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Admission of emissions anxiety: A look at roadside testing, now and into the future

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Updated Aug 11, 2022

Several times a year it seems we hear of shop owners and even some truck owners who have been caught out of emissions compliance, whether gutting the hardware of the internal emissions-system components and/or reprograming the truck’s electronic control module with black-market tuning. The notion that puts these kinds of practices in demand is that a deleted emissions system will reduce the owner’s cost of maintenance and operation. We read the stories on social media, we hear the gossip related to the testing of truck exhaust for emissions. We complain of the overreach of regulations and government controls.

A small percentage of drivers threaten shutdowns in online forums, and the arguments between drivers end up taking centerstage -- while the original subject or solution seems to be lost in the discussion.

It all reminds me of a bygone but no less relevant era in trucking, when it was common to be pitched over the CB radio on this kind of logic: Retune your ECM, you’ll have 600-700 horsepower and more available. It takes just 15 minutes, you'll haul more miles, faster.

It always sounded like a recipe for some kind of disaster for the truck owner, in my mind.

[Related: Beware, engine tinkerers: Emissions tech, steep fines and increased enforcement put the brakes on illegal mods]   

Fast-forward to our current operating environment. We’re to the point that some locales outside California are actually testing exhaust at scale houses. I’m far from certain about just where this is happening in total, but in addition to the usual culprit out west, New Jersey has been cited by owners I’ve spoken with.

Owner-operator David Nihart hauls regularly to Jersey out of the Midwest and back. Perhaps surprisingly, his case was the very first time he had seen any such emissions test being conducted at the scale house near Carneys Point, New Jersey. Researching this, I received a message from another owner who lives in Maryland who was tested at this same location about a year ago. They also passed the testing.

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