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Referee Program

The Referee Program is a statewide network of inspection centers that assist motorists with unusual Smog Check issues. Referees provide the following specialized services not available through licensed Smog Check stations:

Smog Check Dispute Resolution

Sometimes consumers disagree with the results of their Smog Check. If you would like to dispute the results of your smog test or get a third party evaluation, make an appointment with the Referee.

Repair Cost Waivers

A Repair Cost Waiver is available in situations where a vehicle failed its Smog Check and the consumer had over $650 in emission-related repairs performed at a licensed Smog Check repair station to reduce the vehicle's emissions and cannot afford the additional repairs needed for the vehicle to pass the smog test. This one-time waiver allows the vehicle to be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

To be eligible, the vehicle must not have any tampered emissions control systems or components and has to have had at least $650 in emission-related repairs performed by a licensed Smog Check repair technician at a licensed Smog Check repair station.

Inspections of Vehicles with Issues Involving the Vehicle's OBD II System

Referee Centers may provide limited assistance to consumers whose vehicles have OBD II related issues. For example, 1996 and newer OBD II equipped vehicles have readiness monitors programmed into the On-Board computer. These monitors require specific driving conditions for them to complete their task to ensure that the vehicle is ready for an emissions inspection. If the vehicle's battery has been disconnected, or if computer codes were recently cleared, the monitors may not have completed their assigned tasks and therefore the vehicle would not pass a Smog Check inspection. In this case, the Referee may be able to provide consumers with the appropriate drive cycle information required for the monitors to complete.

In other cases, the monitors may not complete due to a vehicle malfunction or communication error. In these cases, the consumer must have the vehicle properly diagnosed by a qualified technician to determine the cause of the problem.

Referee Centers also reinspect vehicles that receive a "DATA CHECK FAIL" during a BAR-OIS inspection. A "DATA CHECK FAIL" occurs when data downloaded from the vehicle's OBD system during its last inspection is inappropriate for that vehicle. In order for the vehicle to receive a Smog Check certificate, the Referee must perform an inspection and verify the appropriateness of the data. Note that once the Referee issues a Smog Check certificate to your vehicle, it may again be inspected at other stations during the next inspection cycle. A Referee inspection appointment may be scheduled by calling (800) 622-7733.

Assistance to Consumers when Smog Check Stations Refuse to Test Vehicles

Consumers may call the Referee Call Center to make an appointment if a station will not perform a Smog Check inspection on their vehicle. To reach the Referee Call Center, call (800) 622-7733.

Gross Polluter (GP) Vehicles

Vehicles that fail a Smog Check inspection at approximately two times the Pass/Fail Standard are considered Gross Polluters (GPs). Only Referee Centers and STAR Stations can issue a certificate of compliance once a Gross Polluter is repaired and passes a Smog Check inspection.

Hard to Find Emission Parts Locator Service

The Referee offers a Hard to Find Emission Parts Locator Service to assist consumers whose vehicles fail Smog Check inspections because of missing or modified emission-related parts that are difficult to find.

The vehicle may be eligible for a Limited Parts Exemption if the Referee confirms the part is not available. Consumers requesting a Limited Parts Exemption must have their vehicle inspected by a Referee Center.

The Hard to Find Emissions Parts Locator Service can be reached at (800) 622-7733.

Vehicle Design Issues Affecting the Ability to Inspect

The Referee can help consumers with vehicles that are too large to enter a Smog Check facility, or too wide or heavy to fit on a dynamometer.

Vehicles with Emission Control Configuration Issues

Referees can also assist consumers with vehicles that have difficulties passing a Smog Check inspection due to unusual emission control component configurations.

Vehicles Modified for use by Disabled Drivers

Consumers with vehicles that have been modified for use by individuals with disabilities and are incompatible with the Accelerated Simulation Mode Emission Inspection (ASM) test may be referred to a Referee Center for a Smog Check inspection. Vehicle modifications in this category include:

  • wheel chair retrofitting
  • steering and braking controlled by a single mechanism
  • retrofitted steering with hydraulic assist beyond the vehicle's OEM power steering
  • retrofitting to allow driving with one or no hands

Vehicles that fall into this category should receive a Two Speed Idle (TSI) Smog Check inspection.

Vehicles with Alternative Fuel Conversion Kits

Vehicles converted to run on alternative fuels are required to receive a Referee inspection. The Referee will inspect the vehicle to ensure the conversion has been properly performed and the components have been approved by the California Air Resources Board (ARB).

Engine Change Vehicles

An engine change is the installation of an engine in a vehicle that is different from the one originally installed in the vehicle. A Referee inspection is required for all vehicles that have had an engine change.

Replacement of a vehicle's engine with the same engine size or an engine offered by the manufacturer for that year, make and model is considered an engine replacement and does not require a Referee inspection.

Grey Market Vehicles

Vehicles imported into California that are not built to US and California emission standards are classified as Grey Market vehicles and require an inspection at a Referee Center.

Some import vehicles built to US and California emission standards have an underhood emission label that does not indicate the vehicle conforms to US and California specifications. Check with the vehicle manufacturer to obtain documentation stating the vehicle is, or is not, built to US and California emission specifications before receiving a Referee inspection.

Specially Constructed Vehicles (SPCNS)

A SPCNS is a vehicle which is built for private use, not for resale, and is not constructed by a licensed manufacturer or remanufacturer.

Since SPCNS vehicles do not have a manufacturer-assigned model-year, they must be initially inspected by a State-authorized Referee before DMV will issue a registration.

SPCNS vehicles must pass an inspection at a Referee Center before DMV will issue a registration.

Law Enforcement Citations for Tampered Emission Control Systems

Law enforcement may require consumers to clear a citation for tampered emission control systems at the Referee Center. In these cases, the vehicle must pass a Smog Check before the citation can be cleared. All Smog Check provisions apply when testing a vehicle for clearance of a citation.

Law Enforcement Citations for Excessive Vehicle Exhaust Noise

Referee Centers test exhaust system sound levels for vehicles that have been cited by law enforcement authorities for excessive noise. The Referee will use a decibel level meter to test exhaust system sound levels for the vehicle.

Verification of Smog Check Exempt Vehicles

Occasionally, DMV registration renewal notices incorrectly require a Smog Check inspection on vehicles exempt from inspection. Referee Centers will inspect these vehicles to verify exemptions and issue Exempt Certificates.

Need a Referee?

Referee Centers are centrally located within certain community colleges throughout California. To find a Referee Center near you or to schedule an appointment, visit asktheref.org or call (800) 622-7733.

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