San Joaquin Valley clean driving programs see funding boost

Vouchers of up to $850 are available for emissions-related car repairs thanks to state funding of San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District programs

Trucks and vehicles make up the majority of particulate matter in the Valley's pollution (Rigo Moran)
Serena Bettis
Published July 9, 2023  • 
3:00 pm

CENTRAL VALLEY – Continued state assistance is available for qualifying individuals in the San Joaquin Valley who want or need to reduce their individual carbon footprint. 

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Governing Board recently approved additional funding for its vehicle repair and replacement programs, fueling the district’s push to help low-income residents meet car emission standards. The board received $12 million for its “Tune In and Tune Up” vehicle repair program, and $30.4 million for the Drive Clean in the San Joaquin vehicle replacement program, according to a June 19 press release from the district. 

“While meteorology, geography and topography play a key role in the Valley’s air pollution problems, motor vehicles are the largest source of emissions,” the district said. “Since the Valley Air District does not hold regulatory authority over tailpipe emissions, a robust grants and incentives program is among its many strategies to reduce air pollution and protect public health in the San Joaquin Valley.” 

Jaime Holt, the chief communications officer for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, said the funding comes from the California Air Resources Board and is specifically for programs designed to help people in need. 

Anyone living in the boundaries of the San Joaquin Valley can participate in the Tune In and Tune Up program. The air control district partners with Valley Clean Air Now (CAN), a public charity, to conduct free smog checks on vehicles and provide vouchers for smog-related repairs if a vehicle fails the test.

“This (funding) is about those vehicles that are what we call high-polluters, so those vehicles that are harming air quality,” Holt said. “We are aware that there might be other issues with cars that may need to be repaired, but our money is really earmarked to doing those things to help us improve air quality.”

To use the program, residents can attend an in-person event or call Valley CAN to set up an appointment with a participating STAR smog shop. For vehicles that fail the smog test, Valley CAN will provide a voucher for up to $850 of smog-related repairs. 

By targeting underserved populations, the Valley air district can reach thousands to millions of people who are driving the most high-emitting vehicles in the area. Holt said that this approach has really made a difference in overall air quality and that third-party entities have “come to us and said, this is the model, this is how we want it done in other parts of the state.”

Not only does the Tune In and Tune Up program help Valley residents repair their vehicles to reduce emissions, it allows them to properly register their vehicle with the state and avoid any citations that could accompany an unregistered vehicle. According to Valley CAN, 98% of unregistered vehicles that attend the Tune In and Tune Up events complete DMV registration after receiving repairs through the program.

“What’s great about the program is, time and again, we’ve seen folks come back to us and say thank you so much, you helped me get my car repaired and that money that I was able to save has gone into putting food on my table or paying my rent or getting my kids school supplies,” Holt said. 

The Drive Clean in the San Joaquin initiative also has a vehicle replacement program and a rebate program for Californians living in the Valley portion of Kern County and all of Fresno, Tulare, Kings, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced and Madera counties. 

The $30.4 million in state funding will help fund people on the waitlist for the vehicle replacement program that is “extremely popular and currently oversubscribed,” Holt said. With that program, individuals who own a 2006 or older high-polluting vehicle and have a household income of at or below 400% of the federal poverty line ($54,360 for a single-person household) can receive money from the state to help purchase a newer gas-powered vehicle or a hybrid or electric vehicle. 

The vehicle replacement program is not taking new applications at this time, but residents can fill out an interest form and be alerted when the process opens up again, which Holt said should be around September or October. 

The rebate program does not have an income limit and provides individuals with up to $3,000, depending on the vehicle, when they purchase new or used clean-air cars, including hybrid-electric and all-electric vehicles. Holt said that people can stack the Drive Clean rebate with other programs from the state and federal government to bring down the price of a new vehicle, sometimes by as much as $10,000.

The Valley air district wants people, regardless of income level, “to consider either a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle or an all-electric vehicle as their next car,” Holt said. 

As the state moves toward a goal of zero tailpipe emissions and limits the number of gas-powered vehicles sold in California, Holt said there are many other options people can consider for purchasing and saving money on a new vehicle.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter