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Are Turbos Legal in California?

Customizing vehicles all day long at StickerCity we often get questions about what customizations are and are not legal in California.  Maybe you are not interested in cosmetics and things like how to wrap your vehicle like a celebrity’s car. Maybe instead want to get a faster, and more powerful, vehicle through customizations.

If you are someone who is more concerned with your vehicle’s performance than appearance, you may have thought about turbochargers.

After you have decided if a turbo is right for you and your vehicle, you will have to determine if they are legal in your area. In California, the legality of turbos is complicated and depends on a few factors.

California’s Vehicle Code Section 27156

California takes environmental health very seriously and from this concern was born regulations to control pollutants produced by vehicles in 1966. These regulations have progressed throughout the years into what they are today.

The current law states in California’s Vehicle Code Section 27156 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”. Many turbochargers fall into this category and violates California’s “no-tampering” laws because they require modification to the original design of this system.

One of the common car customization myths people still believe is that there is no point in even looking into turbochargers because of the regulations that exist in California. Lucky for you, this is untrue and because there are several exceptions to these emission regulations. Some of these exceptions include parts that have EO numbers, vehicles that will only be used for off-road driving, and some older vehicles.

Executive Order Number

California Air Resources Board, also known as the CARB, provides EO numbers to aftermarket performance parts including turbos that meet the required specifications. If an EO number is stamped on the part, it is street legal in California.

If you are unsure if a number is an EO number or if a particular part has one at all, the best thing you can do is search fo

r it on California’s Air Resources Board’s Performance and Add-Ons Parts Look Up.

OEM Parts

If the turbo is an original manufacturer part, you should not find any trouble staying within the law. OEM parts do not have to be those that originally came with your vehicle when it rolled off the lot. Alternatively, they can be sold as upgrades to replace components that currently exist in your vehicle.

This option may be more advantageous than simply looking for parts with an EO number because original equipment manufacturer parts will not negatively impact your vehicle’s warranty while other options may. Not only will OEM parts allow you to keep your valuable warranty, but they will also pass California’s smog inspections.

Uncontrolled Vehicles

Uncontrolled vehicles are the name given to vehicles that California’s Vehicle Code Section 27156 does not apply to. For example, if your vehicle is used exclusively for off-road driving, they are not subjected to this legislation and you can choose any turbo you would like.

If the reason you are looking into turbos is because of competitions or racing, you are in luck.

Vehicles that are used for solely these purposes do not have to adhere to the same rules as general vehicles. Although other regulations may apply to race and competition cars, turbos do not need to have an executive order number.

Another instance where you may not have to worry about these regulations is when you have a vehicle that was manufactured before the regulation came out.

If your vehicle was manufactured before legislation regarding emissions was implemented, your vehicle will also be considered “uncontrolled” by the law, and aftermarket parts regulations and anti-tampering laws will not apply.

There are slightly different cut-off dates depending on where the vehicle was manufactured and certified. If your vehicle was manufactured in the United States, is California certified, and made before 1966, it is considered an uncontrolled vehicle. United States manufactured federally certified vehicles and foreign vehicles manufactured before 1968 are also exempt.

If you are still unsure if your vehicle would be an exception to the law or not, your best bet is to contact California’s Air Resources Board’s Aftermarket Parts Department. It is always better to be sure before you put the time and money into your vehicle only to have to remove it later on.

Buy Local

Looking for an executive order number can be a hassle and may require you to trust the seller which is not always possible. Getting an OEM part can severely limit your selection. The easiest way you can avoid getting a turbo that is not permitted in California while keeping your legwork to the minimum is to buy locally.

Since other states and countries do not have the same regulations that exist in California, other locations will sell parts that may not be allowed in your area and may not pass smog checks.

Local retailers, auto parts stores in your area, and dealerships should only sell aftermarket engine component upgrade parts that are legal and accepted by California’s Air Resources Board. Even though the convenience of ordering your turbo online may be tempting, it is best if you avoid purchasing from out of state and online retailers.

So, Are Turbos Legal in California?

As one of the best XPEL installers in the LA area, we often get asked about the legality of other types of vehicle customization such as turbos. The answer to if turbos are legal here in California is “sometimes”.

Many turbos are not approved under California’s Vehicle Code Section 27156 and can land you in trouble with the law since turbos are one of the illegal car modifications in Los Angeles, California. Luckily, there are many exceptions to the rule. Ensuring you have an EO number or get an OEM turbo, and buying locally are two ways in which to avoid a lot of hassle.

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