This California-based police officer opened up a Pandora's Box of legislation.
Update: Hyundai Motor America sent a statement via Ira Gabriel, Senior Group Manager Corporate and Marketing PR.
"Hyundai N vehicles as sold fully comply with Federal regulations and are legal for sale and street use in all U.S. states. Hyundai is aware of this incident and is working directly with the customer to help resolve the issue."
The owner of a stock-standard Hyundai Elantra N recently had his car's registration suspended for breaking noise regulations. Now, before we go any further, there's something you need to know about the Elantra N. The N has several driving modes, and in "Normal" mode, it's quiet enough to pass an inspection easily. It's such a simple hack that we've often wondered why other manufacturers don't follow the same route. This latest run-in with the law might be the reason.
Its variable exhaust system is a massive part of the Elantra N's charm. The cracks and pops it delivers are an aural homage to Hyundai's extremely successful WRC team. While it's more vocal than any other four-cylinder out there, the Elantra N is hardly loud enough to create a massive fracas between car lovers and the police. It's a strange hill to die on, but it's the route ICE-adverse California has chosen.
We usually keep opinions out of the news unless there's something worth commenting on. Since we have experience with the Elantra N and using N mode on public roads, we feel it worthwhile to include an opinion or two.
Hyundai covers itself by stating that the N driving mode is only for track use. That's fair, and the car wouldn't have been so vocal had Hyundai chosen not to include N Mode. But we're all adults here. We know that telling people to only use the loud exhaust mode on track is like telling them never to use the second half of the speedometer. It looks good on paper, but it will never happen in real life.
On the flip side, the owner was caught fair and square. But maybe lecture him about common decency or perhaps a small fine at worst? Deregistering a car is a tad extreme, especially since the police officer is well aware of the various driving modes.
In the video at the top, you can listen to the conversation between the owner and said police officer. The officer asks what model year it is and why it's backfiring. The owner tells him it's stock and that he's more than welcome to inspect the car.
Instead, the police officer explains the process of getting the car fixed, even though there's nothing wrong with it. The first step is going to the California State Referee for inspection, even though he's not allowed to drive the car. The owner then has to take the vehicle back to the dealer, where Hyundai is supposed to remove the track option. According to the police officer, getting the car fixed will cost around $7,000.
The owner has since posted an update on Reddit under the username u/OkCandidate103.
He took the car for inspection at the California State Referee, where it passed the smog test but failed the noise test. The vehicle was tested in Sport Mode, which is slightly quieter than full-blown N-Mode. The inspector asked the owner what the loudest mode was, and he said sport. He was not allowed to touch the car during the inspection, and the pops were loud enough to result in an average reading of 98 decibels.
The owner now has a letter from the dealer stating that the car is as it left the factory, but it couldn't help beyond that. It suggested a temporary muffler silencer to pass the test, and that's it. He's currently waiting for feedback from Hyundai.
The car can be tested again, but since it has been tested once before, the owner must show proof that the vehicle has been fixed. Since it's not broken, there's nothing to fix. There was mention of legal action, but according to The Drive, the owner is now busy with a buyback process because he can't legally register the vehicle in the condition it was delivered from the factory.
Thankfully, Reddit is a goldmine of information. A powertrain engineer hopped into the discussion and identified the Society of Automotive Engineers document SAE J1492. The SAE sets global standards for automotive testing, including the "Measurement of Light Vehicle Stationary Exhaust System Sound Level Engine Speed Sweep Method."
According to the standards document, "any mode that can remain enabled through a power on/off cycle shall be included in the modes identified for compliance assessment." The Elantra N only defaults to normal once the car is switched off, so the other modes may not be used for testing.
It will actually be interesting to see whether this case will go to court if only so a seasoned judge can apply some common sense. What should have been an essential citation has opened up a Pandora's Box of arguments, and from where we're standing, the State of California is in the wrong.