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California Exhaust Noise Testing Program Open for Business
The California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) has begun operation of the state's motor vehicle exhaust noise testing program. The program, the product of a SEMA-sponsored law, will equip California automobile hobbyists to fight unfair exhaust noise citations issued by state law enforcement officers. Motorists can now prove their vehicles comply with state noise standards. The law also allows courts to dismiss citations for exhaust systems that have been tested and for which a certificate of compliance has been issued.

Approximately 40 Smog Check stations that provide referee functions are performing the test. These referee stations, located across the state, will issue certificates of compliance for vehicles when tests of their exhaust systems demonstrate that they emit no more than 95 decibels, under Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) test procedure J1169 (May 1998). However, only those vehicles that have received a citation for an exhaust noise violation will be permitted to submit their vehicle for the test. Later this year, BAR will issue a regulation to provide for the cost to consumers for performing the test. Tests performed prior to the official establishment of the testing fee will be performed at no cost to consumers.

According to BAR officials, to have a cited vehicle tested at a state referee center, motorists must make an appointment by calling a toll-free number. Cited motorists should have the citation and vehicle registration available when calling. "The new law forces compliance with an objectively measured standard in a fair and predictable test," said SEMA Senior Director of Government Affairs Steve McDonald. "Through this procedure, cited motorists who drive vehicles legally equipped with modified exhaust systems can confirm that those vehicles comply with California's exhaust noise standards.

"For years, the enforcement policy used by police officers deemed nearly all exhaust system modifications illegal, even where the noise levels were not excessive or unusual," McDonald added. "That policy left exhaust system manufacturers, dealers and their customers without recourse."

Hobbyists who modify their vehicles for durability, appearance and performance "prefer aftermarket exhaust systems," McDonald said. "By establishing this evenhanded testing process, this program should serve to benefit consumers who favor these state-of-the-art products, the aftermarket industry which markets them, and even police officers who are charged with enforcing the law."

It Happened to Me: Passing the Exhaust Noise Test
"I could hear you coming down the street." That's the reason a LAPD officer cited Los Angeles resident Benjamin Chow for excessive noise coming from his 2003 Subaru WRX. Chow's WRX is outfitted with an aftermarket exhaust - a Blitz NUR Spec R cat-back system. He also has a blow-off valve under the hood, and Chow isn't exactly sure which component caught the officer's ear. Either way Chow got the ticket, and soon after he went on the Web to look for information about exhaust noise and whether there were ways to fight the ticket. The search engine directed him to SEMA's consumer Website, www.EnjoyTheDrive.com , and an article about SEMA's efforts on behalf of California's exhaust noise testing law.

Chow contacted SEMA, and the offices put him in touch with Steve McDonald, SEMA Senior Director of Government Affairs in Washington D.C., who worked with the state legislature to get the law passed. McDonald directed Chow to the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) and its toll-free number for those who have received noise citations.

As it turns out, Chow was a sound test pioneer. When he arrived at his local Smog Check referee station for the test, he found out that his was only the third vehicle that particular station had tested, and its staff was still being trained on the procedure.

The process goes like this: The testing is done outdoors in a parking lot, with a decibel meter placed at a set distance away from the exhaust tip. (For you trivia nuts, the sound meter is placed 20 inches away from the source, at a 45-degree angle from the source, and 8 inches off the ground.) With the vehicle stationary, the engine is revved to a speed that represents three-quarters of maximum horsepower output (4,500 rpm for the Subaru), and a sound reading is taken.

A total of three readings are taken during the test, and the car must pass all three readings for it to be considered compliant. If it fails just one of the readings, it has failed the test and must be repaired before being re-inspected.

The California law set 95 decibels as the legal noise limit, and the test procedure allowed an error factor of plus or minus 1.5 decibels to account for ambient noise. Chow's Subaru emitted 88.4, 88.2 and 88.1 decibels. The actual testing took only about 10 minutes, though Chow said he was at the referee station about 45 minutes because "the staff was still new to the system."

After passing the test, Chow received a "certificate of compliance" - a sticker that goes on the back of the citation. It lists data about the car (year, make, exhaust type) as well as information about the test and a compliance number. Presenting that certificate at his court appearance date should dismiss the citation. Should he be pulled over for noise again, he can show the officer that sticker as proof that his car is within the legal sound limits.

Chow said he knew about SEMA prior to getting his citation, but he didn't know about its efforts on behalf of California motorists until he typed "noise compliance" into Google. "I was so excited about finding out that SEMA worked on this."

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