Why Are Intakes Illegal in California? Understanding the State’s Emissions Regulations

Living in California is like a dream come true. From its sunny beaches to its bustling cities, this magnificent state has it all. But if you own a car here, then you probably know that certain modifications won’t pass the state’s safety or emissions requirements. One of the most popular modifications car enthusiasts love to make is installing an aftermarket intake, which sadly, is illegal in California.

If you’re into modifying your car’s performance, you already know that a cold air intake system is a great way to add some extra horsepower to your ride. Not only does it improve your car’s breathing, but it also enhances its sound. However, California has some of the strictest emissions laws in the country, and since aftermarket intakes don’t meet the state’s requirements, they’re illegal. But why is that?

The reason why intakes are illegal in California is that they allow more air than what the factory airbox is designed for, which, in turn, increases the amount of oxygen entering the engine. The additional oxygen can cause some engines to burn lean, which can lead to a boost in power but also emit more pollutants. Since California is known for its smog and air quality issues, it’s no surprise that authorities are keeping a close eye on emissions-producing mods like intakes.

California Air Resources Board (CARB)

California is notorious for having some of the strictest environmental regulations in the country, and for good reason. In 1967, California created the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to combat the growing air pollution problem in the state. Over the years, CARB has implemented numerous regulations to reduce emissions from various sources, including vehicles.

  • One of CARB’s biggest initiatives is the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program, which requires automakers to sell a certain amount of electric, fuel cell, or plug-in hybrid vehicles in the state. This program has led to the widespread availability of electric vehicles in California and has helped reduce emissions from transportation.
  • CARB also has strict emissions standards for vehicles sold in the state. The agency sets limits on the amount of pollutants that vehicles can emit, including nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter. These standards are often higher than federal standards, and manufacturers must meet them in order to sell their vehicles in California.
  • In addition to regulating emissions from vehicles, CARB also has regulations in place for other sources of pollution, such as power plants and industrial facilities. The agency works to ensure that businesses comply with these regulations and reduce their impact on the environment.

However, despite CARB’s efforts, air pollution remains a significant problem in California. That’s why the agency continues to develop and implement new regulations to reduce emissions and improve air quality for the state’s residents.

Year Milestone
1967 California Air Resources Board (CARB) is created
1990 California passes the nation’s first low-emission vehicle (LEV) standards
2002 CARB introduces the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program
2012 California adopts the Advanced Clean Cars program, which includes LEV III emissions standards, a ZEV mandate, and greenhouse gas (GHG) standards for vehicles

Overall, CARB plays a crucial role in protecting California’s air quality and reducing emissions from various sources. The agency’s efforts have led to significant progress in improving air quality, but there is still more work to be done to ensure that all Californians have access to clean, healthy air.

Emissions Standards

California has some of the most stringent emissions standards in the world, with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) leading the charge in reducing air pollution. In order to stay in compliance with these standards, many aftermarket intakes are illegal in California as they can increase emissions levels.

  • Intakes can lead to higher levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, which are a major contributor to smog and air pollution. CARB has set strict guidelines for NOx emissions, making it difficult for aftermarket intakes to meet these standards.
  • Intakes can also increase emissions of hydrocarbons (HC) and carbon monoxide (CO), which can be harmful to both the environment and human health. CARB has set limits on these emissions as well, contributing to the illegality of certain intakes.
  • Manufacturers of aftermarket intakes may claim that their products are “50-state legal”, but this is often not the case. CARB requires that aftermarket parts pass certain tests and receive approval before being sold in California, and many intakes simply do not meet these requirements.

It’s important to note that some intakes are legal in California, but they must meet CARB standards and be approved for use in specific vehicles. It’s always best to check with CARB or a reputable vendor before purchasing an aftermarket intake for your California-registered vehicle.

Below is a table showing the maximum allowable emissions levels for certain pollutants, as set by CARB:

Pollutant Maximum Allowable Emissions Level
Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) 0.07 g/mi
Hydrocarbons (HC) 0.075 g/mi
Carbon Monoxide (CO) 3.4 g/mi

As you can see, these levels are quite low, making it difficult for aftermarket intakes to meet CARB’s standards. While it may be tempting to install an intake for a performance boost, it’s important to consider the environmental and legal implications before doing so.

Environmental regulations

The state of California has implemented strict environmental regulations in an effort to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This has led to the banning of certain modifications that could negatively impact air pollution levels, including intakes on vehicles.

  • California’s Air Resources Board (ARB) regulates vehicle emissions and has determined that aftermarket intakes can increase emissions of harmful pollutants.
  • Intakes can also increase the amount of particulate matter released into the air, which can cause respiratory issues for people and harm the environment.
  • Additionally, modifying a vehicle with an illegal intake can result in fines and penalties, as well as potentially voiding the vehicle’s warranty.

The Impact of Intakes on the Environment

Intakes can have a significant impact on the environment as they alter the amount of air that reaches the vehicle’s engine, leading to changes in emissions. California has implemented regulations to control emissions and protect its environment, as a result.

As noted by the ARB, intakes can increase the amount of air pollutants released into the atmosphere, degrading air quality and harming human health. These pollutants can result in long-term health issues such as respiratory illnesses and cancer, contributing to the state’s public health and welfare burdens.

Rules and Regulations for Intakes in California

California regulates the modification of vehicles that affect the emission control system, such as intakes. Under the state’s anti-tampering laws, it is illegal to modify the emission control system of any vehicle, including its air intake system. The regulations also prohibit the sale and distribution of aftermarket intakes that do not meet CARB’s emissions requirements.

Consequences of illegal intakes in California
Fines and Penalties Individuals caught with illegal intakes could face fines up to several hundred dollars.
Vehicle Impoundment Law enforcement officers have the authority to impound a vehicle if they determine its modifications are illegal.
Voids Vehicle Warranty Modifying the engine system will void the warranty on the vehicle’s emission control system. In turn, any repairs or replacements required under warranty for affected parts would likely be at the vehicle owner’s expense.

Besides fines and regrettable damages to the vehicle, the illegal modification also has a long-term negative effect on California’s environment.

Air pollution

In California, the state’s strict laws regarding air pollution control make it illegal to modify your car’s engine in certain ways. One reason for this is the effect that car modifications can have on air pollution levels.

  • Intake modifications that increase airflow to the engine can result in higher emissions of nitrogen oxides, or NOx. These gases are a major contributor to smog formation, which can lead to respiratory problems in humans and damage to the environment.
  • Additionally, aftermarket intakes often replace the factory air filter with a less effective one, which can result in more particles and pollutants being released into the air.
  • California’s tough standards for air pollution are designed to protect public health and the environment, and modifying your car in ways that increase emissions goes against these goals.

The effects of car modifications on air pollution

There are several ways in which modifications to a car’s engine can affect air pollution levels, including:

  • Increased emissions of NOx and other pollutants
  • Reduced fuel efficiency, resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions
  • Increased particulate matter emissions, which can contribute to respiratory problems

California’s air pollution laws

California has some of the strictest air pollution standards in the country, with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) responsible for enforcing regulations that cover everything from cars to power plants. The state’s laws are designed to limit emissions of harmful pollutants and protect public health.

One example of this is the state’s requirement for vehicles to undergo regular emissions testing as part of the smog check program. The program is designed to identify cars that emit too much pollution and ensure they are repaired or retired from use.

The legal implications of modifying your car’s engine

Modifying your car’s engine in ways that increase emissions is generally illegal in California. This includes installing aftermarket intakes that increase airflow to the engine, as well as other modifications like removing the catalytic converter or tampering with the exhaust system.

Consequences of illegal engine modifications:
• Fines and penalties • Failed smog check
• Revoked registration • Impounding of your vehicle
• Increased insurance rates • Potential for criminal charges

It’s important to understand the rules and regulations surrounding car modifications in California, as violating them can lead to serious consequences. By keeping your car in compliance with state standards, you can help protect public health and the environment.

Vehicle emissions testing

California is known for having some of the strictest emissions regulations in the United States. In order to ensure compliance, the state requires all vehicles to undergo regular emissions testing. The goal of this testing is to measure the amount of pollutants emitted by a vehicle and ensure that it meets the state’s standards.

  • The first emissions testing program was implemented in California in 1966. At the time, smog was a major problem in the state, and the goal of the program was to reduce emissions and improve air quality.
  • California has since continued to lead the way in emissions regulations. In fact, the state’s standards are often used as a model for other states and even other countries.
  • Emissions testing in California is mandatory for most vehicles, including passenger cars, trucks, and SUVs. There are some exceptions for certain types of vehicles, such as those that are electric-powered.

One of the main reasons why intakes are illegal in California is because they can affect a vehicle’s emissions. Many aftermarket intakes are designed to improve a vehicle’s performance, but they can do so at the expense of increased emissions.

According to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), “aftermarket parts that modify the emissions control systems or engine performance of a vehicle are illegal for use on California roads, unless they’ve been certified by CARB.”

Model Year Smog Check Required?
1975 or newer Yes, every other year
6 or fewer model years old Exempt
7 or more model years old Exempt if purchased new and never failed
Pre-1975 Exempt

In order for an aftermarket intake to be legal for use in California, it would need to be CARB-certified. This certification process ensures that the part meets the state’s emissions standards and won’t negatively impact air quality. However, many aftermarket intakes are not CARB-certified, which means that they are not legal for use on California roads.

Overall, California’s strict emissions regulations are designed to improve air quality and reduce the negative impact of cars on the environment. While aftermarket parts like intakes can improve a vehicle’s performance, they can also increase emissions and negatively impact air quality. For this reason, it’s important for drivers in California to ensure that any modifications they make to their vehicles are legal and comply with the state’s emissions standards.

Impact on public health

One of the primary reasons why intakes are illegal in California is because of the potential impact on public health. The state’s strict emissions regulations are in place to protect the health and safety of its residents, and allowing intakes could lead to increased air pollution, which can have serious consequences.

When a car’s engine takes in more air than it needs, it can actually decrease the efficiency of the engine and increase the amount of harmful emissions it produces. This can lead to increased levels of smog and particulate matter in the air, which can exacerbate respiratory issues like asthma and other lung diseases. Additionally, high levels of air pollution have been linked to increased rates of heart disease and even cancer.

California has some of the highest air pollution levels in the country, and allowing intakes could worsen the situation. The state has made significant progress in reducing air pollution over the past few decades, and rolling back these regulations could undo that progress and put the health of millions of people at risk.

The dangers of aftermarket intakes

  • Aftermarket intakes are often poorly designed and can actually do more harm than good.
  • They can decrease the efficiency of the engine and increase emissions.
  • They may not have the same level of filtration as OEM parts, which can let in more dirt and debris that can damage the engine.

California’s strict emissions regulations

California has some of the strictest emissions regulations in the world, and for good reason. The state has a long history of air pollution, and those pollutants have been linked to a range of health issues. Regulations like the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) emissions standards are in place to protect the health and safety of Californians, and allowing intakes could undermine those efforts.

CARB regulates the emissions of all new passenger vehicles sold in California, and any aftermarket parts that affect emissions must be approved by the board. Aftermarket intakes are not approved by CARB, and installing them on a car can result in a fine of up to $5,000.

The bottom line

While aftermarket intakes may be popular among car enthusiasts, they are illegal in California for a reason. The potential impact on public health is too great to ignore, and allowing intakes could undo decades of progress in reducing air pollution. California’s strict emissions regulations are in place to protect the health and safety of its residents, and as such, intakes should not be installed on vehicles in the state.

Pros Cons
Increased engine sound Potential for decreased engine efficiency
Can give a slight power increase May not have the same level of filtration as OEM parts
Can result in a fine of up to $5,000 in California

While there may be some benefits to installing an aftermarket intake, the potential negative impact on engine performance and emissions, as well as the risks to public health and the potential for fines, make it a poor choice for California drivers.

Penalties and fines

One major reason why intakes are illegal in California is the severe penalties and fines that come with violating the state’s strict emissions laws. The penalties for violating the state’s emissions laws are designed to discourage individuals and companies from tampering with their vehicles’ emissions control systems in any way. The penalties for illegal intakes can include:

  • First offense fines ranging from $100 to $1,000
  • Subsequent offense fines ranging from $500 to $2,500
  • Compulsory smog check
  • Seizure of vehicle until it is brought into compliance with state emissions laws

As you can see, the penalties for violating California’s emissions laws are steep. Even a first-time offense can result in significant fines and inconvenience. Subsequent offenses result in even higher penalties and even the possibility of vehicle seizure, making it even more critical for individuals and companies to comply with state emissions laws and avoid illegal intakes.

FAQs: Why are Intakes Illegal in California?

1. What is an intake?

An intake is an aftermarket modification to a car’s engine. It is used to increase the flow of air to the engine and improve its performance.

2. Why are intakes illegal in California?

Intakes are illegal in California because they do not meet the state’s emissions standards. They can also affect the performance of the vehicle and cause it to fail a smog test.

3. Can I install an intake on my car in California?

No, it is illegal to install an intake on a car in California. Doing so can result in fines or even having your car impounded.

4. What happens if I get caught with an illegal intake?

If you get caught with an illegal intake, you may be fined and forced to remove the intake. You may also be required to have your car undergo a smog check.

5. Are intakes illegal in other states?

Intakes are not necessarily illegal in other states, but some states do have emissions standards that intakes may not meet.

6. Can I get a waiver for an illegal intake?

It is possible to get a waiver for an illegal intake, but they are typically only granted in certain circumstances, such as if the intake is needed for a disabled driver’s vehicle.

7. What can I do to improve my car’s performance legally in California?

You can purchase performance parts that are compliant with California’s emissions standards. It is important to research and ensure that any modifications you make to your vehicle meet the state’s regulations.


Thanks for reading our FAQs about why intakes are illegal in California. It is important to follow the state’s emissions standards to protect the environment and ensure that your vehicle is safe to drive. If you have any further questions or concerns, please visit our website or contact us. We hope to see you again soon!