CARB hints at more rules, involvement in manufacturer warranties

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | Friday, October 31, 2014

The issue of trucks breaking down and requiring repairs isn’t new to professional truck drivers. Even minor maintenance can require hours and days of downtime that can sink a business.

One governmental body is diving deeper into trucking than it ever has before – and that body doesn’t like what it’s seeing from truck manufacturers.

Yes, truckers may have an unlikely ally in the fight for manufacturer warranties: the California Air Resources Board.

Staff members with the California Air Resources Board addressed the current state and future of trucking regulations in California at its monthly board meeting Oct. 25. For more than an hour, board members listened to a presentation that said CARB regulations are working, but more stringent emissions regulations would be forthcoming.

In addition, California may decide to add its own Greenhouse Gas Emission Regulation to the federal rule currently being promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Emissions aren’t adding up
In researching existing regulations, CARB staffers said truck rules currently on the books had significantly cut emissions from commercial trucks. CARB staff gave a presentation showing overall cancer risk had been reduced by 50 percent between 2005 and 2012 in California’s south coast region.

Though truck rules have been successful, CARB mentioned concerns voiced by truck owners in fall 2013 as impending California Truck and Bus Rule deadlines loomed. Truck owners criticized the rule’s reliance on diesel particulate filters, and mentioned roadside blazes and general unreliability as well as high installation costs of the devices. CARB eventually pushed enforcement deadlines back later into the year for the Truck and Bus Rule, also known as the Retrofit Rule, and added additional compliance time for small truck fleets.

Further digging, however, revealed truck maintenance and engine problems that far exceeded CARB expectations, said CARB Deputy Executive Officer Alberto Ayala.

CARB examined 1,000 trucks, as well as maintenance records and warranty repairs on the trucks.

“When you have one of those components not working as designed, that problem can be manifested as a ‘filter problem,’” Ayala said. “Really, to sum up from our staff’s perspective, what we are uncovering is an uncomfortably high number of warranty claims and issues with components and engines that really should be a lot more durable. That’s what we’re trying to point to here – that we really should be expecting a higher level of quality in terms of the products that are put on the market. And the reports that we’re looking at are not suggesting that we have that high level of quality.”

CARB Chairman Mary Nichols said the truck emissions regulations had achieved results, “but they haven’t done as much as we’d hoped for.”

“I don’t think staff is adding anything new here but they’re looking to expand their jurisdiction in this area to some degree,” Nichols said. “We need to expand legislation in this area, frankly.”

Legally, CARB has little recourse to go against manufacturers for engines and components that don’t hold up over time, Ayala said.

“That’s one of the key issues that we’re going to be working on,” Ayala said. “Again, statutorily, there is limited action we can take.”

To address complaints from truck owners about the effectiveness of diesel particulate filters, CARB staffer Kim Heroy-Rogalski said CARB found the filters themselves to be effective.

“While staff concluded that diesel particulate filters are generally working as designed, the vast majority of these problems appear to be due to other engine malfunctions that, when not addressed, affect filter performance and durability,” Heroy-Rogalski said. “Rather than being the source of the problems, it appears that diesel particulate filters are uncovering pre-existing engine issues. A small fraction of engine issues can even damage PM filters, thus reducing their effectiveness.”

Heroy-Rogalski said CARB staff looked at heavy-duty engine warranty claims data during the past 10 years and said data shows truck warranty claim rates are “much higher than they’d expect, and much higher than you’d typically see for light-duty vehicles.”

“In fact, for some recent model years, we’re seeing on average more than one warranty claim per engine,” Heroy-Rogalski said. “It’s also important to know that it’s common for the warranty period to run for only 100,000 miles, whereas it’s common for trucks to run for 800,000 miles or more.”

The air quality agency believes it has identified one solution that would help truck owners and lower emissions for trucks traveling in the Golden State.

“Extending warranty periods would facilitate more repairs and hold manufacturers responsible,” Heroy-Rogalski said. “That is one option for improving engine durability and emissions performance.”

CARB would need more statutory authority to “hold engine manufacturers more accountable for their product lines,” she said.

In addition to extending manufacturer warranties, CARB staff believe improving truck maintenance also will help keep engines and emissions systems running as they did when new. CARB staff is working with truck manufacturers and DPF retrofit installers in a preventive maintenance working group. The group aims to develop best practices for truck maintenance and disseminate the best practices to truck drivers.

In addition to longer warranties and more maintenance, CARB believes it can improve engine durability with stricter opacity standards used by its smoke inspections. 

Greenhouse Gas standards
CARB has been working with the U.S. EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as the federal government is developing new greenhouse gas emissions standards for new heavy-duty trucks, Heroy-Rogalski said.

EPA is expected to release a notice of proposed rulemaking in mid-2015. At that time, CARB staff will report back to the board.

EPA is moving quickly with its rule, and Chairman Nichols said CARB would “be actively at the table.”

“I think it’s fair to say that we’re concerned – and there are a couple of reasons to be concerned. One is the potential for a (federal) proposal that is not sufficiently ambitious, given the pressures that are already coming and will be coming from people who are going to be affected directly by the rule,” Nichols said.

Specifically, Nichols said California should eye its own new vehicle greenhouse gas regulation, which is more stringent than the upcoming EPA greenhouse gas rule.

“For the last several years we’ve been working very hard at trying to integrate our activities more and more with the federal government in order to save everybody the costs – transaction costs, multiple tests and so forth – and be on the same path,” Nichols said. “But this is one of those issues where it may be necessary for ARB to actually propose something that is beyond what the federal government is prepared to do.”

“It doesn’t make sense to let one of those rare opportunities go by, when you have the potential to shape what the technology is going to be like for literally decades to come in the future,” Nichols said.

As anyone who has ever popped the hood on a car or truck in the U.S. knows, new vehicles in the U.S. have been shaped by California’s emissions ideas for decades.

Don’t look for that to change.

“I think this is an area where board members are going to be hearing a lot in the weeks and months and would appreciate your input as well as your usual attention to making sure ARB is in a position to maintain a strong posture on this,” Nichols said.

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