According to BAR, You Can Still Tune a Vehicle in California

If, like us, emissions policies that threaten our hobby concern you, then perhaps you read this story last week that put California residents on notice that the smog inspectors will be checking and failing vehicles for “illegal” tuning (basically anything that is not either OEM or a CARB approved tune) starting July 19th. Smog inspections are regulated by the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR), and this information was released on BAR’s website around July 13th.

SEMA stated, “BAR anticipates approximately 5-10 vehicles will fail each day for illegally modified software. For context, BAR inspects approximately 1 million vehicles each month as part of the smog check program. Roughly 10,000 of these inspections result in failures due to problems other than modified software. In other words, BAR expects very few vehicles to fail for illegally modified software.”

If you are wondering how exactly this will work, SEMA gave us the rundown in its press release:

  • If your vehicle fails for illegally modified software, it must be restored to an OEM setup or CARB EO approved software configuration before it may be retested.
  • If your vehicle fails for illegally modified software and you believe it is already an OEM setup or CARB EO approved, you may schedule an appointment with the Referee for further inspection.
  • If you unknowingly purchased a vehicle with illegally modified software, you may file a complaint with BAR.
  • To ensure equipment upgrades comply with emissions regulations, the SEMA Garage emissions compliance center helps manufacturers of performance related products, including ECU modifications, to obtain approved CARB EOs.

During a meeting of the BAR Advisory Group on July 15, BAR staff expressed confidence that non-tuning ECU modifications, such as aftermarket wheel and tire calibrations, would not result in failed inspections.

The good news is that the BAR Advisory Board told SEMA in a meeting on July 15th that they feel confident in being able to separate non-emissions related tuning such as for recalibrating the speedometer for wheel and tire changes. Peter Treydte, Director of Emissions Compliance at SEMA, elaborated:

Based on our conversations with Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) representatives, it seems that their initial implementation of failures based on software modification will be directed toward blatant tuning modifications that are likely to have a negative impact on emissions, thus less obtrusive modifications may enjoy a grace period. Since 2015, BAR has been accumulating a database of vehicle software information captured during the Smog Check process and they already have a pretty clear picture of the effects of various modifications. This information is taken from the On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) system and includes software identification such as CAL-ID (equivalent to a filename) and CVN (equivalent to a checksum). They have already developed an association between these identifiers and various categories of modifications, including those that are covered by CARB Executive Orders (EOs). They will use this existing knowledge to develop their PASS/FAIL criteria.

Since CARB considers the vehicle’s software to be an emissions device, any modification to it (regardless of the purpose of the modification) already requires a CARB Executive Order (EO) to be legal for sale in California. Some types of software modifications may require little or no testing to obtain an EO based on a negligible impact to emissions. Regardless, it’s more important than ever before for all manufacturers of vehicle software modifications to ensure emissions compliance, and SEMA strongly encourages members to obtain EOs for their products.

We realize that the process to obtain a CARB EO can be daunting, and SEMA offers services to assist in the process. This includes preparing applications, communicating with CARB on behalf of the applicant and performing laboratory testing when necessary. We have assisted many manufacturers of a variety of software modifications in obtaining EOs – in fact, the SEMA Garage submits more than 200 aftermarket product applications to CARB’s Aftermarket Parts Division annually, which is more than 50% of the total volume of applications CARB receives.

While we are certainly not out of the woods with this or other acts of government overreach, this bit of news was at least a little bit relieving. To stay informed on this and other related topics, you can enlist in the SEMA Action Network.

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About the author

Scott Parker

Scott dreamed of being in the automotive media in high school, growing up around car shows and just down the street from Atco Raceway. The technology, performance capability, and craftsmanship that goes into builds fuels his passion.
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