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Sacramento: Where it’s Against the Law to do Car Repairs at Home in Your Garage


If you haven’t heard, Sacramento recently passed legislation banning “major” car repairs at home. Basically, if you’ve got anything more than an under-filled tire or oil that needs changed, it is straight up illegal for you to deal with it yourself in the privacy of your own garage and/or driveway. For obvious reasons, this law is controversial, as people wonder what the real reason behind the bill is in the first place, and what negative impacts it might have on middle and lower-income neighborhoods.

Let’s get into the specifics of the new law and how it’s been received by the public.

The Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act

Referred to as the RPMA, this piece of legislation was passed a few years ago as an environmental response to people who were altering cars in their garages in order to race them. Guided heavily by the understanding of the Clean Air Act at the time, and California’s goal to ban the new sale of gasoline-powered cars by 2035, the RPMA puts strict limits on homeowner car repair activities.

The new law outlaws any “major automobile repairs,” including repairs that require “specialized” tools – a vague term more vaguely clarified with “tools not typically found in the home”. You want to change your oil or switch out your brake pads? Fine. You want to troubleshoot a transmission or do any body work? Not fine. Also – you’re not allowed to work on a car in your garage if that car is not registered to someone who lives at the home.

Seems a little intrusive, no?

Why it’s Not All About the Environment

Many people see the passing of this law as a misunderstanding of the Clean Air Act, but supporters cite improper disposal of chemicals by homeowners and added environmental pollutants as justification. As well, Sacramento is one of many areas in California that has a booming underground car repair culture, which the government doesn’t like. And then there’s the whole how-the-neighborhood-looks-with-broken-cars-on-driveways thing. We’ve got to keep up with the Joneses and all.

Here’s the thing: banning DIY at-home car repairs doesn’t just fix all our pollution problems, and socio-culturally, it creates more. Teens can’t drive their beaters home to have their dad replace the bumper they broke at college. Friends can’t ask neighbors for help with car trouble if it’s going to involve any engine work. Your brother can’t bring his car to your garage for a diagnostic when he’d otherwise have to wait 5 days for the next local auto shop to have an opening.

This isn’t just inconvenient, it means people without the resources to pay for auto shop visits now have to participate in illegal activity just to keep their personal transportation viable. This puts lower income communities’ quality of life on the line and makes them more susceptible to fines they can’t afford as well.

So, not only does this new law come with enforceability challenges (what does “specialized tool” mean and how are you going to stop me from using it in the privacy of my own home?) and equity challenges (just having a bearing replaced is often well over $800), this law also comes with questions of how far the government should be allowed to reach into our homes.

But seriously – how far, though?

Ongoing Backlash of Sacramento’s Iteration of the RPMA

This is the crux of the issue: citizens’ rights in their private spaces. The law says it’s about a mismanagement of chemicals that are harmful to the environment. Well, where’s the line? That hairspray your mom uses is also terrible for the environment – should she get that taken away? Grilling in the backyard releases known carcinogens and pollutants into the air – are we banning that, too?

This obviously isn’t a question of supporting climate legislation – we need it, and California is leading the charge on making the big changes that have been needed for decades. The RPMA itself isn’t so bad – the goal is a cleaner environment. But this legislation in Sacramento is muddy, because it’s coming into peoples’ private lives. It makes keeping a car in working order more difficult for people already under constant financial stress, takes away parent/child weekend hobbies, and changes the way family and neighborhood social networks operate. It’s… controversial, at best.

We suppose the bright side is at least you can still do home garage and garage door repairs? But of course we’d said that.

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