53640482 | Vitpho | Dreamstime
A truck enters an interstate in California, disappearing into the fog.

Onboard diagnostics critical to new California smog tests

Dec. 14, 2021
CARB will require twice-per-year emission inspections for heavy-duty trucks and buses by 2024. Fleets say properly functioning diagnostics will be key to passing these tests.

Fleets that operate in California and industry stakeholders there said compliance with brand-new state emissions monitoring regulations will come down to making sure the onboard diagnostics (OBD) systems on their trucks are functioning properly.

“It’s a technology issue,” said Alex Cherin, spokesman for Total Transportation Services (TTSI), an asset-based logistics provider with 175 trucks that runs coast-to-coast but has a large footprint in the Golden State. The largest part of TTSI’s business operates in Los Angeles and Long Beach around the container ports there, Cherin said. TTSI is regarded as a leader in sustainability in freight transportation in the state, so the company is “already ahead of the curve,” he said.

“Most of our fleet is already compliant, most of our trucks are already equipped with the software platform that can interface with the state regulatory agencies,” Cherin added. “The concern would be with some of the smaller fleets.”

See also: How fleets can improve DPF reliability

Most of TTSI’s trucks, especially in California, are model-year 2013 or newer. OBDs have been required on heavy-duty commercial vehicles in the state since 2013, but the standards announced on Dec. 9 are a move by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to ensure that those vehicles maintain consistent efficiency as they age, according to a CARB press release. The rules will require medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses to undergo twice-a-year emissions inspections.

And the new regulations do cover independent owner-operators, who were exempt from the current program of periodic inspections in California.

Smaller fleets and independent operators in the West aren’t pleased with the new rulemaking, both with the new rules themselves and how CARB came up with them, said Joe Rajkovacz, who is director of governmental affairs and communications for the Western States Trucking Association, which represents small-business trucking interests on the West Coast.

“We believed the regulation was wholly unnecessary,” Rajkovacz said in an email to FleetOwner. “This rulemaking, in essence, amounts to nothing more than a fishing expedition for data that will come with much higher cost than CARB wants to admit—especially for small businesses.”

CARB plans to enforce the rules by deploying a statewide network of sensors. Vehicles that fail those roadside checks must submit to follow-up tests. If they then fail those tests, the fleet could be subject to a citation. For model-year 2013 vehicles or newer with OBDs, the emissions data can be sent to the state automatically through the built-in or plug-in devices onboard these trucks, according to CARB. Older vehicles will need to have pollution-control devices visually inspected, and their exhaust will need to be checked by testers who have undergone training from the air resources board.

Rule covers 1 million vehicles operating in California

The rule establishes a $30 annual fee for heavy-duty vehicles operating in California. Fleets must submit their twice-per-year testing data no earlier than 2024, once CARB is ready to receive the results. The agency also directed a four-times-per-year testing frequency for trucks with onboard diagnostics to be phased in over time.

In his email to FleetOwner, Rajkovacz also complained about the $30 annual fee, including for trucks that originate out of state.

"Despite industry attempts to warn them off of this set fee for all trucks, whether based in California or outside the state, these types of fees have routinely been declared unconstitutional by the courts because in-state motor carriers get a greater benefit per mile than out of state [carriers].”

See also: Court removes trailers from GHG 2

The CARB regulations also affect lawn and garden equipment with small engines in California, which must meet zero-emission standards in three years, but the truck and bus “smog-check” rules cover about 1 million vehicles operating in the Golden State.

These vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 14,000 lb. make up 3% of all vehicles on the road in California, but CARB says they are responsible for more than 50% of nitrogen oxides and fine particle diesel pollution from all mobile sources there.

“This first-in-the-nation program will prevent trucks and buses from emitting unhealthy pollutants from their engines for the life of the vehicle,” CARB Chair Liane Randolph said. “This commonsense measure will provide the pollution reductions we urgently need to achieve federal air-quality standards and deliver cleaner air to impacted communities near ports, freeways, and warehouses.”

The new rule is projected to cut more than 680,000 tons of smog-forming gases and more than 6,000 tons of particulate pollution between 2023 and 2050—equivalent to removing half of the trucks on the road today, according to the CARB release to the media.

The goal is to catch trucks with malfunctioning pollution-control devices, such as diesel particulate filters. During field tests, CARB staff discovered that 11% to 17% of heavy-duty trucks with onboard diagnostics showed malfunctioning indicator lights, meaning their emissions controls might be faulty.

Rajkovacz also took issue with the CARB staff report on the percentage of trucks that showed trucks with MILs. “That was their claim in the board meeting of the violation rate, but then they couldn’t even back up the claim with the number of violation notices issued,” he said. “It really made it appear they were engaged in making their best guess as opposed to having rigorously (and scientifically) validated their claim as justification for a rule.”

The new program implements SB 210, authored in 2019 by California Sen. Connie Leyva, an ex-officio CARB member, directing the agency to develop and implement a comprehensive heavy-duty inspection and maintenance program to control emissions more effectively from non-gasoline on-road heavy-duty vehicles. “Just as passenger vehicles have already been doing for decades, it is long overdue that big diesel trucks undergo smog-check testing so that we can continue to clean our air and improve public health across California,” Leyva said in the CARB media release.

The new program will start with roadside sensors deployed in the San Joaquin Valley and South Coast and will expand statewide over time, according to CARB.

As with cars and light-duty trucks, registration of heavier vehicles will require passing the inspection. Unlike light-duty emissions checks, there will be no requirement for fleets to take their trucks to brick-and-mortar smog-check stations, thanks to the submission of data through built-in or plug-in devices.

For telematics users, an OBD inspection that draws emissions control performance data from the vehicle’s internal computer can be completed automatically without taking the vehicle out of operation. Older heavy-duty vehicles without onboard diagnostic systems would continue the current opacity testing requirements with an added visual testing component, twice each year.

“This is just one pillar in CARB's suite of low- and zero-emission rules that target medium- and heavy-duty vehicle emissions," said Erik Neandross, who is CEO of Long Beach-based Gladstein, Neandross & Associates, the clean transportation and energy consulting firm that organizes the Alternative Clean Transportation Expo.

"On one hand, the proposed Advanced Clean Fleets rule will push fleets into zero-emission technologies, while on the other hand, the HDV I/M rule targets pollution from the current fleet of combustion vehicles. Any business with a transportation footprint in California should to be paying attention, because responsibility for implementation and verification touches every aspect of the logistics supply chain, from motor carriers, to brokers, intermodal freight operators, and beyond. Over the next several years, we expect California compliance planning, investments, reporting, and record-keeping to become a significant factor in transportation."

About the Author

Scott Achelpohl | Managing Editor

I'm back to the trucking and transportation track of my career after some time away freelancing and working to cover the branches of the U.S. military, specifically the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Coast Guard. I'm a graduate of the University of Kansas and the William Allen White School of Journalism there with several years of experience inside and outside business-to-business journalism. I'm a wordsmith by nature, and I edit FleetOwner magazine and our website as well as report and write all kinds of news that affects trucking and transportation.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of FleetOwner, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations

Leveraging telematics to get the most from insurance

Fleet owners are quickly adopting telematics as part of their risk mitigation strategy. Here’s why.

Reliable EV Charging Solution for Last-Mile Delivery Fleets

Selecting the right EV charging infrastructure and the right partner to best solve your needs are critical. Learn which solution PepsiCo is choosing to power their fleet and help...

Overcoming Common Roadblocks Associated with Fleet Electrification at Scale

Fleets in the United States, are increasingly transitioning from internal combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles. While this shift presents challenges, there are strategies...

Report: The 2024 State of Heavy-Duty Repair

From capitalizing on the latest revenue trends to implementing strategic financial planning—this report serves as a roadmap for navigating the challenges and opportunities of ...