No funny Valentine: CA issuing fines for missing emission stickers

| 2/8/2008

A DOT officer stepped out from the crash lane and motioned Joseph Gomes to pull his 2000 Kenworth over alongside Interstate 805.

Gomes, an OOIDA member from Norfolk, VA, was preparing to head back east from San Diego on Jan. 17 when he was given a random inspection by DOT officers and enforcement officers from the California Air Resources Board.

Gomes and a buddy recently purchased the Kenworth at auction. The truck looked good and had a good price, Gomes thought, but a CARB officer found one flaw that only recently became an offense in the Golden State: the lack of what CARB refers to as an Emission Compliance Label.

CARB enforcement officers have recently begun issuing citations for a 2007-approved regulation on trucks without Emission Compliance labels or engine data plates. The labels typically are made of plastic or metal and are attached to the engine by the manufacturer at the time of production. Besides identifying the date and place the engines were built, the labels state that the engines met U.S. EPA and California emission requirements for the years they were manufactured.

Through Feb. 14, fines for missing labels can be as much as $800, but they can be completely dropped if the truck owner is able to obtain the missing label through the engine manufacturer within 45 days.

Beginning on Feb. 15, truck owners without the label will owe at least $300, regardless of whether they prove the truck met emission standards.

News of the label requirement surprised Gomes, who was making a rare trip to the West Coast.

“I’ve only been in this truck for a month,” Gomes told Land Line.

CARB officers had Gomes do a snap idle test, then watched the smoke coming out of his stack. Another officer dipped a tube into his diesel tank. Finally, they had Gomes pop his hood, where the worn label was missing.

The CARB officer pointed to a small spot near the water hose on the engine’s passenger side. The spot was worn, and the officer told Gomes it should have held an engine certification label verifying that the truck met U.S. EPA standards when it was manufactured.

Roy Lettieri, Gomes’ friend and the truck owner, received a letter in late January telling him he would be fined $800 if he didn’t obtain an Emission Control Label within 45 days.

The label requirement was adopted in early 2007, but California officials said they would allow a one-year non-penalty phase, a CARB spokesman told Land Line.

Karen Caesar, a CARB spokeswoman, confirmed to Land Line that the agency is enforcing the regulation and has been inspecting trucks for the labels since early 2007. From January through September 2007, in fact, CARB conducted 5,005 such inspections and found 1,465 violations.

Those truck owners were given 45 days to correct the label issue.

Cummins diesel engines are affixed with a metal label not much larger than a business card that is stamped with emissions data, part information and the VIN-like engine serial number, said Christy Nycz, a Cummins spokeswoman.

Truck owners with worn or missing data plates can contact their local Cummins distributor, Nycz told Land Line. The company will then walk through its engine verification process to ensure the label will include the correct information.

“We want to help out as much as we can,” Nycz said.

Nycz didn’t immediately know how quickly Cummins can replace an engine data plate, but said the price for obtaining engine data plates is set by individual distributors.

The engine company can provide truck owners with a letter showing the engine met EPA standards at the time of manufacture as well, Nycz said.

After Feb. 15, Caesar said, truckers whose rigs have no engine labels will pay a minimum $300 fine even if they later obtain an ECL and prove the truck is in compliance.

Gomes and Lettieri won’t have to contend with the $300 fine that would have been mandatory on Feb. 15, Caesar said.

CARB’s engine label requirement has caused OEM dealerships to brace for service calls from truckers with missing or worn engine labels, said Joe Suchecki, a spokesman for Chicago-based Engine Manufacturer’s Association.

Truckers who need an emission label should call their local dealer, who will in turn verify through the engine manufacturer whether the truck met emission standards the year it was built. The sticker can only be applied by “authorized dealers,” according to CARB’s rule.

“It is fairly difficult because not only do they have to bring it in, but the dealers have to do an inspection to make sure the engine hasn’t been changed or tampered with,” Suchecki told Land Line.

Kenworth Truck Co., the manufacturer of the type of truck Gomes was driving, hasn’t received many calls about California’s engine label requirement, a company spokesman relayed to Land Line on Wednesday.

Truckers driving through the Golden State’s southern end should be particularly aware of the new emission label requirement.

The officer told Gomes the new restriction was being enforced especially in southern California because of the heavy volume of older trucks coming over the Mexican border, Gomes said.

Gomes isn’t likely to be making many return trips to California anytime soon, he told Land Line. A tightening trucking economy and the increased emission rules make it unlikely he’ll make many stops in the Golden State.

“I don’t think I will be going that way again anyway,” Gomes said. “The rates are too cheap to come back.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer