I am about to take my wife’s 2007 car in to get it smog checked. For the second time in two days. We have to do it or the State of California won’t let us renew our registration.
I took it to an “official” smog check station yesterday morning but was told it could not be smog checked because it would fail the test. This was before the the technician even did the test. He hooked it up to his state certified smog check computer, a red light came on, and he said he wouldn’t smog check it because it would fail. He said “maybe if you drive it around for a while and bring it back it will pass.” Huh? That made no sense to me, so I drove over to the well respected auto repair shop that services our cars. The shop’s manager, plugged the car into another computer, a machine which, he said, was far more sensitive than the computer at the smog check station. He looked at the car. The shop’s owner then came over for a consultation, and guess what? They could find nothing wrong with my wife’s car. “Sorry, but there’s nothing I can do for you,” the shop’s manager said. The car is fine. I agreed, being that it’s a relatively low mileage car that’s regularly maintained and runs beautifully.
So why couldn’t I pass a smog check for the State of California? At this point things get really complicated, but the apparent problem is that the car’s onboard computer is stuck in the middle of some cycle or another. But there’s nothing wrong with the car and it should pass a smog check with no problem, according to the mechanic.
Frustrated, I called the state Bureau of Automotive Repair (the “BAR”). After waiting on the phone for what felt like an hour but was probably 15 minutes or so, I finally reached one of their mechanics who told me smog check stations are given one exemption for the type of problem I was having (because there really is nothing wrong with the car) and that I should just keep going from one smog check station to another until I find one that’s willing to pronounce my wife’s car as roadworthy. I asked him what logic there was in a program that would force me to drive from one smog check station to another when a mechanic had already told me there was absolutely nothing wrong with the car. The BAR mechanic explained that the smog check system has been screwed down so tight in California, that some cars that were fine were being rejected. However, the smog check stations were given exemptions for the type of computer code issue my wife’s car has, so that they could pass it. If they wanted to. But, if they pass too many cars with that particular type of exemption, it might eventually red flag the BAR, which might then threaten to pull their license for doing smog checks. They did things this way, he said, because there are bad people out there who are re-setting something or another on older cars to defeat the system and some newer cars that are perfectly fine are getting caught up in the dragnet. I might be able to fix the (non-existent) problem on my wife’s car by taking it out on the open road and driving it for a considerable distance at highway speeds he said, but not too fast and not too slow and you can’t step on the brakes and blah, blah, blah. My head was now spinning.
I pressed him for an answer as to why the state’s smog check system is broken. At about this point he got angry and loud. I responded in kind, telling him I didn’t care for being treated in such a fashion. The conversation deteriorated from there. It’s possible we’d both already had a bad day prior to the conversation taking place. I know I had.
And so here I am, without resolution in spite of the fact that I spent the day, yesterday, from around ten in the morning until four-thirty in the afternoon, trying to sort this out. After an hour or so with a mechanic, who, I am convinced, is an automotive expert, I have concluded that there is nothing wrong with my wife’s car. However, I must now take it to a second smog check station in the hope that a different technician will pass it for smog. If not, I guess I’ll have to find a third smog check station and then maybe a fourth, or maybe I’ll try driving out to Malibu and back at highway speeds to re-set the onboard computer. Of course I’ll have to do it without stepping on the brakes, apparently. Here in L.A.? Good luck with that. It has to do with “clearing all the codes” so that the computer’s monitors send out a signal that everything is working as it should. It’s all very confusing, and that alone, might not be enough. To determine what should be enough, you can find instructions on “How to complete a basic drive cycle” on repairpal.com. There are five steps to it and you have to let your car sit overnight in temperatures below 90 degrees, and so forth, and so on. It’s way too complicated for a guy who just wants to get his car smog checked. In any event, it appears that I’ll be forced to spend at least one more day dealing with this issue, as this second smog check station will require me to drop off my wife’s car and leave it there until they’ve had time to look at it. So it may require a third day of inconvenience if I have to go back over tomorrow and pick it up.
You think there’s something about this I don’t understand? That maybe I have no right to be a little peeved? Let’s review-
I took the car to a smog check station. The technician at the station refused to pass my car for smog. I then took it to an auto repair shop where a qualified mechanic hooked it up to his computer and told me there is nothing wrong with the car. I then called the BAR which told me to keep taking it to different smog check stations until I can find one that will pass the car. Or I can try taking the car for a long drive without stepping on the brakes – which, according to repairpal.com, won’t be enough because in actuality I’ll have to go through a two-day “basic drive-cycle” process (which may or may not work) before taking the car back in for yet another smog check.
Keep in mind that this appears to have nothing whatsoever to do with the exhaust the car is producing and everything to do with the “drive cycle” registered in the onboard computer. In other words, the exhaust can be just fine, the car can be within the legal limit for California, but it still will not pass muster on a smog check.
I have to wonder how many thousands of Californians and their mechanics, are being forced to go through exactly this same exercise, wasting time and money, burning gas unnecessarily, because the state’s smog check system doesn’t work. It’s all very sad because generally speaking, the BAR does a very important job protecting California consumers. They’ve helped me out big time with a couple of automotive issues I’ve had in the past. I just wish they’d fix this smog check thing. Maybe they could go back to measuring what’s coming out of the car’s tailpipe? Or would that be too simple? This is nuts.
Okay, the mechanic who now has the car just called. He’s going to need to keep it for at least another day. The problem is that he and a second mechanic will have to take the car through a series of speeds at various distances with all four wheels rolling while it’s attached to a portable monitor inside the car. To do that, will require a considerable distance of open road with no other traffic. How he is expected to accomplish that here in Los Angeles, I do not know. I guess all he can do is try.
I really hope somebody from the DMV reads this, because no Californian should be forced to spend several hundred dollars on a smog check that takes four to five days for a car without any serious issues. But that my friends, is what our state currently demands.
CC: Senator Alex Padilla, California State Senate, 20th State Senate District
CC: Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, California State Assembly, 46th Assembly District