Smog Check Hell

2007smog No one would ever accuse me of being an environmentalist but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it when measures imposed by our government successfully improve the environment around me.   When we moved to California in 1971, there were days when the smog tinted the air brown, it hurt the eyes to go outside and the simple act of breathing burned the lungs.   In the car-obsessed L.A. metropolitan area, automobile exhaust was the primary cause of such days, and … although having to have my car smog certified every two years is a pain … the smog check program has dramatically improved the air here in Socal.   As I sit here in the park on a sultry summer day, the air around me is colorless and the sky is blue.

The smog check process used to be simple.  You drove to a smog check station.tailpipe The technician stuck a sensor up your tailpipe (actually your car’s tailpipe, thank goodness) and measured the gases in your exhaust.   If the pollutants were low enough, you passed.  Sixty bucks, please. These days, the smog check is based on both measured pollutants and upon a set of monitors that are part of the On Board Diagnostics (OBD) that have been included in cars since the early 1980s. Theoretically, every time you drive, these monitors check the operation of emissions related subsystems in your car and record the results in your car’s computer where your trusty smog check technician can find them.  Your computer needs to show that all of the monitors have completed in order to pass the smog check.  Easy, right?  Except that if your battery goes dead … or for some reason it is disconnected … your computer forgets the historical results of the monitors.   And you cannot pass until all the monitors complete again.  And that is how I ended up in Smog Check Hell.

About a month ago, I dutifully went to my local Test-Only Smog Check station and had my car tested.  I was told I passed all the smog tests and all the monitors had completed but the catalytic converter monitor (the CAT monitor, for short). You see, I’d had a battery go dead while we were away on vacation.   Just drive a few hundred miles and it will complete, the technician said.  A week later, I was back with about 500 additional miles on my car … but the CAT monitor still hadn’t completed.  This time the technician gave meScreenshot_20170722-114721 a sheet with two so-called drive cycles on it.  Drive cycles are specific driving patterns … driving actions, speeds and time intervals … that take about 30 to 40 minutes and are supposed to assure the monitors will all complete (Just in case you are a masochist, you can read one here).  They didn’t help.  At this point, I bought an OBD scanner so that I could check the monitor without a half hour drive to my Smog Check Station.  I found a specific drive cycle for my car in the manual and several additional ones on line.  After several hundred miles of drive cycles, my CAT monitor still reads, ominously, Incomplete not Complete.

The dealership says I need a new catalytic converter …. a cool $1500 … and my son’s friend says he can put in an aftermarket one for $400.  But no one seems to be able to assure me I’ll pass once it’s done.  A mechanic my smog check technician referred me to said the CAT monitor wasn’t completing because my engine temperature wasn’t reaching 90 degrees C, so I drove a few drive cycles with cardboard over my radiator, carefully monitoring temperature to be sure I didn’t overheat.  Indeed, the temperature reached 90 C but … indeed … the CAT monitor didn’t complete.   I have paid my registration fees to the DMV to avoid a late fee but that puts me in a 30 day probation period to pass my smog check with no real solution in sight.  Smog Check Hell.

This week I found a check and repair station, Chapman Auto Repair of Orange, that at least seems knowledgeable and willing to listen to my story.   At this point, even that is some solace.  Wish me luck.


Well, you can decide whether I was lucky or not.  Chapman Auto Repair ran a complete diagnostic on my emissions system and determined that the problem was indeed the catalytic converters.   You could say I was lucky to pass or unlucky to have it require a very expensive replacement.  Me?   I won’t debate whether I was lucky or not … I’m just happy to have found Chapman Auto Repair and have my passed Smog Check headed off to the DMV.

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One Comment on “Smog Check Hell”

  1. SandySays1 Says:

    Good luck. Better yet – consider leaving CA

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