the smog nazis are coming for you!

California has begun implementing "enhanced" inspection and maintenance programs across its major cities to improve air quality, by cracking down on vehicles labeled as gross polluters. But before you ask, don't we already have a system in place that was designed to curb smog, called a smog check? Looks like the EPA no longer regards biennial smog checks as a reliable method to reduce tailpipe emissions—they're taking their fight to the streets.

If you live in L.A. and drive a car, chances are you will encounter a





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new breed of random police checkpoints—not the typical late-night sobriety/license checkpoints that force drunk drivers to breathe into a Breathalyzer. We're talking mandatory smog blockades designed to force suspect vehicles to exhale exhaust gasses into a machine that verifies its output of emissions.

These roadside emissions checkpoints are appearing all over California. Some locations may alter or slow traffic, as checkpoint personnel and police randomly direct vehicles to the roadside smog-check area. The first time I experienced a smog checkpoint, it caught me completely off guard. My initial reaction was, 'Why is there a DUI checkpoint in my neighborhood at 11 a.m.?' My confusion was quickly set straight when I witnessed one car being hooked up to portable dyno while two others were towed away on flatbeds.

Another scenario is commonly referred to as "ticket-by-photo" tests: Remote sensors use an infrared beam shot across the highway to measure and record the contents of cars' exhaust emissions as they pass-by, while a remote camera snaps a photo of a vehicle's plate if high emissions are detected, and the information is sent to the bureau of automotive repair (BAR). Within days, the vehicle's owner is issued a letter in the mail, asking them to participate in a voluntary vehicle repair program, or face possible consequences.

Today, in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, and the state of California's worst financial status in long-term memory (we're bankrupt), are these checkpoints and "ticket-by-photo" tests worth their undoubtedly high costs, just to catch a handful of polluters?

We may not agree with these testing procedures, but the truth is that cleaning up the air we breathe is a downright necessity. This isn't a massive conspiracy of a government that's "out to get" anyone with an aftermarket exhaust, or who enjoys tuning their car. What they really want is to combat black-market smog shops that hand out illegal paperwork, or folks (like many of us) who change parts just before and after scheduled smog checks. The easy out is just to keep your emissions equipment in place at all times while on the street. We've proven that in most cases, a high-flow catalytic converter won't cost your car any power, and can even improve torque (April, '09, "Fact or Fiction"). Even in high-hp street cars, the amount of power lost by installing a proper cat is a fraction of total output—and if that number is high to begin with, you won't even notice the change.

At any rate, unless we take the heat off ourselves, roadside horsepower checkpoints may very well be next.


SCOTT TSUNEISHI [email protected]

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