NewsTrucking Regulation

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.


  1. ATTN CALIFORNIA CARB-I’ve parked my truck in direct spite to your BS and you will never see me in your state again. And of all things I was born in Bakersfield! ATTN EPA-you had no right to support CARB in CA court during the OOIDA suit! You must have never read the commerce clause of the constitution! I served my country one time in 1991-NEVER AGAIN-BITE ME!!

  2. 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 ?

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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

  8. 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.

Linda Baker, Senior Environment and Technology Reporter

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves senior reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes autonomous vehicles, the startup scene, clean trucking, and emissions regulations. Please send tips and story ideas to