'Significant' enforcement of California exhaust laws force dealers to tread carefully

Publish Date: 
May 18, 2011
By Dennis Johnson


John Paliwoda is executive director of the California Motorcycle Dealers Association. We talked with him about increased enforcement of the state’s emissions laws and what it means for dealerships, and service and performance shops.

Dealernews: How are aftermarket exhausts regulated in California?
John Paliwoda: There are two levels of this regulation in California:

  • The California Air Resources Board (CARB) does not require aftermarket parts evaluations for the replacement of full exhaust and/or individual exhaust parts on motorcycles originally certified and delivered with no emission-related parts (non-catalytic converter muffler and exhausts from the cylinder head to the muffler). There is an important caveat, however; no unapproved changes in the ignition timing or fuel metering/delivery systems can be made to accommodate the more open breathing system that aftermarket systems typically have. This category covers slightly more than one-half of motorcycles sold in California from 1996 through 2008.
  • For California motorcycles delivered with a catalyst-equipped exhaust system or other emission-related parts, only aftermarket systems and parts that have been granted an Executive Order (EO) by CARB can legally be sold and installed on California motorcycles (again, about little less than half of the 1996-2008 bikes). By 2008, 87 percent of all California bikes were originally equipped with catalytic converters. These systems and parts are referred to as "motorcycle aftermarket critical emission control parts" because of their catalytic converter, oxygen sensor and/or hydrocarbon adsorber components. To earn an EO, the aftermarket parts must pass an intense CARB engineering evaluation to demonstrate that the parts will not increase vehicle engine emissions and are durable for the bike’s expected useful life. If they pass, they are issued an EO that grants the parts an exemption from California’s anti-tampering laws, if they are installed on the specific models for which they were evaluated.

This approval procedure was established in 2009 at the request of the aftermarket exhaust manufacturers because until then, there was no certification procedure for motorcycle aftermarket catalyst exhaust systems. Now, two years later, only 23 systems by five manufacturers have been granted EO exemptions.

Aftermarket exhausts and mufflers that are installed downstream (after) the headers or exhaust pipes containing catalysts and oxygen sensors are not considered critical parts, do not affect bike emissions, and can be legally sold and installed. Again, however, this is assuming that other emission-sensitive components are not modified, altered or replaced.

Motorcycle exhaust noise is not regulated or enforced by CARB. It is unlikely, however, that a critical parts exhaust system could receive a CARB Executive Order if it did not conform to the federal EPA noise emission standard.

DN: How is CARB enforcing the regulation, and has it increased (and why)?
JP: CARB has investigators whose assignments include searching out, and citing, potential emission-related violations from stationary sources, consumer products, as well as mobile sources such as motorcycles. Most of the leads that will trigger a visit from a CARB investigator are from complaints from disgruntled customers, or tips from competing dealers who won’t do illegal motorcycle modifications. As more and more motorcycles are delivered with catalytic converter mufflers, there is a tendency to swap them out for illegal, non-catalyst parts because of consumer demand for better performance and to amplify the quieter, stock exhaust sound. With so few conforming aftermarket systems available, CARB enforcement is significant.

DN: Can a dealer in the state sell, display or install an exhaust? Can they sell an exhaust and refer it to another service shop for installation?
JP: California’s anti-tampering law, Vehicle Code Section 27156 (c) states, “No person shall install, sell, offer for sale, or advertise any device, apparatus, or mechanism intended for use with, or as a part of, any required motor vehicle pollution control device or system which alters or modifies the original design or performance of any such motor vehicle pollution control device or system.”

An EO exemption from the above anti-tampering law is required before any add-on or modified part can be sold in California. In 2009, the CMDA was able to pass legislation that allowed exempted aftermarket parts to be installed on a new motorcycle at point of sale.

Dealers should not sell uncertified systems or parts and then refer a customer to another shop for installation. It is illegal for any California dealer, shop or person to sell or install non-emission certified parts except for use on closed competition racing bikes. Race motorcycles are ones that are either trailed or trucked into a dealership that are obviously used strictly for real racing (no lights or turn signals, no license plate, orange transportation sticker, etc.) but not even occasional street use. CARB does not regulate pure race bike modifications. However, California law requires racing parts to have adequate disclaimers in each manufacturer or dealer advertisement which gives reasonable notice of any limitation on the sale or use of such parts.

DN: What have been the penalties for noncompliance?
JP: Dealers can be fined $5,000 for selling a tampered-with motorcycle, the same per each illegal carburetor jet installation (multiple fines per occurrence on a single engine or motorcycle), and from $500 to that amount depending on the severity of the violation, intent and a dealer’s willingness to abstain from future air quality violations. CARB takes the position that these penalties (and the violations) have been on the books for over three decades and their mandate is to enforce them, irrespective of whether the violator was aware of the law, or didn’t even mean to violate it.

DN: What is the CMDA advising its dealers to do? Do you think this may spread to other states?
JP: The CMDA has led the struggle to change the laws, rules and regulations so that its members are not unreasonably targeted or discriminated against. Air quality laws are very strict in California, especially when it comes to motor vehicles, so our advice to California dealers is to:

  • Know the laws about the sales and installation of aftermarket parts, especially those components that affect stock emission equipment. If it seems illegal, it probably is. Shops that continue the sales and installation of illegal parts will likely be discovered by CARB investigators and their illegal activities will be abated.
  • Comply with No. 1., above.

Dealers in states with severe air quality problems could see similar laws passed in their states, as emission standards are ratcheted further down. The U.S. government is also becoming more aggressive in revisiting federal emission and noise standards, and that may result in individual states responding by tightening up the certification and enforcement of vehicle aftermarket and replacement parts rules, including motorcycles.