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California Residents Can Register Non-CA Emissions Vehicles

Dennis Walsh @lawjolla
Owner, Crosscut
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Are you from California and looking to buy a used non-CA emissions vehicle? Most are shocked to learn that the sticker is irrelevant. Here's why.

What's California Emissions?

California adopts emissions standards that are, generally, more stringent than US/EPA mandated standards. In practice, that often means more elaborate catalytic convertors, O2 sensors, and exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) systems. California requires new vehicles to meet these standards to be sold in California.

What's a "California Emissions Sticker?"

All U.S. vehicles have an engine bay emission sticker that itemizes the vehicle's emission control devices. Here's an example of a Toyota with a California certified emission sicker versus a federal emission sticker. ​ ​ ​ ​

The Sticker Only Applies to New, Not Used Vehicles

California Health and Safety Code §§43150-43156 states that no new vehicle shall be registered in California unless it is certified pursuant to this (California emissions) chapter. A new vehicle is a vehicle with 7,500 miles or less and less than two years of age. Cal. Health & Safety Code §43156(a).

The code is silent on vehicles with more than 7,500 miles. Per the California Air Resource Board's website, "'Used' vehicles . . . can generally be registered in California as long as they are in compliance with US EPA (Federal) emissions standards."

A Federal Emissions Car Can Pass California Emissions

As shown above, the lack of California emissions certification will not prevent a used federally certified vehicle from passing California emissions. In our experience, federal emissions vehicles are just as likely to pass the used California vehicle smog test as California certified cars. However, unless you buy a vehicle from a California resident (where smog compliance is the seller's burden), there are no guarantees

We detail any potential emissions problems in our ads, like when we buy a vehicle with a missing catalytic converter or EGR system. So unless mentioned, we have no reason to think it will fail.

We Cannot Guarantee Out of State Emissions

We do not have CARB testing equipment, so we cannot make any claims whether one of our specific vehicles will pass CARB or any other state's emissions. Our vehicles will pass Arizona emissions if an Arizona buyer purchases it, but that is the only claim we can reasonably make. We hope that puts your mind partially at ease about buying out of state used vehicles. If you have specific questions, please let us know!

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