FROM THE HILL
California Muffler Battle Takes Checkered Flag
Bill to Amend 2018 Exhaust Noise Law Signed by Governor
Thanks to a SEMA-sponsored law enacted in 2003, drivers in the Golden State have been equipped with the tools needed to fight unfair exhaust noise citations.
You’ve just purchased the ride of your dreams and already have a list of upgrades in mind. If you’re like most enthusiasts, a new exhaust system is somewhere near the top of your list. Now imagine your surprise when you find out that your home state has passed an eleventh-hour piece of legislation that makes you question whether that modification is even legal. That’s exactly what happened to consumers in California earlier this year, but thanks to the efforts of SEMA and its allies in Sacramento, the problem has been solved.
For years, aftermarket exhaust systems have been stuck with an unfavorable stigma: an association with illegal street racing. That scarlet letter resulted in many states adopting laws and regulations banning the installation of aftermarket mufflers. However, it was the Golden State that sparked a new trend in the regulation of such parts in 2003.
Thanks to a SEMA-sponsored law enacted in 2003, drivers in the Golden State have been equipped with the tools needed to fight unfair exhaust noise citations. By rule, exhaust systems installed on cars in California with a manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating of less than 6,000 lbs. may not exceed a sound level of 95 dB. Because of the 2003 law, that measure is obtained using a Society of Automotive Engineers procedure, which is considered an objective standard. In other words, it’s based on a scientific test instead of the subjective human ear.
In fact, the law also went a step further and allowed police officers to issue fix-it tickets for mufflers suspected of being too loud. Put simply, drivers would be granted 30 days to have their mufflers tested and, if found too loud, brought into compliance in order to avoid paying a fine. That program is administered by the state’s Bureau of Automotive Repair and ran smoothly until last January, when the state began enforcing a new law—2018’s AB 1824.
AB 1824 was passed as part of California’s budget process in June of 2018 and removed law enforcement’s ability to issue fix-it tickets for suspected exhaust noise violations. The change in law was brought to the forefront when a video went viral claiming to show a motorist being issued a $1,000 fine for a loud muffler. As is often the case, widespread misinformation regarding the bill soon followed, including the belief that any aftermarket exhaust modification was now illegal. This was “fake news,” as some like to say, but the $3 billion exhaust-related marketplace was turned on its head as a result.
AB 1824 was passed as part of California’s budget process in June of 2018 and removed law enforcement’s ability to issue fix-it tickets for suspected exhaust noise violations.
In response to the new law, SEMA immediately began identifying ways to restore order to the market. After publishing a “Fact vs. Fiction” webpage seeking to clear up the confusion, SEMA’s allies in Sacramento were quickly tapped for legislative relief.
In February, California Assembly Members Jim Frazier and Tim Grayson introduced SEMA-sponsored legislation to reinstate fix-it tickets; the Assembly Transportation Committee quickly passed it without opposition. From there, language from the bill was included in a larger budget package and championed by Assembly Members Grayson, Tasha Boerner-Horvath, Phil Ting, Phil Chen and Senator Holly Mitchell, who shepherded it past the finish line. With Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature in October, fix-it tickets were again issued to motorists.
“SEMA thanks Assembly Members Grayson, Boerner-Horvath, Ting and Chen and Senator Mitchell for their tireless work on behalf of the more than 1,700 member companies based in the Golden State,” said Daniel Ingber, SEMA’s vice president for legal and government affairs. “Thanks to their efforts, enthusiasts in California will continue to be afforded due process under the law.”
California’s recent exhaust noise adventure is a cautionary tale. While 2019’s legislation provided clarity to the law for motorists, not all states share the same commonsense approach. In fact, several states have sought to limit or ban many aftermarket exhaust systems. For that reason, SEMA offers model legislation that implements a commonsense approach to regulating mufflers and the sound they produce. In recent years, versions of the model bill have been passed in Maine and Montana. To learn more, visit www.semasan.com/modelbills.