How to Sell a Car in California Without a Smog Certificate

How to Sell a Car in California Without a Smog Certificate
••• Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

In California, there are more drivers on the road than in any other state in the nation, which means more smog, and even more smog regulation. If you are interested in selling a car that does not have a smog certificate, there are some ways around the legislation, particularly if you are selling to a family member, if the buyer agrees to bring the car up to code, or if your car is excluded from certification. Otherwise, cars that are more than four years old must have a smog certificate within 90 days of the sale.

Sell your vehicle to a family member. Under California law, selling your car to your spouse, domestic partner, sibling, child, parent, grandparent, or grandchild does not require a smog certificate. For information on how to transfer a car to a family member, see the Resources section of this article.

Identify any vehicle type exclusions to the smog certificate requirement. Vehicles that are less than four years old, electric- or hybrid-powered, manufactured after 1975 and gas-powered, manufactured after 1998 and diesel-powered, or natural-gas powered with a Gross Vehicle Weight rating (GVWR) of over 14,000 pounds are exempt.

Check for any ZIP code exclusions to the California smog certificate rule. For example, if you are selling your car in El Dorado, Placer, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, or Sonoma County, there are certain ZIP codes within each county that do not require the certificate. For a list of these ZIP code exclusions, see the Resources section.


  • If your car does not qualify for any smog certification exclusion, and you do not want to sell to a family member, another option is to donate your used car to charity for a tax write-off. In California, some charities do not require a smog certificate, and many will even offer to tow your car for free. You will be eligible for a tax deduction for your gift if you donate to a charity that is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) organization. For a list of all IRS-recognized charities in California and an IRS guide to vehicle donation, see the Resources section.