I've been seeing a steady stream of chatter that OH NO THE EPA IS GOING TO BAN TUNING CARS AND RACECARS WE GOTTA STOP THEM! As is the case with many controversies, there's a grain of truth here, but the people who are upset about it have blown shit wayyyyyyy the fuck out of proportion.
Long story short, in early 2020, the EPA issued a bunch of rules clarifications and other stuff in their guidance on enforcing the Clean Air Act, where they reiterated that it's illegal to remove emissions equipment from cars driven on public roads, and they also specifically said that race cars that aren't driven on public roads, but made from street cars, also need to keep their emissions equipment intact. Then they started fining tuning companies that sell stuff to facilitate the removal of emissions controls from cars, i.e. catless downpipes, EGR bypasses, diesel particulate filter removal kits, and the assorted ECU tunes that block the check engine light from turning on in response to codes from removal of emissions equipment (i.e. the dreaded P0420 code that says you've got no cat anymore).
Of course, because we are in the worst timeline, even though it's totally obvious that the EPA is only saying, 'go on modifying your cars gearheads, just leave the cats, EGRs and DPFs in place,' all the toxic-est fuckhead gearheads are screaming about the EPA wanting to outlaw modifying cars entirely, or ban internal combustion engines, and even though this uptick in EPA enforcement activity began while Trump was president, there is much carping that this is all Biden's fault.
SEMA has even gotten in on the fun, pushing what it calls the RPM Act, which basically says that actual race cars made from street cars can remove their emissions equipment, as long as they really are race cars and not driven on public roads. SEMA's words are:
The EPA has announced that enforcement against high performance parts—including superchargers, tuners, and exhaust systems—is a top priority.
This is bullshit. Here's a very long article from Motor Trend that goes into more detail than I will, but some highlights:
- The EPA is sick of performance parts manufacturers selling "race only" parts that remove emissions equipment and are installed on street-driven cars instead of race cars.
- The EPA has not "taken an enforcement action" against any individual vehicle owners who have proven their vehicles aren't driven on public roads.
- In the EPA's words, "The proposed rulemaking creates no new law or policy, and absolutely is not a statement of any change in direction of our enforcement efforts."
This is so, so stupid. The EPA isn't trying to kill car culture, or internal combustion engines, or even ban superchargers and exhausts. They're only saying to quit removing emissions controls from street-driven cars, and also to keep those emissions controls on non-street-driven race cars made from emissions-certified street cars.
The problem that the tuners and SEMA are claiming exists, doesn't. Their proposed RPM Act, if passed, would do fuck all to protect the average gearhead fucking around with their street-driven car, because it only applies to non-street-driven cars. The number of actual race cars made from production cars is tiny compared to the number of street driven cars with "race only" hop-up parts that remove emissions control equipment, and the RPM Act, by design, does nothing to protect the use of those "race only" parts on street cars.
Now, let me confess to a dirty little non-secret: on my last car, my 335xi, I ran a catless downpipe and an ECU tune that defeated the P0420 code. I'm not a saint! But I justified that action to myself because unlike the rear-wheel drive 335i, my awd 335xi had a couple of secondary cats in the midpipes that I thought would do a halfway decent job of cleaning up the exhaust, somewhat. Welp, that turned out to not be the case. That car could belch some smoke when it wanted.
But I've learned my lesson, and that's the first and last catless downpipe I'll ever be buying. I care about the environment and I don't want to drive a mass polluting car. My Civic Si can make plenty of power with the factory downpipe still in place, which I intend to keep, because even though there are aftermarket catted downpipes available for this car, the cats in them are tiny and I can't imagine they're especially effective at cleaning up the exhaust.
The fun toy cars I'm thinking about for down the road like say a Porsche 987/997 or BMW Z4M have aftermarket catted headers and midpipes available that do maintain effective pollution control. Look at these sexy aFe catted headers and midpipes for the BMW S54 motor:
Of course, not every aFe catted downpipe-like object is necessarily a home run. This is their downpipe for my Civic Si, and the cat is just too damn dinky for me to think it's effective.
This one little bitty cat would be the only cat on my Si, vs. the 4 bigger cats aFe leaves the Z4M with. Sure, my Si has a little 1.5 liter turbo 4 vs. a Z4M's 3.2 liter NA I6, but with Honda relying entirely on the downpipe cat to clean up the tailpipe, I'm not confident the aftermarket options will maintain enough of the factory cat's pollution-cleaning capability.
Sure, upgraded aftermarket exhaust parts that have cats in them aren't going to make as much power as completely removing the cats, but come on y'all, let's be responsible. If getting that last 10-15 hp out of a street driven car means turning that car into a mass polluter vs. keeping the tailpipe clean, just leave those extra horsies on the table. It's not worth the damage to the environment.
Where I'm less prepared to be a stickler is with ECU tuning. Sure, a tune that makes more power might make slightly more emissions, but if it's applied to a car that still has all of its physical emissions equipment in place, that car's tailpipe, relatively speaking, is still pretty clean. To me, this feels like a happy medium where even if the letter of the law is not being completely followed, its spirit largely is.
The aftermarket companies need to stop yelling nonsense that the EPA isn't actually doing. Spreading political bullshit that's not at all rooted in reality is not the right path. Buck up and start making more emissions-compliant parts. It is eminently doable.