California bill may exempt pre-1981 cars from smog testing

Car nuts in states which are not California may envy our perpetual sunshine and plentiful kyuusha stocks, but when it comes to our emissions laws they just point and laugh. Most states have a rolling cutoff for cars of a certain age that exempt them from smog testing, but the Republic of California has frozen that number at 1976.

That means all vehicles that year or newer must pass Cali’s notoriously picky tailpipe sniffers to be street legal, dooming many older, poorly maintained Japanese cars to the scrapheap. Thankfully, a bill has been introduced into the state senate that, if passed, will move the cutoff forward to 1981. 

This is great news for fans of the E70 Corolla, SA22c RX-7, Honda Civic and many more. However, the bill must first pass and luckily SEMA has put together a list of representatives you can contact to ensure this becomes law.

Please write to the members of the Transportation and Housing committee to encourage the passage of this bill. It help out your fellow enthusiasts in California, and keep more old Japanese cars on the road!

For details, see SEMA’s message below.

California Introduces Bill to Exempt pre-1981 Vehicles From Emissions Inspection Requirement

In 2004, legislation was enacted to repeal California’s rolling emissions-test exemption for vehicles 30 years old and older and replace it with a law requiring the lifetime testing of all 1976 and newer model-year vehicles. This year, a bill has been introduced in the California Senate (S.B. 1224) by Senator Doug LaMalfa ( ) to exempt all motor vehicles prior to the 1981 model year from the emissions inspection requirement.  The bill will be considered in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee on March 27, 2012.

We Urge You to Contact All Members of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee (Contact Info Below) Immediately To Request Their Support for S.B. 1224

  • S.B. 1224 recognizes the minimal impact of pre-1981 vehicles on emissions and air quality.
  • S.B. 1224 acknowledges that pre-1981 vehicles still constitute a minuscule portion of the overall vehicle population and are a poor source from which to look for emissions reduction.
  • S.B. 1224 endorses the fact that pre-1981 vehicles are overwhelmingly well-maintained and infrequently driven (a fraction of the miles each year as a new vehicle).
  • For years, legislators, regulators and stationary source polluters have felt the heat from failed efforts to meet air quality goals and have looked to older cars as a convenient scapegoat, using false data and inflated annual mileage assumptions to further their case.  S.B. 1224 helps validate the truth.  The old car hobby should not continue to carry the burden of past mistakes!

DON’T DELAY!  Please contact members of the California Senate Transportation and Housing Committee immediately to request their support of S.B. 1224.  Please e-mail a copy of your letter to Steve McDonald at  Also, please forward this Alert to your fellow car enthusiasts.  Urge them to join the SAN and help defend the hobby!  Thank you for your assistance.

Senate Transportation and Housing Committee

To e-mail all members of the Committee, copy and paste the email address block below:;;;;;

Senator Mark DeSaulnier (Chair)
Phone: (916) 651-4007

Senator Ted Gaines (Vice Chair)
Phone: (916) 651-4001

Senator Tom Harman
Phone: (916) 651-4035

Senator Christine Kehoe
Phone: (916) 651-4039

Senator Alan Lowenthal
Phone: (916) 651-4027

Senator Fran Pavley
Phone: (916) 651-4023

Senator Michael Rubio
Phone: (916) 651-4016

Senator Joe Simitian
Phone: (916) 651-4011

Senator Mark Wyland
Phone: (916) 651-4038


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37 Responses to California bill may exempt pre-1981 cars from smog testing

  1. Nigel says:

    Anything that keeps our old (and a bit “newer”) Japanese iron on the road is good.

  2. Jim B. says:

    I know politics are about compromise, but it would make more sense to make it a rolling cutoff at 30 years. Makes no sense to go through the trouble to pass this bill when it just moves the cutoff a small bit. Of course, I emailed all the legislators and voiced my support for AB1224 and made my suggestion also. Politics are personal, as I have a 85 RX-7 and am tired of the bi-yearly smog test hassle.

  3. Tyler says:

    What was wrong with the 30 year rule? Seems silly to freeze it, no matter if it’s 1976, 1980 or 1995.

  4. Micholas says:

    California is ran by a bunch of hippies.

  5. Chris says:

    I feel pretty lucky… WV doesn’t smog test at all.

  6. kevin truong says:

    I hope they pass this bill might as well move it up to 1990 or newer that would make tons of us car guys happy hehe

  7. Jorge says:

    That’s one reason i live in Oregon any car less than 25 years old would have to smog and if i were to have my ZX down there no way in hell i would pass smog a eliminated some of my non working smog equipment. Don’t get me wrong i love cali weather but the laws kill it for me.

  8. Oracles says:

    Thats number is 75 for California… 76 or newer have to pass smog

    • Michael Rogers says:

      Not JUST emissions but airtite gas cap, all the bits originally hooked on the car to control emissions, SB would insure what is needed to prevent emissions but doesn’t require how you get there! for <81 vehicle o whats the problem??

  9. bert says:

    I believe it’s 25 years old here in Washington. But it doesn’t matter anyway, with all our weird weather, we never get to drive the darn things!

  10. Tofuik says:

    My favorite thing about living in a small city in southern Louisiana, I have a straight pipe muffled only by a flowmaster, and no one cares 😀

  11. moominsean says:

    still better than phoenix which is set at 1967. supposedly a bill was signed to change that but it will take 2-5 years to implement. and then the DMV will still probably no know anything about it.

  12. vergilio lapuk says:

    This bill should NOT PASS because it makes more sense to breathe fresh, non-smogged air, than make these early 80s car run on the road and bring out a LOT of pullution!!!


      • anthony says:

        Amen to that. 20 yr floating exemption.then every1 is happy. Well should b. Mayb even the tree huggers will like it lol

    • Ken says:

      Really, Vergillo California does not allow me to install fuel injection on my 1978 you think they give a rats ass about pollution? No they don’t, If this is so why not just test tailpipe emissions on all cars? Mopeds and lawnmowers put out more emissions than my motorhome.

    • Marc Lawrence says:

      Dear Vergi, how can I say this without resorting to character ass ass ination. Please reread your letter. Then you can write a letter to yourself. In it u can admit you are shortsighted, without the requisite insight to make such sterling comments and generally using up alot of oxygen needed to fire my follys’ jet engine. Please move to Oregon.

    • Mike says:

      People who choose to drive these classic by choice usually take good care of them and are pretty sound auto’s. Myself I have a newer car I drive to work and most other places I go, my 76 VW bus is a once a week kind of car or drive to events. We are not trying to pollute Calif.

    • Tony Messina says:

      almost all of us with these old cars are driven them so rarely that the effect on air quality is nothing, Most of them are kept for sentimental reasons. I have a 1977 Fiat spider that I have had since 1978. It was the car my wife and I dated in. I also have a 1955 Oldsmobile that was my wife’s dad’s car. Each car is only drive a few hundred miles a year. If people stay home waxing and polishing them, that keeps them from driving other cars around needlessly. You have to look at the big picture.

  13. Rob says:

    Everybody in CA should write to the people above! Here is a snip of the letter I sent:

    I own a 1977 Honda Civic, CVCC. While not considered a “classic” like a Mustang or Porsche, it is a rarely seen car in southern California. This car is remarkable in that it doesn’t require a catalytic converter to meet emission regulation and was one of the first cars of the 70’s to be able to run on the unleaded gas of the day.

    Due to current regulations, this car is not emission exempt and requires being smogged just like every other car manufactured after 1976. My recent smog report indicated this car was running extremely clean and is competitive with most gasoline engines in modern cars.

    Since there are so few cars on the road from 1975-1980, we feel it is time to include cars of this era in a emission exempt status. After all, cars from the late 1970s, as a group, produce far less hydrocarbons and greenhouse gasses than most V8 powered muscle cars of the late 1960s and early 1970s. After all, if a Superbird or GTO with a large displacement engine running at high compression is exempt, shouldn’t the comparatively clean running cars of the late 1970’s be as well?

    I respectfully ask you to support S.B. 1224.

    Thank you for your support.

  14. OLDER car are not like todays obd0, obd1, obd2 vehicle that are easy to find emmisions parts new and used…. I have a 78 plymouth arrow/mitsubishi celeste and I cant find new or use emission parts for it, they are obsolete. = The car is 34yrs old, if you find a used catalytic converter that mounts on the side of the cylinder head its most likley no good!!!! But you can put one down stream= But the law states in California it must be 3 inches within the factory mounting position, on that vehicle its impossible, so what do we do get a visual exemption, what good does that do… With a visual exemption you are not required to test tail pipe emissions ???????? It would be only right to pass this law to exempt vehicles 30yrs and older… Also (most) vehicles were required to have catalytic converters in 1975 thats light duty trucks and passanger vehicles.. Up untill the early 80s all passanger vehicle Fed and Ca must have catalytic converters and some light duty trucks… Thats why 1975 was the cutoff date for smog exemption in California… Because 1975 was the first year of catalytic converters California law makers passed this law….. NOT all passanger vehicle were equipped with catalytic converters till the early 80s.. THEY SHOULD ONLY REQUIRE OBD0, OBD1, OBD2 AND THE NEXT OBD– FEEDBACK/CLOSELOOP/FUEL CONTROLL VEHICLE TO BE SMOGGED ONLY….

  15. Ethan Strok says:

    I have already sent off my letters in support of this. However I have a question which I am almost scared to ask: is that 1981 INCLUSIVE?
    I have an 81 accord that is in fairly mint shape and is still usable as a daily driver. Due to the finicky nature of the carburetor on this car (and the lack of the specialized equipment required to tune this carb properly) it is almost impossible to get my car to pass smog, no matter how much money I spend. I have fitted a new unapproved carb on it just to get it running again, and as far as I know this carb WILL allow it to pass the physical testing process…ergo it will actually test CLEANER with an unapproved carb on it.

    However, despite the fact that my new carb is approved in CA for use on everything from pretty much every Datsun of the 70’s to a friggin Opel Manta GT, I guess C.A.R.B. was never bribed ooops… I mean paid to test it on any Hondas, therefore I have no “Magic # sticker” and will fail the visual test. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE tell me this law will exempt 81’s!? I am not looking forward to trying to put all my smog gear back on, especially considering that it’s just a rats nest of vacuum tubes, ALL of which effect the operation of the carb, yet only about 3 of them actually have any effect on emissions.

  16. bob says:

    Um, good luck getting this by Pavley and Kehoe. I was excited about it too, but then I got to the list of people on the committee. Unless you can make the economic argument, this thing is doomed.

  17. Marc Lawrence says:

    Why not just exempt hobby cars in general? Or make it simpler yet. Any car that is driven 5k a year or less. If it is obvious that it is a gross polluter tow it and give the owner a couple hundred miles to sort it out. As many have said before, those damn hippies are ruining another of our few remaining bastions of Ugly Americanism. All you beer swilling, pot bellied greasy motorheads who throw thousands of dollars into the economy every year grab a six pack and write a letter or better yet buy a Pik n Pull franchise and u can have all the junk cars u need and be able to afford a Saab. I hear they are cheap this year..

  18. k.murphy says:

    california makes lots of money taxing the poeple any way they can. its not about the smog test its really all about the money jerry brown does not care because he has the pay check he wants to live on. all he wants is money,money,money. so people wake up and smell the roses. they need money for this and that so do you really think he cares about a smog test on cars no.

  19. curtis says:

    hey fellow car nuts I found a smog check loop hole ,check out california vehicle code section 259 it lets you register your car that is 35 years or older as a collector car, it just has to pass the gas cap & sniff test . Im going to make an appointment with referee soon ,I’ve already insured it as a collector car for 3000 mi. or less . I hope this helps

    • Matthew says:

      I hope you are right. I’m going this route. Please send more info if you can’t thank you thank you. I have a very clean 77 Volkswagen bus that doesn’t have an ERG so it won’t pass even though it runs great.

  20. Marlon says:

    I’m politically left, but I love my cars and pardon me, but it seems fucking stupid to have strict laws regarding cars over 30 years old.

  21. says:

    Its about time to move it up! I drive a 1976 and a 1978 classic beautifully restored cars
    Its art on wheels , its history , its what I call being a American in every Way!

    As cars start to go electric ETC. and solar ,energy efficient is the way to go we can with good conscience move smog testing up.

    with out any I impact on the environment . fact Cow ’emissions’ more damaging to planet than CO2 from cars .

  22. Getting a Chevrolet El Camino 1965 do I need to smog it every year? I hope not!!

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