What’s true and what’s false about California’s exhaust noise law

The automotive world gave a stir this month when some California motorists began getting fined for having an exhaust system that was too loud.

Rumors about the law and its effect on the sale of aftermarket exhausts worried some in the industry, but the Special Equipment Market Association — better known as SEMA — is working to assuage some of the concerns.

In a news release, the organization said the law concerning exhaust noise louder than 95 decibels was put into place in May of 1998, meaning it has been around for more than 20 years.

What changed recently was the passage of California Assembly Bill 1824. The bill, signed into law last year by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, requires police officers issue an immediate fine for a violation instead of a 30-day notice to correct the issue.

Some automotive blogs claimed the fines levied against violators have been in the $1,000 range. However, SEMA said the base fine for a first-time conviction is much lower: $25 with a total fee of $193.

Christian Robinson, who heads SEMA’s political action committee, said motorists have the right to fight the fine in court if they can prove the exhaust is under the 95-decibel mark.

“You still have due process under the law in California to demonstrate you’re in compliance with the law using an objective test,” he said Friday.

Motorists accused of violating the noise law can get a certificate of compliance from the SEMA-sponsored California Bureau of Automotive Repair that shows the exhaust is not louder than 95 decibels and use it to fight the fine in court. The exhaust test costs $108.

Additionally, the tweak to the law did not make it illegal to add aftermarket exhaust systems to vehicles.

“The sale and installation of an aftermarket exhaust system remains legal in California so long as it does not exceed a sound level of 95 decibels,” SEMA said in the release.

Note: This story has been revised. The original version said the ticket can be corrected and the fine avoided, which is untrue. Instead, motorists have the option to fight the fine in court.

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