By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Got a big diesel motorhome? What’s big? A motorhome that tips the gross vehicle weight scale of 14,000 pounds or more. The diesel pusher in our photo easily tips over the scale. If you do, you may be in for a rude awakening. California is readying a rollout of mandatory motorhome emissions testing requirements. They’ll go into effect in July 2023.
Not a California resident? Don’t sigh in relief just yet. As it stands, even folks visiting the Golden State with a “heavy duty vehicle” are subject to some rigorous testing. All of it could slow your entry into the state.
Tailpipe intrusion courtesy of CARB
The genesis of this new tailpipe intrusion comes from a 2016 law. Created under Senate Bill 210, its purpose was to cut air pollution. The aim is to reduce the amount of nitrous oxide and particulate emissions “from non-gasoline heavy duty vehicles … that operate in California, including out-of-state vehicles.”
We initially thought the application of the law was to commercial rigs. Sorry, privately owned recreational vehicles fall under the law and the new rules. The rules come straight from the state’s Air Resources Board (CARB). It’s the same agency that has caused more than one gas can owner to hurl naughty words when dealing with eco-conscious fuel containers.
CARB recently released a 52-page draft of their regulatory concepts. We sifted through the legalese and technotalk and put together a synopsis of what we thought would apply to mandatory motorhome emissions testing. What will it mean for both California owners and those who’d like to visit the state? We ran our thoughts under CARB’s nose.
Summary of the new system
Here’s a summary of how the new system will work. That is, at least in terms of how CARB staff envision the matter at this point. Heavy-duty vehicles, including 14,000-pound-plus motorhomes that run on anything other than gasoline will have to submit to mandatory inspections. You did note that little detail, right? Even if your motorhome runs on, say, “alternative fuel,” if it runs on anything other than gasoline you’re in for the testing. Well, there are a couple of exceptions here. If you’re so advanced that you’re running strictly on electricity or hydrogen fuel cells, you’re off the hook.
The testing system is based on the use of a rig’s OBD (on-board diagnostics). That’s the computer diagnostics port that whiz-bang technicians can plug into and tell you just how expensive your repair visit will cost. An authorized test facility employee would plug into your OBD.
The system will test to make sure your emission control system is operating correctly. If everything checks out, you’ll get a note on your electronic record stating you’re good to go. However, if you flunk the test, you’ll be required to get the problem fixed and re-tested within 45 days. Skip out on the repairs or the re-test, you can be subject to citations. Keep repeating this behavior, you could find your motorhome in the impound yard. Incidentally, the state envisions a network of test stations across the state. Most likely they’ll be at truck stops and other heavy-duty rig repair shops.
But don’t show up for the mandatory motorhome emissions test with a fault-showing OBD. You’ll be automatically flagged as being out of compliance. What if your motorhome doesn’t have an OBD port that the test gear can hook up to? Then your rig is subject to an opacity test and a “visual inspection.” The opacity test means your tailpipe emissions are analyzed. Essentially, how smoky is the stuff coming out of your tail pipe? If it’s too smoky, you lose. Time for a repair.
Or a visual inspection
A visual inspection means the technician peers under the hood, as it were. They’ll be looking at emissions-related components. They’ll take a hawk-eyed look at the emissions control label. You’d best not have removed it or defaced it.
And the inspector will also be looking closely at your dash panel. So if he sees that your “malfunction indicator light,” otherwise known as the “check engine” light, is lit, you’ll get a correction-required notice. Got any “aftermarket parts” installed? If they could affect emissions, they’ll need to bear the stamp of approval of CARB. Does that affect aftermarket power chips? We’re not clear on that yet.
In practice, how does this testing work out? For RVs registered in California, this mandatory motorhome emissions testing will be an annual requirement. That doesn’t necessarily mean hunting down an approved emissions test site, getting an appointment, and waiting in line. “Telematics” systems that connect to your OBD port can remotely transmit the data to the state.
What about non-residents? As the draft is currently written, non-residents aren’t cut any breaks. Your motorhome would require a test on entry to the state. However, CARB tells us, “Staff is considering an exemption from heavy-duty I/M [inspection and maintenance] for motor homes registered outside of CA when used only for personal use.” The keyword here is “considering.” Just when and if staff will write in the exemption remains to be seen.
If non-residents do draw this exemption, they’ll be free from some other issues that California RVers will be stuck with. What’s that include? If you own a motorhome that meets the specifications of the law, you’ll also have to obtain an electronic account with the state, and register any rigs you own that meet the specs.
Once inspected, you’ll get a certificate for your motorhome, provided it passes inspection. You’ll have the privilege of paying for this certificate. And the cost? CARB tells us, “Staff expects to have pinned down the cost of the compliance certificate by the end of 2021.” If non-residents don’t get the potential exemption, they’ll be expected to pay for the certificate, but the state assured us they’ll pay the same as a California resident.
Are there any other surprises in this mandatory motorhome emissions boogaloo? Paying to dance is bad enough. We hope we’ve covered all the bases. The big issue for non-residents will be – will they/won’t they get an “exemption.” Already the RV industry is pushing for it to happen. And if California’s economy wants tourist dollars, odds would seem likely it will happen. But as with anything other than death and taxes, nothing is certain.