paid registration but failed smog

Okay, so you have paid registration but failed smog. You may be wondering what to do next.

The truth is that smog tests are essential and mandatory in many states.

Therefore, you just cannot ignore the need to pass the emissions test.

So many times, you cannot sell or register a vehicle without passing a smog test. Ignore it, and you will have to deal with fines and penalties.

But, if you fail it, will you lose the registration fee and what should you do after that?

You lose the registration fee when you fail a smog test and you cannot register or sell your vehicle until you pass the test. 

Paid Registration but Failed Smog Test

A smog test is an inspection and test of a vehicle’s exhaust management systems.

Several states in the US have a smog test requirement, although they are slightly different from state to state. 

failed smog test and paid registration

Still, every smog test is designed to find out how much pollution a vehicle produces in the form of exhaust emissions.

You have to pay a registration fee to take the test. And that is when people ask, ” what to do after I failed my smog test but paid the registration.”

For starters, you won’t get a refund, and there are other issues as well.

Fact: Carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, both produced by vehicles, contribute significantly to smog formation.

The Need for a Smog Test

Although not all states have the requirement, those that do use regular smog testing to reduce the production of harmful exhaust fumes entering the atmosphere.

This is in an effort to reduce the harmful city-wide smog that prevails in their immediate environment. 

Validity of a Smog Test

validity of smog test

When a vehicle passes the inspection, its smog test certificate can remain valid for as little as three months, in some states it’s a year.

Regardless, having one is a legal requirement unless a vehicle falls in the list of exemptions.

Failure to keep up to date with the testing has legal implications

Paying the Registration for Smog Test

Each state has various authorized test-only centers where they will inspect a vehicle but not undertake any repairs.

The cost of a smog test varies from thirty to sixty dollars, depending on the state’s inspection requirements.

But a vehicle’s registration fee is paid to the DMV upfront and before the test is taken. 

Report of Deposit of Fees

When the DMV receives payment for registering a vehicle, they also run a check of its emissions test status. 

If a smog test is needed the DMV records the payment is recorded as RDF, that is Report of Deposit of Fees.

report of deposit of fees

This means the vehicle registration fee is paid, but no valid test certificate exists.

The vehicle remains unregistered and cannot be legally driven until the smog test certificate is received at the DMV.

Then, the RDF is lifted and registration can proceed or stay on hold if the vehicle did not pass. 

An Important Consideration

Although a carefully maintained vehicle usually passes the inspection, there are vehicles that will fail and need repairs and a retest before a smog test certificate can be issued. 

Unfortunately, the two-step process not only creates a delay in a vehicle receiving its tags but leaves the owner with a car that is illegal to drive on a public road.

Fact: Diesel vehicles are a bigger contributor to smog because they release a lot more particulate matter as compared to gasoline vehicles. 

Reasons for Failing a Smog Test

Apparently, it seems you can easily pass your smog test because you have a well-maintained vehicle. And that is true in most cases.

However, it is also possible to ignore some minor issues that would come back to haunt you when taking a smog test.

reasons for failing a smog test

Vehicles tend to fail a smog test for many common reasons.

For instance:

  • A faulty O2 sensor causes incorrect carbon emissions data to be passed to the engine control module.
  • Dirty spark plugs cause the engine to misfire.
  • A faulty catalytic converter forces the engine to overheat, releasing carbon monoxide.
  • A faulty EVAP, the evaporative emission control system that keeps the fumes from the fuel contained.
  • A rich fuel mix can result from several faulty systems, including the O2 sensor, the mass airflow sensor, the fuel pump or the fuel injectors.
  • A dirty air filter reduces the amount of oxygen drawn into the combustion chamber and releases too much carbon into the exhaust system.

What Does It Mean to Fail a Smog Test?

failed smog test meaning

Failing a smog test can be a frustrating experience especially if you are registering the vehicle at the same time.

Failing the test means making what could be expensive repairs and rebooking at an additional cost in time and money, all whilst your vehicle remains off the road.

The easiest way to avoid the frustration of a failed test is to buy a vehicle with a valid certificate and keep up with its testing and maintenance.

Fact: Some low-emission automobiles can use carpool lanes even with only one person in the car in several jurisdictions due to "clean air stickers. 

Understanding the Legal Implications of Failing Smog

Failing the smog test because your gas cap isn’t fitting properly or a spark plug is dirty can leave you kicking yourself.

Repairs to emission systems can be expensive. A new catalytic converter can run to a couple of thousand dollars with labor.

However, these small oversights can test your resolve to keep up with regular smog testing.

But failure to do so has legal ramifications and there are only two options, to repair the vehicle or stop driving it. 

Possibility of Being Pulled Over

possibility of being pulled over

Car owners must register their vehicles and have them inspected as required, then display the tags clearly.

If the tags cannot be seen they risk being pulled over.

Perhaps there is a warning, but a fine is just likely and repeating the offense could see your vehicle towed away and impounded. 

Fine and Penalties

The severity of the consequences depends on how long the vehicle has been left unregistered.

Although having tags that are slightly out of date is regarded as a minor offense, a fine of between $100 and $200 is not unusual.

For a repeated offense after a fine, the issue is taken further and offenders face court with the real risk of 15 days of jail time. 

Options After Failing a Smog Test

options after failing a smog test

With the only options being to either repair or scrap the vehicle, you may find yourself seriously out of pocket one way or the other.

Even doing nothing and leaving the vehicle parked up on the highway can result in it being impounded such as the drive to eliminate polluting cars.

Therefore, you have to be proactive and take steps to ensure you manage to pass the test.

For that to happen, you can try different things.

For instance: 

Work with a Pro

As well as listing reasons for failing, the smog technician advises the vehicle owner on potential issues.

They do it by making the last inspection report a useful planning tool because the best option is always going to be correctly maintaining the vehicle

Set up a Reminder

Setting up a DMV reminder will give you time to ensure your vehicle is inspected before the registration or the emissions certificate expires.

It costs nothing and can help prepare you for regular testing as testing requirements change according to the vehicle’s age and mileage.

set up a reminder

It also comes in handy when you are required inspection at a specialized testing station.

Other things you can do to check your vehicle’s readiness for a smog check inspection are to:

  • Take it for a smog test precheck.
  • Carry out minor repairs to ensure the check engine light is off.
  • Empty the car for less weight and warm the engine up.
Fact: To tackle the city's severe smog problem, Xi'an, China erected the world's largest air purifier in a park in the year 2020. 


What happens if you paid registration but failed smog? Failing a smog test prevents you from renewing your registration in most states.

That is why, even if you pay your registration fee, you cannot get a new registration sticker until your automobile is fixed and passes the smog test.

In most cases, it happens due to some minor issues, so you need to take your time and work with a certified technician to ensure your car will pass an emissions test.