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Catch 22: Calif DMV/Emissions Testing

I just got a letter from the Calif DMV saying (1) they won’t complete the registration until my car passes the emissions test (it failed on the first try) ; and (2) I can’t drive the car b/c it is not registered.

So how am I supposed to get to the car to the shop to get it repaired? And to emissions testing place? Do I have to tow everywhere now?

It seems a logical thing to my way of thinking anyway that if I have paid the registration fee on time, and had the car tested on time, since I couldn’t have predicated it would fail the test, I should be allowed to continue to drive it for 30 days so I can get it repaired and re-tested.

Anybody else had this Catch-22 problem?

Perhaps this place can answer your questions about your dilemma.

Whenever I run into a problem where the vehicle is not supposed to be driven…I just call the state police and get permission to move the vehicle. If it’s not a safety issue they will usually grant permission. I’ve done this numerous times in numerous states without ever having a problem. I like to think outside the box. Why throw away money towing a perfectly safe vehicle?

I have a friend in California going through the same thing. He got a 24 hour temporary permit to drive the vehicle so he could take it to a shop and get it fixed. I think he got it straight from the smog station, but he might have had to go to the DMV to get it.

In Washington you can get a trip permit that allows you to drive a drive an unlicensed or expired car for a few days to get your business done. The cost is only $6 or $12 or something like that. I imagine CA has a similar thing.

To be fair though, why would you be allowed to drive a car with expired license, renewal paid for or not? You were notified that your car needed an emissions test, you had plenty of notice that your license was going to expire, why wait until the last minute and then ask for an exemption. Why not go through emissions 2 weeks before the license expired to make sure you had enough time?

Perhaps my attitude is tainted by being on the other side of this experience. I often get someone coming in at 3:00 on a Friday afternoon with an “emergency.” It seems the car license expires today and they have to get through emissions. When I tell them I’m full for the rest of the day they often huff out complaining that they’ll go find someone who wants to help them.

Virginia also has a temporary “trip permit.” It’s cheap. I forget how long it is good for - at least a couple/few days. You can get it right online, print it out and you just tape it in the back window.

In MA, you receive a sticker either way but if you fail, it has a big red R on it for repair. This gives you 30 days amnesty to get it fixed.

Another reason you do not want to wait until the end of the renewal month to get it inspected…

Thanks to all for the good & thoughtful comments. I’ll admit I’m a procrastinator. If you look up the word “procrastinate” in the dictionary, I wouldn’t be surprised if you see my picture! … lol … In my defense there’s no requirement to pay the fee or take the test ahead of the stated deadline. If that’s what the state wanted the owner to do, they could make that a requirement. They don’t.

And I look at it this way. My car has passed the emissions test every time for the past 20 years without ever failing. I had no way in advance of knowing it wouldn’t pass this time. I can’t be expected to predict the future, can I? Ok, I’ll print this paragraph out, that’s what I’ll tell the judge … lol …

Seriously, it seems like the way @TwinTurbo says MA does it, to me that seems the most reasonable and least costly and bureaucratic solution.

Here’s a dose of irony. Since I can’t drive the well-maintained 30+ mpg, 4 banger, electronic ignition, electronic port injected Corolla, I’ll be driving my questionably-maintained early 70’s Ford 4x4 truck instead. 13 mpg. V8. Points & coil ignition. Carb.

Yep, unintended consequences again. If it were me, I’d drive it down to the testing station and take my chance but you have to figure out what the problem is first I guess and fix it. That’s why Minnesota did away with the whole testing business.

Yeah. The whole “testing business.” What a scam.

Many of my colleagues here in California clearly remember the “good old days” . . . I think they were talking about the 1960s

They said the smog was so thick, you just couldn’t see very far

I’m not doubting it

The very worst days in LA now are what good summer days looked like in the sixties. The CA smog test system is reasonably honest. Since the test sites can’t do repairs they have no incentive to fail you or pass you. The equipment is quite sophisticate and hard to fool. Cars that fail are usually pretty old.

I remember going to Los Angeles in 1970 and being amazed at how thick the smog was. It was exactly like @cigroller’s picture above. More recently, I was on the 17th floor of a building in Beijing and unable to see the ground when looking out the window - due to the thick smog.

I’m a supporter in what we’ve been able to accomplish with cleanup of emissions.

Agree completely with the pro-clean air comments above. I’m not opposed at all to the requirement to test cars periodically for emissions and require those over the limit get fixed. My only suggestion is that a little common sense be added to the state’s policy, such has already been done in Massachusetts.

Edit: My plan is that I’ll run a bottle of Techron through, then I’ll do a couple measurements and adjustments as suggested earlier in this thread, install new spark plugs, dist cap, spark plug wires, dist rotor, then re-take the test. Hopefully that will be enough to drop the 15 mph HC’s from 140 to under 130.

Here’s my plan to pass emissions tests:

  1. Keep current with all maintenance items and make all required repairs if they affect emissions.
  2. Drive on the highway for at least 30 minutes before going to the emissions test.
  3. Take the emissions test.

Always works.


Have you checked your fuel pressure?

By chance, is your fuel consumption higher than normal?

Good idea @db4690, testing FP is on my test agenda. I haven’t measured the mpgs recently, but don’t notice having to refill the tank any sooner than normal. The only thing pointing to excess gas is a slight gasoline odor when I first start the engine cold, in the AM, in a garage. Not noticed inside the car, only outside, presumably coming from the exhaust. This goes away in less than a minute. I’m assuming this is due to the cold start injector doing its thing.

Besides the 4 fuel injectors there are two other sources for gasoline into the engine, the cold start injector, and the emissions canister. Wondering if either of those could be the culprit.

Mexico has its own solution to cars with smog issues. A cousin told me his US Yukon needs to be verified in May Last year, the smog verification station told him the “gasoline” sensor was sending too much gasoline through, so it failed.

They fixed the problem. $25 US made it pass.

My problem is, I am not sure it was actually bad. It’s as easy to say something failed when it didn’t, as it is to pass something that failed for a few bucks

Tomorrow, I want to hook up my good scanner and see what it says.


That issue with the “gasoline” sensor sounds HIGHLY suspicious

I can’t think of any sensor that would only cost $25 to replace

Sounds to me like somebody at the smog station needed $25 to take the wife to dinner . . .

Section 25.015 seems to point to the DMV (“the department”) issuing the permit @shadowfax mentioned: