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Cars and Trucks and Things That Go…Put the Brakes on Traffic-Related Pollution Exposure at Schools

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attend school near major roads appear to be more at risk for a variety of short- and long-term health effects, including asthma, reduced lung function, impaired lung development in children, and cardiovascular effects in adults. For example, a study by researchers at the University of Southern California found that children who live within 500 meters (that’s about one-third of a mile) from a freeway incur substantial and long-lasting deficits in lung development and function compared to children living at least 1500 meters (a little under 1 mile) from a freeway. Since motor vehicles are responsible for more than half of the smog and global warming pollution in California, the vehicle you buy directly impacts air quality, you may start wondering, “Where is a station for smog check near me?

Yet nearly 17,000 of our country’s schools are located within steps of a heavily-traveled road, potentially exposing more than 6 million children to traffic-related pollution at a time when their developing lungs are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution.  Because one in ten children in the U.S. suffer from asthma, that number includes many kids who may already be struggling to breathe. What’s more, low-income and minority children are disproportionately impacted by asthma and are more likely to live and attend school near major roadways. Many communities are also facing difficult decisions about where to put new schools to serve a growing student population and how to design those schools to maintain a healthy learning and teaching environment. As a vehicle driver, have you ever found yourself asking: “where is the closest station for smog check near me?”

To help schools, parents, and communities reduce students’ exposure to traffic-related air pollution, EPA has just released a new resource: Best Practices for Reducing Near-Road Pollution Exposure at Schools. In this document, best practice solutions that schools across the country are employing to reduce kids’ exposure to traffic-related air pollution are described. This “Best Practices” document summarizes several strategies that can be used to reduce exposures including ventilation, filtration, voluntary building occupant actions, school transportation policies, school siting and site layout decisions, and the use of sound walls and vegetative barriers. The document also contains a school ventilation checklist and links to additional resources for achieving clean, green and healthy school environments, after becoming aware of the dangerous effects of smog, you may be asking yourself: “where is a station for smog check near me?

EPA and our partners have had tremendous success cleaning the air over the past 45 years, cutting air pollution by 70% while our nation’s economy tripled. That’s good news for our children; research published this year found that the improving air quality in Southern California over the past 20 years has led to healthier lungs for children in the region. But we still have work to do. While vehicle emissions have decreased over the past several decades due to EPA’s emission standards, schools may still be located in areas where air pollution levels are elevated.  We hope that this new resource will help schools and parents across the country find ways to reduce exposure to traffic-related air pollution at schools.

February 16, 2016 |

Emissions test as a measure of combustion efficiency

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Often emissions test for CO+CO2 as a measure of combustion efficiency. An ideal burning of a hydrocarbon would only release water vapor and carbon dioxide. Unfortunately engines are far from ideal, and the real chemistry of combustion is very complicated as a result. The pollutants in exhaust are what we call the byproducts of combustion.
Bad fuel air ratios that cause noxious emissions are caused by the engine operating outside of its ideal rpm range. Engines have only one speed at which they produce the best ratio of power output to low emissions. Thus STAR smog check station is ready for cooperation and assistance.

Unfortunately to work with transmissions for variable vehicle speed and power output variation, engines must operate over a wide range of speeds from idle to redline.
Incomplete combustion also causes particulate matter and VOC/ HC to form. These dust/ soot/ vapors are extremely toxic: they are the parts that give some of the color and most of the nasty smell to vehicles exhaust and smog.
Toxic vehicle emissions are especially notable in older vehicles with inefficient engines, but you can smell them in the exhaust of newer vehicles too; they are most pungent when the engine is cold and first starting up after having cooled off completely. Warm engines burn more cleanly than cold engines. Using a block heater for example to preheat the engine can dramatically reduce cold start emissions, especially in very cold climates. STAR smog check station, equipped with the latest testing devices, are ready to check your vehicle

At idle an engine produces excess VOC/ HC because the engine cannot burn its fuel completely at low speeds. These emissions react with sunlight (photo-chemical smog) forming hundreds of compounds in smog, and contributing greatly to ground level or tropospheric “bad” Ozone.
Traffic congestions that causes stop and go traffic results in a lot of engine idling, and thus increases the amount of HC/ VOC in the air hanging around the traffic corridor. You can see and smell the plumes of smog forming over interstate 5 in California when stop and go traffic is combined with low wind conditions and warm temperatures. You can almost always “Smell” stop and go traffic congestion.
SOX’s, NOX’s, CO and VOC’s / HC’s in vehicle emissions are the chemicals responsible for smog formation. All engines that “burn” a fuel release smog forming emissions.
Vehicles that burn oil or petroleum products and distillates (gasoline, diesel, natural gas, propane or another hydrocarbon) all suffer from incomplete and non-ideal combustion that produces nasty smelly and toxic smog forming emissions.  Have you ever asked yourself: “where is the closest station for STAR smog check station?”

February 14, 2016 |

The latest technology in emission control

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A wide range of different technologies are employed to reduce smog forming emissions. Catalytic converters for example use the waste heat in the exhaust to energize a ceramic/ metal “sponge” of catalysts metals that break down many of the toxic emissions into their non-toxic constituent chemical parts, facilitating post combustion reaction completion and chemical reduction of noxious emissions species like NOX, CO, VOC and SOX. In this regard STAR stations are ready for help and assistance.

The US Clean Air act was pivotal for the development of emissions reduction technology. Robust scientific and technological development in emissions control systems resulted from government policies derived from the clean air act “pushing” industry to clean up. Public policy can be a major source of inspiration for the private sector. Public policy that rewards “positive” business practices tends to be far more effective than public policy that punishes “bad” business practices. Automakers were given all sorts of positive incentives to develop effective and durable emissions controls technologies, and they did. Modern cars are at least two orders of magnitude cleaner than the carbureted gas guzzlers of 50 years ago.  At STAR stations you can even upgrade and bring up to date your older cars to the standard accepted by the law.

Sadly much of the innovation gained in engine design was applied to making engines more powerful, rather than making them more fuel efficient. A 2.4L 4 cylinder engine from a 2012 vehicle makes as much power and torque as a 4.0L engine from the early 1990’s: while releasing dramatically less smog forming emissions. Despite impressive refinements of engine design, most vehicles still only achieve poor fuel economy (around 23MPG real world). This is partially due to the fact that vehicles are much larger today than they were in the past. As the American people have become larger, so have our vehicles. So the innovations in engine design have been “eaten” up by making smaller more powerful motors that pull larger vehicles: while the fuel economy remains relatively unchanged. In engineering you cannot get something for nothing, and all of the rewards gained in engine innovation were applied to increasing power output, durability, and cleaner emissions in smaller engines.

Modern vehicle emission control systems combine catalyst technology with vapor recovery, advanced engine control, precise fuel control, variable valve control, air injection, and re-circulation technology.
Technologies that rapidly heat up the engine help to reduce cold start emissions (some of the worst). Particulate filtering technology is applied to modern “clean” diesel vehicles. Variable valve timing, direct injection, displacement reduction combined with turbo-charging: there are a number of technologies and methods that automakers are using to improve fuel economy while also reducing emissions. But if you cannot afford to keep up with the changing trend of auto-modernization, you can benefit from the services provided by STAR stations, since they are equipped with the latest testing devices and therefore ready to assist you in upgrading your vehicle.

February 12, 2016 |

What do you know about the smog that comes out of your vehicle tailpipe?

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Someone else does!
We have all driven behind an old vehicle (or diesel truck) that gives off a lot of “smell” and soot/ fumes…. and you do not want to breath those smells either, they are toxic!
Fortunately vehicles do not last forever, and the vehicles that replace old ones are almost always much cleaner (in terms of their operating emissions). That said, even the cleanest vehicles emit something dirty and toxic… tire dust for example is released by fuel cell and electric vehicles the same way that tire dust is released by conventional vehicles. Smog brings to mind places like Mexico City, Beijing China, and Los Angeles California. Smog is a soup of funky toxic chemicals suspended in the air. Soot from diesel engines and coal power plants, that fine particulate matter that causes asthma, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder; known as PM, it is a major component of urban smog. Have you ever found yourself asking: “where is the closest station for smog check near me?”

PM

Particulate Matter, the fine dust/ soot released from the incomplete combustion of fuels / the dark funk you see emitted from diesel trucks and buses and older diesel passenger cars. Due to the health effects of particulate matter, various governments have created regulations both for the emissions allowed from certain types of pollution sources (motor vehicles, and for the ambient concentration of particulates. Many urban areas in the U.S. and Europe still frequently violate the particulate standards because of the over-use of private and commercial vehicles. You may start wondering again, “where is that station for smog check near me?

Irritating ground level ozone that disturbs the mucus membranes in our eyes, mouths and lungs. It forms when VOC and HC emissions (fuel vapor fumes) bake in the sunlight, where the UV energizes chemical reactions that form Ozone.

VOC’s from fuel that exits tailpipes un-burned (incomplete combustion). People literally huff on fuel vapors to get high breathing in VOC’s. Sadly, we are all exposed to persistent low levels of these same chemicals from traffic corridors. Un-burned gasoline vapors exit the exhaust of a vehicle as HC or hydro-carbon, a regulated air pollutant. We all breath these fumes, some of us more than others, and it is the daily low level exposure over long periods of time that causes the negative health problems associated with breathing in transportation emissions or smog. After becoming aware of this dangerous effect, you may be asking yourself: “where is a station for smog check near me?”

February 10, 2016 |

Roadside Inspection Program

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The Roadside Inspection Program was established by the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) pursuant to Health and Safety Code section 44081 which requires BAR, with the assistance of the California Highway Patrol, to inspect the emissions of vehicles while actually being driven on California roadways. In this regard STAR smog check station is ready for cooperation and assistance.

Why are roadside surveys necessary?
The data collected from roadside surveys provides an overview of the emissions emitted by vehicles driven on California’s roads to help ensure the State is meeting federal standards for reducing ozone-forming pollution generated by motor vehicles. The data also provides useful information to evaluate and improve the performance of the Smog Check Program. STAR smog check stations, equipped with the latest testing devices, are ready to check your vehicle.

Where are roadside surveys performed?

The surveys are performed in the areas of the state with the poorest air quality, including the Central Valley, the San Francisco Bay area, the greater Los Angeles area, Inland Empire, and San Diego area. BAR randomly selects ZIP codes in these areas and then identifies suitable sites where it can safely conduct the surveys.

Who performs the roadside surveys?
Roadside surveys are performed by BAR staff. Each team generally consists of three or four individuals, all of whom are ASE certified automotive technicians.

How are the roadside surveys performed?
Vehicles selected for testing are stopped by an officer of the California Highway Patrol. The consumer is greeted by a BAR representative who provides them with information about the survey’s purpose and answers any question they may have. The survey is performed in a manner similar to a Smog Check inspection and usually takes less than 10 minutes to meet  these conditions for your vehicle, STAR smog check station is ready to check and adjust your vehicle’s engine.

How do these surveys affect consumers?
Participation in the survey is voluntary. There are no consequences to consumers, regardless of their vehicle’s emission control equipment or its emission levels. At the conclusion of the inspection, the participants receive a Vehicle Inspection Report (VIR) detailing the results of the test.

Does the survey take the place of a required Smog Check inspection?
No. The VIR may not be substituted for a vehicle’s official Smog Check inspection report. However, the VIR does provide important information about the vehicle. BAR staff will also alert participants to any mechanical issues that are observed while conducting the inspection.

February 8, 2016 |

Challenges for taking your vehicle to STAR stations

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Passing the smog test isn’t as hard as it seems: just because you own a vehicle from the 70s doesn’t mean that it will pollute so much by comparison to a new model vehicle that you won’t be able to register it. Tailpipe emissions are graded on a sliding scale that depend on model year and vehicle type. This is good news, if not for the air but for your wallet and your love for these old vehicles. You can take your vehicle to STAR stations.

If you live in California, you most likely live in several STAR stations testing areas but many other states implement or are in the process of implementing similar testing requirements that mimic if not duplicate CA exactly. Some people pass on the first attempt while others take several attempts. Some people give up and sell their bus in frustration. Overcoming the red tape is a great feeling of victory and relief but the process can often test your will.

The biggest challenge for any owner is figuring out if a newly purchased bus is in a condition to pass. Because of all of the tampering by the mechanics and POs over the years the bus may have no chance in its current condition yet be close to passing given the appropriate attention. The key is to inform yourself about the process before you go for your test to STAR stations and that’s the goal of this article. Some states like CA, forbid vehicle title transfers without a recent smog test but quite often the purchase takes place before the paperwork is complete.

What to do when things go wrong is confusing, so I’ve tried to compile all of the detail from my own experience and from others. Being prepared for your test is half the battle. Most of what I’ve written is universally applicable but the details are CA specific so if you live in another state be sure you understand the local rules and regulations.

In August 2005, Oregon and Washington announced that they were going to adopt the California emission standards (the strictest in the country) in a few years. Even Texas is starting to smog vehicles in the metropolitan areas. Some states, like Arizona have exemptions but require you to register your vehicle as “collector” and limit the mileage you can drive.

February 6, 2016 |

What exactly is the sniffer measuring?

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Most people use a car to commute, and you may have had to deal with your vehicle’s smog check, and your own respiratory problems, possibly related to vehicle smog. Have you ever found yourself asking: “where is the closest station for smog check near me?”

HCs are essentially unburned fuel. When you hear about octane it’s often a reference to the anti-knock index at the pump (87 etc) but it is also a reference to the chemical composition of fuel, part of which is made from C8H18 (eight carbon atoms and 18 hydrogen atoms; hence octane). HC is measured in parts per million (ppm) by the sniffer.

When fuel (HC) and air (O2 + N2) are combusted the ideal product would be energy and water vapor (H20). Because the combustion process is imperfect, CO is one of the byproducts produced. CO is measured as a percentage of the exhaust gas. It is a colorless odorless gas and if you breathe it, it will combine with the hemoglobin in your blood and make you sick or kill you in larger doses. Running your engine in the garage is a great way to pass out and possibly die. After becoming aware of this dangerous effect, you may be asking yourself: “where is a station for smog check near me?”

CO is also used as an indicator of fuel mixture ratio. An ideal percentage of excess CO would be zero. In practice the %CO measured is a few percentage points: a fuel ratio the VW engine can burn efficiently in all climates, temperatures and conditions. For example, 1-2% would be a relatively lean fuel ratio for a VW especially fuel injected models; 10% is very rich (so much so that you can smell the unburned fuel from the exhaust pipe and see it collect on the ground if it has been raining).

NOx is produced when combustion chamber temperatures are high. It was once viewed as the #1 environmental enemy and largely responsible for the smog in the LA basin. At that time emission reducing devices were geared towards reducing it at the expense of other emissions. That was 20 years ago and since then scientists have come to understand that all the emissions are destructive especially CO2 (a harmful greenhouse gas). You may start wondering again, “where is that station for smog check near me?”

Unfortunately on a VW there is no simple way to minimize all three emissions at once like a modern car is able to do. Lower the HC and CO by leaning out the engine and you produce too much NOx and vice versa. Plus, the catalytic converter (which few air-cooled VW models are equipped with) can only do its job at the near perfect fuel ratio (theoretically ideal) which isn’t the best ratio for long life of an air-cooled engine.

February 4, 2016 |

Why The Smog Test

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Smog testing is a requirement every two years. The DMV mails out registration notices that remind you about smog testing every other annual re-registration mailing. The notice will tell you whether or not you must have your test performed at a test-only station or if you can go to any testing center. Test-only stations are just as they sound: they do not offer repair or tuning services in the event that you fail your test. STAR smog check stations, equipped with the latest testing devices, are ready to check your vehicle.

You get two attempts at passing. If you fail the first time, you retune/repair the engine and you are allowed to retest for free at the same test station. Be sure to ask your test-only station if they will do this for you and report them if they don’t. Beyond two fails you must take the vehicle to a special government approved repair shop (there are hundreds).  To solve this problem, we recommended making sure you go to a STAR smog check station.

 If you are near your registration deadline and have not passed your test or even taken it, you can still re-register your bus but they only give you a month of grace to complete your test. If you pass during the grace period you must re-register in person. If your leave your test to the last minute you won’t receive your renewal stickers in time so it’s best to go to the DMV early in the morning (when it opens is best). If you are an AAA member you can go to any of their field offices that offer DMV services, pay the fees and receive your stickers in person.

There are 3 components to the test:

  1. Emissions test
  2. Visual inspection
  3. Functional tests

None of the tests can begin until they locate and scan your BAR sticker. If you lack this sticker it means you have an out of state vehicle that has never been tested or it has been removed. You must make an appointment with the smog referee in this situation.

The air-gasoline combustion chemical equation is quite complicated but general air quality is effected the emissions of three by-products due to incomplete combustion: hydrocarbons (HC), carbon monoxide (CO) and various nitrous oxides (NOx). The gas sniffer used by the smog tester has the ability to detect all three emissions simultaneously.

The emissions test is where they insert a probe into the tailpipe to sniff for combustion byproducts and attach a coupler to any spark plug wire to measure engine rpm. With those two items attached they begin the test on the dyno.

The computer automates the testing and the smog tech simply uses a remote control to communicate with the computer from the driver’s seat. The first stage revs the engine to 15 mph and they hold it there while the sniffer does its job. The tech has to shift the bus into 2nd gear to accomplish this. The computer then cues the tech to bring the engine to rest for the second run. The second time, the steps are repeated and the computer requests the speed be raised to 25 mph for a few moments (3rd gear).

Each smog testing shop is supposed to calibrate their tester every 72 hours. Be sure to ask them about it. I don’t know if the computer compensates for temperature variations but that would be something you could ask as well. They are also supposed to use a large cooling fan above 72 F ambient temperature but since our VWs don’t have a radiator this isn’t necessary.

After the dyno testing, they perform a visual inspection. The visual inspection determines if any emission devices that were factory installed are missing. Although the list is long, only a subset applies to each model but if you are missing any item you will fail the test, unless the smog technician fails to notice that you require it when it’s missing (don’t gamble that this will happen for you). How can this happen? Because these vehicles were built before a lot of smog technicians were even born, many will find the engine compartment unfamiliar to them.

The functional inspection includes a check of the timing and idle speed. The idle speed has to be within the manufacturer’s guidelines and the timing has to be within 3 degrees of the specification otherwise you will fail. This is the simplest of tune-ups to perform but some people drive to the testing center, cross their fingers and fail. They will also test the gas cap to see if it seals and check for the presence of any fuel pipe restrictions if applicable. It is always recommended to use STAR smog check .

Be sure they know how to test the timing by clamping onto spark plug wire #1 or #3. If they do not, the timing mark will not appear and they may simply decide to fail you when the timing is indeed within spec.

A few years ago, the visual inspection was done first. At that time the testing was aborted any time you failed one of the stages in order. The benefit to the owner was that if you failed for something simple you wouldn’t risk being tagged as a gross polluter (if you produced excessive emissions). The problem for the government was that they failed to collect any tailpipe emissions data in the process and so they have reversed the testing order.

February 2, 2016 |

Passing the smog test isn’t as hard as it seems

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Registering a VW bus is an increasing challenge especially with ever stricter smog limits that come into effect. When I first saw the passing limits imposed for 2004 I thought for sure every VW bay window bus would either fail or have to be specially “tuned” to pass. You would then re tune the engine afterwards for the sake of engine longevity. Fortunately this isn’t the case.

Passing the test isn’t as hard as it seems: just because you own a vehicle from the 70s doesn’t mean that it will pollute so much by comparison to a new model vehicle that you won’t be able to register it. Tailpipe emissions are graded on a sliding scale that depend on model year and vehicle type. This is good news, if not for the air but for your wallet and your love for these old vehicles.

If you live in California, you most likely live in a smog testing area but many other states implement or are in the process of implementing similar testing requirements that mimic if not duplicate CA exactly. Some people pass on the first attempt while others take several attempts. Some people give up and sell their bus in frustration. Overcoming the red tape is a great feeling of victory and relief but the process can often test your will. But if you refer your vehicle to a STAR station, you are certain to succeed.

The biggest challenge for any owner is figuring out if a newly purchased bus is in a condition to pass. Because of all of the tampering by the mechanics and POs over the years the bus may have no chance in its current condition yet be close to passing given the appropriate attention. The key is to go to a STAR station and that’s the goal of this article. Some states like CA, forbid vehicle title transfers without a recent smog test but quite often the purchase takes place before the paperwork is complete.

What to do when things go wrong is confusing for the VW owner so I’ve tried to compile all of the detail from my own experience and from others. Being prepared for your test is half the battle. Most of this article is universally applicable but the details are CA specific so if you live in another state be sure you understand the local rules and regulations. And be sure to take your vehicle to a STAR stations.

In August 2005, Oregon and Washington announced that they were going to adopt the California emission standards (the strictest in the country) in a few years. Even Texas is starting to smog vehicles in the metropolitan areas. Some states, like Arizona have exemptions but require you to register your vehicle as “collector” and limit the mileage you can drive. In the future, smog testing may be a problem for most VW owners no matter where they live.

January 31, 2016 |
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