In keeping with the purpose of these articles, the following is a request from a reader:
Any chance of doing one on modifying imports with fuel rails, nitrous, turbo chargers, etc. I get a lot of questions at the drag strip as to why the police are so concerned with that but let muscle cars have blowers sticking out of the hood, etc. I just tell them it has to do with year of manufacture but that probably isn’t accurate.
Since the inception of the automobile, the minute we have one, we want to change it. Our reasons vary from performance standards to exhaust noise to body design, and the list goes on and on. We want to express our individuality.
The problem arises when the modifications we would like to make conflict with our current California vehicle code statues. Division 12 of the California Vehicle Code addresses most of the items I will be discussing. When a new vehicle is manufactured for sale in California, all these requirements have to be met and generally are. These laws governing required vehicle equipment are very specific and cover just about every aspect regarding vehicle safety. Vehicle safety, specifically occupant safety, is the basis for these regulations. Equipment violations in most cases apply to vehicles that are being operated on public roadways or property. If you want to install an engine on a frame and a few wheels and drive it around on your own property or private property with the consent of the owner, that is your decision. Reckless driving or dangerous driving is a separate issue, which I will discuss in a future article.
My suggestion to anyone considering making modifications to a vehicle is to stop by your local California Highway Patrol office and obtain a copy of CHP Form 885, Passenger Car Equipment Requirements. The document is seven pages in length and covers most equipment issues. There are also pamphlets available on motorcycles, trailers, trucks, off-road vehicles and pretty much any other vehicles that you may have a question regarding.
But back to the original question from the reader. The CHP has enforcement guidelines regarding all aspects of vehicle operation. With regard to excessive noise that is a result of modifications made to a vehicles exhaust system, the drivers who should be cited are those whose vehicles are not equipped with a muffler; clearly emit an offensive, harsh, excessive noise: or have a clearly defective exhaust system (holes, leaks, etc.).
Emissions controls are a whole different set of rules that are comprehensive and specific as to what you can and cannot do to modify your exhaust system. There are authorized modifications to an exhaust system and they are covered under vehicle code section 27150-27156.
As a general rule, vehicles sold or registered before 1-1-1971 are exempt from the exhaust standards, but not the noise levels. There are still some smog requirements, but they are minimal. The majority of these muscle cars are ’50s-’60s vintage and fall under the exemption. The newer model “street racer” vehicles do not fall under this exemption.
Law enforcement has stepped up its efforts to enforce the many emissions and equipment violations that are related to the “street racer” vehicles. California statistics show a very high and increasing rate of injuries and deaths are associated with drivers and occupants of these vehicles. In an effort to save lives and reduce injuries, enforcement is being taken prior to the vehicle being operated in a street racing scenario. Is this profiling or just picking on young kids and their hot cars? My perception, and hopefully that of the community in which we serve, is to take immediate action and remedy the situation then and there. I know that this does not sit well with many folks, but that’s my answer to the reader’s question.
As I mentioned earlier, our reasons for modifying vehicles vary, but public safety comes first. Keeping this in mind, please go out and enjoy the ride.
Monty Hight is a retired California Highway Patrol officer and Public Information Officer. He is the North State AVOID Campaign’s Public Information Officer. He lives in Redding. More information on AVOID can be found here.