Going to the California Smog Referee

August 17, 2004

To start off;

This isn't going to be a how-to! There are just too many variations in doing engine swaps to make it relevant to more than a couple people.

If there is any specific part of the swap that you are interested in, I'd recommend that you go to the index page of my Honda site and look through there.

I'm an old guy and as such, my approach to building a car may be different to yours. I've built a variety of cars over the years and have gathered a garage of tools. I built the car as a hobby and it's not my primary transportation.

The Certificate you get when it's all done.


After building a Chevelle, I thought that it would be different and fun to build a Honda. I like the looks of the 4th generation hatchbacks and was intrigued with the idea of putting in an Integra motor and transmission after reading about them in the car magazines.

While talking to a friend that owns a Police impound lot, he said that he had a motor sitting around that he would give me. It ends up that it was a 95 B18C! That got the whole project started.

What made it a lot of work was the fact that I wanted it legal and factory looking.

Here in California, that "legal" part can be a major problem. What happens is that you have to go to a state "Referee" and have him check out your engine swap. The simple guideline that has to be met is that the replacement engine has to be newer than the body and ALL related smog equipment has to be the same as was on the engine in it's original car. JDM engines can be installed, but the process is more difficult. You can't use an engine that was out of an SUV or truck (meaning the B20 motors).

So, the simple question is "why bother" if you already have a "friend" that can get it smog checked. Cause it's the responsible thing to do what with how the air is here. You also don't have to worry if the police pull you over and ask to have the hood opened (I'm looking forward to it at this point).

Another reason was that the owner of Track Masters (one of the speed shops near me) said that it couldn't be done and pass the certification process. Now I want to go by there just to show off, but they went out of business.

What went into the car?

The car is an 89 Si Hatchback. The engine is an 95 GSR B18C. What all this means is that ALL the smog equipment has to be converted to 95 specs. The ECU wiring had to be converted to OBD1 specifications and to be technically correct, I had to buy a P72A1 ECU.

The engine as I got it, was only a "long block". That meant that I had to locate a bunch of additional stuff.

I would have used the stock GSR exhaust headers, but the price was rather steep when you added up all the little stuff like support brackets. So, I bought a DC Sport 4-2-1 header that was legal to the engine.

As for the intake, I managed to locate a used GSR manifold, but didn't like the look (I'm old, but I can still be vain!). The "justification" that I tell others is that it gives a lot more clearance between the block and the firewall.

The transmission is a YS1 and I put a Quaife differential in it when I was rebuilding it. (it currently has the LS gearing in it and that's not really a good thing)

The exhaust system is pretty much all new and is 2 1/2" diameter. There is a resonator and Magnaflow muffler (painted flat black to be sneaky). The catalytic converter is a new after market, legal unit.

 So, what's it like at the Referee;

You have to call and make an appointment to see the Referee. Well, this isn't totally true because I had been by several times to ask him questions.

I showed up a little early.

You will have to have your registration with you and although he did ask for them, I'd recommend that you have any paperwork in regards to any aftermarket parts you may have added.

I had to tell him what the engine was out of. It wouldn't do any good to lie about it, cause they checked the numbers.

I had to sign a work order saying that I'd pay 30 bucks for the check and if I passed, an additional 8 bucks for the certificate. Then one of the workers went out and looked over the condition of my car. He made up a complete list of any body damage and I had to sign it so that I couldn't say that they damaged the car (dang, it wasn't like I was going to leave and come back latter).

Then they looked everything over. The only thing that limited it was that they didn't "remove" anything. As an example, they didn't remove the carpet or cover plate over the ECU. They did look under the car to verify that there was a CAT and also that the O2 sensor was in the correct location.

What was weird to me was that the Referee went on his computer system to verify that the DC Sport header was the correct one for the engine. Keep in mind that there is a label welded on that gives the CARB number.

He didn't bat an eye at the Skunk2 intake manifold, in spite of the fact that I told him it was an aftermarket unit and had no attached CARB label.

I think that I would have had problems if I had an aftermarket air intake tube. The reason is that there isn't one that's specific to the engine, intake manifold, and body. Technically, there isn't a legal option.

I passed the visual part with no problem!

They then did the "sniffer" test. This is where they put the car on a set of rollers (like a chassis dyno) and run it up to 15 MPH, take tail pipe readings, then to 25 MPH to take additional readings. All this passed with no problems.

Then the problem arose. They went and checked the timing and found it was off. It was at 4 BTDC and should have been near 16 BTDC. I don't know when I messed up the timing, but it was totally my fault.

They sent me home!

I went home, corrected the timing, and called for another appointment (you get two trials for your 30 bucks).

On the second visit, they checked the timing and re-ran the sniffer test. All the values were within the allowable ranges.

The last thing that they checked was that the gas cap was good.

Yahoo, at that point I gave them the money for the sticker and they attached it to the body.

Closing comments;

All referees view the process differently! The fact that the one that did my car didn't check the ECU, isn't proof that the one you go to will not. I asked him about this and he said that when somebody comes in with a JDM engine, he looks at things closer.

If you go to the state's web site that covers this sort of thing, you should note that it's all titled as "recommended guidelines"! There are no written rules!

In talking to the Referee (prior to setting up an appointment) he made it clear that he will fail anything that could effect emissions. What surprised me was that he feels that an aftermarket fuel rail could effect emissions and as such he would fail a car with one. You couldn't have an adjustable fuel pressure regulator.

Adjustable cam gears would get you a view of the exit real quick, however they never removed my cam cover to check (I had installed stock cam gears just in case).

I think a lot of it is in the appearance that you present! I'm talking about both personally and the quality of work done on the car. It's not the Referees fault that you are there, so don't blame him for it.

Don't try lying to the Referee. He sees this stuff every day!

Don't waste your time if you are getting a "check engine" light. And don't think that you can sneak around it.

If you feel that the Referee isn't being fair to you, there are not a lot of options. I'd first off recommend that you look at why the situation went poorly. The fact is that the Referee doesn't hate you or your car. It's just that he has a job to do. What you can do is to re-schedule the next check at a different location. You can request any station you want and it doesn't have to be the same one that you first went to. Keep in mind however that the next Referee may be even more picky.

I didn't have a bad time.

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Wes Vann