I admit: before I moved to southern California, I thought a majority of emissions laws were a complete joke and made to single out car enthusiasts like myself. I could not fathom how modding my car, or any other performance machine, with less-than-legal parts, was causing anyone any harm.

After all, I was just one person, and I wasn’t doing anything reckless, I just wanted my car to sound cool. Like many others, I figured CARB was just a weird California thing.

After I had been living in SoCal for a while, I started noticing that I wasn’t feeling well. It got harder to breathe, I got horrible headaches, and I felt foggy and unable to think when I was in an area with a high amount of air pollution.

The importance of emissions legal parts finally started to click when I began having panic attacks and had become obsessively neurotic about the air quality around me. I developed a new appreciation for companies like JBA Performance Exhaust that make products that sound cool, while not contributing to the smog epidemic.

JBA is known for its development of emissions legal direct replacement headers for the 5.0L Mustang in 1987. Its product line has since been expanded to cover the most popular GM, Ford, Dodge, Jeep, Nissan, and Toyota vehicles.

I spoke with Greg Raymond from JBA Performance Exhaust / Pertronix Performance Brands and asked about some of the misconceptions and myths enthusiasts have when it comes to emissions legal mods. The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

What is a 50-state legal part and why do they matter?

Greg Raymond: To put performance parts on streetcars, they need to be “certified” by CARB with what is known as an EO (Executive Order) number. CARB is the California Air Resources Board, and the EPA (federal Environmental Protection Agency) has allowed California to take the lead since the emissions laws in California were more stringent than the rest of the country, so a CARB EO is accepted in all 50 states.

The EO says that this performance part has been tested and meets CARB and EPA emissions standards that apply to the vehicle. Use of Non-EO issued parts is illegal under federal law and can result in fines and even confiscation of the car.

How do you get a CARB EO number?

Greg Raymond: The process for obtaining an EO number begins with submitting an application to CARB with the vehicle you would like to get certified. CARB researches the vehicle family and comes back with what is known as a “test letter” that tells us which version of the vehicle to test. We then build and install the product (in JBA’s case, the exhaust headers) and take the car to a Certified Lab for testing.

JBA uses SEMA’s new state of the art lab in Diamond Bar, CA, where we have a long-standing relationship. The vehicle is tested to make sure that it meets the emissions standard that is set in the test letter, ensuring that the headers did not increase emissions output. Once the testing is concluded the results are submitted back to CARB, at which time they review them and issue the EO Number if it passed.

This is done for each brand and model of vehicle, so you can see it takes a real commitment from PerTronix and each of our brands to obtain these EO Numbers.


Aside from legality, are there any significant benefits to using parts that meet the criteria to get a CARB number versus those that don’t?

Greg Raymond: One of the most significant advantages of an emissions compliant JBA header is that it is a direct replacement part and does not disrupt or displace any of the vehicle’s factory emissions equipment. This translates into a straightforward bolt-on installation and superior fitment.

By offering 50-state legal parts, the vehicle owner can add performance to his car or truck and not increase emissions while staying within the law.

One of the myths I’ve heard is that the mechanisms in place to make a particular part legal also stifle horsepower gains.

Greg Raymond: Over the past 30+ years of building compliant headers we have proven that power increases can be gained while remaining legal. Products that carry EO numbers have been through more rigorous testing than those that haven’t which equates to a more reliable product.

While the EO part may give up a little ultimate horsepower over a Closed Course Competition header, they will generally make more power in the part of the RPM band where streetcars are typically driven so the benefits will be of more use.

We recently were involved with a Mustang Coyote project that used JBA Cat4Ward legal headers, the factory catalytic converters, and the JBA exhaust in conjunction with an EO certified supercharger. The car ended up making over 750 rear-wheel horsepower while retaining all emissions parts and being staying 100-percent legal.

One of the comments I hear most often is that enthusiasts feel these laws single them out. What information do you think enthusiasts need to know about staying legal?

Greg Raymond: In my opinion, it looks as though the American performance aftermarket is being made an example of by government regulators. A quick review of the world air quality rankings (www.airvisual.com) lists only one US city in the top 40 pollution city rankings, and it’s not even in California, which one could argue shows that the CARB programs across the board are working.

We hear terms like “49 state legal” and “California only” being tossed around quite a bit. But the reality is that 13 states other than California have adopted the CARB standard. This is not a “California thing,” it’s a United States thing, and we only see it gaining momentum.

There has never been such a thing as “49 state legal” when it comes to modified or defeating emissions devices. This came about because California was the first to enforce the law, but it has always been against federal law to tamper with emissions devices. The EPA has already started inspecting and fining companies all over the country for breaking the “smog” laws, and not just manufacturers, but installation and tuning shops as well. It’s just a matter of time before the rest of the country enacts state-level legislation that will see enforcement.

JBA Performance Exhaust will continue to stand as the leader in the 50-state emissions compliant exhaust products for the performance aftermarket.