Being a mechanic is harder than ever before. It’s always been a tough job, of course. The manual labor portion of it is hard work all by itself. Long hours on your feet can take its toll. Then there is the pressure so many mechanics are under to keep their dealership or auto body shop afloat despite not being in charge. On top of all that, the types of vehicles being made continue to evolve which necessitates that mechanics learn about them as soon as possible lest they have to turn away business. The government can also make new requirements that force technicians to react as well.

Fortunately, this also means there are always new automotive technician jobs and new ways to draw business. If you work in California, one option you may be thinking about is earning your smog technician license.

What is a smog technician license?

In California, the government requires that vehicles only emit a certain amount of smog. The idea is that by limiting the volume of pollutants given off by vehicles, the state can fight back against climate change and keep their natural surroundings looking beautiful. Smog inspections are legally required of all Californians who own cars that were made in 1997 or after. Diesel engine vehicles are exempt. Any vehicle that has a GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight) of greater than 14,000 pounds must be checked as well. The same goes for natural gas powered vehicles over 14,000 pounds, electric vehicles, trailers and motorcycles. These checks must be done by a certified technician every other year. Newer vehicles – those that are six years old or less – have six years before they must submit proof of having these checks done.

Becoming a smog technician

Obviously, this creates a golden opportunity for technicians. If your auto mechanic salary is lacking at the moment, one way to increase the amount you make would be to get your license as a smog technician. You can almost always find auto technician jobs posted around California for this type of work.

There are actually two versions of this license, but the good news is that neither requires that you go back to auto mechanic school.

The first is becoming a smog inspector. This means working as the person who tests vehicles to make sure they aren’t giving off excessive emissions. To acquire this license, you can take the level two course and pass after 28 hours of training. Otherwise, you have to complete the 68-hour level one course.

There is a third option reserved for those who have two years of experience or a degree in automotive technology, but it’s only for mechanics who have also earned ASE certifications. They don’t require you take a test though.

The second option you have to cash in on California’s environmental laws is to work as a smog repair technician. If you have ASE certifications in courses A6, A8 and L1, you automatically qualify.

If you don’t, but you have two years of experience working as a mechanic, you just have to take their Diagnostic and Repair course. If you have a degree in automotive technology, all it takes is a year of experience working in a repair shop and, again, you can get your license without any further effort. The third way to acquire this license if you have a year of working experience is to show proof that you spent at least 720 hours in an automotive technology program that included no fewer than 280 hours focused on engine performance. Simply present the certificate you received upon graduation and you’re good to go.

As a smog repair technician, you’ll be the one fixing vehicles that are giving off an illegal amount of pollutants.

Are these licenses worth it?

For the most part, there’s really no downside to earning one of these licenses. The only real reason not to is because they involve an investment in time (unless you have certain prerequisites). However, so long as you can spare the time, earning these licenses could definitely help your auto mechanic salary. They’ll definitely mean you’re a viable candidate for more automotive mechanic jobs, which is never a bad thing.

If you live in California and work as a mechanic, consider earning a license related to the state’s rules regarding vehicle emissions. It will become one more reason for a dealership or auto body repair shop to hire you or increase your salary.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as Should I Get a Smog Technician License? and was authored by Valerie Johnston.


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