'Diesel Brothers' star ordered to stop selling, building smoke-blowing trucks

Monday , June 18, 2018 - 5:15 AM12 comments

A Woods Cross-based mechanic who rose to stardom with online antics and souped-up diesel truck giveaways has been slapped with an injunction to stop tampering with vehicles.

Dave “Heavy D” Sparks stars in “Diesel Brothers,” a Discovery Channel reality-TV show where he and several friends buy diesel trucks, build them up at Sparks Motors in Davis County (registered as B&W Motors), then sell them on the website DieselSellerz.com. The shows also feature a variety of stunts, like jumps, truck tugs of war and loads of vehicles spewing black smoke.

Some of the tomfoolery caught the attention of environmental group Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, which filed a lawsuit against the Diesel Brothers and Sparks’ businesses. They claim the crew has violated the federal Clean Air Act, which forbids tampering with vehicle emissions components. 

The physicians group filed its lawsuit in January 2017, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped Sparks Motors from selling tampered trucks with emissions that don’t meet factory standards.

As recently as April of this year, a contractor with Davis County’s diesel emissions testing center confirmed a truck was for sale at the site with its emissions controls removed.

RELATEDDiscovery Channel 'Diesel Brothers' group sued by Utah environmental advocates

That prompted Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment attorney Reed Zars to ask for a court-ordered injunction against Sparks while the case makes its way through U.S. District Court.

A judge issued that preliminary injunction on June 8, which bars Sparks from making any after-market modifications of a truck’s emission controls or selling any vehicle that has been altered.

“It was a significant part of their business,” Zars said. “We’re glad to see, at least during the pendency of the case, they’re prohibited from engaging in that practice.”

Story continues below photo.

Zars has spent the last year and a half building a mound of evidence against Sparks and his team, which includes video, testimony from buyers and Sparks’s own admissions in a deposition. Attorneys for the Diesel Brothers, however, argue tampering isn’t a big part of their business and there’s no proof their pollution irreparably harmed the physicians group.

The Wasatch Front, where the Diesel Brothers are based, is prone to strong bouts of wintertime particulate smog and summertime ozone. These pollutants are largely caused by vehicle emissions. Air pollution can exacerbate breathing problems for sensitive groups, like the elderly, children and those with asthma.

The Standard-Examiner attempted to contact representatives for Sparks and the Diesel Brothers for comment, but at the time of publication, calls were not returned.

Sparks gave a deposition in August 2017 where he explained some of his business practices, gave some insight into the tampering market and shared his thoughts about “coal-rolling” — the practice of altering trucks and using them to intentionally blow black smoke at pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists.


 Read the entire David Sparks deposition, annotated by the Standard-Examiner


WHERE THERE’S SMOKE, THERE’S REGRET

“There’s nothing I hate more than getting in a truck and having it blow smoke on traffic behind me,” Sparks told Zars in the deposition. “It makes me feel like the biggest asshole in the world.”

Sparks acknowledged he participated in YouTube videos that featured coal-rolling trucks and that his businesses once sold T-shirts that promoted the activity, but his attitudes have since changed. 

RELATEDDiesel Brothers' attorneys argue to dismiss Utah citizens' clean air lawsuit

“To me, that is the most embarrassing, most black eye of my business, the roll coal days,” he said in the deposition. “It really is. It’s a moment I’m not proud of.”

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment identified 17 vehicles with emissions controls Sparks or his staff had a hand in altering. Throughout the deposition, Sparks explained his role in modifying some of the trucks.

Story continues below photo.

In addition to altering some vehicles themselves, they also sent some vehicles to third parties for a “tune” — reprogramming the vehicle’s performance as well as its onboard diagnostic system so it wouldn’t detect the alternations.

In many cases, a tampered truck will go into “limp mode,” limiting it to one gear and forcing it to drive slowly until fixed. Some tuners can bypass this control.

BLAME CANADA (AND AUCTIONS)

Most of Sparks’ operation, however, seemed to involve minor repairs and detailing.

A “central” part of his business, according to court documents, is buying trucks from auctions, doing a few repairs then flipping them for a profit.

RELATED:  ‘Diesel Brothers’ lawsuit reveals challenges of emissions enforcement in Utah

Sparks suggested he’s just a small fish in a sea of tampering. He said many of the vehicles he bought from auction already came with tweaked emissions systems  — diesel particulate filters chopped off, catalytic converters removed, sensors dismantled. Many of these pre-modified trucks, Sparks said, came to U.S. auctions from Canada.

Canada, he claimed, moves around a “thousand” tampered vehicles to the U.S. every month. Defeat devices and tuning programs, he said, have also flooded the market from Australia or New Zealand. High-profile EPA actions against U.S. manufacturers of emissions-altering equipment created that “underground” market.

Story continues below photo.

After buying trucks at auction they knew were modified, Sparks said he and his staff sometimes modified the systems further by adding different mufflers or exhaust stacks. 

Sparks also said in his deposition that fixing the hacked emissions systems would’ve been too expensive. 

“It you go to a dealer, it’s five grand for the (diesel particulate filter) alone, and then you have to get the sensors and whatever else comes with it,” Sparks said. “And that was my understanding that it wasn’t my responsibility to rectify somebody else’s job.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it’s illegal for any individual to tamper with a vehicle’s factory emissions controls. It’s also illegal for mechanics to work on vehicles when they know those controls have been modified.

ROAD RULES

Sparks also claimed that he expected the majority of the tampered trucks would be driven off-road or at competitions. He said he was told selling tampered vehicles with an “off-road only” disclaimer freed him from any liability.

In fact, the EPA prohibits after-market tampering of any motor vehicle, no matter where it’s driven.

Story continues below photo.

Some evidence also seems to suggest the Diesel Brothers crew knew at least some of their smoking vehicles would be driven on public highways and roads.

One YouTube video, for example, shows two Diesel Brothers picking up an Alaska man from the Salt Lake City airport after he won a truck in a sweepstake. The pair noted the winner was going to drive the truck “all the way back to Alaska.” The cherry-red six-door Ford is seen blasting clouds of black smoke out of a vertical stack as it pulls onto a public street.

In another legal deposition, a man from southern Utah recalled meeting someone with one of Sparks’ businesses in Beaver or Fillmore to buy a truck he found online.

The buyer said he mostly drove the truck to and from work. He also used it to tow a boat and said the truck’s emission stack produced so much black soot that he “got sick of cleaning it.” 

Story continues below photo.

While some of the Diesel Brothers’ actions have raised the ire of clean air advocates, they’ve also used their fame to foster goodwill in the community. Last summer they donated an armored amphibious vehicle to Davis Search and Rescue. 

RELATEDDiesel Brothers give armored military troop carrier to Davis Search and Rescue

Earlier this month, Sparks reached out to a Spanish-speaking family that was harassed by a former Weber County mechanic over Memorial Day. He fixed and upgraded the family’s truck for free.

The U.S. District Court is still mulling Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment’s request for a partial summary judgment on the case, filed in September. 

It’s not clear if Discovery Channel has renewed “Diesel Brothers” for a fourth season. 

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or llarsen@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook.com/LeiaInTheField or on Twitter @LeiaLarsen

Sign up for e-mail news updates.

×