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Move a 10 year old car to California?


We are moving to Palo Alto, CA from Cape Cod at the end of the year and I’m planning to take my 2000 Mercury Mystique. It runs great, and I bought it brand new in 1999 with CA emissions (I can see the future apparently). Since it costs quite a bit to have the car shipped and I need to have the A/C repaired too, I was curious as to how “strict” the emissions/smog/inspections are in California and wondering if my car passes in Massachusetts, if it is likely to pass in California too. If it’s likely to pass, then I’ll fix the A/C and have it shipped (still cheaper than buying a new car!). It’s got 120k miles, with all original exhaust system components.

I think the best advice depends on your financial situation. If you can afford a new car (or a new used car), and your source(s) of income is(are) stable, I would get rid of the car and replace it when you arrive in California. That would probably be the most trouble-free choice. If your source of income isn’t stable, or you can’t afford a car payment, it might be worth moving, but it is a gamble. You probably won’t know if it will pass CA emissions until you get it there and get it tested.

Get a emissions check in MA, call the CA DOT and ask them if it will pass based upon your test results.

NADA says it worth $1,750 – it would cost more to ship it and get the AC fixed than it’s worth. Sell it for whatever you can get for it and buy another car when you get there.


If you pay to ship the car to CA (costly) and then it won’t pass their standards, what will you do with it? Who would buy it?

Sell it now, in MA, where it’s legal and people are less concerned with air conditioning. Take whatever you can get for it and move on. There are plenty of used cars in CA. Buy one that you know already passed the tests.

If you’re willing to drive the Mystique to CA the financial end looks better, even if it doesn’t pass, but shipping it is a losing proposition.

Pass means the same thing in California as it does anywhere else. This is especially true where Massachusetts is concerned. Even the voting is about the same or better. I drove the 87 Tempo from Maine to Ca. in the early 90’s and had no problems at all. This isn’t as difficult as, well, voting in Florida.

Bring the car; used ones in Ca. seemed to cost a little more than they’re worth when I lived there. They’re just not as rusty as in Cape Corrosion.

Estimate what you could get for the car if you sold it now as is. (Blue book is not always realistic, also look at ads and Craigslist). Add the cost of repairs and shipping. Then check Craigslist or the used car ads for the location in CA where you are moving to and see what you could get for that amount of money. If you could get a better car for less money, sell it now. If you could get the same or worse, ship it. (You can also factor in the fact that you know what your car has been through and what it needs, you won’t know the same thing about a newer used car you buy in CA.)

On the other hand, a Mystique is basically a Ford Contour, and I hated my Contour and couldn’t wait to get rid of it.

Thanks for the thoughts everyone. I think the bottom line is that if it passes in MA, it is probably going to pass in CA, which is what I was hoping.

The value of a car is an interesting subject, because although it’s monetary value may be very low (it is), it’s worth as a vehicle may still be high (it runs well and I like it). In the end it must be compared with the alternative, which in my case is a new or used car that has a higher insurance cost and higher tax (assuming they do value-based car taxes in CA) and an unknown origin (in the case of a used car). Although it would be bad to move it and have it fail with repair needed, a minor repair cost is worth it. Even if I spend $3k shipping and repairing (which is probably double what I could sell it for), I then have a working car that is all paid off and that I know the origin of (from mile 5 at least!)

PS The Contour/Mystique varies greatly from model to model: I have the V6 manual transmission with disc brakes and ABS. It has a great suspension and engine and is fun to drive. It is very different than the rather lame automatic 4 cylinder versions of the same car. Ford probably doomed its sale of this car by selling the lame version of the contour to rental fleets and turning off lots of potential buyers. I test drove a bunch of other cars before buying it, and it felt most similar to an Audi A4 but at half the price.

I had the V6 automatic Contour. It had good pickup but a number of service bulletins and recalls including a crappy transmission. If your car is worth $1500 and it would cost $3000 to fix and ship it, you should at least see what $4500 would buy in Palo Alto, then you can decide whether knowing the history of your own car is worth whatever upgrade in age and mileage you would get.

If you can afford to live in Palo Alto, buying a new car is not an issue.

As far as I know, California’s rules are what they have been for decades. All the manufacturer’s emissions equipment must be present and working, and the car must pass a tailpipe test for whatever standards it was built to meet. You’ll have to do some research to find out if Massachusetts emissions standards differ from California’s for your vehicle. They differ for some cars and years, and are the same for other years.

You may not need the Air Conditioner in Palo Alto – certainly not until next May or June. Summer afternoons can be pretty warm outside of the city of San Francisco and the coastal side of the hills, but the humidity will be a lot lower than Massachusetts with similar temperatures. Many decades ago I used to make business trips to Sunnyvale on a weekly basis and I can’t recall that automobile air conditioning or lack thereof was ever an issue.

Presumably you can drive the car over to Reno (about 4.5 hours) and sell it if it just won’t pass California emissions, but I doubt that you will have to.

Actually it is precisely because Palo Alto is so expensive that I don’t want to have to buy a new car as soon as I arrive. If money was no object (or I was moving somewhere less expensive) I wouldn’t be thinking about moving a 10 year old car.

Yeah I’ve been living sans AC on Cape Cod for two years now. Usually not an issue but when the temps hit the 80s and high humidity comes up from the south, it can get toasty at those stop lights.

If your work in PA, you can live elsewhere. Folks I know that work there live between San Jose and Santa Cruz. It’s a long drive, but it is a lot more affordable. It’s not a bad drive if you take the 280. But traffic past SJ is awful during drive time. Others take the train from the Central Valley. A friend in that area knows 4 people that fly in from the Central Valley daily in a small plane.