Carb Your Enthusiasm

Catalyzing developments.

Carb Your Enthusiam illustration

Modifying your street motorcycle’s intake and exhaust systems has been illegal in most of the U.S. for many years, but that hasn’t stopped many of us from doing it anyway. With Senate Bill SB 435 taking effect regarding motorcycles built after January 13, 2013, the California Air Resources Board is in serious crackdown mode. Vance & Hines paid a $500,000 fine last January for selling parts not approved by CARB. Akrapovic also paid a fine in April.

There’s a definite enforcement trend, which has some pipe benders bent. Aftermarket parts don’t mount themselves on motorcycles, they argue, people do; some aftermarket manufacturers are now asking if it should be their responsibility when the buyer chooses to ignore the law and use an item clearly sold for off-road or competition use on a streetbike. It’s an argument not unlike the one asking if gun manufacturers are responsible for crimes committed by individuals using their products.

CARB seems to think the answer is yes, and has sent letters to several pipe makers in California ordering them to stop selling aftermarket parts for emissions-controlled motorcycles in California or face the bureaucratic wrath. This has some pipe builders concerned for the future. “First, they go for the low-hanging fruit: painters and plating companies,” said one aftermarket principal. “Now it’s our turn. The fines go straight back to CARB, and nobody there is elected. It’s the ugliest form of bureaucracy.”

That’s not exactly true, says John Swanton at CARB. He says the agency doesn’t like fines either, but has found them to be the only way to effectively enforce the rules. Those fines pass through CARB and onto pollution-control programs not administered by the board, such as mechanic training at community colleges and programs like the Carl Moyer clean diesel equipment incentive, says Swanton.

Tom Trobaugh, the regulatory affairs coordinator at Vance & Hines, tries to take the big-picture view. The crackdown isn’t all that new, he says; it’s been building since CARB’s Tier 2 standard went into effect in 2008, when many more motorcycles began having catalytic converters as standard equipment. CARB is concerned strictly with emissions, not noise (ironic given that everyone seems to think loud Harleys are what led to the crackdown), and wants to ensure that catalysts remain in place. To that end, every aftermarket emissions-related part sold in California now needs an EO (Executive Order) exemption from CARB to be legal for highway use, which is expensive and time-consuming to obtain. (Official replacement parts for motorcycles that didn’t come with a catalyst, or slip-on mufflers that only replace parts downstream from catalyst components, don’t require an EO.)

Whether you think CARB is over-stepping or not, Trobaugh says, “Vance & Hines wants to do what we can to steer the customer and our dealers toward greater compliance. Sometimes it’s just a matter of educating people as to whether a certain bike came with a catalyst or not."

Aftermarket companies shouldn't feel singled out. According to Dealernews, Yamaha paid a $2 million penalty in December, 2012, for improper importation of off-road vehicles in 2007. Suzuki paid a $3 million penalty last June, also related to off-road vehicles, and BMW got hit for $92,000 for selling about two dozen streetbikes that hadn't yet been approved.

For now, CARB has made its point, but the battle will doubtless continue. CARB has zero jurisdiction outside of California, where there is no shortage of aftermarket parts distributors—and very little stomach in recent years for new regulations.