When he was 13 years old, Fresno State staff member Chris Fuentes remembers visiting his father, David Fuentes, while he worked as a diesel mechanic at FTL Trailer and Refrigeration Repair.
“There wasn’t a lot to do,” Chris Fuentes said, “besides throwing away old tires, or taking care of the grass and weeds. But, for me, it was exciting and a little scary being around all the big trucks.”
The allure only increased as he got older. His grandfather and uncles were also mechanics, and when Fuentes took a small engine course in high school, it appealed as a career after he graduated from Selma High School.
He worked several years as a technician at auto and semi truck service locations, and later received his heavy truck mechanic’s certification in 2020 after taking classes at Fresno City College.
Now this experience is helping play an important role in the future of the trucking industry in California.
New Testing Station Open
The Selma native was hired on campus in August 2023 to work with Fresno State industrial technology professor Dr. Athanasios Alexandrou to oversee a new state emissions referee testing station for semi trucks.
Fuentes will oversee the testing site near the northwest corner of Barstow and Chestnut avenues for non-gasoline, on-road, heavy-duty vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating over 14,000 pounds. The station is part of the Clean Truck Check program, which was created as part of a heavy-duty inspection and maintenance state law and managed by the California Air Resources Board.
His evaluation includes a visual inspection, on-board diagnostics computer scan and tailpipe exhaust collection. An additional smoke opacity test is required for older vehicles without on-board diagnostic equipment, which became common in 2013.
One of Two Pilot Sites
The testing site is one of two pilot sites statewide, with more likely to be added, which aim to reduce smog-forming and carcinogenic toxic air and meet federal healthy air mandates.
Starting in 2024, semi truck inspections and tests of California operating vehicles will be required twice a year. On-road agricultural vehicles and California-registered motorhomes will be inspected once per year.
Trucking is a key part of the nation’s leading agricultural area, and Fresno State’s campus location aligns with shipping routes for Central Valley growers, producers and manufacturers.
“Most trucks come with computers where data is being collected, so operators may already know of these issues from fault codes on their vehicles,” Fuentes said. “Some of these engines can go up to a million miles if they’re taken care of, and that can make a difference in keeping harmful emissions down. Staying updated with preventive maintenance intervals, routinely vehicle inspections and fixing fault codes with the trucks are already good practices and emissions-reducing.”
Notices Going Out
The California Air Resources Board will soon begin sending testing notices to trucking operators, who can also use independent, certified testers for emissions certifications. This method might be at more conveniently located facilities, and testers can even travel to truck operators for tests with the proper equipment.
Trucks that were built in 2013 or more recently can potentially even use on-board diagnostics equipment to gather required emissions data and upload it to the board to verify compliance.
If trucks fail any part of the emission test, equipment maintenance is required. Fuentes will oversee a retest, or can verify proper follow-up functionality with independent testers.
Tests are arranged in advance using an online application, and some vehicles were already tested at random, high-traffic roadside locations in 2023 in the first stages of program implementation.
A similar site at UC Riverside, which is managed by its Center for Environmental Research and Technology, began testing semi trucks in 2023.
The $50 million, statewide testing program originated from a Senate Bill passed in 2019 (210, Chapter 298) and includes $3 million of emissions funding each year. The state’s emphasis on reduced heavy-duty vehicle emissions is part of additional laws expecting fleets to gradually transition toward electric-powered vehicles.
Air quality around the state is often rated among the nation’s worst on average by the American Lung Association.
Truck Emissions Foul Air
Heavy-duty vehicles continue to be major contributors even though they make up only a small portion of vehicle users. In 2020, the California Air Resources Board estimated that heavy-duty vehicles accounted for about 52% of the state’s on-road nitrogen oxide emissions and about 54% of its on-road, fine particulate micron emissions, otherwise known as PM2.5.
Field testing of heavy-duty vehicles is expected to help, as data has shown about 11% to 17% of vehicles with on-board diagnostics already have indicator lights exposing malfunctions.
Based on state projections, the program hopes emissions reductions will improve air quality to potentially avoid about 7,500 premature deaths and 6,000 hospitalizations statewide for $75.8 billion in health benefits from 2023-50.
To meet additional air quality improvement goals, testing requirements could increase up to four times a year by 2027 for semi truck drivers to receive a valid compliance certificate tied to their DMV vehicle registration.
Potential expansion of other testing locations at Fresno City College or other San Joaquin Valley higher education institutions or locations are a possibility, depending on the demand and available funding.
“I’ve always loved working on trucks,” Fuentes said, “and I’ve enjoyed the satisfaction of helping drivers get their trucks running properly so they can be back on the road where they want to be. This is a new way that helps make the flow of products to our stores and communities more sustainable.”