There are plenty of reasons that your vehicle might be blowing smoke – be it excess oil burn, a failing or faulty turbocharger, a diesel particulate filter failing, valve failure, a transmission fluid leak… or it could just be that you’ve been too hard on the brakes and your rotors or pads are on fire.

    • Australia has rules around smoky cars
    • A car can be considered smoky for any number of reasons – including burnouts
    • Fines and demerit points may apply

    Heaven forbid any other part of the car is burning, but that could also be a reason – faulty wiring could smoke, for example.

    No matter what the cause of the smoke, though, you could be in more trouble than just with your mechanic. There are fines and penalties applicable across Australia for driving a vehicle that is emitting unnecessary smoke.

    Burnouts? Yep. Those emit unnecessary smoke. And for the “rolling coal” enthusiasts – firstly, you’re strange, secondly, you could find yourself in trouble if you try that on in Australia.

    Australian Road Rules, reg 291 “making unnecessary noise or smoke“, is the reference point for the various administrations across the country. It states: “A person must not start a vehicle, or drive a vehicle, in a way that makes unnecessary noise or smoke.”

    Further: “Example — Causing the wheels of the driver’s vehicle to lose traction and spin on the road surface may make unnecessary noise or smoke. Note — Other laws of this jurisdiction also deal with vehicles and equipment that make noise or smoke.”

    There are other rules around burnouts, hooning and negligent driving that we won’t touch on in strict detail here unless pertinent to the rules, but here’s a rundown of what it could cost you across the country to have a smoky car.

    New South Wales: In NSW, the General driving offences, rule 291, states: “Start/drive vehicle causing unnecessary noise/smoke” is an offence that could result in a fine of $349, as well as 3 demerit points.

    Victoria: The state also follows reg 291 of the Australian Road Rules, according to Dribbin & Brown Traffic Lawyers, and the offence carries two penalty units (a $384.62 fine).

    Further, however, Victorians can report smoky cars and vehicles to the Environmental Protection Authority, so long as the vehicle is less than 4.5 tonnes, and so long as it releases smoke for 10 seconds or more. You’ll need the details, rego, colour, date, time, and where the smoky situation occurred. 

    Queensland: The state is pretty hard on smokey cars. The offence in that jurisdiction is: “Wilfully starting or driving a vehicle in a way that makes unnecessary noise or smoke,” under the Queensland Road Rules—Section 291(1)(b). An applicable fine of $495 may be imposed, and 2 demerit points, too. 

    Northern Territory: The NT is hard on hoons, and there are a few different regulations as a result of that.

    The first is the same referred road rule as the other jurisdictions: Drive in disorderly manner or cause undue noise or smoke. That attracts a $60 fine.

    But regulation 37A, Burn outs [burnouts], clause (1) states: “A person must not drive a motor vehicle on a road or public place in a way that causes the tyres or a substance poured onto the surface of the road or place, or both the tyres and surface, to smoke when the drive wheels lose traction with the surface. Penalty: 5 penalty units.” That equates to $880. 

    Beyond that, if you are found to be creating unnecessary smoke because you are found to “Take part in event on road or public place contrary to regulation 37A(1)” you could be fined a further $220. And if you are identified to “Drive vehicle causing smoke contrary to

    regulation 37A(1)”, that’s another $220. 

    South Australia: No demerit points applicable in SA, but if your vehicle is found to “make unnecessary noise/smoke”, you could face a $241 fine plus a $99 Victims of Crime Levy, meaning a total payment of $340.

    Western Australia: In WA, the rule is worded a bit differently. Under Road Traffic Code 2000 – Reg 255, Creating excessive noise: “A person must not drive a vehicle, in such a manner as to create or cause any undue or excessive noise, or smoke.” This seems skewed more towards the burnout mindset than anything else, and the legislation gives such an example: “Causing the wheels of the driver’s vehicle to lose traction and spin on the road surface may make unnecessary noise or smoke.”

    If you’re found to do that, you could cop a $100 fine.

    ACT: In the nation’s capital, the same general rule applies: “Start/drive vehicle causing unnecessary noise/smoke” – $257 fine. 

    Tasmania: In Tassie, the wording is similar to other parts of the country: “Start vehicle or drive causing unnecessary noise/smoke” – $146.25 fine.

    Not intended as legal advice. Check with the relevant roads authority in your state or territory.

    Matt Campbell
    Matt Campbell is a Senior Contributor at CarExpert.
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