Goodbye Dirty Cars, Hello Clean Cars

While refineries and industrial facilities are the most visible symbols of pollution, an even bigger source of California’s air quality woes can be found in streets, driveways and parking lots throughout the Golden State. According to the California Air Resources Board, over a quarter of the nearly 450 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent produced in California in 2015 were emitted by cars. To put it another way, pollution from cars exceeds every other single source of emissions, including power plants and industrial facilities.[1]

It’s clear that reducing emissions from cars will yield tremendous reductions in air pollution. In recognition of this, California instituted the Smog Check program nearly three decades ago and, more recently, started incentives to get people in electric cars. These tools help reduce emissions from the cars currently on California’s roads, while also helping drivers replace polluting vehicles with cleaner ones.

Although both strategies have resulted in significant air pollution reductions, not everyone has benefited equally. There are many people who are unable to afford maintaining their current car, yet alone replace it. Many of these people also lack access to public transportation. As such, people in this situation are forced to drive their older, high polluting vehicles; some of which are suffering from dangerous and expensive mechanical problems. This isn’t a matter of choice – they need their cars in order to get to work, drop off their kids at schools and run chores. In an attempt to stay under the radar, the majority of cars that have failed their smog test are driven with their registrations expired,[2] risking possible penalties and legal problems.

This is where our partners at Valley Clean Air Now (ValleyCAN) come in. For over a decade, ValleyCAN has operated an incredibly innovative partnership with the San Joaquin Valley Air Quality Management District. Twice a month, ValleyCAN hosts its “Tune In & Tune Up” event, in which hundreds of people line up to have their cars smog tested for free. If the car fails its smog test, the owner is given a smog repair voucher worth up to $500 and a referral to local smog repair shops. Similarly, if the car is simply not worth repairing, low-income drivers can receive financial assistance in purchasing a used plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle. The car replacement incentive is part of the Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program Plus Up, which is funded by the California Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

ValleyCAN Executive Director Tom Knox (left) talks with Assemblymember Rudy Salas, D-32 (right) about Central Valley air quality issues

The beauty of Tune In and Tune Up is that it is truly a community event. In order to help serve as many people as possible, ValleyCAN works with local churches, Spanish-language radio and television stations, and small businesses to attract people to attend the event. ValleyCAN also works with local law enforcement to minimize the legal risk to drivers with expired registration or other infractions. Public health agencies also help provide free health screenings, and for the first time, Southern California Edison participated at the June event to encourage low-income ratepayers sign up for solar panels and home energy efficiency upgrades.

Smog shops, organizations radio stations and other groups offer food, entertainment and services

The results speak for themselves: according to ValleyCAN, 525 cars were tested at their June 17th event in Bakersfield. Since 2005, over 60,000 vehicles have been tested and 20,000 vehicles had smog repair work done.[3] $1 million in spending on the Tune In & Tune Up program results in 1,150 repairs a year. This reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 65 tons, hydrocarbon emissions by 8.5 tons, and nitrous oxide emissions by 7 tons annually.[4] According to Coalition for Clean Air Policy Director Bill Magavern, only 20 percent of cars account for roughly 80 percent of automobile pollution.[5] Cleaning up our oldest, dirtiest cars will go a long way in meeting California’s greenhouse gas reduction and air quality goals.

The Coalition for Clean Air strongly supports programs like “Tune In and Tune Up”, and has advocated for their expansion. The Coalition for Clean Air also participates in the Charge Ahead Coalition, which advocated for SB 1275 (De León, 2014), its goal of putting one million more electric vehicles on California’s roads and its financial support for low-income earners to buy cleaner cars.

However, without even more support from the state, these programs can’t keep up with demand. The South Coast Air Quality Management’s program, Replace Your Ride, had a waitlist of more than 1,500 people one year after it started.[6]  The line to enter the Tune In and Tune Up in June stretched for nearly 1.5 miles, despite temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. These programs; particularly one-stop-shop programs like Tune In and Tune Up, demonstrate that California’s climate investments can have an enormous impact on people’s lives, particularly the lives of low income earners.

Cars in line for free smog inspections at the June 17th Tune In and Tune Up Event in Bakersfield

The next Tune In and Tune Up Event will take place at the Tulare County Fairgrounds in Tulare on July 29th from 8 AM – 12 PM. For more information about Tune In & Tune Up and ValleyCAN, please visit


[1] California Air Resources Board. California Greenhouse Gas Emissions for 2000 to 2015 – Trends of Emissions and Other Indicators. Data retrieved June 22, 2017 from

[2] Valley Clean Air Now. Results. Date retrieved June 26, 2017 from

[3] Ibid

[4] Valley Clean Air Now. About the Tune In and Tune Up Program. Date retrieved June 26, 2017 from

[5] NBC Los Angeles. So Cal Residents Line Up to Trade Old Cars for State Cash. Date retrieved June 27, 2018 from

[6] Ibid

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