What is CARB compliant?
For over five decades, the state of California has been the world leader in air quality pollution control. Today the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is tasked with controlling and managing air pollutants in the state. This applies mostly to emission levels of harmful gasses from internal combustion engines.
The effects of CARB regulations are far-reaching and it means that any engine that uses a combustible fuel (gas, diesel or propane) needs to be CARB certified. This a certificate that ensures that these engines comply with state regulations stipulating the levels of harmful gasses that are emitted from the exhaust systems of these engines. CARB also controls the quality of fuel that is sold in the state.
This means that any machine that uses an internal combustion engine (from cars to generators, lawnmowers, and chainsaws) needs to be certified as being CARB compliant before it can be sold or used in California. California was the first state to recognize the importance of air quality regulation measures and their history goes back a long way.
The first recorded incident of harmful air pollution in Los Angeles was in 1943. The city was engulfed in a heavy wave of smog and residents complained of many health disorders as a result. Blame was first attributed to industry, most notably a butadiene factory close to the city. However, after the factory was closed, the air pollution problem continued. As a result, the Los Angeles County Air Pollution District was formed. This was the first institution of its kind in the US. Their role was to identify and monitor the air pollution from industrial and power generation plants.
By the 1950s it was realized that motor vehicles were, in fact, the biggest cause of air pollution in the State. Research conducted by Caltech professor, Dr. Arie Hargen-Smit, deduced that Hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen, emitted from internal combustion engines were to blame for the excessive air pollution in California. This led to the formation of the Bureau of Air Sanitation (a division of the California Health Department). In 1966, California instituted the first tailpipe emission standards in the US.
In 1967, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) was established. Three years later the Federal Government instituted the Federal Clean Air Act that set the standard for emission regulations throughout the US. This act made provision for the autonomy of CARB, taking into account the unique climatic and topographic situation of California and its effect on the increased importance of air quality control in the state.
Through the decades that followed, California became the foremost authority on vehicle emission levels. Leading to several inventions and measures to control both the emission of harmful gasses from motor vehicles and toxic elements in the fuel that is used. Among these was the catalytic converter for exhaust systems and lead-free fuel.
Today CARB remains the most stringent of all air quality regulatory authorities in the US. All other states require that vehicles and equipment that use an internal combustion engine are EPA compliant. EPA compliance is a Federal certification applying to all internal combustion engines sold in the US. While EPA compliance is similar to CARB compliance, California has its own set of regulations. This means that if an engine is EPA compliant, it may be sold anywhere in the US, except California. In order to sell an engine-driven machine in California, it has to be CARB compliant.
Both EPA and CARB compliance have several tiers, with new regulations being introduced over the years. The most recent are tier III for both CARB and EPA compliance. The guidelines for compliance are complex and engine manufacturers need to adhere to a number of factors. The rules applying to either EPA or CARB compliance differs according to the type of engine and its intended use. For example, a road vehicle will have a different standard to an off-road vehicle and handheld engines (like chainsaws) will have another set of standards.
Engine manufacturers need to register with the relevant authorities and apply for certification in order to sell their products in the US and they’ll need to apply for CARB certification separately if they intend selling their product in California. This means that, even though an engine might meet all the criteria for CARB (or EPA) certification, they cannot sell their product in the area concerned unless they have received a certification from either EPA or CARB.