As a proponent of clean and breathable air, I am sick and tired of the rampant fraud and stupidity I see every day in the smog check program. But the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR), the agency within the Department of Consumer Affairs that oversees the smog check program, and all repair shops in the state, along with the legislators in Sacramento, have their heads so firmly lodged up their ass that the problem will never be fixed.
Several weeks ago I got an email in my inbox from the state saying there they were going to crack down on all of the fraudulent smog inspections being done on cars 2000 and newer. I just laughed, because they’ve been saying that for years.
Before I go on, let me give you some background. Before the current smog check program was implemented, we used to test all gasoline powered cars under 14,000 pounds, 1975 and newer on one machine. But around 2012 the state introduced a new test procedure, along with a new machine. We now test all gas cars (up to 14000 lbs) 2000 and newer, and diesel 1997 and up on a machine that only checks the OBDII information, and we do a visual inspection. We do NOT check the tailpipe emissions. For gas cars 96-99 we use the old machine where we check emissions, OBDII, and visual. 1995 and older we do the emission test, visual, and depending on the car a timing check, EGR check, and low-pressure EVAP test.
I’m sure some of you are seeing the potential problems with only testing the OBDII system on a car. On cars 96-99 I have had them fail the emission portion while passing the OBDII portion. The state has placed all of their trust on the manufacturers to properly implement OBDII standards.
Remind me how that went with VW?
Vehicle tuners, and some smog technicians are incredibly resourceful, and the state made it much easier for them to cheat the system. Before to fraudulently pass a car the technician would generally have to clean pipe it, but that required an identical car to be tested. That’s not always easy. Now, with the new OBDII test, all they have to do is plug the state computer into an OBDII simulator, and that’s it! Passing the visual is as easy as just lying and saying it passes.
But it gets worse than that, and why I am so irritated.
Just this morning I failed a car, a 2000 Accord, for having an aftermarket catalytic converter that is no longer valid for sale or installation in California. But it has passed smog for the last six years, at the same shop I am at, because the owner, and the previous tech, were just plain lazy.
Here’s how aftermarket catalytic converters work in California. For it to be sold, installed, and passed in California it has to have an Executive Order (EO) number. An EO number issued by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Most EO numbers apply to multiple cars. So when a car comes in the smog technician is supposed to input that number into the database, and verify that it applies to the vehicle year, make, model, and engine. If it doesn’t meet all of those, it is illegal for the car.
But it gets better. Occasionally, and for reasons which I do not know, CARB will rescind EO numbers. And for the car to pass the consumer has to provide a repair order and invoice verifying when it was installed. If it was installed before the date CARB withdrew it, it’s legal. Otherwise what is generally a perfectly good catalytic converter has to be replaced.
And now we come to my issue: no one fucking checks! Pretty much every time I fail a car the first words out of the customer’s mouth is, “But it’s been passing for years, and I always bring it here.” It’s at that point I want to punch my lazy ass, idiotic boss.
But it gets better. In addition to his laziness, he will actively, and purposely pass cars that shouldn’t be passed. Yesterday a customer brought in a ‘93 Toyota Pickup that failed the emissions check. I changed the spark plugs because they were worn out, but it still failed. I suspected the O2 sensor. But my boss? He decided to just superheat the cat to pass it and charge the customer $125 for it.
That’s not a fucking joke, and it happens all of the time.
Instead of doing a proper goddamn repair, he will just drag the brakes, most of the time to the point of burning, and let it pass. I want to scream. I also want to report him, but I rely on this job for my income, obviously. So I’m not really sure what to do.
But shit like this happens all over the state, all of the time. But the state seems to unable to effectively crack down on it. They have been saying for years that there is rampant fraud and negligence, but it continues. And when I catch a car that shouldn’t be passing and try to do something, the BAR can’t do anything.
For instance, yesterday I got a ‘97 Saab in here. When I looked at the underhood emissions label, I saw it was a Canadian car. And the safety and weight rating on the door sill was also Canadian. But when I looked at the smog check history I found it had been passing smog in California for the last ten years. So I called the BAR to see if they could lock it out of my system, and require go to the Referee (a BAR smog technician who can certify weird cars, grey market cars, modified cars, and inspect cars the BAR suspects have issued smog certificates illegally). I know they have the ability because in the email I got they said they developed a system to try and catch fraud, revoke certificates, and send the car to the referee where the car fails smog properly. But the person I talked to wasn’t able to lock it out.
And it’s shit like that which drives me nuts. I just want cars smogged correctly, as it’s a benefit to us all. It’s a benefit to the consumer for having a properly working car, and it’s a benefit to everyone in the state who breathes the air. I’m sure you’ve all heard the statistic that says something to the effect that 80-90% of all pollution emitted from cars on the road comes from only 10% of the cars. As a smog technician, I don’t doubt that for a second. But in order to fix this CARB and the BAR need to pull their heads out of their asses and actually implement a system that works. And they need to do a better job of testing technicians and shops to make sure they’re doing inspections right, and not committing fraud.