NOT GIVING TICKETS, JUST LOOKING FOR SMOG IN REAL-WORLD SITUATIONS; STATE CONDUCTS SPOT CHECKS TO STUDY EMISSIONS.
It looked like a sobriety checkpoint, but if you were waved toward the orange pylons by a CHP officer last week, it was your car that underwent testing.
State anti-smog officials were in the San Fernando Valley to conduct random checks of cars to find out if they pollute more on the street than during laboratory tests.
Drivers didn't face fines; the state will use the data to help decide whether to change pollution laws.
``I thought I was going to get a ticket or something,'' said Brenda Memola, who was pulled over in Northridge this week on her way back to Palmdale.
In less than 10 minutes, technicians from the California Environmental Protection Agency ran her 1990 Ford Mustang through a series of tests on a high-tech auto treadmill - a dynamometer - checking for hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and other gases.
Cars, trucks, planes and other people-movers produce about 50 percent of the smog in Los Angeles, which is why the state concentrates so heavily on controlling vehicle emissions, said Richard Varenchik, spokesman for the Cal-EPA Air Resources Board.
If the tests show that a particular car model is consistently high, they would focus more tests on that car and then seek changes from the auto manufacturer, Varenchik said.
The tests are more rigorous than a regular smog check required for auto registration and allow officials to see if the emissions controls have been altered, Varenchik said.
``You're getting a real-life picture of what's going on,'' he said.
The reason that the EPA is stopping cars on the street and not at smog-check stations is that sometimes motorists deactivate their emissions system as soon as they leave the station. The roadside tests provide data on how often that happens, as well as catches cars after long freeway treks or under the strain of constant air-conditioning use, Varenchik said.
The tests have been conducted in some fashion across the state for years and now also involve the use of remote sensors that record the emissions of all passing cars - and matches it to their license plates.
The gizmo could eventually be used to ticket motorists by mail. It's one of a number of changes state lawmakers have considered in the battle to reduce smog in California.
When Smog Check II went into effect a year ago, tougher rules were implemented for the ``gross polluters'' - those cars that generate the most smog. Changes to the smog check are still being considered in Sacramento, including a bill by Sen. Quentin L. Kopp, I-South San Francisco, that would exempt cars from the biannual smog checks as soon as the vehicle is 25 years old. Currently, only cars built before 1966 are exempt.
For Amar Deep Singh of Northridge, the test was no inconvenience as he was doing errands on his day off Wednesday. ``I'm just coming from my oil change and my wash. I love my car,'' Singh said, pointing to his sparkling 1995 Camry. ``I love my car. I love it clean.''
His car, along with other cars that get regular maintenance, did extremely well in the tests.
``It's all in the maintenance,'' said Martin Rodgers, a field representative for Cal-EPA.
PHOTO (1) State Air Resources Board representative Dave Gonzalez, left, shows a gas analysis to motorist Amar Deep Singh after a spot check in Northridge.
(2) CHP Officer Fernando Martinez, left, directs a car toward an emissions checkpoint off Reseda Boulevard, where Dave Gonzalez, above, was conducting random smog inspections for the state Environmental Protection Agency.
Gus Ruelas/Daily News