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Air board votes to end smoke test on many vehicles

Issue Date: October 27, 2010
Steve Adler

Rejecting a recommendation from its staff and agreeing instead with a proposal from the California Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural and business groups, the California Air Resources Board voted unanimously last week to drop a requirement that certain on-road diesel vehicles undergo annual smoke testing. Instead, those vehicles will be required only to have biennial smog checks.

The ruling applies to 1998 and newer diesel vehicles, such as pickup trucks, between 6,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating and 14,000 GVWR. Requirements of the Periodic Smoke Inspection Program still apply to many diesel vehicles that are 1997 and older.

Without this change, owners of two or more commercially operated 1998 and newer on-road diesel vehicles could have been required to have the vehicles tested every year, alternating between smog checks one year and smoke testing the following year. This was because of an overlap between a fairly new smog check law enacted by the state Legislature and long-existing CARB smoke testing regulations. Now, only the smog check is required of these vehicles.

Cynthia Cory, CFBF director of environmental affairs, testified before the board that the regulation being proposed by its staff amounted to excessive testing and that the biennial smog check—similar to what is required of gasoline-engine vehicles—is sufficient. The board agreed.

“The Periodic Smoke Inspection Program is a separate program from smog check, with which most of us are already familiar. A wrench got thrown into the works on Jan. 1, when diesel passenger cars and trucks that are 1998 model year and newer and 14,000 GVWR or smaller, were included for the first time in the smog check program,” Cory said.

“The diesel smog check program now requires all California vehicles that fit certain size and age specifications to undergo emissions checks every other year. Confusion arose because the expansion of the smog check program meant that diesel vehicles from 1998-2007 and between 6,000 and 14,000 pounds GVWR would have been regulated under both PSIP and smog check,” she said.

Rancher and hay producer John Pierson of Vacaville was among the farmers who had expressed their concerns about the regulation. When he was told of the CARB vote, he commended Farm Bureau for carrying this message to the air resources board.

“It was just grossly unfair what they were doing to the small individual who had only a couple of diesel pickups. It was so confusing that I was highly against it,” said Pierson, who serves on the CFBF board of directors.

“This is the kind of thing that really hurts our economy. It indirectly affects everybody, not just our agricultural sector,” he said. “The average family farmer can’t go buy this new equipment like it’s yesterday. So what you do is either put a guy out of business or he runs as a renegade until he gets caught and he pays a fine.”

Cory said that CARB acknowledged that it has not done an adequate education outreach effort on the PSIP with farmers and ranchers, and will work to rectify that. The PSIP is a confusing program, she said, because unlike being notified by the Department of Motor Vehicles during the registration process that you need to get a smog check, “you are just supposed to know that if you own two or more diesel vehicles from 1997 or before that are used for non-personal use over 6,000 GVWR, that you need an annual PSIP test.”

But, Cory said, if you only own one 1997 or older diesel vehicle over 6,000 GVWR, no matter how you use it, you are exempt from PSIP. All diesel vehicles from those model years over 6,000 GVWR that are exclusively for personal use—driving to church, school, grocery store and so on—are also exempt, she said, but agricultural activities are not considered personal use. A person would also be exempt if he or she owned one 1997 or older diesel vehicle that was used exclusively for personal use and another that was used for farming.

Even though the CARB voted to drop the smoke testing regulation for 1998 and newer diesel vehicles between 6,000 and 14,000 GVWR, the vehicles must still comply with other CARB requirements. For example, the engines need to be equipped with an “Emission Control Label” that verifies the engine meets California emission standards. These are put on the engine when it is manufactured. If the label is missing or not readable, regulators may charge an additional penalty. An authorized dealer should be able to help replace an engine label if one is needed, Cory said.

For more information about PSIP, see the California Farm Bureau website at

(Steve Adler is associate editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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