Diesel truck owners in New Jersey are facing unique pressure from the Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Mobile Sources & Air Compliance & Enforcement. According to a slew of posts made on Facebook, owners of modified diesel trucks with changes made to their emissions systems and engine management computers are up against huge fines and possibly even jail time.
New Jersey passed its Coal Rolling Law back in 2015. According to that statute, no person shall retrofit any diesel-powered vehicle with equipment that enhances the vehicle’s capacity to emit soot, smoke, or other particulate emissions. Along with the installation of these devices, the actual act of emitting excess soot from a diesel vehicle is prohibited. These actions were already illegal on the federal level, in the eyes of the EPA. The New Jersey DEP later kicked off an anti-tampering initiative back in 2019, which specifically focused on cracking down on this sort of behavior. With all of the information about diesel-related pollutants that emerged following the Dieselgate investigations, similar actions have been taken in other states across the country. New Jersey diesel owners have started to make noise about the way in which the state is enforcing these policies.
One of these diesel truck owners is Mike Sebold, who recently issued a warning to others via his Facebook page. In an interview with R&T, Sebold said he listed his 2008 Dodge Ram 2500 with the 6.7-liter Cummins diesel for sale on Facebook Marketplace earlier in the summer. The truck’s emissions system had been modified by a previous owner, who Sebold had traded another vehicle with last year.
“I put it up on Facebook and got a couple of hits on it,” Sebold said. “People were asking questions but nothing out of the norm for Facebook Marketplace. One person asked me for a video of the truck running, wanting to see if there was any blow-by. I of course said no problem and sent them the video. I guess in that clip they could see there was no oil cooler installed, and then they asked to see the exhaust in another clip. There were no cats or DPF filters on the truck.”
Sebold ultimately had a change of heart and decided to take down the listing, thinking nothing of the interactions that had taken place on Facebook. That changed on Monday, when Sebold received a package from the NJ DEP.
“As I started to read through the packet it said that an evaluation of my vehicle was conducted on June 23rd,” Sebold said. “ I went back through my Facebook messages and that is around the time I had sent those pictures, videos and vehicle description. I was sort of baited in, I guess.”
Sebold states that the accounts associated with those inquisitive messages have since been deleted.
According to Sebold, DEP stated they knew the truck he was previously trying to sell had been illegally modified, and that he would need to bring it back into legal status within 60 days. If the truck is not brought back into compliance, which Sebold estimates will cost him around $10,000, the letter states he could face jail time. As it sits, Sebold is legally barred from selling the truck by state statute N.J.A.C. 7:27-14.3(e), and must bring it into compliance before moving on from the vehicle. The assigned DEP agent on the case later informed Sebold he could ultimately scrap the offending engine, with DEP agents present to verify the act. Once that is completed, the chassis is free to be sold as a roller or scrapped. Sebold can even install another diesel engine into that truck, but it must be one equipped with a factory emissions system. At this time, Sebold hasn’t decided which route he is going to take.
In an official NJ DEP PowerPoint presentation from a meeting for the Northeast Diesel Collaborative—a group made up of EPA officials, state agencies, and various private sector representatives— in July 2019, the agency specifically told attendees to search Craigslist in their respective states to find examples of cheating trucks. The document later goes on to give the following ominous message: "What we can say is….. NY, PA, DE, CT, VA these trucks are coming to you."
The NJ DEP would not explicitly confirm that its agents actively prowl Facebook Marketplace for non-compliant diesel trucks.
"The Department is aware of social media platforms on which diesel vehicles with modified emissions systems are offered for sale or sold by someone in New Jersey," an NJ DEP spokesperson said in a statement issued to R&T. "The act of trying to sell or selling a vehicle with a tampered emission system is a violation of rules. When the Department becomes aware of such a sale or attempted sale, an appropriate enforcement action is issued to the seller or attempted seller, and the person is required to come into compliance with New Jersey regulations. If the person does not come into compliance, they may be subject to penalties."
The State of New Jersey says this anti-tampering initiative helps shore up a gap in the state’s Inspection & Maintenance Program. That’s because diesel trucks largely fall outside of the GVWR requirements outlined by the state for vehicle inspections and therefore aren’t as regularly scrutinized as more traditional vehicles. The DEP also estimates that around 30 percent of diesel trucks in the state are currently cheating emissions in some form, which contributes to lowering the state’s air quality. This specific tactic isn't new either. In 2020, the State of New Jersey made news for taking dealerships to court for selling modified diesels.
Sebold’s first offense case specifically involves a $1000 fine, but that figure can reach as high as $15,000 for repeated offenses. Sebold also claimed the assigned DEP agent on his case threatened the possibility of jail time if he refused to respond to the DEP's letters. There is no word of jail time in the agency’s administrative code, however and the agency's press office wouldn't confirm this detail.
"DEP’s authority is penalty only," an NJ DEP spokesperson said in a statement issued to R&T. "If the entity does not comply within the timeframe prescribed, the penalty could escalate to the next level. That next level will provide a compliance timeframe and if the entity remains out of compliance, the penalty could escalate again. Note that penalties are for each order issue, so the penalty becomes cumulative. At some point, accrued penalties could exceed the cost of repairs to some of these vehicles."
“We don’t have state inspections of diesel vehicles here in New Jersey,” Sebold said. “ I didn’t even know this was something I needed to be aware of, I was never told about it. The way that the truck runs now, the way it's tuned, it doesn’t smoke at all regardless of what I’m doing with it.”
Other New Jersey residents familiar with Sebold’s situation chimed in on Facebook to share similar stories. Many voiced their frustrations about the state’s ability to enforce such a policy, while others suggested opting for a pre-DEF diesel vehicle. Some have even tried to help source the parts that Sebold needs to bring the truck back into compliance. That’s trickier than you’d think, as most owners end up tossing emissions parts in the bin once they’ve modified their trucks. Others still highlighted the reasons why diesel truck owners go down this modification route, which more times than not has nothing to do with rolling coal.
Modified diesel engines often provide significant fuel economy and horsepower gains, as Sebold noted from his own experience. Those gains can also come at the cost of excess nitrogen-oxide emissions. We already know that diesel enforcement at the federal level is getting serious, with a diesel tuner recently being sentenced to jail for selling the engine computer tuners necessary to make these conversions happen. With that sort of precedent, states like New Jersey are unlikely to back down from this position. If you have an illegally modified diesel in the state, it is probably time to start investigating solutions.
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