Rolling coal darkens diesel’s image

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I remember in the 1980s when car stereo amplifiers came on strong. My brother took his new Toyota 4Runner, got a nice shell and dropped in eight 12-inch Rockford Fosgate subs in the bed that were powered by a huge Orion amp that was stable down to a 1/4-ohm load. Sometimes that amp overheated and quit for a while, but it never gave up the ghost.

That stereo was amazing and it was loud—really loud. He had three Fosgate Punch 150s that handled the mids and tweets in the cab. Nearly every teenager and twenty-something that saw and heard that truck thought it was an impressive ride.

But it was also a nuisance—at least when he cranked up the volume. Windows in people’s homes would vibrate, dogs would bark and car alarms would go off.

His ride and others like it prompted people to pressure politicians to do something about it, and they did. New noise ordinances were drafted to address booming car stereos. I suppose a combination of fines, ringing ears, rattling license plates, shrinking wallets and maybe a dash or two of sanity shrunk the trend. I just don’t hear as many booming stereos anymore—not even on the beach.

Truck owners that are caught up in the rolling coal trend remind me of the booming stereo craze of the eighties and nineties—except, you just can’t turn down the volume to be more neighborly. Once that smoke pours out of those pipes, it lingers and looks nasty to most drivers. That’s the key: Most people don’t like it. It’s one thing to be subjected to an obnoxiously loud stereo, but having thick, black exhaust in your face is another story.

Most of the comments that followed the rolling coal story this week at Hard Working Trucks speak out against the practice of purposely spewing dark clouds of diesel smoke. A New York Times article reported that some drivers who ‘roll coal’ will intentionally target bike riders, Prius drivers and others that they think are too eco-friendly.

The problem is that there’s no PR team on Earth that can undo the nasty image of getting purposely gassed by a diesel truck. Diesel engine manufacturers have spent untold millions of dollars on improving emissions, and with it, the image of America’s work horse.

“I work for a major diesel engine manufacturer. We expend tremendous effort and money to make our engines emissions compliant,” Mark writes in the reader comments. “It angers me that there are knuckleheads out there willing to undo what we have worked so hard to enable; everyone benefits from clean air.

“Take a trip to a major city in China to understand the magnitude of the problem. I would support $5,000 fines. I would even support annual inspections to identify tampering and fines levied against those who have tampered with the emissions system and software.”

Dave, a reader who reports being very familiar with diesel engines, supports advancements in diesel technology and warns of health concerns over diesel smoke.

“As the owner of two diesel trucks and three pieces of diesel powered equipment, I think the smell generated by ‘coal rolling’ is terrible,” Dave writes. “Add to the fact that I am personally battling cancer I do not want to breathe any extra diesel fumes.

“I think this trend should be stopped out of common courtesy, but if fines are needed to control this new trend by a few ‘show off’ diesel truck owners then I support the fines. The diesel industry as a whole has tried to make cleaner burning diesels for years. Coal rolling gives the diesel industry a black eye.”

One of the more interesting points raised by readers—and one missed by The Gray Lady in NYC—is that some diesel trucks can’t help but spew dark smoke every now and then.

“I agree that those that do it purposely should be held responsible. But my ‘05 Dodge Ram 3500 with a 5.9 and 344,000 miles does it when it has to downshift to get more power to pull a hill and sometimes a grade,” Steve writes.

“I haven’t done anything to it like removing any emissions components. It is completely stock with no upgrades of any kind. And maintenance is up to date as I don’t like spending money on the road for repairs. If they enact more laws I will probably get caught for the actions of others when in fact my truck is doing what it has to—not me purposely doing it.”

Steve goes on to say that he’s sorry for Dave’s health problems.

“I’m sorry to hear about your cancer and hope you beat it. I have family members and good friends also fighting it. I just wished these so-called do-gooders would go after airlines and politicians that fly all over the world spewing pollutants every time they land and take off. Leave the truck drivers alone for once. I guess it’s easier to grab the final dollar from a trucking outfit than it is to go after a billion-dollar airline.”

Finally, one reader writes that ‘rolling coal’ is just a trend that will eventually fade away and doesn’t require any additional legislation in the interim.

“I think that the EPA and the states need to leave this one alone. It will die a natural death long before it can be legislated away,” Jim writes. “There are a few people (mostly kids) that do this, and stopping it will do nothing for the air quality. I live in an area where they do this a lot and it is kids blowing off steam. Let them alone.

“You have ISIS kids beheading people and we are worried about a little smoke? Seriously, this is a non-issue that a few overreacting people have taken up. The world in general and the United States in particular has WAY more to worry about than this.”

While it’s frustrating and even costly for many to have to deal with increasingly tough emissions and environmental regulations, purposely blowing smoke on people who may or may not support more government intervention is not the answer.

And that’s part of the problem with this in-your-face, tidal wave approach. Thick, black smoke doesn’t distinguish between friend and foe—anyone nearby gets a dose whether they like it or not. Those who may have been sitting on the fence about increased emissions regulations may now be inclined to endorse those new policies thanks to someone who just covered them in smoke.

Get a bumper sticker, write an editorial, start a blog, speak up at council meetings, contact lawmakers or run for office. That makes more sense than intentionally unleashing nasty exhaust on someone. Because when the smoke finally clears, diesel engines will just end up becoming an even bigger target.