Failing the Smog Check with my Hyundai Elantra

California has a Smog Check. Smog Check is a bi-annual emmissions test that most every car has to pass in order to be properly registered to operate.

Mechanics can test your car, or you can go to dedicated Smog Check stations. It takes about 30 minutes.

Smog Check measures tailpipe emissions and checks your exhaust and fuel systems for big problems and suspicious modifications, with the stated goal of reducing smog.

Sometimes, your car doesn't pass, and you are forced to take action, such as having your fuel injectors cleaned, your gas cap replaced or your muffler fixed.


One of the things that will cause your car to fail is if the "Check Engine" light is on. I don't know why that's against the rules. In my experience that light is pretty safe to ignore, but the state of California treats it seriously.

This year, I took our 1999 Hyundai Elantra to a micro-sized "Smog 'N Go" drive-thru smog check. It failed. Not because of high emmissions, but because the smog machine couldn't talk with my car's computer. The Onboard Diagnostic (OBD) wasn't communicating with their machine. They charged me $59.75, and sent me on my way, suggesting that I visit the dealership for an answer and assuring me that I could get a free retest if I returned within 90 days.

I checked the internet.


More than one site suggested that a blown fuse might be the problem, so I checked that first, actually replacing (and restoring operation of) the fuse for the cigarette lighter, dash clock and mirror motors.

My return trip to Smog 'N Go was also unsuccessful. From the waiting room, I could see that the tech was poring over my car, trying to get the handshake with their machine to work, but to no avail. No communication.


I thought my next stop would be expensive. I brought the car to Lee's Automotive Repair, on White Rock Road in Rancho Cordova and got Lee's advice.

Lee told me that it might be the smog machine. His shop too had a "Worldwide"-brand smog machine, and he had a problem talking to Hyundais all the time.

"You didn't pay them, did you?"

I had.


Lee suggested that I either take it back to a smog shop where I had passed previously, or that I call the state referee for a re-test and pass on their super equipment.

I called the referee at the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR). No problem. They had heard of the problem of "Worldwide" machines vs. "ESP" smog machines and set me up for a test at a referree shop in four days.

(Map to the Smog Check referee on the campus of American River College in Sacramento)


On the appointed day, I visited the North Sacramento Smog Referee at American River College. It was a tiny place tucked into their vocational studies section. The two referees greeted me, then took my keys and my Hyundai to an undisclosed location and performed their magic.

The whole affair took about 45 minutes, but they came back with good news. It passed. Indeed, their machine had been able to talk with my OBD and everything else passed without a hitch.

The only charge was $8.25 for a smog certificate.



My parting question was this, "Does this happen to a lot of cars?".

The answer, "No, just yours... Hyundais."

For a day, my dilemma was if I go back to Smog 'n Go for a refund. The state referee hadn't charged me for the smog check, so my total dollar output was the same as if I had passed in the first place.


But, I reasoned, Smog 'N Go should know this one. Its a little shop, but its busy. Someone there should have seen my Hyundai and given me a fair warning. Their machine couldn't have passed my car. Was that my fault or theirs?

I asked for and got the $59.75 refund without a problem, which made this a wholly satisfying experience. Thank you Lee of Lee's Automotive, thank you California Smog referee and thank you Smog 'N Go.

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