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Old 01-22-2005, 01:55 AM
ard ard is offline
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california smog check - dealer or test only station?


my '97 E420 (California car) is due for a smog check and I am looking for advice whether I should have the smog check done at the dealer or an independent "Test Only" station (FWIW, I searched the forums and didn't find anything).

Main consideration is price: Bay Area dealers are quoting $130 - $160 (!) for a smog check - a "Test Only" station charges $70.

The only reason this ISN'T a no-brainer is that I once had taken another recent-model import car to a non-dealer for a smog check and the monkey doing the test fried the on-board computer (!), and subsequently denied it (long story ...). Since that experience I have learned the true meaning of "penny wise, pound foolish". The E420 has always been smogged at the dealer, but the new smog tests in CA appear to be driving prices through the roof.

Anybody have any insights on the quality of service rendered by the "Test Only" smog stations vis-a-vis the dealers? $100 less for the same battery of tests? What gives?

I do a reasonable amount of work on my cars, so visiting the dealer is rarely the preferred option for me.

Thanks in advance


1997 E420
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Old 01-22-2005, 03:17 AM
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Join Date: May 2003
Location: Huntington Beach
Posts: 329
I've had good experiences going to non-dealer stations, both "Test Only" and "Test and Repair".
1990 190e 2.6 - The only one I can really call "My Car".

1987 190e 2.3 - The donor car's up and running, only mods are Euros and a Sony headunit. My Dad's runabout now.

1990 300e 2.6 - The parents' ride.
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Old 01-22-2005, 04:34 PM
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I have this test only station near me that does a fantastic job. They work with you if you have any small problems, which really helped me. Gotta love that

They charge $55 and also give a discount to us repeat customers.

Two tips for anyone.....

If you find a smog station that works for you and with you...keep em handy, and send your friends there too.

And....Bring a new gas cap with you...unopened. Your cap could look perfect, and still fail. If you do not need the new one, put it in your spare parts box, and bring it again in 2 years. I had two different caps fail.
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Old 01-22-2005, 05:32 PM
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Location: orange county ca
Posts: 58
first off a "test only center" needs only to be visited when required by dmv, any other "smog checks can be done at a dealer or a "test and repair" facility. most dealers do not qualify for test only because they do emission repair on site. so my advise is if your registration requires a test only center get some referrals from your friends (assuming they own cars) because they may know of a good one in your area. but if your registration does not require test only you have your choice of any one of the previous three choices.
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Old 01-22-2005, 06:38 PM
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JB is correct. I had to smog an older vehicle, and was told I had to go to a "test only" because of this. These guys turned out to be so good and fair, that I take all 4 of my vehicles there, whether they need "test only" or not.
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Old 01-22-2005, 08:46 PM
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Location: Rancho PV, CA, USA
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I just had my' 97 checked at a smog only station in the L.A. area. MY MB independent sent me to him. Although he had checked my same type car earlier in the day, he opened a large set up manual and reviewed the exact procedures for the car. This is important as there a big differences in testing.
The charge was $58. It took three tries to get the gas cap to pass, it must be a gotcha.
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Old 01-24-2005, 11:16 AM
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I would avoid a place that's in a position to try to sell you any and everything that could be related to an emissions problem.

Emissions inspections are nothing more than a license to steal.

The "test-only" sight isn't going to make anything more than their inspection fee.

The repair shop is going to fail the car in order to sell you 10 things you don't need and half what they charge you for won't get replaced. Goes on all of the time unfortunately.
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Old 01-25-2005, 12:00 AM
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Posts: 541
i had a test at a test and repair facility when i bought my car, and the hose from the valve cover was broken. the fool there tried to tell me it was for the fuel pressure regulator and that my car wouldnt pass unless he repaired it. i told him to forget that repair and just test the car. but he insisted.
so i broke it down for him, told him id been a mechanic at the mercedes agent in zimbabwe and knew more about that car than he did. told him i knew the difference between a vent tube and a fuel pressure regulator, that he better not try and pull any more stunts like that, and that i would be watching him diligently as he performed the test to make sure he didnt unplug any other stuff for nefarious purposes.

he tried to fail me on the gas cap. i said go ahead and fail it. i get a free retest, and i can get a new cap at pep boys for five bucks. i can be back in 10 minutes for my free retest.

suffice it to say i passed.

my 76 BMW 2002 on the other hand "fit the profile of a gross polluter" and was required to be tested at a test only facility. id had a recent tuneup so i just gave a quick italian tuneup, and took it to a test only place near my house, kept it running while i was waiting.

guy pulls it in, consults his book, tell me its "missing x. y is disconnected and z is missing"; ive already failed. ok, lemme go i say.
no no no says he, i still have to test it. and he does. AND IT PASSES. but he wont jimmy the results. i already know that IF i can find a thermoreactor its going to be at least $600, some other small parts for maybe 50 bucks plus a major tuneup ($300) since i have a tii manifold right now which flows very well vs the thermoreactor. no way im going to pay almost $1100 to pass a test my car already passes.

i said screw it, its gonna be thirty model years in another years time or so i'll buy another car to use until then. i bought my 300E, and waited. and while i was on vacation, that bastard governator signed a bill nullifying the rolling 30 year exemption and exempting only 1975 and earlier cars.

so now i still have a BMW 2002 that wont pass the smog test on a technicality. just waiting for may to see what happens.
bmw 2002.
long live the legend
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Old 01-25-2005, 01:42 AM
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Shows you how much I know....I thought in Calif, that it had been 20 years did not get inspected, then it changed to 1972 and before, and is now 1975 and before. But I just read ....

Beginning April 1, 2005, the 30-year rolling exemption will be repealed. Instead, vehicles 1975 model-year and older will be exempt. Therefore, 1976 model-year and newer vehicles will continue to be subject to biennial inspection indefinitely.

I did not know we were on a rolling 30 year

Only suggestion I have for a mail forwarding box in Vegas, and get your car registered there. Their smog guidelines are way more relaxed than Calif...hell...everybody is more relaxed than Calif. I love seeing cars labeled as...."Calif car"...or "other 49 states"
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Old 01-25-2005, 10:19 AM
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my mom lives in arizona, so im mulling over some options.
bmw 2002.
long live the legend
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Old 01-25-2005, 10:50 AM
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Location: Northern Calif. (Fairfield Area)
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With a 97 you shouldn't have a problem passing anywhere, because you have OBDII. The computer in your car is constantly checking the system. The smog station doesn't even need to remove your fuel cap to test it. If your cap leaks, the CEL (check engine light) on the dash will come on during normal operation, because the computer will self test a leak in the evap system. Every vehicle from 96 on has the exact same plug connection under the driver's dash. The tester doesn't need to check timing or anything anymore. All the data is fed to the machine through this plug. You can't play many games anymore like clean piping, eher you test a substitute vehicle. You will notice that the first step of the test is stopping the car just before it over the dyno rollers. This plate measures the gross weight of the axle. It better match the computer stored data for that car. Although it still happens, smog shops pay stiff fines, for deceit. There are alot of State cars running around popping into stations asking for smogs. The driver is an average looking person with an average looking car. If the smog tech tries to sell un needed work or looks the other way at a missing smog component in order to smog the car, he is handed a stiff fine as soon as the test is over. You might try a test only station. Given the age of your car, you are more than likely to pass without a problem.

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Old 01-25-2005, 02:01 PM
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Location: Portland, ME
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Excuse the dumb question... but to all you folks in California, what is the difference in these testing facilities?

The names would seem to indicate that a "Test Only" station only performs tests, while a "Test and Repair" facility performs tests and repair services?

Why would some cars be required to have their test done at a "Test Only" facility while others can go to either?

Just wondering.

Jeff Pierce
(Mercifully, we don't have smog testing here in Maine yet. But I'm sure it's just a matter of a few years.)
Jeff Pierce

Current Vehicles:
'92 Mercedes 190E/2.3 (247K miles/my daily driver)
'93 Volvo 940 Turbo Wagon (263K miles/a family truckster with spunk)
'99 Kawasaki Concours
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Previous Vehicles:
'85 Jeep CJ-7 w/ Fisher plow (226K miles)'93 Volvo 940 Turbo Wagon
'53 Willys-Overland Pickup
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Old 01-25-2005, 03:36 PM
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There are reasons for the Bureau of Automotive Repair to be concerned about fraud at test and repair facilities, as indicated by differences in test results when the data from both types of stations - test/repair and test only is compared and analyzed.

Fraud can be in the form of overlooking missing emission control equipment that would be an automatic failure (even if the car passes the tailpipe cut points) or using a "shill" - testing a known clean car in place of the actual car that requires testing, and such fraud is usually financed by a bribe to the test tech by the owner. Another common fraud is manipulating the test to make the car fail and then selling the owner "repairs". This is easy to do by beginning the test before the car is fully warmed up.

Licensed emission test technicians face fines of up to $10,000 and loss of their license for engaging in fraud.

More and more facilities are test only, and the fewer test and repair facilities are being more closely scrutinized by the BAR.

I personally find that the test only drive thru facilities are the most convenient to use. They run the test while you wait and watch in about the same time it takes to run a car through a car wash. Also, they have no financial incentive to fail your car, but like most automotive service operations, the competence of the techs varies widely.


Last edited by Duke2.6; 01-25-2005 at 03:50 PM.
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