in their name.
As per the guidelines from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), proof of a smog inspection is mandatory for vehicle registration or renewal. However, it is left for the seller to ensure a smog check is performed before the car’s sale. In Section 24007 (b)(2) of the California Vehicle Code, it is the seller’s responsibility to provide a valid smog certificate to the buyer. But there are instances where the buyer considers it okay to proceed with the purchase without a title.
CA DMV generally does not care about the contract between the buyer and seller, as long as the smog certificate is presented for registration in the buyer’s name. Therefore, the buyer now bears the burden of making sure that the vehicle meets CA emissions guidelines.
How to Transfer Title Without Smog California
The smog rule is mandated by the CA (DMV) to ensure your vehicle is environmentally safe and complies with the emission standards of the state. However, there are loopholes (or say exceptions) where the requirement of a smog inspection is waived. That said, below are ways to transfer title without smog California:
1. Vehicle runs on gasoline and is 1975 or older
If your vehicle runs on gasoline and is a 1975 model or older, you can transfer the title without smog and it is exempt from the smog inspection requirement. This exemption applies to motorcycles and trailers as well. The leniency is due to the age of these vehicles and the fact that they were manufactured before modern emissions standards were set in place.
2. Your vehicle is diesel-powered
Diesel vehicles are exempted from smog inspection in California if they are a 1997 model or older or if they have a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of more than 14,000 pounds.
Older diesel vehicles were built to different emissions standards, which may not align with current tests. The weight exemption is offered because larger vehicles often serve commercial uses, and mandating smog inspections could affect their operation.
3. Car is natural gas-powered and weighs over 14,000 pounds
If your vehicle is powered by natural gas and weighs more than 14,000 pounds, it is not required to undergo a smog check in CA. Natural gas is a cleaner fuel source, and vehicles of this size generally emit fewer pollutants.
4. Electric vehicles
You can transfer title without smog in California if it is an electric vehicle. Electric vehicles produce zero tailpipe emissions, so there is no need for them to be tested for carbon emissions. The increasing adoption of electric vehicles is part of California’s way of reducing overall vehicular emissions and promoting sustainable mobility.
5. A recent model vehicle
Is the vehicle gasoline-powered and less than 8 model years old? If so, it is also exempt from the smog inspection requirement. California considers newer vehicles likely to pass the smog check due to their modern, efficient engines and emissions systems.
However, you have to pay an annual smog abatement fee for the first 8 years instead of providing a biennial smog certification.
6. No smog required if previously done within 90 days of purchase
CA DMV will permit you to process the vehicle title within 60 days before the registration expiration date and ends 90 days after the expiration date. If you fall within this period, you can complete a statement of facts form that includes a section titled ‘title only’. Along with this, you’ll need to fill out a non-operation form and pay any outstanding fees. However, remember that these tasks must be accomplished within the prescribed 60 days before or 90 days after the registration expiration date.
7. No immediate smog check
As per the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), a second smog check is not required if the title transfer is concluded within 90 days. The new owner will be required to perform a smog check only if they exceed these 90 days following the car’s smog inspection by the previous owner.
8. Sell the car out of state
If you have difficulties passing a smog check, consider selling the car out of state. Some people decide to cheat the smog test which could attract a fine or jail term.
If you’re selling a vehicle to a buyer in a state where a smog check is not required, ensure you and the buyer have agreed on the price and terms of the sale. All verbal agreements should be written into a sales agreement to protect both parties.
You’ll need to transfer the vehicle’s title to the buyer. Don’t forget to notify CA DMV when you’ve sold the vehicle.
9. Register the car in smog-free CA county
If you are selling or buying a car in a California county where smog is not required, some counties don’t require the biennial smog requirement which almost all cars need to complete every 2 years. A car entering California will need one initially. After that and as long as it’s registered in an exempt county, you’re good. Counties in CA that do not require smog checks include El Dorado, Placer, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Sonoma.
Other Smog Exemptions When Transferring Title in California
1. Title transfer Among family members
If you are transferring a certificate of title transfer within family members in California, you do not need a smog check. Below are the only documents required:
- An appropriately signed California Certificate of Title by the registered owner(s) detailed on the title.
- A Statement of Facts (REG 256) for use tax and smog exemptions (if applicable).
- Odometer disclosure for vehicles less than a decade old.
2. Vehicle transfer from an individual to an estate
If you move a car from an individual to that individual’s estate in California, no signatures on the Certificate of Title. That means no title transfer is needed, therefore, no smog is required.
The only required documents are:
- The California Certificate of Title.
- A Statement of Facts (REG 256) verifying the owner’s death and the non-issuance of Letters Testamentary. The person filling out the statement must state their relationship to the deceased.
3. Vehicle transfer from a deceased Owner to an heir (without probate)
You can also transfer car ownership to an heir of a deceased owner 40 days after the owner’s death without smog, provided the value of the deceased’s property in California does not exceed:
- $150,000 if the death occurred before 1/1/20.
- $166,250 if the death happened on or after 1/1/20.
If the heir is the new owner, provide the following to a DMV office:
- The California Certificate of Title.
- Affidavit for Transfer without Probate (REG 5), filled out and signed by the heir.
- An original or certified copy of all deceased owners’ death certificates.
- Odometer disclosure for vehicles less than 10 years old.
If the heir decides to sell the vehicle, the buyer needs, in addition to the items above:
- Bill of Sale (REG 135) from the heir to the buyer.
- Transfer fee (in this case, two transfer fees are due).
Conclusion — Transfer Title Without Smog California
The title transfer process can proceed more smoothly and quickly if a smog inspection is not required. However, if your vehicle does not fall into any of the above categories, you need to obtain a smog certificate before transferring the title. Don’t forget that the objective of a smog check is to protect air quality and contribute to a healthier California.