It’s been said that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on. Often attributed to Mark Twain, the quote is especially true in today’s digital age. Whether it’s fake news about an exhaust noise law or viral misconceptions about proposed automotive legislation, the SEMA Action Network is here to set the facts straight.

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In California, is it true that all vehicles, regardless of model year, are required to have seat belts?


Under current California law, a vehicle’s model year determines whether seat belts are required or not. Any vehicle manufactured on or after January 1, 1962, cannot be sold unless the vehicle is equipped with at least two seat belts for the use of persons riding in the front seat. Further, any passenger vehicle manufactured on or after January 1, 1968, must be equipped with seat belts for each seating position.

However, California law also states that a vehicle “does not require installation or maintenance of safety belts if it is not required by the laws of the United States applicable to the vehicle at the time of its initial sale.” Therefore, if federal law did not require seat belts when the vehicle was brand new, then such restraints are not required to be installed. Seat belts become nationally mandated by a federal law that took effect on January 1, 1968.

California passed a law allowing the state to enforce its exhaust noise laws by noise cameras.


UPDATE (6/23/22): The California Assembly Transportation Committee amended SB 1079 to create a study instead of a pilot program. In other words, the state must conduct a study to determine if noise detection cameras work before they can consider using them to enforce the state's vehicle noise limits. As currently written, the state must evaluate the technology from at least three companies by January 1, 2025 before noise cameras may be used.


ORIGINAL POST: The California legislature is considering a bill (SB 1079) that would create a pilot program allowing six cities to issue exhaust noise tickets using noise detection cameras. These cameras work similarly to red light and speed cameras and are being tested in other cities around the country. Contrary to some media reports, the bill has not passed the legislature. As of this writing, it awaits consideration in the Assembly before moving to Gov. Gavin Newsom for final approval or veto.

More importantly, the bill does not change California's existing exhaust noise laws, which is based on SEMA's model bill. The law limits cars and trucks to 95-decibels of exhaust noise when tested using an objective SAE International procedure. Motorists that receive a ticket would still have the ability to have their vehicle tested by the Referee to determine compliance. A court may then use the test result to dismiss the ticket.

A vehicle with modified exhaust will now automatically fail inspection in New York.


According to the state's DMV, their vehicle inspection procedures have not changed as a result of the new law. Inspectors are not equipped with decibel readers and do not perform sound checks on vehicles.

A letter sent to New York retailers and vehicle inspectors states that all exhaust modifications are illegal.


In advance of the SLEEP Act going into effect on April 1, 2022, a letter signed by the DMV Commissioner was sent to automotive retailers and vehicle inspectors in the state notifying them of the law change. The letters are misleading and make overly broad statements about what the new law does. As it relates to cars and trucks, the SLEEP Act added one new section to the law on which the state may begin to enforce starting April 1--VTL 375 (31)(b)--which states that a "cutout, bypass, or similar device" may not be used to increase a vehicle's muffler noise. As stated above, these parts were already illegal for street use across the country and in New York. SEMA is actively working with the DMV to clarify this guidance.

In California, is it true that you can register a 1976+ vehicle as a classic car/show car in order to avoid the required emissions inspection (smog check)?


In California, a “collector motor vehicle” is defined as a motor vehicle that is used primarily in shows, parades, charitable functions, and historical exhibitions for display, maintenance, and preservation, and is not used for primary transportation. With few exceptions, these collector cars that are model-year 1976 and newer require a Smog Check every two years for registration renewal, but some are eligible for an abbreviated inspection performed by a state Referee.

Details: https://www.bar.ca.gov/Consumer/Smog_Check_Program/Collector_Cars

To qualify for an abbreviated inspection, a collector motor vehicle must be at least 35 years old and insured as a collector car. During an abbreviated inspection, the Referee will confirm the vehicle meets the criteria for a collector car, confirm proof of insurance as a collector car, and perform a Smog Check. The process will include a test of tailpipe emissions, a functional test of the fuel cap, and a visual check for liquid fuel leaks. 

Does a new bill in North Carolina ban lifted vehicles?


A new in law in North Carolina shifts the focus away from the overall ride height and instead to rake angle. What would the new law change exactly? With the enactment of HB 692, a vehicle’s front fender may not be four or more inches higher than the rear fender. For the purposes of the law, the height of the fender is a vertical measurement from and perpendicular to the ground through the centerline of the wheel and to the bottom of the fender. In other words, it does not matter how much the vehicle is lifted as long as the rake angle is not excessive. Motorists found to have violated the law three times within a 12-month period will have their license revoked for at least one year. Fans of the Carolina Squat argued that HB 692 represents more government overreach that needlessly cracks down on car culture. Proponents of the proposal point to safety as the reason for the change. By excessively aiming the front of a vehicle upward, it makes it more difficult for the driver to see over the hood, dangerously shifts the angle of the headlights, and changes airflow under the vehicle, causing it to be unstable. Fans of lifted or lowered trucks fear not. Unless you’ve raised the nose of your vehicle excessively as compared to the tail, HB 692 will not impact you. In fact, observant enthusiasts—including some in the automotive press—have noticed that HB 692 removed the existing 6-inch height limit entirely while focusing solely on rake angle.

Does New York’s new exhaust noise bill creates a 60-decibel muffler limit?


The initial versions of the New York’s new law were quite different from the final product. As initially drafted, cars and trucks would have been limited to 60-decibels of exhaust noise, subject to a flat $1,000 fine, and police cars would have been equipped with sound meters to help enforce the law. None of these proposals made it into the final version of the bill. The decibel limit was removed as it would have rendered practically every car on the road illegal, the universal fine was changed to a cap, and the sound meters were scrapped as well.

Is it true that a new bill in New York will ban exhaust noise modifications?


In 2021, lawmakers in New York introduced a pair of bills (S. 784 and A. 471) seeking to curb loud cars and trucks. The bills were amended several times prior to passage and were approved by Governor Kathy Hochul in late October. The new law doesn’t change the state’s existing exhaust noise laws, which require every motor vehicle to be equipped with a muffler in working condition and prohibits the installation of bypasses, cutouts, or similar devices. Comparable language is universally used by states across the country and is designed to prevent motorists from deleting their muffler and/or catalytic converter. The new law simply allows the state to issue larger fines for those breaking existing law.