By on September 13, 2021

Twinsterphoto/Shutterstock.com

Whether it’s adapting to a rapidly changing performance landscape or overcoming the encryption that’s being built in to cars’ electronic brains, it’s tough to be a tuner these days. But you know what they say, “When it rains, it pours.” And, for aftermarket performance tuners, the hits just keep on coming.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Ask Brent Leivestad, the owner of a small Colorado speed shop called PFI Speed who just got hit with an $18,000 EPA fine – a fine that, if not paid within 30 days, could increase to $180,000.

“I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t even believe it,” Leivestad told Drag Illustrated in an interview published earlier this week. “I am a speed shop and sell race parts – I didn’t know that was wrong. I didn’t understand the basis of the EPA’s claim, I didn’t go in front of any trial or talk to anybody from the EPA, and the threat of ‘settle and pay within 30 days or else’ felt like a real shakedown intended to deny my rights.”

There’s a lot to unpack here, of course, but the overall trend that I want to draw attention to is one of enforcement. Environmental agencies at federal and state levels seem to have grown some teeth in recent months, and they’re not just going the speed shops – they’re going after their customers, too.

In California, CARB (the California Air Resource Board) and BAR (the Bureau of Automotive Repair) has already put measures in place to validate the sanctity of your car’s ECU. If your car’s ECU is found to be running unapproved software, that means no smog certificate for you.

The official guide to the ruling reads, “Beginning July 19, 2021, vehicles with software not provided by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or approved through a California Air Resources Board (CARB) Executive Order (EO) will fail Smog Check. Before your vehicle will pass a Smog Check, you must take your vehicle to a licensed repair facility to have the vehicle’s software restored to the OEM software version. Once the software is restored, have your vehicle reinspected by a licensed Smog Check station. Note that vehicles initially directed to a STAR or Referee station must return to that station type to complete the inspection process.”

This isn’t a new thing. In fact, there have been CARB rules on the books prohibiting non-CARB certified emissions-related components (ex.: ECU software, catalytic converters, mufflers, etc.) since at least 2009. The difference now is that these CARB and EPA rules are getting more firmly enforced, and not everyone is happy about how they’re being enforced.

PFI SPEED AND THE COMING FLOOD

To their credit, Performance Racing Industry (PRI) seems to have jumped to Leivestad’s defense, calling the EPA fine overreach in a statement, citing Leivestad’s claims that he complied fully with EPA inquiries and that there was no trial or hearing prior to his fine. To PRI, whose core membership is made up of hundreds of PFI Speeds, it’s a big issue.

“There are thousands of legitimate motorsports businesses that are at risk of EPA overreach,” said Dr. Jamie Meyer, PRI President, in a statement. “The EPA is putting these businesses – which are typically small, homegrown, less sophisticated shops – in situations where they have to take on the full might of the federal government. The EPA is doing nothing to validate its enforcement efforts, and these small businesses are left with little choice but to comply.”

What Meyer is alluding to here is absolutely true, despite the slippery slope fallacy. If PFI Speed is forced to pay its fines, others will be, too. That’s made doubly important because of one other fact in this case: PFI Speed didn’t manufacture the parts it’s being fined over.

You read that right. PFI Speed isn’t being fined because they knowingly removed a car’s emissions controls or represented a product as something “street legal” that wasn’t. According to them, they’re being fined for selling 37 Hondata S300 ECUs over a two-year span.

WHAT THIS IS REALLY ABOUT

It’s hard to understand why the EPA and PRI (and, coming soon, SEMA) have decided to square off over this particular shop in Colorado in any context other than it being a test case.

In that context, it makes sense for the EPA to go after a shop like PFI Speed, rather than Hondata. After all, the product page for the Hondata ECU in question reads, “Warning: Within the USA this product is legal only for racing vehicles which may never be used upon a public highway.”

That “racing vehicles” bit is the tricky part. That’s because, according to the EPA, street cars can’t be legally converted into race cars (an issue highlighted in this 2016 Congressional Hearing titled “Racing to Regulate: EPA’s Latest Overreach on Amateur Drivers” as presented by Representative Barry Loudermilk (R), Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives).

If there is a court case (and that seems likely), PRI and SEMA will be pushing back on that key point while lobbying on the behalf of what they’re calling The Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports (RPM) Act of 2021 (H.R. 3281), which SEMA calls “common-sense, bi-partisan legislation to protect Americans’ right to convert street vehicles into dedicated racecars and the motorsports-parts industry’s ability to sell products that enable racers to compete. The bill clarifies that it is legal to make emissions-related changes to a street vehicle for the purpose of converting it into a racecar used exclusively in competition. It also confirms that it is legal to produce, market and install racing equipment.”

If PFI Speed’s fine holds up, that’ll be game over for a lot of speed shops and amateur drag racers who, you know, do that sort of thing. And, as much fun as it might be to ramble off about “When does a streetcar become a race car?” these are people’s jobs we’re talking about, which is a heavy thing.

That said, it’s also people’s clean air we’re talking about, so it’s hard to find an obvious bad guy in all this – especially as someone who loves tuning and racing, but has also been known to hug a tree now and again. But that’s me. You, however, are the Best and Brightest, and I want to know whether you’re cheering for the EPA or PFI Speed this time around.

[Image: Twinsterphoto]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by subscribing to our newsletter.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

133 Comments on “Opinion: Big Fines and EPA Crackdowns Spell Big Trouble for Speed Shops...”


  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    One step at a time… we move toward a grey, joyless world. And the steps keep getting bigger.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    In an ideal world, this is an unjustified overreach and my knee jerk reaction is to condemn it as such.

    That said, there is a lot finer line between the work done at this kind of shop and a coal rolling Cummins than a lot of us wish to believe. It’s hard to codify laws that would allow the government to go after one and not the other.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s a well constructed thought. I feel like the old adage of “Your right to swing your fist ends at the bridge of my nose” applies here. Is it overreach? I mean, maybe … but I feel like it’s a definite harm to others, which is kind of a no-no in just about any ethical code.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        If the government decides to regulate air quality, then something like this is inevitable.

        I think a lot of the reason we see it as an overreach is because the law has been laughed at for so long. It’s hard to imagine a similar blind eye being turned to aftermarket modifications that reduced crash safety for example.

        My personal opinion is that there should be a show car/off road exemption for everything (yes, including rolling coal) limited to 1000 miles per year or something. That allows people to enjoy something fun without making a tangible increase to any kind of pollution. I’m not the kind of person who would tune a daily driver anyways, so I respect that others may disagree with me on this one.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      “It’s hard to codify laws that would allow the government to go after one and not the other.”

      Not really. Just develop and perform a real world relevant, even “worst case” if need be, smog test. Instead of attempting to shirk that responsibility.

      Whatever someone does to his Cummins: Unless it actually causes the tuck to emit dangerous levels of “stuff”, it’s a-ok. And if it is emitting such levels, exactly what happens to be the name on the ECU, is pretty darned irrelevant.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        “Just develop and perform a real world relevant, even “worst case” if need be, smog test“

        How is that different than the status quo? Emissions limits are set by the government, this place sold tuners that enabled those limits to be exceeded, and now they are paying the price for it. Whether the tuner in question is for a Cummins or a Honda doesn’t, and shouldn’t, matter.

        • 0 avatar
          Flipper35

          When I moved to CA they would not do a sniff test because the wrong part number was on the car. It didn’t matter if it would pass the sniff test since the part number didn’t match up.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          Hardware store sells tools which allows emissions equipment to be destroyed and bypassed as well.

          Catch, and prove, someone actually emitting too much. ON THE ROAD. Not on a racetrack, where different emissions limits apply.

          Then people can choose which ecus, which sawblades and hammers, and what other stuff, they are willing to risk buying and driving around with.

      • 0 avatar
        Ol Shel

        That’s what’s being done. You can still drive an old, grandfathered polluting car. Government (we are the government in a democracy) has decided that it’s worth letting you choose from the ever-diminishing supply of dirty vehicles rather than outlawing them. They choose to limit turning modern, cleaner cars into more-polluting ones.

        Things will never be exactly the way you want them within a complex society. And that’s good.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    It’s easy to blame government overreach. A considerable amount of the blame lies with the end users. Rollin’coal brodozers, ricers, straight piped Harleys, smokie burnouts in the wrong place, street racing et al. They constantly annoy the public and eventually it works its way up the chain of command. “closed course”, “off-road only” type of labels work if most of the tuning shops actually complied during installation or sale. it is unfortunate that the government has gone after street car conversions but in the final analysis, up until now, no one has actively “policed” the race car conversions used on the street.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “if most of the tuning shops actually complied during installation or sale.”

      What would that compliance look like?

      “no one has actively “policed” the race car conversions used on the street.”

      Again, what would that look like?

      My opinion here is that the EPA should be going after vehicle owners that are misusing things, not the tuning shops. This comes off like fining a convenience store for selling the alcohol someone later consumed when drunk driving.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @ajla – I agree that the end users should be the one’s “policed” but if one knowingly sells parts or installs them on car that just drives away from their establishment, then yes, they should be fined.

        Your drunk driving metaphor is close but slightly off the mark. That would be like the shop/store selling parts/alcohol in good faith based upon the assumption that the purchaser will consume the product wisely and as intended but they do not.
        A tuner shop that does the install/tune and watches them roar off in a smokie burnout is like a pub plying a client with alcohol then watches them grab their keys, jump in their car and drive off and crash. There are plenty of cases where drinking establishments have been successfully held libel.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “but if one knowingly sells parts or installs them on car that just drives away from their establishment,”

          “A tuner shop that does the install/tune and watches them roar off in a smokie burnout”

          I’d agree with that.
          However, Is that what the shop in this case did? I assumed that they sold Hondatas over the internet or something like that. To keep with my example, there are many places online today that will send me alcohol.

      • 0 avatar

        They also go after the customers of the shops. When they raided my shop they grabbed all information from customers.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m not sure about that. The laws are usually worded to say that tampering or removing emissions equipment is the illegal act, and these shops did that. Presumably there are invoices for the Hondata ECUs, probably headers, etc. that are being cited here. To use a wildly oversimplified analogy: Wendy isn’t innocent of killing Ronald McDonald just because you hired Wendy to kill Ronald McDonald. You BOTH get punished.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        “My opinion here is that the EPA should be going after vehicle owners that are misusing things, not the tuning shops. This comes off like fining a convenience store for selling the alcohol someone later consumed when drunk driving.”

        Bingo!

        But, like all else is kleptostan, the whole purpose of this, is not “air quality.” But rather to shake someone down, who is assumed to have “deeper pockets,” and is easier to demonize, than the average street racer and coal roller.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      “no one has actively “policed” the race car conversions used on the street.”

      A year or two ago Borla got the smack down for selling cat-less X-pipes. Thankfully I got mine before the government stop-sale was put in place. FL has no inspections and my car sees track time but its not like I swap pipes for my daily commute. The pipe was clearly marked “off road use only”.

      Thus I agree the tuning shop shouldn’t be the one getting fined here. They tuned a race car, if the owner continues to drive it on the street then the owner is violating the law.

      • 0 avatar
        IH_Fever

        There isn’t any money to be made off of the “deviant” individuals. Better fine the shop instead. All you have to do is make the law just vague enough, set a precedent, and boom you’re in the money.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Well, yeah, you’re going after the “dealer,” so to speak. Shut down the dealer and you cut off the supply to the lawbreaking end users. To wit: if you have a shop selling booze or cigarettes to minors, you take action against it so it won’t sell that stuff to minors anymore.

          • 0 avatar
            IH_Fever

            Selling booze to minors is written in plain text, illegal. The difference is that the act of changing the car is not necessarily illegal. Sure, the shop “probably” knows what they are doing is helping someone break the law, but you don’t immediately fine someone because they “probably” did something.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Well, violating emissions standards is also illegal in plain text. Different offense type, but still…

        • 0 avatar
          EBFlex

          “ There isn’t any money to be made off of the “deviant” individuals. Better fine the shop instead. All you have to do is make the law just vague enough, set a precedent, and boom you’re in the money.”

          Yep. That’s all it’s about. Money and to exert control. With the people we have in place running the puppet, North Korea is going to look like a free utopia.

          I’d just assume the 81 million people that supposedly want that (alive and dead) just go to North Korea and leave the rest of us sane people alone. Believe it or not we were doing just fine.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Awww, it’s just like North Korea now.

            1) Take a pill.
            2) Bug off.
            3) Do 1) and 2) in what ever order suits you best.

            Seriously, TTAC, an ignore button would be a really nice thing. Clowns like this could stop coming here to get their jollies. Win-win.

          • 0 avatar
            EBFlex

            “ Awww, it’s just like North Korea now.

            1) Take a pill.
            2) Bug off.
            3) Do 1) and 2) in what ever order suits you best.

            Seriously, TTAC, an ignore button would be a really nice thing. Clowns like this could stop coming here to get their jollies. Win-win.”

            Couple things to clear up since facts aren’t your thing:

            Nobody said the USA is like North Korea now. Not sure where that came from but please try and stick to the bacon facts.

            You’re showing, once again, that you have so little self control that you need an ignore button so you can’t respond versus just not responding. Hilarious. You really do exude one of the fundamental principles of liberalism. “I can’t do anything for myself and exhibit an ounce of personal responsibility so I have to have somebody do it for me”

        • 0 avatar
          IH_Fever

          I guess we’ll agree to disagree Mike. Violating emissions standards is often a stretch. By installing something that is by the letter of the law, “legal” for off road use, unless you are knowingly doing it to help a customer break the law, is it really an offense? I’ll give you that most speeds shops should know better. However in this case, you have to prove intent, which in a country that touts “innocent until proven guilty” should be done BEFORE you start levying fines.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        JMII Can you really feel a difference in power going catless? Modern performance cats seem to be pretty free flowing, certainly compared to early cats which were notably restrictive….I’d wonder what just that change makes on a dyno….

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Typical tyrannical government overreach in an attempt to control every single aspects of people’s lives.

    This is what happens when you have ill informed activists running the EPA and other departments. It’s not about doing what’s right, it’s about power grabs.

    And, of course, with deplorable governments, the only solution to ANY problem is to steal money in the form of a fine. It’s never talking to people and explaining why what they are doing needs to be stopped. It’s instant fines. The only way to fix anything is with a fine.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      So am I correct to assume you would consider Los Angeles air pollution in the early sixties as ideal? Ultimately this is the government taking measures top ensure that vehicles not poison the air.

      “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

      “Promote the general Welfare”. Get it? Government does have the duty to improve the lives of its citizens. Taking measures to ensure healhy unpolluted air falls under this heading. I would argue that trying to stamp out a pandemic also qualifies.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Another conservative commenter on this site recently said that LA air pollution levels had become “fine” by the ’90s, notwithstanding thousands of deaths directly attributable to them. Some of these people are like hippos wallowing in their own slop.

        • 0 avatar
          IH_Fever

          Some liberals who vilify bubba for rolling coal (which I’ll agree is dumb and bad for the planet) are all for legalizing drugs that directly kill more people every year. Both sides have equal ownership of the slop.

          • 0 avatar
            SoCalMikester

            legalizing killer drugs? do tell…

            pops another gummy

          • 0 avatar
            RHD

            It’s funny how those who criticize “Liberals” know absolutely nothing about them, and accuse them of things that they do not do.
            Heroin, methamphetamine, PCP, LSD, etc. are still illegal, and no one is trying to change that.
            Constantly vilify and accuse the left to distract everyone from paying attention to the corrupt sh!t that the puppet masters on the right are doing.

      • 0 avatar
        EBFlex

        “ So am I correct to assume you would consider Los Angeles air pollution in the early sixties as ideal? ”

        No that would idiotic of you. The air in LA in the 60s has nothing to do with a shop in 2021 selling a few ECMs.

        That would also imply that those vehicles using those ECMs have the same level of toxic emissions as a car from the 60s which is equally idiotic.

        Companies succeed and innovate in spite of government intervention. Government intervention looks like the emissions laws passed in the early 70s. That action resulted in vehicles that had massive V8s yet only made 137hp. Companies innovated and now we have 2.0L engines with 250-300 HP. I bet my V8 powered SUV has fewer emissions than a 4 cylinder SUV from the early 90s. It gets better fuel economy too.

        It’s funny that people will attribute deaths to air pollution yet there’s no proof of it. Sure that person that died in 1968 smoked a carton a day but they quit 6 months before their death so it’s obvious air pollution that killed em. I think you can reasonably speculate that the air pollution could have been a small factor in a minority of cases, but you can’t definitively rule out genetic or lifestyle causes.

        Further the air in LA today is vastly cleaner than it was in the 60s and there are many many more vehicles on the road. You also have large geological factors that contribute to LA holding on to air pollution more than if they weren’t there. A camp fire isn’t harmful but if I build one in a tent that changes a tad.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          “It’s funny that people will attribute deaths to air pollution yet there’s no proof of it.”

          There’s plenty of proof but direct causal relationships are lost on you especially when they don’t fit your world view.

          Post evidence that there is zero proof that air pollution causes death. I’d like to see three “3” studies published in nationally accredited journals that have been peer reviewed.

          I won’t wait but expect a lot of bullsh!t instead. Troll on bubba!

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Seriously, where’s the banhammer? This fool has nothing to add and likes to just throw around names.

          • 0 avatar
            EBFlex

            “Seriously, where’s the banhammer? This fool has nothing to add and likes to just throw around names.”

            While true that is how Lou_MR behaves, it’s also how you behave. If you had an ounce of self-control you just wouldn’t respond. But you don’t and as a result you choose not to have an adult, fact based debate you just make everything personal. And I respond in kind

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Ah, so it’s my fault and he’s just trying to help me see the light.

            LOL…this guy reminds me of my ex. Classic toxic narcissist.

            You single, by chance? You two would be a gas together.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        “Taking measures to ensure healhy unpolluted air falls under this heading.”

        But noone ever died, nor got asthma, merely because he has a Hondata ECU laying around his garage somewhere.

        This nonsense is up there with fining hardware stores, just because they have, in the past 2 yeas, sold a few saws which can be used to cut out catalytic converters.

        First, prove that the guy you are harassing, is in fact spewing out toxins in excess of his allowance. And if he is, it makes not one lick of difference whether his “ecu” is an aftermarket one, or just a run-of-the-mill VW one.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          No one ever died from an expired plate either. But the law says you have to update them annually.

          I’m all for going after the violators too. But the problem here is that unless the DMV requires a car to be tested regularly, or there’s an obvious issue (think excessive smoke), there’s no way of knowing if a car’s violating regulations or not. Cops could do that, but they need probable cause to pull you over – how would they get that from just eyeballing your tailpipes? If you have an idea about how to enforce this on a car-by-car basis, I’d be all ears.

          This is why the authorities end up going after the people who sell the equipment necessary to fail emissions – it’s simpler. And the people who sell the mods illegally can’t do that anymore, then the people who would buy illegal mods can’t buy them.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      “And, of course, with deplorable governments, the only solution to ANY problem is to steal money in the form of a fine. It’s never talking to people and explaining why what they are doing needs to be stopped.”

      Yeah, just have a nice heart-to-heart with someone who’s not following the law. That’ll do the trick. Maybe buy them coffee and a donut. Trade family pictures. Sing camp songs.

      • 0 avatar

        If the penalty for breaking a law is a fine then it’s only a law for poor people.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Then give poor people the option of working the fine off through community service or something of that nature. The alternatives are 1) don’t punish poor people at all, or 2) jail.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          @Jo Borrás – arguably, most laws are just for poor people.
          I recall Microsoft getting fined per day for antitrust violations. Gates thought it was hilarious getting fined when they were raked in billions.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          “If the penalty for breaking a law is a fine then it’s only a law for poor people”.

          Quite a generalization, in this case its a tax. I would argue emissions “testing” -aside from a physical tamper check- is largely designed to hurt the working poor.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    FWIW, many times a modified vehicle has gone by, and their exhaust smell is way overboard compared to other non mod versions of said vehicle.
    One head scratcher for me is how these vehicle pass emissions tests such as those required in the Denver area.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Bribes.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        @ajla:

        Emissions tests are done by an state-contracted outfit here in Colorado – the car is run through a “rolling” emissions test.

        https://aircarecolorado.com/about/Opus

        The folks who work there don’t look especially well off, but I can’t see them being susceptible to a payoff.

        I suspect the “reflashed” cars either pass emissions as is, or the owners “unflash” them before taking the test.

    • 0 avatar

      Here in CT it was possible to bribe year ago and the main state contractor got in trouble several times before the state starting giving out individual license to small shops and installing cameras that record the testing. Now it’s pretty hard to bribe your way thru. But it is very common to change the car to get it to pass. Swapping a tune etc. Some tuners have settings that allow you to do it with a few keystrokes.

  • avatar

    I own a shop here in Orange County, CA (ModBargains). I was also hit by the EPA and fined 5 years ago. This has been going on for quite some time. Hopefully with the way social media is nowadays gets the word out a lot more than 5 years ago. I reached out to Brent and his team (owner of PFi Speed) they seem like great guys, I hope they can push through it. I’ve also made my own YouTube videos of my experience with the EPA and interviewed SEMA on the situation (Talking Mods YouTube). Definitely sucks and stress levels rise. Let’s keep spreading the word and signing the RPM Act! Save Our Race Cars.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    My ECU, my Choice!!!!

  • avatar
    spookiness

    The gunshot exhaust systems are really bugging me big time.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I have no experience with this kind of thing, so:

    1) Will cars with this chip pass emissions?
    2) Will cars with this chip CHEAT emissions, ala VW TDI engines?

    If the car passes emissions with the chip, then I see no problem. If the chip is designed to perform a TDI-style emissions cheat, then the EPA is completely on board with what it’s doing.

    And who is this shop selling to? If it’s strictly to racers, then I don’t see the issue. If it’s selling to people who use them on street cars, then, yeah, there’s an issue.

    A little more info here would probably be helpful.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      See my post above. When I moved to CA I had changed the carb to a rod linkage instead of a cable. Because of that it failed the smog test because it was the wrong part number. (Chevy linkage on a Mopar engine).

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This is a market opportunity for some former VAG TDI software engineers.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I see both sides of this.

    On the one hand, the idea that you can’t convert a street car into an off-road-use-only race car is asinine. Shops should be able to work on legitimate race cars and sell race parts.

    On the other hand, we all know that 99% of the “race” parts sold out there are going straight onto street cars that are then going to have emissions levels many times higher than they should. A crackdown on those cars and their owners is justified. If the bulk of the facts tend to show that this shop was marketing to on-street drivers and knew its products were being used on the street, then action against the shop may be justified.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Agreed, but how do you crack down on the drivers? First line of defense is the cops. A cop might be suspicious that a car is illegally modded, but you need probable cause to pull that car over. I don’t see how “well, I suspected the car had an illegal ECU chip” would hold up in court.

      Second line of defense would be emissions testing, but if I’m not mistaken, you can “de-flash” the ECU updates or replace the offending chip with the stock one, and evade consequences.

      I think this is why they go after the folks who sell the equipment.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        The “mark the VIN” idea gasser had below seems decent (obviously some specifics would need to be worked out).

        On ECU reflashes I believe one can see the date and amount of reflashes. Certain situations could flag the need for further investigation.

        Another thing I expect would help is making EPA/CARB certification of performance parts easier. People looking to tune their Accord 1.5T aren’t specifically wanting to violate the Clean Air Act but not every place wanting to make intakes and fuel wires has a Roush-sized budget.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          As long as the “flashed” car passes emissions, then I don’t see a problem.

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            Do any states/cities actually test post 1996 cars with a sniffer?

            OBD-II emissions testing is extremely easy to fool.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            This is how they do it here in Colorado:

            youtube.com/watch?v=Diu-CM3G6HA

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            Something similar to that is the procedure done for older vehicles here in NW Indiana, but anything 1996 or later is just plugged into the OBD II reader and scanned for codes.

            Both of the vehicles shown in that video looked potentially pre-96 so I’m still curious if Colorado (or anywhere else) subjects newer cars to the dyno testing.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            @jack:

            Far as I know anything ’81 and older gets tested.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @jack4x

            Post 1996 is an OBDII scan, earlier years they actually tested tailpipes but I’ve heard anecdotally the equipment is so old many shops discard it when it breaks. I’m not even sure DOT forces a tailpipe check anymore for that reason, just steal a fee for a sticker.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      Drivers also need to understand the law. Most are knowingly violating laws.

      On the flip side, I was stopped on my sport bike and had the officer try to claim my exhaust and tires were illegal. The tires were easy. I showed him the DOT stampings and wear bars. The exhaust was stock but after a quick look, they also had a DOT stamping.
      I had a local Suzuki garage claim my aftermarket fuel tank was illegal and they tried to screw me on a valve check by doing a “factory” inspection. I showed them the “motor vehicle act” criteria for a gas tank and pointed out that their mechanic and shop were not accredited for vehicle inspections. I showed him the initial work order. “Valve clearance check only”. The shop manager was livid. He didn’t like it when I explained that the work order was a signed contract. I contracted them to do a valve clearance check. That’s it, see ya in court. He had no choice but to release my bike.

  • avatar
    gasser

    Seems to me there should be a system for selling “race only” parts wherein the VIN has to be provided for purchase. This VIN number should then be “cancelled” so there can never be issued a plate/renewal for said vehicle. Then you have a clear choice to either street it or race it, not both. One cannot pee into a water reservoir, throw trash into the street, or burn trash outdoors in cities like L.A., so why do you get to pollute the air we all breathe????

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      That’s a good idea – tell the owner of the modded car that it can’t be registered for street use, and give them a chance to prove compliance. That makes it easy for the cops to enforce things. Fart-can Freddie with his slammed Subaru and coal-rolling Cletus have no wish to become cop magnets.

      • 0 avatar
        EBFlex

        “ That makes it easy for the cops to enforce things.”

        You don’t keep up with current events do you?

        The police are not allowed to stop people for things like that anymore. Apparently it’s racist or something (like the term ”ricer” but we will give Lou_MR yet another pass on his racism).

        The cops don’t care if you have a loud exhaust, or if your windows are tinted a little too dark for the government overlords. They have bigger things to worry about like murder, drugs, assaults, robberies, burglaries, domestics etc.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Right, cops never pull anyone over for equipment violations anymore. Sure thing, dude.

          You have nothing relevant to say to me. Bug off.

          • 0 avatar
            EBFlex

            “ Right, cops never pull anyone over for equipment violations anymore. Sure thing, dude.

            You have nothing relevant to say to me. Bug off.”

            Once again here you are lying to try and prove a point that isn’t being made. Nowhere did I say that the cops never pull anybody over for that. What I said is there are many jurisdictions that are banning pretextual traffic stops this would fall into that category because the only reason an officer would pull somebody over for loud exhaust is to go through the vehicle searching for guns drugs or warrants. Further, I also said that, due to liberals, there has been a massive increase in crime, specifically violent crime, and a major reduction in the amount police officers to handle that increase in crime. As a result, police are not worried if somebody has a lightbulb that’s too bright or an exhaust system that is bothersome to your sensitive ears. In fact, some calls like a burglary and then the shooting up of a house takes police hours to respond to because they are busy with other MORE serious calls.

            I would like to know how much it would take for you to teach me how to avoid and deny reality like you do.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            You’re trying so desperately to prove you’re smarter than I am…and I don’t care. You’re nothing to me.

          • 0 avatar
            EBFlex

            “You’re trying so desperately to prove you’re smarter than I am…and I don’t care. You’re nothing to me.”

            I don’t even have to try. You do all the work the second you sit down behind the keyboard.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          “ricer” and “tuner” are commonly used terms in the street racer community.

          You obviously don’t know that and once again is just here for trolling.

          Buh bye

          • 0 avatar
            EBFlex

            ““ricer” and “tuner” are commonly used terms in the street racer community.”

            Oh so terms that are commonly used are not racist then? You must use the n-word frequently because it’s a commonly used term in the black community.

            Whatever you have to tell yourself so you’re ok with being a racist dude. We can see right through it.

    • 0 avatar
      EBFlex

      “ so why do you get to pollute the air we all breathe????”

      Using that logic we should ban cars older than 20 years from being able to be driven. Not only is it unnecessary to have a nice classic car their emissions are far worse than even the worst vehicles on the road today.

      • 0 avatar
        SPPPP

        Hmm, should we also ban fragrances, and force people to shower on a certain schedule? I mean, while we are going after air pollution, let’s strike while the iron is hot.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          “let’s strike while the iron is hot.”

          You mean “while the iron is cold”?

          If you are interested in air quality, you wouldn’t use a hot iron. That could burn flesh, fur/hides etc. and add to the air quality issues.

    • 0 avatar

      I like this.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    The consensus in the comment section here is sickening.

    Enthusiasts who modify their cars are absolutely *not* making an impact on emissions; maybe a drop in the bucket compared to other private vehicles but certainly not in the shadow of the commercial fleet and absolutely undetectable when compared to the disgustingly heavy industrial polluters. Someone swapping an engine and running a standalone ECU to make a fun weekend/show car project should not have the federal government standing in their way so long as the vehicle can pass whatever state inspections there are for physical road safety. If someone is driving around blowing black smoke out of a distastefully-modified diesel, showing off how much power they’re unable to make, then impound it.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Far as I’m concerned, either the law applies to everyone equally or it applies to no one. Doesn’t matter how rare the infraction is.

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      So where is the line between an “enthusiast modifying their car” and a “distastefully modified diesel” besides your personal disdain for one of them?

      Rolling coal has an approximately 0% approval rating around here, but it’s breaking the exact same laws as the shop in this story.

      • 0 avatar
        IBx1

        The fine line is the dense cloud of black garbage from a diesel engine with junk fuel settings.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Well, that guy with the diesel engine with junk fuel settings is breaking the law, plain and simple, and the law has every right to deal with that.

          Doesn’t matter how many people like him are out there rolling coal – it’s either illegal or it isn’t.

        • 0 avatar
          jack4x

          Lol so pollution has to be visible to be deadly or worthy of regulation?

          Plenty of aggressively tuned gas cars out there too spewing dense clouds of garbage.

          • 0 avatar
            IBx1

            @jack4x feel free to show me a single gasoline engine tuned to dump black smoke for the sake of dumping black smoke.

            If a gasser is making a haze without burning oil, it’s probably kissing the 4-figure horsepower range and isn’t going to be on the streets very often.

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            Your continuing mistake is believing that “black smoke” is the only pollutant worth regulating.

            NOx is invisible. Fuel vapors are mostly invisible. CO is invisible.

            Stand next to an open header gas engine and tell me you’d be OK breathing that in all day every day.

            I don’t love the idea of this crackdown. In general, I think modifying engines is a cool thing to do that should be encouraged. But I hate the idea that so many people seem to have that guys installing catless exhausts and tunes are honorable enthusiasts, and coal rollers are the scum of the earth. Can’t have it both ways.

          • 0 avatar
            EBFlex

            “Plenty of aggressively tuned gas cars out there too spewing dense clouds of garbage.”

            And still probably less than your average lawn mower. But again this isn’t about air pollution…it’s about control.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Two-stroke lawn equipment is… a real problem! Not the best comparison for you to try to salvage the idiot coal rollers’ honor.

            https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/how-bad-for-the-environment-are-gas-powered-leaf-blowers/2013/09/16/8eed7b9a-18bb-11e3-a628-7e6dde8f889d_story.html

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            @dal20402, thanks for that link. Your link contains this link:
            https://www.edmunds.com/about/press/leaf-blowers-emissions-dirtier-than-high-performance-pick-up-trucks-says-edmunds-insidelinecom.html

            Which says this:
            “The hydrocarbon emissions from a half-hour of yard work with the two-stroke leaf blower are about the same as a 3,900-mile drive from Texas to Alaska in a Raptor,” said Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor at Edmunds.com.

          • 0 avatar
            IBx1

            For what it’s worth, I only use EGO 56v lawn equipment; it’s fantastic and I don’t want to deal with my tools not deciding to work when I need them to.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “So where is the line”

        For me, EPA certification.

        performanceparts.ford.com/emission-compliant-parts/

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure I agree. I don’t want fracking sand pumped into my well water *AND* I don’t want my neighbor to run a straight-piped car / diesel truck in his driveway, either. The matter of degree to which it impacts the overall picture is kind of secondary to the degree in which it impacts the rights of the people around you, no matter how much fun you’re having.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @IBx1–Agree the enthusiasts that modify their cars are contributing miniscule amounts to the environment and the heavy industrial polluters should be the ones to be regulated more but my guess is the heavy industrial polluters are bigger campaign contributors and government agencies are told not to go after them. Agree also if the coal rollers are blowing black smoke impound their trucks and fine them but leave the shops alone. Most show cars are just that and not used as daily drivers. Most people drive and own non modified vehicles which comply with the EPA.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    One has to ask how much more power is really made by such tampering. In the big picture, if .01% of registered vehicles do this does it make a difference in air quality nationally? I’d venture to guess no, but we are supposed to be a country of laws and in general emission standards have made huge strides in the improvement of the air we breath. You can’t put laws in place and then fail to enforce them. So who is the guilty one? If a speed shop makes such modifications on a registered vehicle then they know that they are breaking the law because the car is plated for road use. So they deserve the fine. However, if a car is trailered to the shop and is not registered you could easily argue that the owner of the car, once they try to register it, should be made to pay the fine. I think the penalty needs to be there but it is critical to penalize the correct entity. And yes, massive fines are what stops such behavior.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I’m inclined to agree.

      My father taught me to consider resale on modified vehicles. Wheel/tire swaps, color-shifting paint jobs, suspension changes, engine mods, exhaust changes, chroming, etc, etc. all make for a car *you* like, but they narrow the field of interested buyers quite a lot.

      As you point out, when you can buy 700+ HP from the factory, does 1000 HP do anything more than provide bragging rights and a broken rear end?

      At the end of the day, I can’t imagine there are so many modded vehicles that it matters one bit to the air quality.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I saw a study recently that said that deleted diesels were having a significant effect on particulate and ground-level ozone concentrations in the Mountain West states.

        • 0 avatar

          It;s usually left out of the discussion, but many diesel mods are for reliability as well as power. The guy deleting EGRs are often just trying to keep running costs down. The guy deleting all emission stuff and cranking the injectors up so high you get the clouds of smoke are causing real issues. The problem is the line is fine and hard to figure out.
          I have considered adding an VCM delete to my Honda pilot (kills the cylinder deactivation) but in the strictest sense of the term this is a emissions violation. Of course in many hondas the VCM causes huge amounts of oil burning so it may actually be better for the environment to delete it.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        “As you point out, when you can buy 700+ HP from the factory, does 1000 HP do anything more than provide bragging rights and a broken rear end?”

        Well, yeah, if you have 70 large to spend, you can put that Hellcat in your driveway. But my guess is that most of the folks doing these mods are buying far, far cheaper stuff and upgrading it, like Fart Can Freddie in his 12-year-old WRX. There’s probably a far bigger market for cheaper, modded stuff than there is for Hellcats/GT500s, etc.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          @FreedMike: You’re probably right about “FCF”. Ha!

          I barely had an interest (or the money) to modify a car when I started owning them. That dwindled to zero by the time I settled down with bills to pay.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Exactly, heavily modded cars are temperamental. I’m on an Audi/VW Facebook group, and day after day it’s the same guys posting stuff about this mod or that, or how to figure out why his murdered-out 2009 S4 throws code XYZ on Mondays when the humidity goes over 80%. Most of them are kids in their 20s who probably don’t have many demands on their time aside from showing up to Best Buy on time for their shift.

            I have no desire to spend what free time I have fiddle-f**king around with some car mod. I can and will pay more for something that’s fast right out the box.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            @freedmike: Yeah, you’re right. It’s not worth it. At the end of the day, even with the mods, you’re probably not going to be the fastest guy at the track or even the stop light anyway. So why bother.

        • 0 avatar
          Detroit-Iron

          Exactly! Who cares about poor people who like cars? Only rich people should be allowed to pollute. Excellent point. Who cares if Al Gore’s and Prince Charles’s “carbon footprint” dwarfs literally hundreds of proles, or that a single shipload of plastic garbage from China emits as much carbon as (again) literally, millions of cars do in a year? The important thing is that the proles know their place.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well, if VWAG can be fined millions or billions or whatever for writing and installing software that cheats emissions tests (I have to applaud their ingenuity), why should good ol’ Joe’s Speedshop not be fined for selling software that makes the car in which it’s installed fail emissions tests? Oh, it’s not for street use (wink-wink).

    I understand that some folks like to take their daily driver to the track (although I also gather this is not a good idea, given that most stock brake systems are not up to that kind of use), but it seems to me that you have a choice to do that with a bone stock (in terms of matters that affect emissions) car, or you have a dedicated race car that you bring on a trailer. If there was a national registry of such cars by VIN number, then a shop could sell whatever gadget it wanted without liability, upon proof of ownership of the race-VIN car by the purchaser of the device. Similarly, states would never plate a race-VIN car for street use.

    As for the specifics of the case in the post, and the possible procedural defects leading to “pay or die!” I don’t trust the accuracy of the reporting enough to make a judgment. It’s not uncommon for other agencies to issue a “notice of apparent liability” which requires the recipient to actively contest the charge within X number of days, or admit the violation and pay the fine.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    So … I am not advocating air pollution. But I really think this is related to why the US is apparently “lagging in STEM education”. The federal budget for STEM grants was around $580 million in 2020. A lot of money has been thrown at this problem.

    How do kids get interested in engineering or chemistry when so many exciting ways of applying that knowledge are illegal? Modify a car? You violated emissions law. Interesting chemistry experiments? Sorry, that could make something toxic (or even a drug), you can’t get those ingredients. Nothing fast or loud. You’ll shoot your eye out. Yawn.

    I mean, the DOD has been idling thousands of diesel engines around the clock “just in case”. Flying helicopter loads of gas into mountain ranges. Cruising nuclear ships around the globe. It boggles the mind. The 37 Honda ECUs don’t worry me quite as much.

  • avatar
    BSttac

    America, land of the policed.

  • avatar
    Average Simp

    Things ‘muricans love

    1. Thier pickup trucks
    2. Being ignorant
    3. Being obnoxious to compensate for thier small minds and other parts.

    And when you enforce laws to maintain a civilized society the Simps cry,
    MUH FREEDOM! MUH PICKUP TRUCK!

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      Hey wait a minute, wasn’t this story about Hondata ECUs for Civics etc? Isn’t that a responsible economy car invented by the advanced non-Murican cultures?

      • 0 avatar
        Average Simp

        Not a responsible economy car once you ricky race it making it spew hydrocarbons.

        We are a nation of laws. This isn’t a free for all as much as some people want it to be. Not yet anyway.

        • 0 avatar
          SPPPP

          I’m not against laws, rambunctious teens, or yellowjackets. But it’s possible for any of those things to get obnoxiously out of control. Even politeness can be obnoxious in excess. It’s a question of degree.

          I have lived and owned cars in a state with emissions testing for decades. The status quo has not been a “free-for-all”. People do stupid things with their cars, they get caught at inspection time, they have to fix it to get a sticker. Over in California, they have mobile sniffers that can catch bad polluters. (Which are probably more likely to be poorly repaired cars than they are modified ones.)

          Going after a distributor of a part that *might* be misused seems to me like an escalation, to the point where the law is starting to chafe a bit.

          Pollution is a serious matter, but if we went after it 100% enthusiasm, well, it would get pretty restrictive. I mean, why not ban certain kinds of car trips that don’t meet our moral standards? Going on vacation? Not good enough. Shopping for non-essentials? No. Joyriding? Never. (Hey wait, that sounds like what the UK has been doing for the last year – though for the viral type of air pollution.) My point is, that’s how you get to “joyless and gray”.

  • avatar

    Cadillac sucks canal water. jump while you can. it’s a dead brand.

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    Flyin’ Miata (www.flyinmiata.com) went to a lot of time and trouble to get CARB certification for their boost kits. It will be interesting to see whether or not they get f*cked with by the EPA. That’ll be an indication of whether this is about clean air, or about control.

  • avatar
    Average Simp

    You know what, let the shops sell this stuff “for offroad use”. Fine. But if its caught on the road you forfeit the vehicle and pay a financially crippling fine.

    The ricky racers in thier hondas and the rednecks in thier diesel pickup trucks are in the same church just different pews.

    The Honda crowd tends to be less enraged and usually has an IQ higher than room temperature unlike the enraged rednecks. But many key similarities despite thier differences.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    This eventually might be a mute point when vehicles become all EVs. When that happens the Government might limit the top speed for safety reasons and fine anyone who alters the speed. Most people are not going to alter their vehicles.

  • avatar
    loopy55

    Lucky I have a fully CARB approved APR+ Stage 1 tune. If APR can spend the money to get CARB approved then the other tuners need to get off their lazy butts.

  • avatar
    armadamaster

    Tyranny…

  • avatar
    JonBoy470

    It is of course illegal to operate non-compliant vehicles on public roads, but the law, as written, also prohibits even the installation of non-compliant parts into road-going vehicles.

    These speed shops are operating without even the merest whiff of plausible deniability that parts vendors successfully hide behind. If the customer’s vehicle is registered, or arrives under its own power, it’s impossible for them to not reasonably know they’re installing parts that are illegal for on-road use, into vehicles they know to be road-going, which means they’re violating the law.

    To be fair, the guys who order and install go-fast parts from the Jegs catalog are breaking the same laws, but it’s a lot easier to fly under the radar, doing it once in your driveway, to your own car, using parts sourced from a vendor who scrupulously remains unwitting to their ultimate use.

Read all comments

Recent Comments

  • Lou_BC: @kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh – I’d consider one of thise if it wasn’t for the fact that...
  • mcs: “Who needs 1000hp?” People that don’t want to or can’t spend the money to get 2,000 hp?
  • Inside Looking Out: @N8iveVA, yeah now it is Trump’s fault that shoplifting and other crime go unpunished in SF...
  • USAFMech: “Who needs 1000hp?” You’re on a car enthusiast site and clicked on the article about a...
  • SCE to AUX: First, Apple is not going to enter the car mfg business. Second, why would these companies dedicate a...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber