Collector Cars

1. What is a collector car?

A collector car is used primarily in shows, parades, charitable functions, and historical exhibitions for display, maintenance, and preservation. It cannot be a vehicle used primarily for transportation. [Vehicle Code §259]

2. Are there any requirements to qualify a vehicle as a collector car?

Yes. The vehicle must be insured as a collector car and:

  • at least 35 model years old [Health and Safety Code §44011]; or
  • at least 25 model years old with Historical Vehicle license plates [Vehicle Code §5004]; or
  • classified as a special interest vehicle. [Vehicle Code §5051(a-b)]

3. What are Historical Vehicle license plates?

These special plates are issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to vehicles of historic interest that were manufactured after 1922 and are at least 25 model years old. [Vehicle Code §5004]

4. What is a special interest vehicle?

These vehicles, because of their significance (e.g., less than 2,000 sold in California in a model year), are collected, preserved, restored, or maintained by a hobbyist. [Vehicle Code §5051(b)]

  • Note: The vehicle must not be altered from the manufacturer’s original specifications.

5. Are collector cars exempt from the Smog Check Program?

It depends. All vehicles, model years 1975 and older, are exempt from Smog Check. Collector cars, model years 1976 and newer, are subject to the program, but eligible for an abbreviated inspection. [Health and Safety Code §44011(c) and §44012(f)]

6. Can any Smog Check station perform the inspection of a collector car?

No. Smog Check stations do not have the equipment necessary to perform a collector car inspection. For this reason, the inspection must be performed at a State-authorized referee station.

7. What does the referee inspection include?

The referee will:

  • confirm the vehicle meets the criteria for a collector car;
  • confirm proof of insurance as a collector car; and
  • perform a Smog Check, as follows:
    1. a test of tailpipe emissions;
    2. a functional test of the fuel cap; and
    3. a visual check for liquid fuel leaks. [Health and Safety Code §44011(c)]
  • Note: Collector cars classified as special interest vehicles also will be inspected to ensure they are unaltered from the manufacturer’s original specifications. [Vehicle Code §5051(b)]

8. What happens after the referee inspection?

The referee will provide a Vehicle Inspection Report to the owner. If the vehicle passes inspection, the referee will issue a certificate of compliance that is electronically sent to DMV. If the vehicle fails inspection, the referee will inform the owner of any deficiencies and whether any emissions repairs are needed to the vehicle. [Health and Safety Code §44011(a)]

9. Can a specially constructed vehicle qualify as a collector car?

No. A specially constructed vehicle (e.g., kit car) is built for private use, not for resale, and is not constructed by a licensed manufacturer or remanufacturer. These vehicles have different Smog Check inspection requirements. [Vehicle Code §580; Health and Safety Code §44017.4]

10. Can a grey market qualify as a collector car?

No. A grey market vehicle (i.e., direct import) is not manufactured to meet U.S. federal motor vehicle safety standards and/or California emissions standards, and is not intended by the manufacturer to be used or sold in the U.S. These vehicles have different Smog Check inspection requirements. []