Living With Emissions Regulations

By Tom Austin, Consultant to the Motorcycle Industry Council, Inc.
It has been 30 years since motorcycles first became subject to exhaust emissions standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Noise standards for motorcycles have been on the books at both the state and federal level for over 25 years. There are also state and federal prohibitions against ?tampering? with systems installed on new motorcycles to control emissions and noise. Until recently, there has been almost no enforcement of either the emissions or noise standards, but times are changing, especially in California.

More New Motorcycles Require Catalysts
Emissions from motorcycles have become more of a concern to EPA and CARB because sales have increased and motorcycle emissions standards have been much less stringent than the standards that apply to cars and light trucks. To address that concern, CARB adopted exhaust emissions standards for 2008 and later model motorcycles that require the widespread use of catalytic converters on 279 cc motorcycles produced by "large volume" manufacturers. EPA requires the same catalyst-forcing standards beginning with the 2010 model year for manufacturers producing 3,000 or more vehicles per year for sale in the U.S. Large manufacturers have already begun phasing in catalyst-equipped models to meet these standards. (Smaller volume manufacturers can avoid the use of catalysts, but some may use them to provide increased flexibility in engine tuning.)

A New "Engine Certification Option" is Available for Smaller Manufacturers
To facilitate compliance by small manufacturers, EPA has agreed to an "engine certification option" that was proposed by the American V-Twin Committee of the Motorcycle Industry Council. This option allows small volume manufacturers to meet standards by using an engine that has been certified by the engine manufacturer (e.g., S&S or TP). (CARB has recently agreed to provide an engine certification option as well, which is expected to be published soon.)

The availability of the engine certification option is significantly reducing the cost and difficulty of meeting emissions standards for small volume manufacturers. That's a good thing because small manufacturers who continue producing uncertified motorcycles are not long for this world.

Increased Enforcement by EPA and CARB
More vigorous enforcement of emissions standards is now occurring because the more stringent standards adopted at both the state and federal level. If small manufacturers don't comply or if the exhaust system is replaced, the emissions increase is much larger than with older models that could meet the standards without catalysts.

At the federal level, increased enforcement efforts are focused only on original equipment manufacturers. EPA previously avoided taking enforcement action against small companies that have been producing uncertified motorcycles for many years, but that is now changing. Except for companies producing fewer than 25 motorcycles per year for "display" purposes, all other new motorcycles must meet emissions standards.

In California, increased enforcement efforts are focused primarily on dealerships. CARB is coming down on dealers selling uncertified motorcycles, with fines of $5,000 per vehicle. CARB is also working with the Department of Motor Vehicles to block the registration renewal of uncertified motorcycles.

In addition, CARB is taking enforcement action against dealers who are removing emissions-related equipment from certified motorcycles. The agency?s primary concern is the removal of catalytic converters and the changes to factory fuel metering. But it is technically a violation to replace any "emissions related" part on a certified motorcycle unless the replacement part is functionally equivalent to the factory part.

It should be noted that enforcement related to "tampering" with emissions control systems or selling unapproved aftermarket parts for motorcycles is unique to California. A few states are enforcing noise limits, but only California is actively enforcing emissions regulations for motorcycles.

Some Parts Require CARB Approval; Some Don't
CARB's long list of "emissions-related parts" covers items such as air cleaners, carburetors, carburetor jets, intake manifolds, ignition systems, ignition wires, spark plugs, camshafts, valves, gas caps, PCV valves, oxygen sensors, air pumps, catalytic converters, and "computer chips." A functionally equivalent replacement part (such as an Autolite spark plug designated as the equivalent of a Bosch spark plug used by the factory) is automatically approved for use, but parts advertised to be different from stock must be approved in advance by CARB. No approval is required for aftermarket exhaust systems if the original vehicle did not use a catalyst. The nearby table provides a summary of current CARB policy as I understand it.

The approval process usually requires the submission of laboratory test results showing no significant emissions increase. An "Executive Order" is issued covering approved parts. The Executive Order number covering the part usually appears on the packaging if the part has been approved. There is no equivalent process for the approval of aftermarket parts at the federal level, but EPA and most other states accept CARB-approved parts.

Emissions-related aftermarket parts that have not been approved by CARB are legal only for use on vehicles used exclusively for competition and not used on public roads. That's why many aftermarket parts are labeled "for racing use only." Selling a part labeled for racing use only to a customer you know intends to install the part on a street motorcycle could be difficult to defend. Installing such a part on a motorcycle ridden into a dealership is in the category of impossible to defend.