Grass Valley station offers smog check services above, beyond the call |

Grass Valley station offers smog check services above, beyond the call

That look of panic on a customer's face — Sim Finau, owner of Ray's Radiator Services sees it all the time.

"I see them standing there, terrified that their car won't pass the smog test," he said. "I can understand why. Cars are a lifeline for many people. If it doesn't pass, it could mean the end of transportation for an entire family."

People of limited means with older cars often can't afford the repairs necessary to get their older cars re-registered, said Finau, which is why he opted to become a smog check STAR station, which requires more rigorous certification by the state.

In January, the Bureau of Automotive Repair implemented the STAR program as a result of new legislation designed to improve smog check programs and air quality. STAR stations must meet specific performance standards established by the bureau. Some older vehicles with excessively high emissions levels are referred to STAR stations for testing and needed repairs. Currently, Ray's Radiator Services is the only STAR-certified test and repair station in Nevada County, and each smog technician and mechanic is individually scored by the state, he said.

So how does that help the struggling family whose only car fails the smog test? A STAR station has the authority to offer the benefits of the Consumer Assistance Program, a state program that offers financial assistance to car owners whose vehicles fail the smog check. The program, known as CAP, can provide car owners up to $1,500 to retire a vehicle or up to $500 in emissions-related repairs at a STAR station.

In order to qualify for financial repair assistance or "vehicle retirement," applicants must have a household income that is less than or equal to 225 percent of the federal poverty level. Eligibility for CAP is based on household income information provided on the application.

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"I see a lot of customers who tell me they never knew this program existed," said Finau, who took over the shop seven years ago. "Just the other day an 83-year-old woman had to go borrow money to get her car fixed. It's sad. This program will make a huge difference for some people."

Although being a certified STAR station means it is "under a magnifying glass" when it comes to state requirements, Finau says it gives the station credibility, and it's simply the right thing to do. Too many otherwise-law-abiding citizens are out on the road everyday, worried they will be pulled over for an expired registration tag due to lack of funds to fix an old car.

"The most important thing is that people in Nevada County know this program exists," said Finau. "Two of my four sons have old cars — they'd better pass the smog test!"

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at or call 530-477-4203.

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