Article Published by Forza Magazine - Written by Jesse Westlake
I have heard about three separate Superamericas that had difficulty passing the California smog test. Is there something unique about the 2005 Superamerica’s exhaust system that is causing this? Fortunately, I have had no issues (yet) getting my 2004 575M smogged, and hope that I won’t run into the same problem! There’s nothing unique about the Superamerica versus a 575M?that would make it difficult for the car to pass a smog test. If I had to guess at a cause, it would be that a typical Superamerica is driven less than a typical 575M. Why does that matter??The answer calls for a brief history of automotive emissions-control devices. Before the current European vehicle-emissions standards arrived, just about every emissions device and test came into being through the efforts of an organization called the California Air Resources Board. Formed in the late 1960s to battle the smog that was then hiding Los Angeles’ skyline, CARB set emissions standards for all new cars sold in California. Many other states adopted these standards, which are stricter than the Federal ones, and given the size of this combined market vehicle manufacturers ultimately built almost every U.S.-model car to meet CARB’s standards. Over the years, these standards led to a variety of emissions-control devices, including air injection, oxygen sensors, feedback carburetors, EGR valves, and catalytic converters. In the early 1990s, CARB introduced a new mandate that cars had to have a universal, standardized On Board Diagnostic system, which would allow for more accurate and comprehensive smog testing. OBD-II would come into effect in 1996. OBD-II introduced a standardized diagnostic connector, trouble codes, and readiness monitors. These monitors check to see if the vehicle has performed all of its emissions-related diagnostic self-checks, which extend far beyond the tailpipe. If you’ve ever left the gas cap loose on a post-1996 vehicle and had the Check Engine light come on, that was because the evaporative-system monitor discovered the leak. (The EVAP monitor also checks for vapor leaks from the fuel tank and lines.) However, while the vehicle manufacturers were responsible for monitoring emissions and communicate the results, there were no requirements about how they did so—more on that later. Here in California, the state has a three-part smog-testing program: a visual inspection to make sure all of the emissions components are installed, a functional inspection to make sure (some of) those components are working, and a tailpipe emissions test for some model years. (Many other states have similar smog-check standards.) For a post-1999 model like the 575M to pass the test, all of the OBD-II monitors except the EVAP monitor must be tested and passed, and no tailpipe test is required. This is done with a state-mandated machine that sends the results directly to the DMV; if the car fails the test, it cannot be registered. Outside the confines of a state emissions test, the monitors’ status can be checked with any generic scan tool that’s plugged into the OBD-II Data Link Connector, or DLC. On the scan tool, the passed and not-passed (this does not mean failed) monitors are usually displayed as red or green, or sometimes flashing circles with the corresponding acronym inside. You won’t always see the same results from vehicle to vehicle, however, because different cars can have different monitors. For example, the F430 has a monitors to check the evaporative system but not the EGR valve or the secondary-air system, because it was not built with those systems. But the later 430 Scuderia and Scuderia Spider 16M were equipped with a secondary air system (to compensate for their lack of pre-cats) so therefore have the accompanying monitor. Most OBD-II Ferraris have monitors for the oxygen sensor (O2S), oxygen sensor heater (HTR), catalytic converter (CAT), secondary air injection (AIR or SAIR), and evaporative system monitor (EVA or EVAP), along with a standard key-on electrical monitor called Comprehensive Component Monitor (CCM)—usually seven to nine monitors in total. Still with me??If so, here’s where “driven less” comes in. One common side effect of letting a car sit for long periods of time is that its battery will drain. (A battery maintainer will prevent this, but I can’t tell you how often I get calls after the power cord has been accidentally unplugged.) The OBD-II monitors reset to “not passed” when the battery dies or gets disconnected, and the car won’t pass a smog test until the monitors are “set” and then “passed.” This isn’t always easy, since there are several checks that need to take place. Sometimes, they need to take place over and over again before the monitors will set. Ferrari’s programmers wrote code into the engine-control software that defines exactly how and when the monitors function; this is called the enabling criteria. Enabling criteria happens during what is generically called a drive cycle, a set of parameters and circumstances that allow an individual system to be tested while the car is being driven in a baseline manner. For example: An oxygen-sensor heater can only be tested after a car is started when cold. In order for this monitor to pass, the car’s computer must see an initial oxygen-sensor voltage (usually 5-9 volts) with the ignition key turned to the On position. Then, after the car is started and is being driven, the oxygen sensor heats up and the voltage decreases to 0.2-0.8 volt. When all of this happens as expected, the HTR monitor is set and passed. But if the vehicle is too warm when started, or driven too aggressively immediately after being started from cold, the enabling criteria is not met and the monitor is not set—and therefore cannot be passed—on this particular drive cycle. It’s important to note that a monitor that is not set does not mean there is a problem with the car. It just means that the steps necessary for the car to test itself have not been completed. As I mentioned earlier, the OBD-II standards state that each car must meet the emissions results but don’t dictate how to do so. As a result, each manufacturer does things a little differently, and Ferrari is certainly not the only small-production European automaker that struggled to correlate its engine programming with passing the California smog test. That challenge falls to the technician working on the car, and there’s no universal set of guidelines available from Ferrari on how to do it. Another example: I frequently get calls throughout the summer about 360s, 456s, and 550/575Ms that will not pass the secondary air monitor. This doesn’t indicate a problem with the secondary air system, which blows fresh air into the hot exhaust to ignite any unburned gases remaining after combustion. Instead, it reflects this monitor’s very specific enabling criteria. Specifically, the car must have been sitting for two to four hours, minimum. Next, the ambient temperature must be below 70 degrees, and the car should be allowed to warm up for five to ten minutes after starting. Then comes a few miles of driving between 50 mph and 60 mph on a flat or nearly flat road, followed by a stop and some more idle time. While this enabling criteria will be met eventually during normal use, how often do all of these exact steps happen in this exact order? Not often, which is why I have sometimes had to resort to driving customers’ cars with scan tool in hand, monitoring the oxygen sensors and OBD-II monitors, after wiring a light into the secondary air pump relay so I?can see when the pump is turning on. Why? Because the pump occasionally cycles on for just a second at a time during steady cruise, and it’s at this moment that the car checks, via the oxygen sensors, that there really is fresh air flowing into the exhaust system. Sometimes it really does take a professional mechanic just to pass a smog test!