September 25, 2007

How to register a car in California, when you can't smog it because it's stored in Mexico

We currently have a car in Baja California.  It's a 1986 Acura Legend, which I bought from my good friend Ed; we affectionately call this car "Lucy".

We've driven Lucy from San Francisco, all the way down to Todos Santos, passing through Los Angeles, San Diego, Ensenada, Guerero Negro, Mullege, Loreto, and Laz Paz.  It's a good car and a few years ago we decided to leave it in Todos Santos.

  • The California DMV can sometimes make life hard

We didn't import or register Lucy in Mexico; instead we chose to continue registering it in California.  It's supposed to be an easy process, but we learned the folks at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can sometimes make it difficult.

For example, when trying to renew Lucy's registration at the DMV in the San Francisco Bay Area earlier this year we were told we needed to pass the smog test.


We couldn't pass the smog test since the car was over 1,000 miles south of U.S / Mexican border.  When we told this to the DMV clerks, they refused to give us a smog exemption: we were told that cars in Mexico do not qualify for any smog exemptions.  We were told this includes any car located in any city in Arizona or Mexico, with no exceptions to the rule.

We knew it was possible to get a smog exemption if your car was over 1,000 miles from the border, regardless of whether it was in Mexico or not, so I escalated to a supervisor.  The case was then forwarded to the Sacramento main DMV office and a few days later we received the smog exemption and the new registration!

Below I give you exact steps on how you can approach the DMV in California and make them obey the law and allow you to register your car with a smog exemption if it's located in any city in Baja California Sur (Cabos San Lucas, Todos Santos, La Paz, Loreto and others). 

Don't believe what the DMV clerks tell you: they don't know the law, they don't understand it or they are simply too evil to care.  You are entitled to a smog exemption in any city in Baja California Sur.  See below for the details.

Ok, here are the steps:

1) Make an appointment at your local DMV.  You'll save some time not waiting in line and you get clerks that have a bit more experience.  You can schedule an appointment online or by phone, just point your browser to:

2) Download the following California DMV form:

  Miscellaneous Statement of Facts (REG 256)
  (right click and choose "Save As")


  • In September 2007, the form was available at the California DMV web site at the following address:
  • If you don't already have one, you will need an application to read and print the form, which is in ""Adobe PDF" format. Here are a couple of free ones: Foxit 2.0 (free and small) Adobe Acrobat Reader (bulky, but also free).

3) Fill out the form above; under section "B. Statement for Smog Exemption", check the box "It is located outside the State of California".

Yes, it does say "(Exception: Nevada and Mexico)", and I believe that's the reason so many clerks refuse to accept the "Miscellaneous Statement of Facts" and give the smog exemption.  But the law clearly says that cars that are over 1,000 miles from the border are exempt from the smog test (even if the car is in Mexico). 

So, near the "(Exception: Nevada and Mexico)", write "Over".  Then on the other side under section "G. Statement of Facts", write:

"The car is in Baja in the town of Todos Santos, almost 1000 miles below the border.  It wouldn't make it up to California for a smog check and it is never in the State."

Note: replace "Todos Santos" with the town in Baja California Sur where your car is located, for example "Cabos San Lucas", "La Paz", or "Loreto".

4) Make sure you also have a copy of your Mexican auto insurance policy.   For good measure, it's also a good idea to have a copy of your U.S. auto insurance policy (my Mexican auto insurance requires a corresponding U.S. auto insurance).

That's it!  When you show up at the DMV, give them the above documentation and you should receive a smog exemption and be able to register your car. 

It seems like it's a bit random: some DMV clerks will accept the above without problems.  With others, you'll need to stick to your guns and escalate to a supervisor if needed.  If the supervisor also doesn't cooperate, insist to pay for the registration and ask to send the case to Sacramento.

Good luck, hope this helps!


Note: most of the above information is from our personal experience, but we also learned a lot from the Baja Pony Express; thanks to the Baja Pony Express.

Posted by emmanuel at September 25, 2007 11:27 PM


Posted by: chambaret at September 29, 2007 3:40 PM

Hi Chambaret,

That would be great! Could you please send it to:

(click on the "..." to reveal our email address. We do this to prevent automated spam).

Posted by: Emmanuel Huna at September 29, 2007 6:29 PM

I am looking for a copy of the DMV law regarding Smog Exemption where the car is more than 1,000 south of the border, could you send it to me. Thanks.

Posted by: EDNA at January 2, 2008 4:38 PM

Hi Edna,

I never got the copy from Chambaret. I searched for it and found it last year, but I was unable to find it today. I'll post it here if I find it - if you do, could you also send it to me. Thanks.

Posted by: Emmanuel Huna at January 2, 2008 5:05 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Enter the words shown:: This helps us prevent automated spam comments.