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How to report a noisy car exhaust

September 23, 2022 by

Annoyed by a noisy exhaust? We can help

After a long day, most of us savour the peace and quiet of home. But, particularly if you live close to the road, or in town, noisy exhausts can be a real nuisance.

The term ‘boy racer’ is often bandied about when cars with noisy exhausts blast down the road, but regardless of the demographics of noisy exhaust owners, some cars’ exhausts are so loud they can wake people up in the middle of the night, or cause windows (as well as eardrums) to vibrate.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, you may want to report a noisy exhaust. And while it may be difficult to do this with passing traffic (where catching a number plate is not always possible), if you are regularly plagued by the same noisy car or cars, you may wish to report it to the authorities in the hopes they can take some form of action.

What is the legal noise limit for a car exhaust?

New cars produced since 2016 are legally not allowed to be louder than 72 decibels (dB). For reference, normal conversation is around 60dB, while a vacuum cleaner is closer to 80dB. The legal level for car exhausts is set to reduce to 68dB in 2026. Cars must meet the 72-dB level during their ‘type approval’, which is required before they can be sold. It is also illegal to modify a car’s exhaust so that it is noisier than it was when it was type approved.

Who do I report a noisy exhaust to?

There are four main scenarios for noisy exhausts, and each requires a different approach:

  1. A neighbour has a noisy exhaust that disturbs you on a regular basis
  2. Random vehicles on a nearby road are noisy
  3. The same local residents regularly drive down a nearby road with an exhaust of excessive volume
  4. There is a ‘car meet’, where individuals gather together with the cars, revving their engines loudly

1. A noisy neighbour

In the first scenario the best thing to do first is speak to your neighbour in a polite and friendly manner, focussing on the noise the car makes rather than what you may think of them as an individual. They may not be aware their car is causing a disturbance, and could take action (not revving it, changing any vehicle settings that are available) to improve things.

If this does not work, you could consider contacting your local council and making a noise complaint. They be able to take action under the Environmental Protection Act, although they may advise that a resolution is more likely if you contact the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) or the police, as it may be easier for one of those organisations to take action based on a breach of Motor Vehicle (Construction and Use) Regulations.

Do be aware, though, that if approaching your neighbour directly does not work and you then contact the authorities, your neighbour may have an idea of who made the noise complaint, and this is unlikely to improve relations with them. It may be best to speak with other neighbours first about the noisy exhaust; you may be able to act as a group, diffusing any blame that might be levelled by the noisy exhaust owner. It also doesn’t hurt to get other people’s opinion on what is, ultimately, a subjective area.

2. Random vehicles

If random vehicles using a nearby road regularly have loud exhausts, you may want to consider creating a log of how often you experience disturbance. You could also consider compiling video or audio evidence, while bandying together with neighbours to add more weight when you complain to the council or police.

It is worth highlighting that noisy exhausts are often a by-product of cars revving hard, which may also be connected to speeding; this could be an additional factor in any argument you put to the authorities to take action. You could even consider buying a speed camera online (they’re around £250) either by yourself or with neighbours. While any readings or speeding incidents this detects would not be enforceable as it would not be calibrated by police, and you would not be trained in its use, evidence such as this can help authorities form a picture of the problems.

3. The usual suspects

It may be that there are a few local residents who are loud-exhaust enthusiasts, and they regularly put in an appearance on a nearby road, sharing their passion with residents who may not have the same appreciation for a loud exhaust.

If this is the case, consider logging number plates alongside compiling dates and times of incidents. Then, contact the authorities as described above. It may well be that the same culprits are reported on a regular basis by residents of more than one street.

4. A car meet

There is nothing illegal about car enthusiasts meeting up to their vehicles off and exchange pleasantries with each other, but some car meets do feature engine revving and irresponsible driving behaviour (burnouts, donuts, drifting, J-turns, Scandinavian flicks and so on) that may be accompanied by loud exhaust noises. As above, consider contacting the police if there is a nearby car meet with miscreant behaviour such as this.

What can authorities do about loud car exhausts?

Police forces have access to sophisticated, type-approved audio analysers that allow them to determine if a car’s exhaust is illegally loud.

Drivers with loud exhausts can be issued with on-the-spot fines of £50, while police can also issue a notice that requires a car to be taken off the road until its illegal exhaust has been rectified.

A Government-backed trial of noise cameras that measure the volume of passing cars, automatically reading number plates and issuing fines to offenders is now in its second stage. It is quite possible that this technology will become as commonplace as speed cameras in years to come.

How is a car’s noise measured?

A new measurement programme for exhaust noise assessment was introduced in 2015, and it is seriously complex and involved.

To give you an idea of how assessments are made, though, the previous pass-by test (there is also a test for static cars) saw a microphone placed 7.5 metres away from where a car is to pass, with measurements starting from 10 metres as the car approaches, and ending after it has passed 10 metres from the mic. The car would approach at 50km/h (31mph), with full acceleration starting and ending at the 10-metre bookends.

What do car makers do to reduce vehicle noise?

Many modern performance cars have ‘soft limiters’. These stop the engine from being revved past a certain point when the car is stationary. Other noise-reduction techniques include engine-bay sound insulation, more sophisticated exhaust systems, and the fitment of acoustic undertrays to the bottom of the car.

Why are some car exhausts so noisy?

While it may be illegal to modify a car so its exhaust is noisier than it was when it left the factory, this doesn’t mean people always abide by (or know about) this law. It is also worth highlighting that while the noise assessments that are part of vehicle type approval have got stricter, they only measure noise within a specific set of parameters; cars that are noisier outside of these scenarios can still meet regulatory requirements.

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