The Bureau of Automotive Repair’s (“BAR”) mission is to protect and serve California consumers by ensuring a fair and competitive automotive repair marketplace and administering a model motor vehicle emissions reduction program.
From its headquarters in Sacramento and through 12 field offices around California, BAR conducts consumer protection services related to automotive repair. BAR registers and regulates automotive repair dealers, accepts and resolves auto repair complaints from the public, investigates violations of the Automotive Repair Act and, when appropriate, refers cases to law enforcement authorities. BAR also administers a statewide licensing program of repair facilities and service technicians in lamp and brake inspection and repair.
Each year, BAR handles over 14,800 consumer complaints involving auto repair. BAR’s complaint resolution efforts result in approximately $6.3 million being returned to consumers in the form of direct refunds, rework of the vehicle at no charge, or adjustments to the final bill.
Smog Check Program
In 1982, California became the 20th state in the nation to adopt a vehicle inspection and maintenance (Smog Check) program. BAR is mandated by law to administer the Smog Check program. There have been a number of program changes over the years, but the goal of Smog Check remains the same: to reduce air pollution produced by motor vehicles. BAR licenses over 7,050 privately-owned Smog Check stations and more than 15,000 Smog Check technicians, thereby implementing the program through a decentralized system.
Changes to the Smog Check Program
In 2009, an independent report published by Sierra Research showed that California’s Smog Check Program was falling short in their commitments to quality improvements made by state officials to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The study specifically focused on 1976 to 1995 model year vehicles, nearly all of which were inspected by Test-Only and Gold Shield stations. The study reported:
- Nearly ½ of the vehicles certified after failing their initial Smog Check were still failing 6 months later.
- Of the vehicles that did pass their initial Smog Check, nearly 20% failed when inspected by BAR.
- Most of these vehicles were never in passing condition when certified, and thus should never have been certified.
The study also found showed that sites were rewarded when they had a substantial test volume each month. However, substantial volume did not guarantee that the vehicles sent their way were being properly tested. In fact, quite the opposite.
California thought if they separated test only sites from repair sites that this would increase incentive to perform proper inspections. This is because the site would not have a stake in the repairs performed to get the vehicles to pass. What the program failed to identify was that the Smog Check Program effectiveness could be maintained without elimination of the directed vehicle program. Unfortunately though, California failed to comply with the federal Clean Air Act.
In 2010, AB 2289 was enacted and creates the STAR program, an incentive-based system designed to improve the Smog Check Program while preserving the ability of small businesses to continue providing inspection services for Californians. Beginning January 1, 2013, stations that meet the STAR performance standards will be eligible for the legislatively created privilege of inspecting vehicles that are likely high smog emitters. Each and every month vehicles that meet this criterion will be directed to STAR certified stations for testing through the DMV renewal notice process. Additionally, vehicles with emissions well in excess of allowable standards or cutpoints must be tested at a STAR station. This option was selected because it has great potential to dramatically improve air quality with an increase in the likelihood of station owners and inspectors who strive to perform quality inspections.
Licensing Enforcement Issues and STAR Certification
Citations, administrative actions, and legal decisions related to a station’s business as an Automotive Repair Dealer are ways in which a station’s enforcement-related history can preclude a station from becoming STAR-certified, or will lead to decertification, if already certified.
Citations issued to a station or any of its inspectors will prevent a station from becoming STAR-certified or will lead to decertification, if already certified, for one (1) year following the effective date of the action.
Suspension or Probationary Orders issued to a station, its managers, or any of its inspectors will present a station from becoming STAR-certified or will lead to decertification, if already certified, for one (1) year following the effective date of the action.
Legal decisions, criminal or civil, or an order for probation against the station or any of its employees for activities that are substantially related to the ARD will prevent a station from being STAR-certified or will lead to decertification, if already certified, for three (3) years following a final decision.