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How To Get A Cheap Smog Check

I hate getting my car smogged. If you live in California, you'll hate it too every time you do it (which is once every two years unless your car is less than six year old). This is because it's a locally added expense that takes time and it's not cheap. Depending where you do it, it'll cost you around $50 - $75. The place where I went to, Quarter Note Smog, had a regular price of $55:

Smog Check Regular Price

Smog Check Regular Price

So using my unique knowledge of how to save money (I'm a starving entrepreneur and try to save every single penny), today I'll show you how to cut this cost in half. But first, here are a couple of important reminders:

1) First of all, always be aware that you MUST pay your car's registration to DMV by the due date (you can safely pay online without incurring any additional fees). If you don't, the additional costs will be astronomical, needless to mention that you'll get a fix-it ticket for an expired registration if you get pulled over by the cops. And if you keep delaying, your license will eventually get suspended, which also means that your car can get towed if you get pulled over by the cops. Trust me, it's not worth it. Pay the damn bill.

2) You do NOT have to get your car smogged by the due date. For my latest smog test, I purposely did it late just to learn about its procedures and share the knowledge here while my memory is fresh. Basically what happens is that you'll get an incomplete notice from the DMV a few days after you pay the renewal fee, saying that you won't get the renewal sticker until the smog check is done. So the only thing to worry is that you might be pulled over by a cop (and possibly get a fix-it ticket), but at least your car won't get towed. I got my sticker a few days after I passed the smog test.

But it's always a good practice to just get it over with on time. So are you ready to save 50% on your next smog test? Here's how you do it:

1) Pay attention to what the DMV letter days. If it says you can get it smogged wherever you want, you're in luck (I've always paid around $20 - $30). If it mentions "STAR" (which used to be called "Test Only"), you will almost always pay a bit more (I've always paid around $25 - $35). This is because STAR typically means smog check only, so the mechanic can't fix your car if it doesn't pass and get a chance to recuperate some of the money and thus they can't discount the price as much.

2) The real secret is in coupons and where to find them. There are at least three sources of coupons in San Diego where I live:

A) Junk mail. Specifically, the PennySaver. I found the best coupons here easily almost all the time. And I'm talking about the physical junk mail that you get in your mail, not the online version (which might or might not be as good, which I didn't do enough research yet to validate).

B) San Diego Reader. I had to use it once a few years ago when I couldn't find anything in the PennySaver for a "Test Only" coupon. I'm also talking here about the physical magazine that you find for free in local stores, not the online version (which again might or might not be as good, which I didn't do enough research yet to validate).

C) General online coupons, including online versions of the above. Google "cheap smog check" and you'll find tons of (mostly useless) links. So far I never had to go this route.

3) Depending on what kind of car you have, call first to confirm. First of all, it'll always be about $10 extra for cars that are 1995 and older. I don't exactly know why, but it's been like that since at least five years ago. And every year, that number has stayed the same. So back in 2009, most of the coupons said $10 extra for 1995 or older. So today you would think the coupons will say $10 extra for 2000 or older, but they still say 1995 or older. Why that number? I have no idea. Second, it'll always be extra for large trucks & vans. If you have a regular SUV like I do (I currently drive an Infiniti QX4), you should be ok. So far only one place said it'll be extra for my car, and needless to say I went elsewhere.

And here's a couple of useful tips for those of you that have older cars that barely pass the smog test:

1) I was told by a mechanic that regular car maintenance (especially the good ole oil change) is key to passing the smog check year after year.

2) I was also told by the same mechanic to make sure the car is fully warmed up by the time you get to wherever you need to go to get it checked. The warmer the engine, the better the chances of your car passing. This is the main reason why they literally turn a huge fan on right in front of your car (with the hood open) and leave it running for a few minutes before they actually start testing, to cool the engine down as much as possible.

And that's it. Good luck saving your hard earned $$$, and I hope you all pass your next smog check with flying colors! ;)

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