Penalties for Smogging California?
August 30, 2016 12:33 AM   Subscribe

In California what is the likely penalty for driving a car which has not passed its smog test?

My 1981 aircooled VW van needs a new engine, or major rebuild, which I intend to get but can't afford for some months; I use the car to carry me, my tools and materials for my handyman/oddjob work.

The car's annual registration payment, due this month, was made and accepted by California DMV, but its emissions were measured and it will not pass the smog test so was not tested; that is, it has not actually been officially smog tested and failed, but its registration is incomplete. How much trouble am I likely to be in if I'm caught driving it?

A second question: if I put a license plate sticker that's valid for another car on the failing car (which is obviously wrong but reduces the chance of being caught) how much extra trouble would that get me into if caught?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (17 answers total)
Falsification of vehicle registration is a serious crime in California.(VC 4463(A)(1)).
As in misdemeanor and possible felony.
Don't do it.

If you've renewed your registration and a smog check was required, they won't send you a new sticker until they get the electronic notice from the smog station.
Driving with an expired tag will get you a citation, and can get you towed if your registration is expired for more than 6 months and your vehicle is parked on a public street.
It can be a fix-it ticket, so you would have to get a valid registration before your court date, which would require a valid smog.
If you don't show it is fixed before your court date, then you can be charged with failure to appear, which is an even bigger problem than you started with.
posted by madajb at 2:25 AM on August 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Last year it was raining when I got my sticker so I put it in my glove box to put on my license plate when it was dry and then forgot, and 6 months later, I sure did get a not-particularly-cheap ticket, while parked on the street. I don't remember the exact amount, but basically I recommend registering your car properly or not driving it.

In addition to the penalties which may or may not actually happen, having a car that's not legal is totally stressful, and can turn a minor problem (e.g., a fender bender where you're not even at fault) into a major problem.
posted by aubilenon at 2:52 AM on August 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm in Virginia not California, but: it's a really, really bad idea to put another car's sticker on the failing car.

One of my sisters did this; she had refused to pay her Va. personal property tax for several years (she said it was to "protest" the tax, but in reality it's because she was a cheap idiot), which in Va. means they won't register your car. So every year she got a friend to give Sister one of Friend's valid stickers. Then came the day Sister got into a fender-bender, and the other driver insisted on a police report for his insurance company..... Sister ended up with a misdemeanor conviction plus fines for something like $12K (fraudulent sticker on an unregistered car plus other goodies like expired emissions, expired driver's license and no insurance), as well as increased DMV scrutiny for years afterwards. Her friend also got charged, with fraud and failure to display the state-required two stickers on both plates front & rear, which cost her time and money.

My point is: it's a bad idea for both sides, for the owner of the valid car "sharing" it's stickers as well as the owner of the failed car those stickers were shared with.
posted by easily confused at 5:03 AM on August 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

If it is helpful: if you're low-income (income under 225% of the poverty line) you may be able to get $500 toward repairing your car so that it will pass smog.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:43 AM on August 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Lack of registration is usually a fix it ticket. So you may gain a few months running on expired tags.

More importantly though an engine rebuild shouldn't be needed to pass smog. You may just need a new exhaust (which are generally not too bad on those types of cars). Go to a specialty VW place and get it checked.
posted by bitdamaged at 6:48 AM on August 30, 2016

You might be able to get away with driving without tags for a while, but if you're in the LA area stay out of Culver City. CCPD does not fuck around.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:48 AM on August 30, 2016

Does your job take you to places where you have to park at meters? Every time I've gotten an expired plates ticket, it's been from a meter reader.

The other issue you've got is that despite the appearance, CA DMV is a pretty well organized outfit. Your registration will not be considered complete, despite having already paid, until the smog is finished. So, you'll be subject to ever increasing late-registration penalties. And they get steep, fast.

Find a good air-cooled-specific mechanic. Unless you're failing because your rings are shot and the engine is burning huge amounts of oil, there's probably a cheaper way to get it to pass.
posted by hwyengr at 7:01 AM on August 30, 2016

: "if I put a license plate sticker that's valid for another car on the failing car"

Besides being a really bad idea as outlined above this is also something that is pretty easy to get caught doing because both cops and parking enforcement have automatic plate scanners now (in general; I don't know about your local jurisdiction specifically). The system will automatically alert cops that the plate on a passing car is expired; if they see a up to date sticker on the plate they are more likely to pull you over.
posted by Mitheral at 7:13 AM on August 30, 2016

you'll be subject to ever increasing late-registration penalties.

The DMV's website suggests that this is not true: "If a smog certification is required and you have not had a smog inspection, you may still pay your registration feesto avoid any late fees."
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:40 AM on August 30, 2016

I'm confused about where you'll get this other sticker? When someone registers a car in California, they receive only one registration sticker. I assume you would never consider stealing someone else's sticker? Or if you did, you would steal it from some rich asshole? Because it really sucks and is expensive to deal with if your registration sticker gets stolen.
posted by latkes at 7:54 AM on August 30, 2016

Googling "how much is the smog ticket california" lead me to this 2013 article suggesting you can expect to pay $285+ if you are caught. This is in line with what my guess ($250) would have been from living in California for some time.
posted by Phredward at 7:55 AM on August 30, 2016

You likely won't get ticketed for a couple of months unless a meter reader/parking enforcement officer gets you or a cop wants an excuse to pull you over. Once you get pulled over and/or get a ticket, it'll be a fix-it ticket which gives you 30 days to resolve the matter and then you get your ticket signed off by a police officer and send in a $10 fine. If you don't get it resolved in 30 days, the ticket's fine will start to increase and you can be ticketed again and again for driving an unregistered vehicle. Absolutely do not put someone rules sticker on your plate.
posted by quince at 8:41 AM on August 30, 2016

I've received several tickets for an expired license plate sticker (oops). If I remember correctly, they were about $65 each. I got a couple on consecutive days, which sucked, but I didn't look into whether there was any way to contest the multiple citations for the same issue.

I got all of the tickets while (legally!) parked on the street in a Los Angeles neighborhood with frequent meter maid patrols (a residential area of Hollywood). I didn't get pulled over for the issue or get any tickets while in a private lot.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:41 AM on August 30, 2016

I once let insurance lapse on a car that was registered. I didn't drive the car, but that didn't matter because I still received a fine in the mail from CA DMV for my lapsed insurance.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:45 AM on August 30, 2016

Paying your registration and not completing the smog test is a far better option than plate swapping or fake stickering, because it minimizes the fees (DMV registration fee goes up sharply if paid late, even if the process isn't completed).

Like people said above, some cities have meter maids and cops that have automated plate scanners that pull registration for every car they pass. If you do business in Oakland, parking in pretty much any patrolled area will result in a ticket per detection.

Also like someone said above, there is state assistance for fixing a smog issue if you pass a means tests. The CA DMV web site has details.
posted by zippy at 9:11 AM on August 30, 2016

From the numerous, numerous expired tags I see driving all over the place in California, you can probably get away with it for a few months. You're risking a $200ish ticket to do so, but it's just a civil infraction.

Putting another sticker on it is asking for trouble.
posted by zug at 10:09 AM on August 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I once went almost a year with a paid but not smogged registration in CA, the old sticker on the plate. Any cop who notices the old sticker (more than a month out of date is more likely to catch their eye) will run your plate and probably pull you over. I was pulled over three times (by 3 different departments), got out with two warnings and one fix-it ticket.

But then, I had a different excuse - my car was registered in LA County and this renewal required a Test-Only station, but I was going to school in Santa Barbara County, where there are none.

If you can keep an eye out for police cars and avoid letting them get close enough to run your plate or notice your sticker, you might be able to go for a while without any problems. When I finally got my car smogged, I got the new registration sticker right at the smog place.
posted by WasabiFlux at 3:12 PM on August 30, 2016

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