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The Sun Never Sets on the Bureau of Automotive Repair

Car repair on a lift for the repair of the chassis, automatic transmission and engine in the auto repair shop or garage. Car workshop concept

Assembly Bill 1263, passed during this current legislative session and signed by the governor, revisits many important aspects of the Bureau of Automotive Repair and the California Smog Check program. Read on for a summary of the changes made by this legislation. If you are a California auto shop owner or Smog Check technician dealing with enforcement actions or licensing issues from BAR, contact Rounds & Sutter to speak with an experienced California automotive repair defense lawyer.

A Brief History of the Bureau of Automotive Repair

BAR was established within the California Department of Consumer Affairs in 1972. The Automotive Repair Act authorized BAR to regulate the automotive repair industry in California. It required automotive repair dealers to be registered with the state and prohibited auto shops from performing work without first issuing a written estimate and getting that estimate authorized by the customer.

In 1984 BAR implemented Smog Check, the vehicle emissions inspection and maintenance program we all know and love (those of us without all-electric vehicles, at least).

Today, BAR issues 11 different types of licenses, registrations and certificates (e.g., test-and-repair stations, test-only stations, repair-only stations) and oversees 34,093 automotive repair dealers, including 6,397 licensed Smog Check stations and 20,773 Smog Check inspectors, repair technicians, and brake and lamp adjusters. It mediates consumer complaints, investigates alleged violations of the Automotive Repair Act, and takes disciplinary actions as appropriate, including license revocations of dealers, technicians and shops.

BAR Undergoes Sunset Review…Again

A sunset clause is a provision in a piece of legislation that sets an expiration date for the new law unless it is extended or made permanent by another law before the act’s sunset date. The California Assembly often includes sunset provisions in laws that delegate authority to state agencies as a way to monitor and control those agencies, which otherwise operate under the purview of the executive branch instead of the legislative.

The legislature has used this tool with the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) for years, always putting an end to the program about four or five years out and periodically extending its life. Meanwhile, the Assembly schedules oversight hearings to identify issues with BAR and offer corrective actions. Although the BAR statute doesn’t include a sunset provision per se, existing law subjects the bureau to review by legislative committees and requires that review “to be performed as if the act were scheduled to be repealed on January 1, 2024.” AB 1263 continues the practice of keeping BAR under the legislature’s thumb by keeping the pseudo-sunset review process alive and extending it to January 1, 2028.

BAR’s last sunset review was in 2018. That process addressed five issues, including licensing exams, enforcement workloads, and disciplinary guidelines, among others. The most recent sunset review includes 15 new issues, including whether the current Bureau Advisory Group should be codified or remain an informal, voluntary membership group, the status of the BAR’s Long-Term Fund condition, and the use of certificate blocking to deter illegal activity and combat fraud.

On that last issue, the law allows BAR to block the issuance of a certificate of compliance if OBD data collected during the Smog Check is irregular, generating a failed inspection and requiring a second inspection. New technology will require inspectors to use a biometric palm scanner instead of a typed password to access Smog Check equipment to reduce the opportunities for passing a vehicle that should be failed.

Changes Wrought by AB1263

AB1263 is an extensive piece of legislation that makes 17 changes to existing law regarding BAR and smog check stations. A few of those changes are:

  • Amends the definition of “automotive repair dealer” to include a person who engages in the business of collecting compensation for automotive repair services that are referred or sublet to someone other than the dealer or their employees. In other words, this language seems to put bill collectors under the authority of the Automotive Repair Act.

  • Authorizes BAR to adopt regulations that prohibit dealers from obtaining a mechanic’s lien or the right to sue on a contract for repairs unless they possess a valid registration as required under the Automotive Repair Act.

  • Changes the list of licensees with enforcement actions taken against them by BAR that are required to be disclosed to the public on the internet. The amended list includes automotive repair dealers, smog check stations, smog check inspectors and repair technicians, and vehicle safety systems inspection stations and technicians.

  • Defines “qualified smog check technician” to include both “smog check technicians” and “smog check inspectors” for the purpose of requiring smog check technicians to be qualified for different categories of motor vehicle inspection based on vehicle classification and model year.

  • Expands the types of fraudulent inspections subject to license revocation to include clean plugging, clean glassing, clean tanking, or any other fraudulent inspection practice as defined by DCA, in contrast to only including clean piping under the previous version of the law.

Contact Rounds & Sutter for Automotive Repair and Smog Check License Defense in California

In subjecting BAR to review by the Assembly, the law puts the burden on BAR to demonstrate “a compelling public need for the continued existence of the bureau and its regulatory program, and that its function is the least restrictive regulation consistent with the public health, safety, and welfare.” Meanwhile, automotive repair dealers and smog check station owners and inspectors would do well to be fully versed in BAR requirements to maintain their licenses in good standing. If you are facing issues and enforcement actions from BAR at your California auto shop or smog check station, call Rounds & Sutter LLP at 805-650-7100 for advice and representation from our skilled and knowledgeable automotive repair defense attorneys.