Are Cold Air Intakes Illegal In California

As environmental concerns continue to grow, California has implemented strict regulations to reduce air pollution and protect public health. Thus, the question arises: is a cold air intake legal in California? Cold air intakes are popular engine upgrades that draw cooler and denser air into the engine compartment, which can result in noticeable performance gains, including more power, more oxygen, and more horsepower.

However, some people believe that they may violate California’s anti-tampering law, which prohibits modifications that can increase emissions or bypass smog-controlled engines. To answer the question, it is essential to understand California’s regulations regarding aftermarket parts. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is responsible for enforcing the California Clean Air Act and regulating emissions from vehicles.

CARB issued an executive order (EO) that exempts certain aftermarket cold air intakes that comply with a carb-issued exemption or executive order numbers. Thus, installing cold air intake with a carb-issued exemption in California is legal, and it will not violate California law.


However, not all cold air intakes are created equal, and some may not meet CARB’s standards. In our guide, you can learn more about what makes a cold air intake carb legal and what doesn’t.

By the end, you’ll better understand if you need to change one or can’t have one fitted to your car. Either way, you’ll have enough information, so you’ll have absolutely nothing to worry about for this upgrade or other car mods allowed. (Read What Happens When A Car Overheats And Shuts Off)

California Emissions Laws

CARB regulates vehicle emissions to protect public health and ecological resources. The California Clean Air Act and the Anti-Tampering Law prohibit any modifications to a vehicle that would increase emissions or reduce air pollution.

Cold air intakes improve power and gas mileage, yet not all are legal in California. The law states that to make cars legal; the intake should be CARB certified with a CARB EO exempt number. This means the intake system has been tested and certified by CARB and meets all state emissions standards.

Most stock air filter and intakes are drawing air from the inside of the engine bay, where the air temperature is hot. A cold air intake draws air from outside the engine bay, which is cooler and denser, providing a greater oxygen supply and increased horsepower. In addition to these air intakes, other popular car modifications can get you in trouble, like window tints, laser jammers, and car mods to vehicle height. (Read Can You Mix Car Oil)

What is a Cold Air Intake?

Cold air intakes pull more air, which is colder air temperatures, from outside the engine bay to replace the hot air temperatures under the hood. These are among the most popular, and aftermarket cold air intake engine components are available for most North American vehicles at an affordable cost.

Are Cold Air Intakes Illegal in California?

Here you can see what makes cold air intakes legal and how easy it is to fall outside the line.

CARB Compliance

CARB is responsible for regulating air pollution in the state. Under the California Clean Air Act, CARB has the authority to regulate the installation and use of aftermarket parts on vehicles with smog-controlled engines, including intakes that suck in the colder outside air. CARB requires all aftermarket parts to meet certain emissions standards and be certified as compliant with these standards, as a stock intake would do.


While such intakes are generally illegal in California, there are some exemptions. CARB issues exemptions for systems that meet the emissions standards. These systems are labeled with a CARB Executive Order (EO) number, indicating they are compliant. Note: Some local jurisdictions may have additional regulations or restrictions on vehicle modifications, so check with your local authorities before installing an aftermarket part.

intae in california

List Of Legal Cold Air Intakes In California

If you want to upgrade your vehicle’s performance with a cold air intake, you may wonder which ones are legal in California.

There are some options available that are compliant with California law.

  • One option for a California legal cold air intake is the K&N Series Intake System. These car intake systems are designed to increase horsepower and acceleration and have all received CARB EO numbers.
  • Another option is the Injen Evolution Cold Air Intake. This intake system is also CARB-certified and is designed to provide noticeable performance gains.
  • The Spectre Performance Cold Air Intake Kit is another CARB-compliant option. It is designed to increase horsepower and torque while meeting California emissions standards.

Another addition is the popular Pedal Commander, which has a CARB accreditation. Pedal Commander gives an increase in throttle response. (Read Car Visor Won’t Stay Up)

What Car Mods Are Illegal In California?

California has strict vehicle code sections that regulate vehicle modifications to protect the public and reduce air pollution.

Here are some of the most common car modifications that are illegal in California:

  • Modification of your exhaust
  • Window tint that is too dark
  • Too bright underflow
  • Installation of red lights on the front
  • Additional TV screen on the side of the driver
  • Increasing the vehicle height over the certain limits

While some modifications may be legal in most states, they may not be legal in California.

For example, as we have seen, cold air intakes are a popular engine upgrade that delivers a noticeable performance gain.

However, many cold air intakes in California are illegal unless CARB is certified. If an aftermarket part has an EO number, it’s legal for street use.

Modification Of Your Exhaust

One of the most common modifications made to vehicles is the exhaust system. However, modifying your exhaust in California is illegal, and you can face a hefty fine if caught.

Vehicle Code Section 27156 prohibits modifications that increase the noise level beyond the factory settings. Modifying an exhaust will increase the air pollutants your vehicle emits and can be a nuisance in residential areas.

Dark Window Tints

Window tinting is a popular vehicle modification that can add privacy and reduce the amount of sunlight that enters the car.

Vehicle Code 26708 says placing any material or object on the car windshield or side or rear windows obstructing the driver’s view is illegal.

The legal limit for window tint darkness in California is 30 percent and would be tested under a visual inspection to determine whether it is street legal.

Too Much Bright Underflow

According to California Vehicle Code Section 25106, an underflow light must emit a diffused and non-glaring light of no more than 0.05 candela per square inch of an area. If your underflow lights are too bright, you could be cited and fined by law enforcement officials.

Installation Of Red Lights On The Front

Vehicle Code Section 25950 states that having red lights visible from the front of your vehicle is illegal. This law is in place to prevent confusion with emergency vehicles that have red lights. If you have red lights on your car’s front, law enforcement could pull you over and ticket you.

Additional TV Screen On The Side Of The Driver

If you’re considering adding a TV screen on the side of the driver in your vehicle, you should know that California law does not allow you to place a TV screen in direct view of the driver.

It’s important to note that this law applies to all types of TV screens, including those built into your car’s dashboard. GPS navigation systems, parking camera screens, and car information displays are exempt from this law.

Increasing Vehicle Height Over Certain Limits

Vehicle Code Section 24008, the maximum allowable frame height for a passenger vehicle is 27 inches. This limit may vary based on the gross weight of the car.

If you want to modify your vehicle’s height, consult a qualified mechanic or customization shop, as they can help you select the right components and ensure your car remains safe and street-legal. (Read Car Shakes In Idle – What To Do)

Engine Modification

Every engine-changing vehicle must undergo a BAR Referee inspection and have a BAR Referee label attached to it within the engine compartment. One popular engine upgrade is the cold air intake, where the cooler air is sucked into the engine, thus delivering more power.

The law states in California, cold air intake components should have a CARB EO exempt number to make cold air intake legal. The California Air Resources Board enforces the California Clean Air Act, which aims to reduce air pollution and protect ecological resources.

The anti-tampering law prohibits any aftermarket engine components that can alter the emissions equipment provided by vehicle manufacturers. While a cold air intake can provide a noticeable performance gain, you must ensure that the one you choose is legal in California.

Additionally, it could obstruct airflow into your vehicle, affecting the performance of your vehicle’s smog-controlled engine fitted with a stock air intake.

rear view mirror items

Hanging Items From The Rearview Mirror

It is against the law to operate a motor vehicle in California, according to Vehicle Code section 26708, “with any object or material put, exhibited, installed, attached, or applied upon the windshield or side or rear glass.”

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