The Facts about the new CARB Diesel Emission Rules and California Fire Engines

  • By Mike Britt, CFE Webmaster and SPAAMFAA Silver Trumpet Newsletter editor

  • There is a lot of information and misinformation going around about the new California Air Resources Board (CARB) diesel particulate emissions rules and how they apply to fire apparatus.

    For those who own diesel powered fire engines that are currently registered as Historic Vehicles (HV) in the state of California, the HV registration makes your truck exempt from the CARB rules and you have no worries. However, if you are the owner of a truck registered with a commercial license, you may have already received notice that you are required to comply with the new rules. For that reason, if your vehicle is not used for a profit-making business and it is 25 years old or more, you should spare no time getting it registered as a historic vehicle.

    Back in 2008, CARB adopted the statewide Truck and Bus rule, which became effective on January 1, 2011. The Truck and Bus rule requires owners to upgrade their rigs by installing diesel exhaust filters, beginning this year for owners of large fleets and by 2014 for small fleet owners. CARB has redefined the meaning of "fleet" to include owners of one rig, as part of the small fleet category. A "small fleet" is 1 to 3 trucks or buses. A large "fleet" is 4 or more trucks or buses. Small fleets have fewer restrictions and have until 2014 to comply. Large fleets must be in compliance by January 1, 2012. Then, by 2022, truck and bus owners will be required to replace most diesels that were manufactured before 2010.

    The new rules can be found in section 2025, in title 13, article 4.5, chapter 1, California Code of Regulations: "Regulation to Reduce Emissions of Diesel Particulate Matter, Oxides of Nitrogen and Other Criteria Pollutants, from In-Use Heavy-Duty Diesel-Fueled Vehicles"

  • CARB wants the improved filters because it claims that the Bus and Truck rule will reduce diesel emissions by 68 percent by 2014. However many truck owners do not believe CARB fully considered the economic impact of the new rules.

  • On February 11th of this year, the California Dump Truck Owners Association (CDTOA) filed a lawsuit against CARB, challenging the legality of the new rules. The lawsuit asserts that CARB's emissions regulations are unconstitutional because the costs of complying with CARB's Truck and Bus Regulation will drive the majority of dump truck owners out of business and cause "incalculable" damage to the construction industry, according to CDTOA, especially in the current depressed economy.

    In addition to trucks registered as historic vehicles, motor homes and pickups are also exempt from the CARB rules. And all current diesel Emergency vehicles, including in-service fire apparatus, are exempt from the new rules as well. However, once these vehicles are sold and no-longer owned by a fire department recognized by the state of California, they are subject to the rules if they are registered commercial. The seller is not required to make the upgrades, but only required to make the buyer aware of the need to comply.

    Recently, CFE and SPAAMFAA members have noticed many fire apparatus for sale at some California public auctions being restricted to "Dealer Dismantler Only," even though the rigs seem to be in good working order. Let me make it clear, there is absolutely nothing in the new CARB rules that restricts the sale of a non-compliant vehicle, fire engine or other type. All the rules state is once the vehicle no longer meets the exemption criteria, it must be made compliant.

    One possible explanation for the restricted sale is it is the decision of the auction company. In recent years, one big auction firm, with the initials KPA, has taken the unnecessary step of gutting all emergency vehicles of all lights and sirens - sometimes doing a hatchet job on the bodywork to do it. When I inquired why they were doing this, I was told it was for "liability" reasons. In other words, they just want to cover their rear-end area. But there is no law that requires this. It is up to the new owner of the vehicle to comply with the law, and the auction company cannot know ahead of time if the buyer will be a collector, a cash-strapped volunteer FD, or a dealer who resells to out of state and out of country FDs.

    But there is another possible reason we may be seeing more and more fire rigs being sold at auction as "dealer/dismantler only" and it also involves the California Air Resources Board.

    Effective March 10, 2011, there is a new grant program called the Carl Moyer Memorial Air Quality Standards Attainment Program (Carl Moyer Program) for fire apparatus projects. 

    This program provides state grant money through the CARB to fire departments for the purchase of new fire apparatus. But if a department takes the money, they have to DESTROY the old fire apparatus. It is much the same as the grants to school districts that require destruction of the old school buses (such as Crowns).

    The rules are complicated in that trades can be made, such if the "old" apparatus being replaced is given to a neighboring department, and they have an "older" apparatus, then the "older" apparatus can be destroyed instead of the "old" apparatus, but the bottom line is something has to be taken off the road and destroyed. And proof of this destruction must be supplied in the form of photos showing the engine block crushed, the body dismantled and the frame rails cut into pieces.

    So, if a fire engine that is at auction has a VIN hold on it and/or is restricted to DEALER/DISMANTLER only, it may be because the new fire apparatus that replaced it was purchased with funds from this program. And it may mean that fewer and fewer California fire rigs built during the 90s and 2000s will be around to be saved by collectors in the future.


  • California Air Resources Board (CARB) diesel programs website
  • CARB Truck and Bus Emissions law - link to full 74 page PDF
  • CARB Truck and Bus rule, 2-page PDF fact sheet
  • CARB Truck and Bus Regulation Small Fleet Provisions, 2-page PDF fact sheet
  • Carl Moyer Memorial Air Quality Standards Attainment Program, 8-page PDF
  • California Dump Truck Owners Association website