Virginia’s Exhaust Laws are Confusing and Often Easy to Defend Against.
In Virginia, it is illegal to drive a vehicle on public roads if the vehicle has a defective exhaust system or an after-market exhaust system that is louder than normal. Violating this law is a traffic ticket and comes with up to a $250 fine. However, often this law is used as an excuse to pull someone over and then investigate them for more serious crimes such as DUI and possession of drugs.
However, the exhaust laws are written very poorly and there are several defenses if you are charged with violating this law.
1) 46.2-1049 (no loud exhausts) applies only on public roads. A police officer cannot convict someone for breaking this law if all they can prove is that you were driving in a private parking lot with a defective exhaust. Private property (including parking lots, driveways, and certain private roads) don’t count.
2) The officer must prove that the exhaust was what was causing the loud sound. Having a car that makes a loud noise is not a violation of this law. Having an exhaust system that makes a louder than normal noise is a violation of this law. If an officer testifies that the car was making a louder than normal noise, then the question becomes “How does the officer know whether the noise was coming from the problem with the engine or a problem with the exhaust?” For Example: If a driver takes a Honda accord and replaces the stock engine with a larger or less insulated engine, the car is going to be much louder even if they are still using a stock muffler and exhaust system. The officer has to prove that the exhaust is louder than normal, not the engine.
3) The officer must prove that the exhaust system is either broken and louder than normal or that the exhaust is aftermarket and louder than normal. This is hard to do unless the officer really knows his cars or unless the driver confesses to the officer. Officers rarely remember the exact model of the cars they pull over. On the summons, the officer will write the make and year of the car involved, but most officers do not write the model of the car. If the officer cannot remember the model of the car, he cannot testify that the car was louder than other similar models of car.
For example: If the officer testifies that he pulled over a red 2009 Ford sedan for bad exhaust but that he doesn’t remember the model of the car, the officer cannot say that he is familiar with similar models of that car and therefore knows that the exhaust system is aftermarket or defective.
It is very difficult for an officer to prove these three things unless a driver confesses and says too much.
§ 46.2-1049. Exhaust system in good working order
“No person shall drive and no owner of a vehicle shall permit or allow the operation of any such vehicle on a highway unless it is equipped with an exhaust system in good working order and in constant operation to prevent excessive or unusual levels of noise; provided, however, that for motor vehicles, such exhaust system shall be of a type installed as standard factory equipment, or comparable to that designed for use on the particular vehicle as standard factory equipment. An exhaust system shall not be deemed to prevent excessive or unusual noise if it permits the escape of noise in excess of that permitted by the standard factory equipment exhaust system of private passenger motor vehicles or trucks of standard make.
The term “exhaust system,” as used in this section, means all the parts of a vehicle through which the exhaust passes after leaving the engine block, including mufflers and other sound dissipative devices.
Chambered pipes are not an effective muffling device to prevent excessive or unusual noise, and any vehicle equipped with chambered pipes shall be deemed in violation of this section.
The provisions of this section shall not apply to converted electric vehicles.”
If you have been charged with defective exhaust, or if you were arrested after being stopped for having a defective exhaust in Northern Virginia, call the law firm of Nichols & Green PLLC for a free consultation. (703) 215-1114.