The trucking industry is turning to used, sometimes illegal, diesel particulate filters to shave the cost of an often expensive regulation.
California’s Air Resources Board fined a Chicago-based auto-parts dealer $294,000 in October for selling used filters, or DPFs, which are illegal in the state. That penalty follows a probe last year involving a repair shop in Fresno that was caught selling and installing illegal parts and sparked the ARB to investigate multiple other diesel repair shops in California’s Central Valley.
The Environmental Protection Agency began requiring new heavy-duty trucks to use DPFs in 2007. The filters can reduce particulate-matter emissions by as much as 90 percent.
A typical DPF installation costs $10,000 to $20,000 when purchased new. That’s one of the reasons why less costly used filters are becoming a problem for air regulators. Preowned filters often cost as little as $3,000 to $5,000, according to the Air Resources Board.
“We’re finding an increased number of fleets installing used DPFs,” said Heather Quiros, chief of the California ARB Diesel Programs Enforcement Branch.
California is the toughest state when it comes to regulating diesel emissions. Twenty years ago, the state identified diesel particulates as toxic air contaminants that can cause cancer and other health problems, and set in place various regulations to control them.
It is the only state that requires older heavy-duty diesel vehicles to install DPFs. Additionally, California law allows for heavy-duty vehicles traveling in the state to be tested for excessive smoke and emissions tampering at border crossings, weigh stations or randomly selected roadside locations.
But it isn’t alone. Like California, New Jersey, in an effort to “stop the soot,” also prohibits the removal or alteration of emissions control equipment. Last year, its Department of Environmental Protection issued an enforcement alert to notify heavy-duty vehicle owners, operators and repair facilities that violations of New Jersey’s anti-tampering law could be subject to a $30,000 fine. The New Jersey DEP issued notices of violation to three companies as a result, and two of them have agreed to remedy the violations.
The responsibility for certifying that new vehicles meet emissions standards is primarily on vehicle and equipment makers. However, individual states and municipalities often have their own regulations that require owners and operators maintain their vehicles to a certain standard and use inspections to verify they have done so.
While many states do not require any emissions testing, several require heavy-duty diesel trucks to undergo routine opacity checks that measure the amount of smoke coming from the vehicles. Poorly maintained vehicles often generate excessive smoke. Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey and Washington all have laws that test for visible smoke on heavy-duty diesel vehicles.
California, however, since April 2017 has been only state that prohibits the sale and installation of used DPFs, in part because “if it’s used, the condition of that filter will vary depending on how it was used,” Quiros said.
It’s simply too cost-prohibitive for the state to individually test each used DPF, Quiros said, so “you have no idea the condition of the filter – if it’s compatible with your engine.”
If it isn’t compatible, it could damage a truck’s engine, as well as increase air pollution. DPFs need to be matched to an engine’s duty cycle to work properly. And they also need to be properly maintained.
When properly taken care of, a DPF should last the a truck’s life span – up to 10 years, according to the EPA. But proper maintenance can be an issue, shortening a DPF’s life span and leading some truck owners to unauthorized, often shoddy, replacements that, while less expensive, may not work.
“If a deal seems too good to be true,” the ARB said in a statement, “it probably is.”