Fundamentals of Product Emissions Compliance

Dec 2, 2009

As environmental concerns continue to permeate the automotive aftermarket, there are certain topics about which you need to become familiar.

Within the specialty parts aftermarket community, we’ve lived with the impact of emissions regulations and their attending requirements for many years. However, with the passage of time and as you might expect, the development of certifiable emissions-related products has become increasingly important. Fortunately, through rigorous efforts by SEMA [Specialty Equipment Market Association], processes have been worked out with the regulators that enable specialty aftermarket parts to be certified as legal for on-road use.

There are certain areas dealing with the compliance process that should be understood by both the retailers of these parts and those who use them. It is the purpose of this story to identify and explain the more critical of these areas so that potential problems can be avoided or, in the event they occur, steps offered for paths to solutions.

What is a California Air Resources Board “Executive Order”?

Some years ago, specialty parts manufacturers were confronted by a Section (27156) in the California Vehicle Code, pertaining to the installation of aftermarket parts and systems of potential impact on vehicle emissions.  Essentially, that Section mandated no part or system affecting an engine’s emissions performance could be removed or rendered inoperative and used on-road in California.  From the standpoint of allowing products or systems that did not adversely impact vehicle emissions (based on California’s emissions standards), there was no compliance or exemption procedure in place.  Urged and aided by SEMA, a program was constructed that enabled compliance, based on the type of emissions testing functionally similar to the OEM.  Once these stipulated conditions were satisfied, a so-called “Executive Order” could be issued, thereby allowing legal use of emissions-related parts and systems on CA highways.

Who is required to obtain a CARB Executive Order?

CARB has identified forty-five parts and/or systems categories that fall under their exemption program.  Virtually, any vehicle component that could have an impact (positively or negatively) in emissions performance is included.  By visiting their website, and clicking to locate the list of products for which an E.O. is required, you’ll be able to determine which products you sell may fall into the certification category.  It is the manufacturers of these components and systems that need to comply, else downstream problems may arise for both consumers and the distribution system.

How is an Executive Order obtained?

It is not the intent of this story to chronicle all the details of an E.O. application or process.  However, you should understand that this is not a casual experience on the part of specialty manufacturers.

Briefly, the process involves working directly with the CARB Certification staff and begins by jointly matching specialty products with the brands and model years of vehicles to which they apply and will be sold.  From this list, appropriate vehicles are selected and obtained for testing. Test procedures include what is called the “Federal Test Procedure” that is the equivalent to what the OEM performs during initial vehicle certification with the Environmental Protection Agency and CARB.  Plus, for reasons of verifying advertised power levels involving horsepower-enhancing products, a drive-wheel power measurement is conducted (at an independent test facility) to determine if at least 80% of advertised power gain is produced.  In fact, this test is typically performed prior to any emissions testing.  Where applicable, onboard diagnostic systems are also checked to verify proper performance.

Once emissions testing begins, the vehicle is “baselined” to determine emissions levels of the stock configuration.  Specialty products are then installed and a “device test” is performed, comparing emissions output from this test with the baseline.  If the data are acceptable, as compared to either the CA emissions standards or the baseline test, the vehicle passes or fails.  If it passes, the CARB is advised of results and an Executive Order is issued.  If it fails, the submitting company is allowed to determine the problem and the process is repeated.

Why is an Executive Orderimportant to consumers?

Both in and outside the state of California, there are programs that require periodic inspection of vehicles; e.g., during title transfer, re-registration, annual inspections, etc.  These so-called Inspection & Maintenance (I&M) programs typically include verification that all OEM emissions equipment is installed and operational.  Any non-stock emissions-related part, in order to be legal, normally requires some sort of proof of emissions compliance.  Absent any form of proof (in the case a CARB E.O. number), a vehicle may fail the “visual” part of the I&M process and become rejected from inspection until it is restored to its stock emissions configuration. The inconvenience this can cause consumers is often frustrating and problematical.  Not infrequently, consumers return to their point of product purchase, seeking some sort of information that could lead to a solution to the problem.  In such cases, it’s helpful for retailers to be aware of the certification process and able to direct their customers to the proper source of information.  Referring customers to the part’s or system’s specialty manufacturer is often a viable recommendation.  Knowing that parts being sold are, in fact, certified can help prevent problems occurring from the beginning.

Why is an Executive Orderimportant to retailers?

As stated, in order to be legal, emissions-related products sold and used on roads in CA require a CARB E.O.  However, this is becoming an issue beyond violations of the previously-mentioned Section 27156 in the CA vehicle code constitute “tampering.”  That is, an OEM emissions control device or system may have been removed or is not operating as it should.  Rather than encourage tampering by the sale of non-exempted products, a retailer should validate their emissions certification status prior to sale.  Talk to the manufacturers of emissions-sensitive parts.  If parts don’t carry a CARB E.O., ask why.  Taking steps to become informed about the process and how to respond when problems occur makes good business sense and can be of help when dealing with consumer emissions-related questions.

Where can you go for information about emissions certification-related questions?

SEMA has material that discusses, pretty much in depth, what the E.O. process is all about and has researched the issue extensively.  For years, technical staff has worked directly with CARB certification personnel, enabling both parties to be more aware about the objectives of each other.  Rather than become embroiled in the process of trying to learn more on their own, SEMA members are able to move more quickly toward finding answers to compliance questions.  Navigating the previously-mentioned CARB website [] can also produce useful information, including a listing of Executive Orders issued on emissions-sensitive aftermarket products.

What lies ahead for the need to certify specialty aftermarket products?

While it is difficult to speculate on the future about compliance procedures and requirements, it’s safe to say these issues will not disappear.  Rather, we can expect current practices will be expanded to include other emissions concerns.  Such topics as global warming and the influence of greenhouse gasses continue to draw the attention of environmental regulators.  The OEM, on an ongoing basis, is being required to innovate new and improved ways of dealing with both fuel economy and emissions, both of which appear somewhat linked.  Treatment and reduction of particulate matter (opacity) from the combustion of diesel fuel is an additional concern.  And while direct-injection gasoline engines are projected to further reduce emissions while improving fuel economy, this technology is yet a few years away from widespread availability.

Meanwhile, retailers would bode well to become and remain informed about both State and Federal emissions requirements for aftermarket parts. And even though some consumers will probably take the time to perform research on their own, the retail outlet can still become the first-to-be-asked source when compliance matters arise.  After all, not knowing about what you’re selling can make you part of the problem that needs to be addressed.