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Are Any Cold Air Intakes Legal in California?

Cold air intakes can enhance the performance of a vehicle by a significant amount. Instead of drawing air from the hot engine bay like typically seen, a cold air intake pulls air from outside the engine bay where the air is cooler. Cold air is more dense than hot air, and because of this increased density, it carries more oxygen to later be combusted.

Figuring out if any cold air intakes are legal in California is similar to figuring out if turbos are legal in California. Before getting a cold air intake for your vehicle you will need to understand California’s laws, the California Air Resource Board, and Executive Numbers. The following is an overview of these topics:

California Law

The California Air Resource Board is the agency you will have to deal with when trying to get a cold air intake for your vehicle. The California Air Resource Board, also known as CARB, states that their mission is to “promote and protect public health, welfare, and ecological resources through the effective reduction of air pollutants while recognizing and considering effects on the economy”. They do this by creating, maintaining, and enforcing rules and programs to diminish air pollution and causes of air pollution.

To understand how to pass the emissions test with a modified car in California, you have to understand their anti-tampering law. Vehicle Code Section 27156, also known as the anti-tampering law, states that “no person shall install, sell, offer for sale, or advertise any device, apparatus, or mechanism for use with, or as part of, a required motor vehicle pollution control device or system that alters or modifies the original design or performance of the motor vehicle pollution control device or system”.

Unfortunately, cold air intakes apply to this law. The act of installing an aftermarket cold air intake on your vehicle is considered tampering with a smog-controlled engine and is against the law. This is only the case, though, if you do not have an Executive Order Number, or if it was not an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) part.

CARB-Issued Exemptions

Even though cold air intakes are generally considered illegal because of regulations like the anti-tampering law, there are exceptions to this rule. If the specific cold air intake has a California Air Resource Board issued exemption, these regulations do not apply to you. These exemptions are delegated through Executive Order Numbers. So long as the cold air intake you are considering has an Executive Order Number, or EO number, you will not have any problems with the law.

To be completely sure, you can utilize the California Air Resource Board’s Performance and Add-On Parts Look Up to see if a part is exempt from Vehicle Code Section 27156. You can search by the Executive Order number from a product description, by manufacturer, or by device. This look up tool is very useful for all aftermarket parts aside from catalytic converters.

Another way to know that you are not violating Vehicle Code Section 27156 is if the part is an OEM part (Original Equipment Manufacturer). It may not really be possible to find a cold air intake on a vehicle right off the lot, but it is something to keep in mind. This exception also applies if the part is an OEM upgrade that replaces an existing component on your vehicle.

Spectre Performance Cold Air Intakes

One example of a cold air intake that has an CARB-Issued exemption is Spectre Performance Cold Air Intake. This cold air intake is great at adding a bit of horsepower and torque to your vehicle, and best of all, it is legal in the State of California. They come either as polished aluminum or powder coated cast aluminum, and the air filter comes in red, blue, and black so that it looks good while improving your vehicle’s performance.

This part is quick and easy to install, with detailed instructions. They are constructed so that they bolt on directly where the stock intake system originally was. Installation should only require standard hand tools, but if you are uncomfortable, you can always have a shop that you trust install it for you. This is a good idea to prevent warranty claims from being denied as well.

Spectre Performance Cold Air Intake’s Executive Order Number is EO # – D-639-14. In this Executive Order, the State of California Air Resource Board stated that they found that Spectre Performance Cold Air Intakes do not “reduce the effectiveness of the applicable vehicle pollution control system and therefore are exempt from the prohibition of Section 27156 of the Vehicle Code”. This applies to some Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles including Dodge Magnum, Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger, Dodge Ram 3500, Jeep Wrangler, and Jeep Grand Cherokee, among others.

This Executive Order covers the entire Spectre Performance Cold Air Intake Kit, including open-element reusable air filters in all of the available colors, the air intake tubing, and the assorted brackets and hardware needed for installation. An option like this will not cause you any troubles when it comes to meeting emissions standards and not violating any environmental regulations or tampering laws.

Wrapping Up

The question of if you can legally purchase and install a cold air intake on your vehicle is very closely related to if tuning is illegal in California. The State of California is very serious about protecting the public and the remaining ecological resources and one of the ways they do this is by instating strict automobile emission laws.

Anti-tampering laws utilized to prevent people from reducing the efficiency of emissions-controlled engines can make installing a cold air intake legally difficult. The first thing you should do if you live in California and want a cold air intake is to check for an Executive Order Number. If that particular cold air intake has an EO number, then it is legal and there will be no troubles.

One such legal cold air intake is the Spectre Performance Cold Air Intake Kit, which is CARB compliant throughout California. If this kit is not what you are looking for, or it is not approved for your vehicle, try using CARB’s Performance and Add-On Parts Look Up or talk to your local parts seller. 

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