Pilot Program: Roadside emissions tests!

Well, I promised early warning when roadside emission testing looked imminent, so here's the first shot:

Reading the trade magazine 'Import Automotive Parts & Accessories' of 7/95, I found an article that describes a pilot program that the California South Coast Air Quality Management District (CSCAQMD?), in which the authorities mount a 'sniffer' on a freeway on-ramp. This sniffer is supposed to be sensitive enough to detect, and identify a passing vehicle that is producing tail-pipe emissions that are above spec.

At this point, the offending vehicle would be pulled over, and cited for an emissions violation. In the scenario described by the article, the motorist's vehicle would be impounded, a rental car issued (do you believe this?), and the car would be repaired at an independent repair station. All above would be done at No Charge to the consumer.

Apparently, they are actually doing this (on a trial basis) in Southern California- Amazing! The article goes on, glowingly describing a future in which the gross polluting vehicles will be repaired at No Charge to the owner- They seem to feel that Major Corporations will embrace this program as an alternative to what they do now, which is buying old pieces of crap for $200 each & crushing them to earn State emissions credits for their other dirty activities.

It's a fantasy. It's very true that 'Gross Polluters' (1970's V8 cars in need of a valve job, carb overhaul or more, running on 4-5 of 8 cylinders) contribute greatly to the Smog problem in California and elsewhere. The article's stats say one 'gross polluter' creates as much smog as ten properly running cars, and I believe that. Unfortunately, those gross polluters greatly outnumber small 4 or 6 cylinder Italian or Enthusiast cars, and so far we've been grouped into one category: OLD cars.

Smog Check II is all about removing old cars from the road- Laws like these make it more economical to junk the old car & buy one that comes into compliance.

I know from experience that Fiat smog systems are junk, and usually inoperable. At the time that these cars were built, the engineers were trying to build cars that had brio, were fun to drive- Nobody ever told them that in 1990, those same weird smog systems would be expected to live up to Factory Spec every two years... The systems were there to satisfy the Feds, and get Fiats imported and sold into the North American market. Even under BAR-84, the tailpipe test (and no modifications) was enough to pass- Some of the carbureted Fiats we try to Smog these days are 20 years old, and running a test that never existed when they were built!

But back to the gross polluters. Assuming that the State adopts this fairy-tale plan of fixing people's car's at State cost, who will pay for it? What if the vehicle in question needs a $3000 engine job to bring it into compliance, plus $4-500 more in EGR valves, thermovalves, and assorted 1970's garbage before it can be a clean citizen?

The State won't. In my opinion, this Pilot is merely part of the 'what-if' research that is being conducted as a precursor to implementing a roadside emissions test program. I.E., if they officially determine that fixing old cars at State expense is not economical (we knew that already), then it will be easier to sell the next stage, that being to require the owner to either repair, or remove the vehicle from the road.

These roadside emissions-test programs are probably still years away, but it pays to be wary- We only have real cause for concern if the State starts requiring older cars to pass modern standards in their emissions test. Roadside testing will be inconvenient, as I know many enthusiasts tend to alter their cars in time with the Smog test. Also, this appears to be problem only in California- I get all kinds of user mail from non-California people that claim to pass their emissions inspection on tailpipe-only results... The cars in question have larger (or multiple!) carbs, high-compression pistons, cams and the like. Stuff like that will almost undoubtedly get picked out in a California Smog Check, be it roadside or otherwise.

For now, I plan to run my cars with the minimal mods they have, with the idea that I'll have to put it all back come Smog time (working at a Smog station is no protection, as the Smog Tech has to pay fines if he cheats- There is no percentage in writing a rubber Smog anymore, for anybody!).

I also plan to put some projects in high gear- Under current laws, the engine-change guidelines are clear: If you plan to change an engine size/application/etc, then you need to install all of the emissions gear that originally came with the application in question, and it needs to be an upgrade. I.E. if you install a 1500 Injected SOHC in a 128, then you need to install the O2 sensor, Catalyst (if the car did not originally have one, as Federal 128's did not) and all the garbage that went with the X1/9 you took it from. Items like O2 sensor reminder lights are open to the discretion of the Referee station you visit, and you hope to God they don't require the extra work that it would take. In any case, after you visit the referee with a modified car of this kind, they affix a B.A.R. label to your car, indicating all the new and different equipment your car has. After that, you should be able to Smog the car at any station, using the B.A.R. label in lieu of the underhood emissions decal.

The situation I described above would be easy if you know the cars, and under current laws- You are actually upgrading the emissions of an older carbureted car, which should be easy to pass the system. My only concern is that the regs will tighten (no indication of this yet) and prevent such mods.

We'll see what happens as time goes by- I think the watchword for dedicated enthusiasts is to educate themselves in the Smog system their model carries, and have all equipment available. Or, upgrade their cars to Fuel Injection now, get them certified, and hope that the Grandfather clause keeps their cars on the road. This should side-step any nonsense that the State of California (and other States following the lead) can come up with.

I'll update you with Fuel Injection upgrade information as I implement it myself- For now, I'm still gathering parts & thinking about it. I like the way my carbureted Fiats run, and want to explore all the options before I devote multiple hours and dollars to the conversion process.

Eli, 8/95

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