DMV Says You Need A Smog Check? Maybe You Do, Maybe You Don't

November 10, 2011
DMV line

DMV line

UPDATED: A DMV spokesperson has offered some clarification. See below.

If you've ever had a run-in with the Department of Motor Vehicles, this may not come as much of a shock: the DMV in San Diego, California recently sent out 13,000 notices to car owners, saying that they're due for a smog check. Only problem is, the mailing was a mistake, and the DMV isn't planning to correct it.

California requires car owners to get a smog check every two years. Unfortunately, 13,000 people who recently went through the process have been told -- incorrectly -- that they need to do so again when they renew their auto registrations in January.

The mix-up appears to stem from a computer malfunction associated with registration renewals scheduled for January 2 to January 18, 2012. DMV spokesperson Jaime Garza told the press, "We don't know what happened. Sometimes the computer thinks on its own and makes changes." 

The fact that Garza and his co-workers don't seem to understand (or care about) their department's computer systems is bad enough. But what's worse is that the DMV isn't planning to send out corrections to those 13,000 car owners. Instead, Garza says that the DMV has spoken with smog stations to alert them to the problem, so that misinformed drivers don't end up paying for unnecessary smog checks. 

Not surprisingly, at least two smog station owners contacted by local CBS affiliate KBFM have heard nothing from the DMV about the goof. It's the sort of situation that sets drivers' teeth on edge and perpetuates the stereotype of DMV workers as mindless bureaucrats hell-bent on putting car owners through the wringer. 

So, in a nutshell, if you live in San Diego, and you're due for a registration renewal in early January, check your vehicle records. Otherwise, you may end up paying California for a smog check you don't need -- and given the state's current budget woes, we have our doubts about California's willingness to offer refunds.

UPDATE: Mr. Garza was kind enough to email The Car Connection and explain that "customers who get a smog check in two consecutive years will not need to get one next year". So, if you live in Southern California and you've recently taken your car in for a smog check as a result of the DMV's computer glitch, hold onto your paperwork so you can skip the process next year.

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