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What's the Deal With CA's Exhaust Noise Law?

The amendment to the law went into effect at the beginning of the year, but there’s still a lot of confusion around California’s recent exhaust noise law changes. Automotive enthusiasts in California have been left wondering if the modifications they made a few months ago (as in last year) might cost them crazy fines, while those in other states have been gloating over how much freedom they still enjoy. Despite how bad it seems, what about the law actually changed? Which exhaust modifications are now illegal? We’re laying it all out so that you understand exactly what the law says, and what your options are if a cop pulls you over.

The short answer is this: The exhaust noise standard didn't change, California government just made it easier for them to collect fines from those with excessively loud exhaust. Continue reading for more details about the changes and how they might affect you.

S2000 CA Exhaust Noise Laws

Did the CA Exhaust Noise Law Change?

No. What really changed was how the law is enforced. Now, instead of giving drivers a “fix-it ticket” upon being cited for excessive noise, cops can immediately fine drivers. If your exhaust was acceptable last year, it will still be OK this year. If it wasn’t, it's more likely that you'll have to pay a fine.

How Loud Can My Exhaust be? 

95 decibels. While it may not sound like much, that’s really loud. A jackhammer produces 100 dB, so if your car is quieter than that, you should be fine. Most cars, even with aftermarket exhaust, are probably quieter than that. 

130-140dB Level When Most People Experience Pain
130 dB Two Feet in Front of a Trumpet
120 dB Three Feet in Front of Vuvuzela Horn
110 dB Gas Chainsaw
100 dB Jackhammer
80-90 dB Traffic on Busy Freeway
60-80 dB Most Passenger Cars
40-60 dB Normal Conversation
20-30 dB Very Calm Room
10 dB Light Leaf Rustling, Calm Breathing

How Would a Police Officer Know If My Car Is Louder Than 95 dB? 

While there is a standard method of measuring exhaust noise (using a decibel meter at a specific distance and at a constant rpm), in the real world, that won’t be how it happens. If a cop thinks that your exhaust is too loud, you’ll get a citation. So, even if you bought your own decibel meter and measured your vehicle's noise at 93 dB in your driveway, the citation is still at the discretion of the officer who pulled you over.

If I Get Pulled Over, Is The Fine Really $1,000?

Yes and no, for good and bad. A lot of the base fines are much lower than that, going anywhere from $25-$250. The only one with $1,000 base fine is “Engaging in Business Installing Exhaust System Whistle Tip,” but we doubt this violation applies to most motorists. However, when you start looking at the maximum fines, it gets way worse. The max fine for “Motor Vehicle Exhaust Standards,” noise being one of those standards, is $1,105. So not only is a $1,000 fine a real possibility, but it could even go higher than that. Fortunately, there are no points against your driving record associated with this violation.

1973 Mustang Mach 1 CA Exhaust Noise Laws

What Do I Have to Do If I Get a Ticket for Excessive Exhaust Noise?

  1. Correct or repair your exhaust so that it is at or below the 95 decibel level standard. 
  2. Find a state Referee Center and make an appointment to have your vehicle checked out by calling (800) 622-7733 and have the citation (ticket) and your vehicle registration handy for the call. 
  3. Take your vehicle to the Referee Center along with $108 for the actual test. If your vehicle meets the standard, the referee with give you a certificate of compliance. 
  4. Schedule a court date for your violation. Take the certificate of compliance to your court date and use it as proof that your vehicle is in compliance with California law.

Note: Inspection fees and any necessary repairs are your responsibility, and you might also have to pay other fines or legal costs when reporting to the court. Keep in mind that most citations have a deadline—so quick repairs or modifications can help you avoid additional penalties. If you have more questions, try calling the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) at (800) 952-5210.

CA Exhaust Noise Laws Exhaust tip

Can I Get My Modified Exhaust Pre-Certified?

Nope. You can only take it to the California Bureau of Automotive Repair to get your car’s exhaust noise level checked after you get the ticket, and that trip will cost you $108. Once you have the certificate of compliance, you can have the fine waved.

Final Thoughts

In our opinion, $1,000, and certainly $1,105, is way too steep of a fine for breaking a noise law. Most people don’t have $1,000 just lying around, especially for a fine that is based on a cop’s discretion for an offense that doesn’t hurt anyone. Additionally, there is no clear location data for the state Referee Centers, which means there might not be many, and/or they are spaced out very far apart (California is a big state). That said, the sky is not falling for automotive enthusiasts in California. If you recently bought a legal aftermarket exhaust system for your vehicle, it’s still legal. 

If you have been avoiding changing an exhaust system that you knew was illegal by gaming the fix-it tickets, you will have a much harder time of doing that now. Worst of all, some people will be forced into the expense and hassle of going to the BAR because some overzealous cop wanted to fill their quota. However, the lives of the majority of enthusiasts won’t be changed by this law, but you may want to ease off the go-pedal and coast by any cops you see, just in case.

If you have more questions, here's a link to the California Bureau of Automotive Repair Vehicle Exhaust Noise Level Certification page.

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