The Business Owner’s Guide to the California BAR’s STAR Program

Forward-thinking auto mechanic shop owners are always looking for ways to grow their businesses, and becoming a STAR certified shop allows you to expand the services you offer to new and existing customers.
Here’s everything you need to know about STAR certification from the California BAR (Bureau of Automotive Repair).

What is STAR Certification?

STAR certification is a designation that allows auto mechanic shop owners to perform smog checks on “directed” or “gross-polluting” vehicles, in addition to other cars that require just a regular smog check.

With more than 33 million registered cars on the road in California, most of which need an annual smog check, performing that service can be a huge source of business. And since two types of vehicles require special measures, earning STAR certification can allow auto mechanic shop owners to expand their businesses even more.

Once certified, you’ll be entered into the California BAR STAR certification database, which means motorists can easily identify your auto mechanic shop as a provider. The STAR certification essentially serves as a State of California “seal of approval” that you are a high-performing station offering accurate testing.

How to Earn STAR Certification

Here’s how to get started earning STAR certification:

  1. Fill out the appropriate paperwork, including the STAR Program application and the Smog Check station application.
  2. Achieve a passing score on the Report Card (available here). Scores are calculated using data collected by the Smog Check inspection equipment during the vehicle inspection.

Your eligibility will be calculated based on two types of measures:

  • Short-term measures, which include the Test Deviations, Similar Vehicle Failure Rate (SVFR), and Improper Gear Selection during the ASM test. These scores are updated every month, but pass/fail decisions are made only on a calendar-quarter basis.
  • Long-term performance measures, which include the Follow-up Pass Rate (FPR). These are calculated and updated twice a year, in January and July, and are valid until the next FPR scores are published.

In the event that your application for STAR certification is denied, the BAR will include detailed directions on how to be reevaluated.

Test-Only vs Test-and-Repair Shops

Owners may choose to be a test-only or test-and-repair smog check station. Those that opt for the second designation must also provide repair assistance services under the Consumer Assistance Program sponsored by BAR.

There are restrictions on owning both a Test-Only station and Test-and-Repair station: They cannot have a common financial interest and may not be located adjacent to each other, or in the same business park, strip mall, or industrial complex. In either case, both stations must have the same designation, with both licensed as either a Test-and-Repair station or a Test-Only station.

How to Upgrade from a Test-Only to a Test-And-Repair Shop

A shop can start as a Test-Only station and then later choose to become a Test-And-Repair station by following these steps:

  1. Submit a Smog Check station application and a new STAR Program application to BAR.
  2. Participate in an onsite inspection of the station by a BAR representative.
  3. Sign and return the required Consumer Assistance Program Standard Agreement to BAR.

Maintaining Your STAR Certification

It’s vital to carefully maintain your certification. Auto shops that have their STAR certification invalidated by the BAR may not reapply for the STAR Program for at least six months.

In addition, the station and all of its inspectors must be free from citations over the past year (as determined by the date of the citation, not the date of issuance), and may not have been subject to a BAR administrative action within the last three years.

STAR certification can bring in a lot of new business for an auto shop. As shop owners come to expect that income, even six months can cause a major financial upset. Be diligent about maintaining your certification.

Factors that Affect Your STAR Certification

Note these circumstances that can affect your certification:

  • A changed business structure—If your business morphs between the classifications of sole proprietorship, partnership, and/or corporation, which results in the issuance of a new license, the station must requalify for STAR certification using data from the new license and data from the previous license.
  • New ownership—New owners may not assume the certification without testing independently.
  • Failure to renew your station licenses—Your station will be delinquent if you don’t renew both your automotive repair dealer (ARD) registration and Smog Check station license before the expiration date. Smog inspections cannot be performed until both are current.
  • Individual inspectors’ FPR scores—Your station's STAR scores will be affected by each inspector's performance, so station owners should check any inspector they plan to enter into their station analyzer(s) to ensure it has an acceptable FPR score. Note that the scores are not averaged over the station: each individual inspector’s scores must meet the FPR criteria.
  • An inspector’s citation—Certain citations can affect your STAR certification.  A single citation with an order of abatement would not typically affect your STAR certification, but citations for other reasons—or multiple citations for OIS infractions—can cause your STAR certification to be invalidated.
  • Mistakes on the Smog Check inspection—Your STAR certification can be revoked if a mistake results in a citation or an administrative action. A single inspection error is not likely to lead to invalidation, but repeated errors could call your certification into question.

Factors that Won’t Affect your STAR Certification

We are commonly asked about these situations, which will not affect your certification:

  • Relocation—This will not affect your STAR certification, but an onsite inspection must be performed at the new location by the BAR.
  • Repair effectiveness—Since the BAR may not use different performance measures for both Test-Only and Test-and-Repair stations, repairs are not evaluated as part of the STAR Program.
  • Older vehicles—Many stations worry that they might run a risk if the majority of the vehicles they inspect fail. However, the performance measures used in the STAR program, including the FPR, compare the vehicles inspected by each station and inspector to similar vehicles inspected throughout the state. Accurate inspections properly fail vehicles that should fail, regardless of the vehicle age or mileage.

What to Do If You Receive a Citation from the BAR

We have seen—and reversed—cases wherein an auto repair shop has received an erroneous disqualification. If that happens to you it’s important to act fast, but don’t panic: You can often figure out where the false information is coming from and correct it before it impacts your livelihood.

However, we do recommend you always watch closely for any correspondence from the BAR regarding your STAR certification, and contact your attorney immediately if something seems amiss.

You want to take any citation seriously, but note that invalidating your STAR certification is a two-step process. After a citation is issued, an auto repair shop has the right to appeal. You will be able to maintain your STAR certification during the hearing and appeals process. If the bureau determines it is non-appealable, they will take measures to invalidate your STAR certification.

A strong word of caution: Although you may be tempted to pay a citation it to make it go away, paying it will, in effect, indicate that you are admitting to the violation, and you will lose your STAR certification. A better course of action is to seek BAR-experienced legal counsel to determine if you should pay the citation.

Become a California STAR Certified Smog Check Station

All in all, obtaining and maintaining STAR certification is a savvy step for auto mechanics and shop owners who want to expand their businesses through a state-approved program.
If you are new to the process, look into filling out the application today to get on the road to an entirely new clientele. If you are already a participant and have received a citation, make sure that you work to resolve it right away by contacting  BAR-experienced legal counsel who can assist you in the best course of action.