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Can California’s Consumer Assistance Program Help You?

Can California’s Consumer Assistance Program Help You?

Has your vehicle failed its smog check inspection? If so, you may be eligible for California’s Consumer Assistance Program. This program was created by California’s Bureau of Automotive Repair to help low income individuals upgrade their vehicles in ways that will help them pass their next smog check inspection and keep California’s air clean and free of smog. Alternatively, consumers can retire their smog-emitting vehicles altogether for a cash incentive. Read on for more information, including eligibility requirements and how to apply. 

What is California’s Consumer Assistance Program?

California’s Consumer Assistance Program was created to help improve California’s air quality by repairing and retiring cars that emit large amounts of smog. Two assistance options are available. One option is for those who want to make improvements to their vehicle, and another option is available to those who are ready to get rid of their vehicle. 

Making your vehicle environmentally friendly can be pricey, and California’s vehicle repair program offers financial assistance to low income individuals who are interested in doing so.

California’s vehicle retirement program offers cash to individuals who wish to retire their vehicles. For this program, there isn’t even a maximum income requirement for a cash incentive at a lower dollar amount! 

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Who is eligible for California’s Consumer Assistance Program?

Generally, anyone with a vehicle whose income is at or below 225% of the federal poverty level is eligible for California’s Consumer Assistance program. However, even those who earn more than 225% of the federal poverty level may be eligible for smaller amounts of cash assistance. 

In addition to the income requirements, there are requirements that your vehicle must meet, depending on the program option you are applying for. 

More eligibility information for each option of California’s Consumer Assistance Program is included below. 

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How does the vehicle repair assistance program work?

When an income eligible individual’s vehicle has failed its biennial (every other year) smog check inspection, the vehicle repair assistance program can help cover the cost of repairs at a STAR test-and-repair station. STAR test-and-repair stations are specially certified to repair vehicles according to high environmental standards. 

Owners of model year 1996 or newer vehicles can receive up to $1,200 in reimbursements for repairs that will reduce their car’s emissions. Owners of older vehicles (model years 1976-1995) can receive up to $900 in reimbursements. 

It is important to review the vehicle-related eligibility requirements carefully, as not all vehicles are eligible for this program. For example, a vehicle registered to a business, government, or non-profit organization would not be eligible. Nor would a vehicle that is undergoing a transfer of ownership or a vehicle that is totally “junked”. 

Applications can be submitted online, and it is recommended that applicants submit proof of income along with their application. If you do not submit proof of income, the application process might be slowed down if you are asked to submit it later. Proof of income may include pay stubs, a bank statement verifying that you receive public assistance, your federal tax form 1040 from the most recent tax year, or other forms of documentation

Finally, it is important that applicants do not begin repairs until their application has been approved. Any repairs that you pay for before approval will not be reimbursed. 

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How does the vehicle retirement assistance program work?

The vehicle retirement assistance program offers eligible individuals a cash incentive to retire their vehicle at a BAR-contracted auto dismantler. Please note that vehicles must still be operational in order to be eligible. 

You can receive either $1,000 or $1,500 in exchange for your vehicle, depending on your income. There is no income requirement to apply for the $1,000 incentive. Your income must be equal to or below 225% of the federal poverty line in order to apply for the $1,500 incentive.

As with the vehicle repair program, your vehicle must meet several requirements as well, and it is important to read these carefully. Not all vehicles are eligible for the program. There are separate eligibility requirements for the $1,000 incentive and the $1,500 incentive. For both of these options, you must be the registered owner of the vehicle with the vehicle title issued in your name. 

There are also separate applications for the $1,000 incentive and the $1,500 incentive, and both can be submitted online. 

For more information on both of these programs, call (866) 272-9642. They are open from Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., excluding state holidays.

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Catherine Hall, LMSW is a therapist at a small group practice in New York City. She earned her master of social work degree at New York University.


Thursday 22nd of December 2022

My Name is Amber Renfrow I have a 2014 Ford fiesta that won't pass smog ive fixed so many things in this car I just don't have the money or job to put in to vehicle I've narrowed from family to. Repair my check engine light is on

Catherine Marucci

Thursday 22nd of December 2022

Hi Amber. Maybe one of these resources can help:

Michele Drew

Tuesday 20th of September 2022

My name is Michele Drew, I have a 97 Honda Civic, it didn't pass smog. The check engine light is not on but it still didn't pass. I got approved for the BAR. But I don't have a job and I don't have any money. I need more assistance that can help me. Thank you.

Catherine Marucci

Tuesday 20th of September 2022

Hi Michele. If the above resources aren't useful in your case, it may be worth calling 211 to see what other assistance is available. This article may also be helpful: