Another Year, Another Slate of Proposed Aftermarket Exhaust Regulations

Feb 27, 2015

The bolt-on performance community is closely monitoring a number of state bills across the nation drafted to change rules on aftermarket exhaust equipment. At least three states have legislative bills in motion that would have an impact on the use of aftermarket exhausts.

West Virginia’s “crimes against the peace” H.B. 2251 bill would make it illegal for “disturbing or unreasonably loud noise” and violators could be fined up to $1,000 per offense and receive six months of jail time, or both. The bill includes other noise causing conditions, such as sound systems, parties and even dogs.

A bill introduced by the state legislature in Hawaii even more aggressive. H.B. 1093 could virtually outlaw use of aftermarket exhausts that have been “changed or modified from the factory design” to increase any exhaust noise. The bill would require safety inspections and testing to ensure vehicles conform to law. Opponents point out that there are no testing standards that would be universal in acceptance, and that decibel readings on factory exhaust would not be performed for comparison.

On the east coast, Virginia has a bill, S.B. 702, that would only be applicable to vehicles built before 1950 that have, in effect, original type engines. The bill would approve the use of aftermarket exhausts on such vehicles and recognize that original exhaust components are not always available to owners of such cars. The Virginia State Senate approved the bill, which now heads to the House Transportation Committee.

Steve McDonald, SEMA vice president of government affairs, says typical state bills address exhaust noise are malicious in nature to the aftermarket.

“Generally, exhaust noise legislation seeks to ban the use and sale of ‘any exhaust pipe that increases the sound emission of any vehicle.’ These bills inadvertently discriminate against the motor vehicle aftermarket by restricting exhaust systems to those installed by the motor vehicle manufacturers,” McDonald said. “SEMA agrees that these exhaust systems should not be used in a way that causes overly loud or objectionable noise. However, we believe that these bills would ban the sale and installation of exhaust systems that result in even modest and inoffensive noise increases.”

Some states have already established noise limits for modified exhaust systems based on an easy-to-administer test standard, according to McDonald.

“These limits are usually indicated in decibels and allow vehicle owners to prove compliance by an objectively measured fair and predictable procedure,” he said. “In California, for example, a SEMA-model provision is made for the testing of vehicle exhaust noise to a standard adopted by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to an established noise limit of 95-decibels. Under the SAE standard, a sound meter is placed 20 inches from the exhaust outlet at a 45-degree angle and the engine is revved to three quarters of maximum rated horsepower. The highest decibel reading is then recorded.”

While that sounds simple, some states have not evolved to using readings, much less determining any specific noise limits.

“States without the SEMA-model legislation frequently prohibit modification of a vehicle’s exhaust system in any manner that would cause the modified vehicle to emit more exhaust noise than the vehicle would emit as originally manufactured,” McDonald said. “While such language does not specifically prohibit all modification, it does not provide any means of objectively measuring whether a vehicle has been acceptably modified.”

Without specific noise levels, police can often arbitrarily make the wrong calls, according to McDonald.

“These bills do not supply law enforcement with an enforcement standard, allowing them to make subjective judgments on whether an exhaust system amplifies the noise emitted by the motor vehicle,” he said.