The time has come for the bullshit to stop. And, ironically, it will be stopping at any one of the California Bureau of Automotive Repair's 40 statewide Smog Check Stations-places usually considered hell on earth for California car enthusiasts.
You see, since late last summer, the BAR's Smog stations have been performing compliance testing on cars issued citations for exhaust noise. Since that time, about 90 percent of the nearly 600 vehicles tested have met the 95-decibel standard under the Society of Automotive Engineers J1169 test procedure. Once proven compliant with this test, per the California Vehicle Code, citations may be dismissed in California courts.
In other words, California cops are writing nearly 100 tickets every month against legal exhausts.
This isn't really new news for many of you. I've been bending ears over California exhaust noise in this space going on five years now. However, it is news for there to be a testing program in place, compliance certificates being issued and citations being dismissed. And it's all thanks to our good friends at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) and their ceaseless legislative wrangling that put a law in place to allow this testing and then helped create the testing program to support it.
Steve McDonald, SEMA's Senior Director of Government Affairs in Washington D.C. put it best. "This information validates our long-held contention that a vast majority of citations written for violation of California's exhaust noise laws are, in fact, erroneous. For years, the enforcement policy used by police officers has deemed nearly all (aftermarket) exhaust systems illegal, even when the noise level met state standards."
Until now, enthusiasts have had no way to prove their systems are compliant. I don't suppose the state will allow those who were previously convicted for non-compliant exhaust systems to prove their compliance now that there's a testing program in place. I also doubt the state will issue many refunds to those poor shlubs.
I had the honor of watching the BAR's crack noise team in action at its Fullerton, Calif., referee station last fall after our summer intern, Jon Lopez, marched into the office with a ticket for exhaust noise. It took them a while to sort out the test, as it was clear they were new to it, but eventually Lopez's WRX emerged with a certificate of compliance, just squeaking through at 93.5 dB. The whole mess took maybe an hour from start to finish, but I suspect the referees have since streamlined the process, given the number of cars they've been testing. Getting a ticket for exhaust noise is a pain in the ass, but I've got to admit that being able to thumb your nose at the arresting officer makes going through the testing procedure a worthwhile endeavor. Lopez's citation was dismissed by a Pasadena court several months later.
The obvious question remains: With nearly 100 tests performed monthly, it's clear that California's enforcement agencies are writing as many exhaust noise tickets as ever. Perhaps it was naive of me to think that state's most well respected and prestigious law enforcement agency would be on top of the exhaust noise issue. Steve Kohler, in the California Highway Patrol's public affairs office hadn't even heard about it. Then he didn't return phone calls asking for comment. I bet CHP officers will still issue tickets for exhaust noise, though.
To the CHP's credit, it certainly isn't the only agency in the state issuing tickets for exhaust noise.
Jack Schwendener, an engineer in the CHP's commercial vehicle enforcement division, has been around long enough to know the complex history of California's exhaust noise laws and he understands how things work.
"If enough tickets are dismissed, eventually officers will stop writing them," he said.
"However, appellate courts dating back to 1953 have given officers the right to determine an exhaust system's legality without the use of instruments."
That's exactly the rub. Until now, enthusiasts have been stuck with an objective standard measured by a subjective instrument.
The good news is that as of press time, the testing procedure is free. And it will remain free until Governor Schwarzenegger reinstates the public hearing process which will eventually determine its cost. Initial funds to cover the equipment and training were appropriated last year. However, testing must ultimately be self-supporting as testing fees will be used to recover those costs. If you've got an exhaust noise ticket, go get tested now. The BAR has set up a toll-free number to schedule testing [(800) 622-7733]. For now, testing is limited to those who have received a citation. Have your citation and registration available. And get your thumb ready.