If Your Registration Expires During Stay-at-Home Orders, How Do You Get a Smog Check?

We asked California's DMV for answers to your questions about vehicle registration during the COVID-19 crisis.

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To stop the spread of coronavirus, many Californians are staying at home, and putting off unnecessary trips. But car owners might find themselves in a bind if their vehicle registration is about to expire, because renewal requires an in-person smog check.

First, the good news: most vehicle registration renewal can be handled from home, online. The California Department of Motor Vehicles has closed most of its offices during statewide shelter-in-place orders, and it's asking drivers to take care of any urgent needs online. To assist, DMV says it's created a "virtual DMV" that makes it easier to handle many transactions.

The problem: DMV is not waiving the requirement for smog checks on gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles. While many smog check locations are staying open, as the state considers them to be "essential businesses," we've heard from some drivers who are still concerned about going out to get smog certified.

To that end, DMV says drivers can delay smog testing until after the COVID-19 crisis subsides. It says "... you may still pay your registration fees to avoid any late fees. However, you will not receive your new registration or year sticker until the smog information has been received by DMV.”

That's an important distinction: even though you'll avoid late fees by paying for your registration online, you won't get a new valid registration sticker for your rear license plate, or the card to keep in your car.

So, what happens if you're driving with an expired sticker -- say, to make an important grocery run -- and you get pulled over by a police officer? DMV says it's asking law enforcement to take it easy issuing tickets for expired registration. But it can't require that. So, you could still be cited.

Here's what we recommend: pay for your vehicle registration online, then print out the proof of payment, and keep it with you in your car. If you get pulled over, you can show that to the officer or deputy who stopped you, and explain the situation.

If you don't have access to a printer, save the payment information to your phone instead, as a screen shot.

If you're unsure about any of this, call DMV at 800-777-0133, or reach the agency online here.

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