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City Smart / How to thrive in the urban environment
of Southern California | Street Smart

Checking Out the State's Smog Check Web Site

March 07, 1997|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the sun sets in a chemically colored haze, you battle freeway traffic on the commute home and then finally get a chance to sit down and relax in front of the computer. It's Net surfin' time.

And where do you want to go today?

Probably not to a home page telling you everything you want to know--and lots more--about smog.

But as unpleasant as the topic may be, this new site sponsored by California's Bureau of Auto Repair can be a big help when you are required to get a Smog Check on your car.

The site contains detailed information about the Smog Check program and the state statutes governing it, and suggestions on what to do if your car fails the test.

"If someone had to call us for this information," said Marty Keller, chief of the state bureau, "the person they reached might have had to run around to several different places to get it.

"And then once the information arrived and they looked at it, they might have more questions.

"This way, all the information is in one place on the Internet, ready to be accessed."

All state agencies have been urged by the Legislature to get their consumer information online. But this doesn't happen without effort or cost.

Keller said that about $80,000 worth of staff time went into setting up the smog site. In addition, the bureau spent $14,178 on software and hardware and pays $450 monthly to keep the site online.

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The site is exhaustive, right down to all those statutes that are difficult to understand without a legal dictionary.

"You would be surprised at the people who want to look at those statutes," Keller said. "We get calls from people who question whether there is any legal basis for the Smog Check. Now we can refer them to this."

Of far wider interest is an area on the site called, "Help! My Car Failed Its Smog Check." Put your mouse on that area and click, and you are taken to a page that tells you, "Smog creates significant health risks for Californians, which is one of the reasons why you must repair your vehicle."

Note the word "one" in the last statement. The other reason is that except in special circumstances, you can't renew your car registration without passing the test.

This part of the site advises that if your car fails, you should obtain a vehicle inspection report from the tester. In some cases, the test person might also be able to tell you exactly why the car failed. He or she might even offer to fix it on the spot, although you are under no obligation to have the work done there.

Before you have any repairs done on the car, the site warns, be sure first to get a work order that "clearly states the repairs you are getting for your money, and that the repairs will correct your vehicle's emissions problems."

If things between you and the repair shop get messy, it's back to the computer to click on "Help for Auto-Related Disputes."

There you can learn all about the joys of the consumer mediation program and Small Claims Court.

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But the site, which made its debut Feb. 13, is not exclusively bad news--it does give you information on how you can continue to drive your car for a grace period even if it does not pass. The most forgiving of these types of programs is the "economic hardship extension" that allows a car to be driven for up to one year, by which time appropriate repairs must be made.

No proof of economic hardship need be shown to get into this program.

The site also includes news about recent or proposed changes in Smog Check regulations. One change that went into effect last year created a new classification that is quite straightforward, at least in name: "gross polluters."

In order to join this not-so-exclusive club, which includes an estimated 10% to 15% of cars on California's roads, your car has to be emitting up to 25 times more pollutants than allowable. If your car is determined to be a gross polluter, repairs are supposed to be made immediately.

The Internet address for the smog check site is:

http://www.smogcheck.ca.gov.

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