Have you heard about the 1-800-Exhaust program?

One interesting little sidetrack I got stuck on while I was reporting this story was the 1-800-Exhaust program. Maybe you’ve seen the billboards along I-80 near the Bay Bridge? If not, you will soon. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (the same people who bring you Spare the Air days) has kicked off a new campaign to promote the program. In a nutshell, it allows you to call in (or go online) and report the license plate numbers of cars that seem to be spewing more smoke than they should be.

Then what happens?

Well, some people might be disappointed to hear that there are no punitive consequences for these drivers. No fines, no demand that they report to the nearest smog check station, stat. Instead, the car’s registered owner gets a letter in the mail – one BAAQMD spokesman I talked to called it an “informal survey” — asking, among other things, whether the car has been repaired. The response, so far, has been pretty underwhelming.

Last year, just over 10,000 cars were reported, and 10,000 letters sent out. Less than a hundred came back. Twelve people said that their cars had been repaired (it’s not clear how many of them had already repaired the cars, and how many did so after receiving the letters).

Air District officials stress that reply rates aren’t really the point here. The goal, they say, is to get people to realize that their cars don’t operate in a vacuum. How well you maintain your car has real and measurable effects on people’s health (including anyone sitting in the back seat).

The letters also let people know about a program that doesn’t get a lot of coverage elsewhere, although it should. It’s called the Vehicle Buy Back Program, and it’s worth $1,000 to anyone who owns a registered car 1989 or older. It’s kind of like a local version of Cash for Clunkers. Not hard to see why these programs make so much sense: some of those old cars pollute ten or even a hundred times as much as a new one. That 1966 Volvo I had when I was 17 seems a little less wonderful, in hindsight.

Listen to Smog Checks Made Easy radio report online.

38.4558449 -121.407106

Reporter’s Notes: Smog Checks Made Easy 2 October,2015Amy Standen
  • I think it would be better to make more compulsory consequences for those polluters.

  • Charlie Peters

    The Smog Check issue has been under continuous legislative debate since 1993. AB 2289 by Eng is an opportunity to improve program performance and public support.

    We at the Clean Air Performance Professionals propose “reasonably available control measures” to improve California Smog Check performance. Consider a Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) quality audit to improve smog check performance.

    We propose using the CAP cars and funds to provide a random quality audit (or secret shopper) of smog check providers. Audits that result in the car’s not being in compliance should be handled similarly to the former Consumer Repair and Education Workforce program. The Bureau of Automotive Repair program did not fine the licensees nor did it involve coercion. But when the question of “what would you like to do?” was asked, the shop took care of business and usually elected to fix the car.

    The average smog check failure repair is about $ 150.00 state wide. The motorist pays about the same at the average repair station and the CAP station. The average CAP repair is about $350.00. Many cars are not brought into compliance.

    To level the smog check failure repair playing field so more cars meet standards after repair, the whole smog check market should be subject to a CAP random audit.

    Around 1985, BAR started a “missing part” audit. In 1991 that program was stopped, The difference was a 300 percent change in result in finding the missing part.

    When BAR ran less than one audit per station per year, the result was a change in behavior that started at more than an 80 percent rate, but moved to less than 20 percent rate of noncompliance.

    The difference was a 300 percent change in result in finding the missing part. If the CAP audit was addressing the issue of repair compliance rather than just finding a missing part, the results may be the same or a 300 percent improvement in compliance. With the missing part program, a follow-up audit with increasing demands lift the stations no options but to find the missing part or be removed from the game.

    There are huge inconsistencies from Smog Check station to station and with BAR representatives. For BAR to decide a car is not in compliance, rules of Smog Check must be clarified. Money is available for the CAP program. It can be used for contracted scrap and repairs, or some of the funds can be used to evaluate and support improved performance of licensed small business. The cars and funds are the same, but the results may be credit for 2,000 tons per day in pollution prevention credit in the State Implementation Plan, rather than our current credit of fewer than 400 tons per day.

    The governor and state Legislature would get the credit for improved performance. Performance improvements would be accomplished at a cost of less than $500.00 per ton. And program illusions would be reduced in 1 year.

    Charlie Peters is president of Clean Air Performance Professionals.

    CAPP contact: Charlie Peters (510) 537-1796 cappcharlie@earthlink.net

  • Charlie Peters

    Mary Nichols, CARB Chair, on AB32 global warming performance.

  • Charlie Peters







    THURSDAY, MARCH 25, 2010 9:00 A.M.

    (page 263 line 16)

    CHAIRPERSON NICHOLS: Thank you for that good advice.

    Does that conclude all of the presentations then at this point?

    Okay. Well, as I indicated earlier, there’s time to digest this and to talk about it. And I think we’ll have an opportunity to ask questions at the April 21st meeting that’s currently being scheduled.

    If there is anybody who feels that they absolutely must speak at this time on this issue – on this issue? I thought you wanted to talk about what you sent us earlier on public comment. You want to speak about the modeling? Okay.

    (snip) (page 272 line 4)

    CHAIRPERSON NICHOLS: Okay. Go ahead, Charlie.

    MR. PETERS: Thank you very much, Madam Chairwoman and


    Mary, I think you’re absolutely right that this is not specifically laid out in your presentation today.

    However, the Air Resources Board is very definitely involved in this with a press release out indicating huge amounts of fraud in the system of smog check. And we believe that this could make a very significant contribution to helping with your reductions in CO2 and the economics of the state of California.

    If my numbers have any validity at all, those kinds of reductions and the value of those reductions could also possibly be a very significant financial improvement and give you lots more flexibility to help address these issues.

    So I would petition the Committee, the Chair and the Committee, to give consideration to incorporating this in your deliberations and seeing if it matters at all.

    And would like very much to see some conversations about these possibilities of improving the performance and improving what we’re doing, because we think the public deserves much better than what we’ve been getting.

    CHAIRPERSON NICHOLS: Thank you. We agree with you about the need for a smog check improvement. I know we are working with — the Legislature is working on a bill to try to start us in that direction. So thank you. You’ve been very persistent over the years in your criticisms of the program, and now you’ve finally got some traction on some of it anyway. Good work. Okay. A number of other people have signed up. If any of you feel compelled to speak at this time, you may. Otherwise, we would welcome you back on April 21st.

    (Tiffany C. Kraft, CSR, RPR Certified Shorthand Reporter License Number 12277)


  • Charlie Peters

    Improving California’s Smog Check System

  • CharliePeters

    BP GMO fuel ffect the beef?

    A random ‘Smog Check’ inspection & repair ‘secret shopper’ audit, ethanol cap and elimination of dual fuel CAFE credit can cut California “Wallet Flushing” car tax over 50% in 2015. (Prevent Over 2000 tons per day of sulfur, PM, HC, O3, NOx, CO & CO2.) Improved performance of AB32 at reduced cost.

    Mary Nichols AB 32 opinion.


Amy Standen

Amy Standen (@amystanden) is co-host of #TheLeapPodcast (subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher!) and host of KQED and PBSDigital Studios' science video series, Deep Look.  Her science radio stories appear on KQED and NPR.

Email her at astanden@kqed.org

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