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Roadside Test Carries No Citations : Spot Smog Check Program Rolls Into County

Times Staff Writer

When Jim Hale was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol on Sea World Drive Monday, he maintained a calm smile.

Rachel Edwards, Hale’s traveling companion, didn’t look quite so serene when she stepped out of the car, however. She offered hard and skeptical looks at the small group of men poking around under the hood of Hale’s car.

“We’ve been over a lot of gravel and dirt roads. I hope when they get through with it, it still runs,” Edwards said.

At 9:30 a.m., Hale, a Victorville resident on his way to visit the San Diego Zoo, became the first motorist in San Diego this year to have his car’s anti-smog controls checked by the California Air Resources Board.

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The random roadside tests are part of a statewide project to determine how well California’s Smog Check program is working after two years of operation.

The 20-minute checks will run for two weeks at various sites around the county before moving to other parts of the state, Air Resources Board information officer Fred Baumberger said. The California Highway Patrol and the state Bureau of Automotive Repair will assist with the tests, he said.

Motorists picked for the checks are directed to inspection lanes set up beside major streets, Baumberger said. Under-the-hood inspections of anti-smog controls and tailpipe readings of pollutants are conducted. On 1975 and newer models that are factory-equipped with catalytic converters, fuel samples are also taken and a second tailpipe test is made to determine if the vehicles have been illegally fueled with leaded gasoline, Baumberger said.

The motorist is given a checklist outlining the condition of his car’s pollution-control system, including a list of repairs that would have been required if the inspection had been made during registration renewal time, Baumberger said. Upon renewal, the state Smog Check program requires restoration or replacement of all anti-smog components that are tampered with or removed, he said.

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Tony Marquez, a board employee who was busy testing cars at the Sea World Drive checkpoint, said the tests are “semi-voluntary,” meaning motorists won’t be forced to take it if they have a good reason not to. He said that no citations will be issued for illegal engine modifications and that motorists will not be required to repair any faulty anti-smog system defects that are found.

Marquez also said that the program is “strictly data gathering” to assess the success of the Smog Check program and to help the board develop strategies to encourage people to comply with it. He said the Air Resources Board wants to evaluate how well auto mechanics are installing and repairing anti-smog controls.

Officials said they want to make sure that people are receiving fair treatment by auto mechanics, some of whom may have done a shoddy job of fixing or repairing pollution-control devices.

Marquez said he expected at least 400 cars to be tested at his site alone during the two-week period. The projected figure statewide is about 2,000, he said.

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Baumberger said that a similar test was conducted last year on about 1,500 cars statewide. In that inspection, 57% of the cars passed, he said. More than half of the cars that failed showed outright signs of tampering or illegal removal of pollution-control equipment, he said.


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