Fact vs. Fiction: California’s New Exhaust Noise Law

The Issue

California Assembly Bill (A.B.) 1824 was signed into law by then-Governor Jerry Brown in June of 2018 as part of the state’s budget process. The legislation amended how California law enforcement officials may issue a citation for exhaust noise violations. 

The bill has generated significant concern within the industry and enthusiast community, along with some misinformation.  This document seeks to clarify the matter.  Most notably, enactment of A.B. 1824 did not change existing laws pertaining to exhaust noise or the sale and installation of aftermarket exhaust systems in California.  Here are the facts.

Were California’s exhaust noise rules changed?

No. Since 2003, exhaust systems installed on motor vehicles with a manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating of less than 6,000 pounds, other than motorcycles, may not exceed a sound level of 95-decibels when tested under Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) test procedure J1492 (formerly J1169). This was not changed by A.B. 1824. 

Is it now illegal to install an aftermarket exhaust system on my vehicle?

No. The sale and installation of an aftermarket exhaust system remains legal in California so long as it does not exceed a sound level of 95-decibels when tested under SAE J1492 and complies with all other exhaust and safety laws and regulations.

How loud is 95-decibels?

According to Purdue University, a power lawnmower and jackhammer each produce approximately 100-decibels of noise. 

If exhaust noise laws didn’t change, what did?

Now, a motorist cited for violating the current California exhaust noise law may receive an immediate fine. Previously, motorists received what is known as a “fix-it” ticket, which allowed for 30-days to correct the violation. 

If I get pulled over, will I receive a $1,000 fine?

According to the Judicial Council of California’s Uniform Bail and Penalty Schedules for 2019, the suggested base fine/fee for a first conviction is $25 with a total fee of $193. 

What are my options if I get a ticket?

Consumers in receipt of a violation still have the option of seeking a certificate of compliance from the California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) demonstrating that their exhaust emits no more than 95-decibels. This SEMA-endorsed program may allow courts to dismiss citations for exhaust systems that have been tested and for which a certificate of compliance has been issued. The cost for the test is $108. 

Will BAR test my exhaust before I get a ticket?

No. BAR does not issue preemptive certificates of compliance. 

If I get a ticket, will I get points on my license?

There are no points associated with violations of 27150(a) or 27151(a). 

Does the law apply to motorcycles?

Motorcycles have their own exhaust noise standards but are considered “motor vehicles” by the state and can be issued a ticket for noise. Motorcycles manufactured after 1985 may not exceed 80-decibels. 

Does BAR test exhaust noise for motorcycles?

No. Motorcycle manufacturers and aftermarket motorcycle exhaust makers are required to certify compliance prior to sale. Motorcycles manufactured after 2013 or that have an aftermarket exhaust system manufactured after 2013 must have a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency label affixed to it to be operated in California. 

Is anything being done to fix this?

In February, California Assemblymembers Jim Frazier and Tim Grayson introduced SEMA-supported legislation (A.B. 390) to repeal the section of A.B. 1824 that amended how California law enforcement officials issue citations for exhaust noise violations. A.B. 390 would re-institute law enforcement’s discretion to issue “fix-it” tickets. In September, Language from A.B. 390 was included into a budget implementation bill (S.B. 112) and passed by the legislature. S.B. 112 was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in late September and is effective immediately. 

How can I help?

Supporters can stay informed on this and other issues by signing-up for the SEMA Action Network. There is no cost or obligation to receive updates on the bill’s progress and how to shape its future. 

I’ve still got questions?

Please contact Christian Robinson, SEMA’s Director of State Government Affairs.