California emissions law brings “catch me if you can” era to a close

Fleets will not be able to register noncompliant trucks with the DMV.

Thanks to ramped up enforcement, California air quality regulators have reduced the number of state-registered heavy duty trucks that are out of compliance with diesel emissions laws from around 80,000 in 2017 to 50,000 today.

A new rule that goes into effect in 2020 is expected to rope in the final scofflaws. Starting in January, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will only register vehicles that comply with the diesel pollution requirements.

“When I’m out in the field, I’ve had many people come up to me and say: ‘I’ll do something when you catch me,’” said Bruce Tuter, manager of the compliance assistance and outreach section for the California Air Resources Board (CARB). “Well, now they’re going to get caught.”

Phasing in regulation

California’s Truck and Bus rule, the state’s key law regulating heavy duty diesel emissions, was adopted in 2008. The phased-in requirements mandated heavy trucks meet particulate matter filter requirements beginning January 1, 2012. Older heavier trucks had to be replaced starting January 1, 2015.

By January 1, 2023, nearly all trucks and buses will need to have 2010 model year engines or the equivalent.

Eighteen months ago the compliance rate for trucks registered in-state hovered around 70 percent, said Tuter. “That’s really not very good. We said: ‘we’re really not getting the health benefits.’ Our goal is to protect the health of the people in California.”

Aiming to boost the number of trucks meeting the guidelines, the agency in 2017 started to intensify enforcement, drilling down into DMV data to determine if a given vehicle was compliant. (About 420,000 heavy duty trucks are registered with the California DMV.)

If noncompliant truck owners didn’t respond within 30 days to a notice of violation, the agency placed a hold on the vehicle’s DMV registration.

“Right now, we’ve sent over 15,000 noncompliance notices that have impacted 30,000 trucks,” Tuter said. The agency has requested from the DMV over 15,000 registration holds, he said, and has sent 140,000 deadline notices in the past two years to those with upcoming compliance deadlines. 

Fines for violation run in the thousands of dollars.

The 2020 rule, part of a new gas and diesel tax package, takes existing enforcement practices one step further – by automating the registration hold.

“If you are not compliant with our regulation then you will not be issued a registration,” Tuter said. “It’s real this time. It’s going to happen.”

Industry representatives doubled down on that warning.

“There certainly has been an attitude of ‘catch me if you can,’ said Joe Rajkovacz, director of governmental affairs for the Western States Trucking Association. “This new law really nails that down, and there are segments of the industry that are going to be hit pretty hard.”

Most of the noncompliant vehicles are owned by small trucking businesses and not the large fleets, he said.

After filing and losing a lawsuit against the diesel pollution rule, WSTA has thrown its support behind the registration law, Rajkovacz said. “We do support organizationally the change because it will ultimately level the playing field with those who have made the investment. If I have to comply, everybody should comply.”

Industry to take a hit

That said, from a capacity standpoint, the law is going to have an impact, Rajkovacz said. He estimates the construction industry alone will lose 20 percent of its capacity once the rule takes effect next January.

“It’s going to take a hit, a dramatic hit.”

CARB’s financial incentives and outreach efforts are designed to raise awareness and help truckers with the cost of upgrading their equipment, Tuter said. The agency’s education blitz (unfolding in three languages, English, Spanish and Punjabi) runs the gamut from webinars and mailers to billboards and telephone hotlines.

The DMV regulation will not impact out-of-state trucks, Tuter said, but it will free up agency time to focus on noncompliant vehicles coming across the border. The agency is looking into electronic monitoring to ensure cross-border compliance.

Trucking companies (in California and out-of-state) that met earlier diesel emissions mandates are going to be hit with a “double whammy,” Tuter and Rajkovacz warned. By 2023, all trucks must be outfitted with a 2010 engine, so vehicles that retrofitted under earlier guidelines will have to upgrade once again.

Tuter estimates about 200,000 trucks registered with the California DMV will become noncompliant in 2023 as a result of the engine mandate.

The value of older trucks is declining precipitously, Rajkovacz warned. “They ought to be [upgrading] right now,” he said.

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Linda Baker, Staff Writer

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves staff reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes early-stage VC, freight-tech, mobility and West Coast emissions regulations.


  1. And this is why owner ops don’t enter Cali and why everything there cost a fortune. Rates reflect these engine requirements.
    Good luck California residents with even more future price hikes.

    1. The people in California should actually starve. I’ve never suggested that for anyone and all this law does is screw the little guy right into the ground. How long do your ocean-going ships idle while in the harbors for days on end?

      1. Come the end of they year all ships world-wide have to switch from bunker oil to low sulfur fuel. When they dock at LA/Long Beach or Oakland they shutdown engines and plug in to electric shore power.

  2. Another reason why business are moving out of California and into Texas!!!
    Thank your dumb democrats for driving out business and driving up the cost for all people!

    1. David, you are correct. The only problem is the people moving are bringing their progressive ideas with them. The same policies they voted for and are now running away from in California are the ones they hope to instill in Texas. I hope Texans are smart enough to see this but Austin is becoming as looney as Sacramento. Keep Texas Red!!!

      1. Cali people are now going to have to pay for illegals medical care….good luck California !
        When are you going to wake up ?

  3. This is great news for the dealerships and other repair facilities in CA. The maintenance costs and opportunity costs with CARB-compliant trucks only serves the shops/dealerships that are making a fortune. The shops are full due to the failure rate of emissions’ systems and they keep cranking up labor rates, further driving up their profits and eating away at the profits of everyone else (carriers, drivers/OOs, etc.). If CA and other states truly care about emissions, how about doing something real about traffic congestion? Vehicles of all types and sizes creeping along at 5 mph puffing out exhaust doesn’t help the pollution problem.

  4. We don’t need out of state OO’s that don’t want to comply. There are plenty of truckers that paid the price to upgrade to serve California’s needs. Clean air is a cost of doing business. In the long run Californians will out live those that continue to breath dirty air needlessly from legacy diesel engines. I am old enough to remember how bad the air in California was in the “good ole’ days” with just a fraction of the population that it has now.

    And yeah, we raised our rates to the shippers to cover the cost. That’s what Californians voted for a dozen years ago. They know they end up paying for cleaner transportation.

    They want it.

    1. You people won’t live any longer than anyone else does. Total bullshit. What happens to the particulates? Their burnt, turned into gasses.

    2. We all agree to breathe clean air,but there is no reliable technology to produce it from the engine….Truck manufactures prove it with KIT trucks production.

    3. It’s good U don’t have to breath the dirty air . Now, your hooked on the “progressive Kool aid” haha just a jab at my Cai boy. Retired trucker Mr. BILL said that. No disrespect meant. Well maybe sort of!!

    4. I disagree with what you say.
      I, unfortunately, was born and raised in Calif (74 years ago) and can well see the cesspool it has become.
      No matter how much CARB harasses commercial truck and private vehicles there will always be a smog problem.
      Carb can not harass other smog producing countries such as Mexico, China and Japan which export their smog to Calif via wind traveling from their countries into Calif and the rest of the USA, nor can Carb harass or charge mother nature for the weather systems worldwide which create the winds.
      Although there has been minor reductions to smog in that stink hole state it has cost the residents, in Calif and nationwide, billions of wasted dollars with very little improvements in living or health conditions.
      Burn that stupid state down or get the “big one” soon so that it will become ocean floor!!!!!!

      1. Funny thing… China invited CARB to go to China and help them with their dirty air quality. And, China has mandated 100% electric cars in the not too distant future. Even they realize the problem.

        Damn those Kommies!~

  5. If only CA would stop giving benefits to illegal aliens and use the Billions of dollars to help hard working OO’s who are already burdened with onerous regulations and taxes, make the conversion,c perhaps the percentage of compliant trucks would increase.

      1. CA Trucker… if indeed they did give money as you say… who’s money was it? Did California produce a good or service to make this money? No, they did not. Wake up CA Trucker. You are part of the problem.

        1. It came from Proposition 1B. $1 Billion dollars specifically for diesel upgrades. So Californians voted to fund a bond to help clean up diesel exhaust. They were willing to pay taxes for cleaner air. Not only trucks but off road equipment (diesel generators, bulldozers, etc.). It passed overwhelmingly.

          California has some of the worst air in the country. I applied for funding and got some (up to 50% of the price of the new trucks). Was it a ball-buster? Hell yeah but I struggled through it and now the trucks are paid off. Did I have trouble with the technology? Yup, in the beginning. Had to work through all the issues but now all my trucks are dialed in and work OK.

          Took a while but I raised my rates to cover the cost. Most carriers that haul in California have a “California compliance” surcharge specifically to cover the added expense and shippers as a rule don’t argue it. In fact, due to public pressure many big shippers only contract with carriers that are “green” including requiring carriers to use alternate fueled trucks.

          Look around you. I think 13 other states follow CARB guidelines. You can’t haul out of most large ports anywhere in the country without having cleaner emission trucks. If you haul anywhere with large populations and bad air quality the pressure to clean up emissions won’t be going away.
          So if you have the option to avoid hauling in to these areas, great. Run your older trucks as long as you can. If it makes sense for you to upgrade to cleaner make sure you are compensated fairly.
          One more thing to watch. When all truck manufacturers (not only North America but all over the world) start coming out with cleaner alternate forms of power with better economy they must see the hand writing on the wall.
          I don’t think the momentum is going to change.

          Something to chew on…

  6. Anyone looked at the sky in the LA basin still there guys the haze the bubble you thank keeps all the air out from Japan China and Volcano eruption and Mexico still flows in on the jet stream, this is nothing more than a money grab by government in Sacramento and A old movie star weigh lifter giving his friends a job. California Corporation with there own police force. That can’t even write tickets only volitions.

    1. Actually California’s first movie star turned governor (turned President) Ronald Reagan signed CARB in to law back in 1967. You can’t get much more conservative than Ronald Reagan can you? He saw smog trouble way back then…

  7. This issue is a microcosm of how far out of touch California is. The state is broke. The policies of those in Sacramento are a failure. It also shines a light on why those in government would never be successful in the private sector. They are among the most untalented people in our society, risking nothing but the taxpayers money on ventures. The audacity of an unelected bureaucrat saying that small trucking companies simply have to upgrade with new trucks. These mastermind elitists disgust me. They do not understand all of the issues facing the small business owner. Even if a small company could upgrade, these engines are not as reliable as the past technology engines, and the cost of operating them is much higher. Can we simply pass on these new costs to our customers? Not at all.
    I hope I live to see the day when California is brought to her knees and comes begging the rest of the country for assistance. I don’t think it is too far away. I refuse to do business within this state. If my view becomes the majority, the CARB will disappear quickly. There are really good people still in California, but their voices are the vast minority.
    Please California…. Secede!

    1. I agree with you 100%, but the only way this will happen is if the vast majority of us not only share your view, but act on it. Sadly, we seem to be our own worst enemy when it comes to things like that. And of course the mega carriers will never tell that Communist state to pound sand. Kudos to you for standing by your convictions!

  8. The people in California should actually starve. I’ve never suggested that for anyone and all this law does is screw the little guy right into the ground. How long do your ocean-going ships idle while in the harbors for days on end?

  9. When my contact is up with a California company I will not be renewing it. I purchased 5 trucks to run from Georgia to California. All 5 have been a huge problem with seemingly never ending emissions issues which cannot ever be resolved. The reliability of these trucks is always questionable.

    I want the Federal government to disentangle the EPA from the self-imposed regulations of California and the rest of the United States. This is where the problem lies.

  10. I have a 2003 pete 379 cat 550hp,when i installed a filter on it they told me i was good till 2023, now i fine out that its only good till the end of 2020, plan was to run till 2003 then retire,an do something else,their worse then the highway patrol

  11. The DEF system is highway robbery and is making it real hard for owner operators to make a living,the big companies don’t have to worry because they buy all new trucks with warranties and let them go when the warranties are about to expire thus letting the small o/o deal with the headache of used troublesome trucks😡
    Who is winning in this deal:Big Trucking Companies,Polititians,and Companies like Freightliner charging 1000’s of dollars to work on this useless DEF System!
    The government should give some king of credit to Owner Operators who buy these older truck or trucks with more than 450,000 which is when the majority of DEF systems start failing!

  12. the state wants clean air?
    the state is the worst violator from hydro hogs to to many state vehicles, take the bus, ride a bike, most government workers don’t really work? they dictate. Heat and cool buildings not up to current codes. these emission problems truckers had to cope with should of been tax credits. how much did they really loose in revenue, loss of time in a useless shop with no real mechanics and no parts..
    two friends of mine went bankrupt over poor service and lack of education at all levels. me i stay out of Ca.

  13. EMISSIONS? AIR QUALITY? 😂😂😂😂😂. What a JOKE. Run anywhere from south of the grapevine up to the OR. border & you can’t breathe as the farmers are always burning old trees n bushes and the sky is brownish orange *sneeze, sneeze* and they’re charging 3 arms n 4 legs in fees that go to CA. CLEAN AIR BS. & the CHP…. DEF is nothing more than an EXTRA lubricant as diesels ran forever until SUDDENLY ALL TRUCKS ARE NOW REQUIRED TO HAVE IT. The politicians who have stock in the oil companies are cleaning up getting richer n fatter. ALL BS.

  14. The only way Cali will have clean air is if they break off and fall in the ocean
    I haventbeen to Cali since 2017 when my truck was too old to enter bleh😝

  15. California is a joke , Im from the midwest and it is farming territory , do you think we would bow down t these communist demands ? No we would not. almost 98% of our trucks around here do NOT comply with that crap they are trying to push there , no wonder we have farmers here boycotting sending their product to communist ville . As for that “emissions regulations” last i heard the EPA was cracking down on the moron who got that DEF crap started because it is making the pollution worse in Commieville by putting ammonia in the air . I will agree with alot of these old school O/O why on earth would someone want to go to california in the first place ? can we sell them to japan or something ? maybe sell them back to mexico ?

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