“Sacramento County Says It’s Illegal to Work on Your Own Car in Your Own Garage”

It’s common for communities to use zoning codes to exclude commercial and industrial uses from residential areas, but Sacramento County, California, seems extra-zealous about making sure that residents don’t try to operate auto repair businesses amid homes. While it concedes to residents the right to perform minor auto repairs on their own cars in their driveway or garage, it bans repairs or maintenance in any of the following circumstances:

1. Using tools not normally found in a residence;

2. Conducted on vehicles registered to persons, not currently residing on the lot or parcel;

3. Conducted outside a fully enclosed garage and resulting in any vehicle being inoperable for a period in excess of twenty-four hours.

So if you’re thinking of changing the oil in doing fairly minor work on your dad’s or girlfriend’s car, or trying any work that might run into a snag and have to be carried over to the next day — let alone working on a project car as a hobby, as many do — Sacramento County has other plans, and it doesn’t matter whether or not you are creating any nuisance for neighbors. “One commenter on the Grassroots Motorsports forum reported that he’d already been issued a $430 fine for working on his car in his garage.” [Jason Torchinsky, Jalopnik]


  • I forgot, which country do I live in?

  • I call BS on this, obviously the law is intended to stop your neighbor from running a car repair shop on his front lawn

    • “I call BS on” is a plenty rude way of expressing disagreement, especially when it’s not even clear what you’re disagreeing with. No one disputes that preventing neighbors from operating car repair shops on front lawns is *one* thing the law aimed at banning. Was it drafted more broadly than it had to be, so as to ban a wider range of activities than that? Yes, the quoted language proves clearly that it was. In practice, do county officials confine themselves to enforcing the rules only against commercial repair operations? While it would be nice to have more information on this, if the resident was correct in saying he got fined $430 for working in his own car in his own garage, then the answer is probably “no, they aren’t.”

      • I can believe the $430 I’m from san jose and a buddy of mine had cops every day at his house until he removed his project car that was covered , clean and was far up his driveway. Because someone said it didnt move or run . He had 7 days or would get a 1000 dollar fine. He lived in Campbell

      • Well said.

      • Walter, as a longtime reader of internet comments I smell some sarcasm in James’ comment. “Obviously intended to stop your neighbor from running a car repair shop on his front lawn” is a way of saying, “the expressed rationale is for the most egregious circumstance we would all pretty much agree on, while in practice it will be used by busybodies to hector people about the most picayune bs.”

  • … it bans repairs or maintenance in any of the following circumstances:

    1. Using tools not normally found in a residence;

    That is an interesting, and very vague, element of the offense.

    Are VOMs (Volt Ohm Milliammeter) normally found in a residence?


    Feeler gauges?

    Whitworth or metric wrenches?

    Torque wrenches?

    Torx head screwdrivers?

    They’re certainly found in some residences, even where there is no automobile. They are also useful for repair and maintenance of some automobiles.

  • So the countless generations of mechanics and collected tools over generations you can find everything from cherry pickers and motor stands to body panel poppers to crows foot wrenches , you can find it all. So what if you have a ASE’s? If it’s not a mess and a eyesore then why do people get upset?

  • This means you better be nice to your neighbors! Apparently they are enforcing on any reported violation and you are guilty until you pay another $700 to appeal it. I have many friends with restoration projects in their shops at home. They are all liable to enforcement. There is no excuse for this kind of over reach in government.

  • 1988 I got a $225 citation for changing my car’s oil in my driveway. I too the citation to the next City Council meeting and asked if they would take care of this or should I go to the media? The Head of the City Council owned two Jiffy Lube franchises and was responsible for passing the law that I was charged with breaking. One of the local television news reporters was looking for things like this. They took care of the citation.

  • Other than the petty tyrannies inflicted on people, things like this do two things, namely, erodes ordinary people’s respect for the law and also foster a culture of busybodies because it validates and empowers them.

    Couple that with examples of the high and mighty getting away with things, and you have a real problem.

  • I live in a neighborhood with a HOA and was even on the board for a while. There was one neighbor who loved to complain about things. Someone across the street from him liked working on his cars (in the garage). The complainer brought in several pictures showing him working on the cars in the garage and said he had a business going. It was pointed out that all the pictures were of the same 2 cars and nothing further was done.

    • Kurt – there is an important legal difference between an HOA and a city government. One is a private contractual arrangement; the other involves actions by government.

      • Yeah but it’s kind of a contract of adhesion. If you find the perfect house, neighbors, school, lawn, location, etc, but it has an awful HOA, sometimes the only choice is to buy but then fight the HOA tooth and nail. You can’t change it before buying.

  • This seems incredibly far reaching to me. I’m really curious, is this just in Sacramento county or is this how it is all over down there? We are getting ready to move there for my husband’s job & he has been a hobby mechanic since he was 16. He doesn’t run a business but has done all of our own maintenance & improvements himself. It has saved us incalculable amounts over the years & I’m pretty sure he is going to want to continue doing that. If it’s just Sacramento county, we know which area to avoid buying a house in. ?

    • Do NOT move there. There are many jobs in the USA, in places where you can make a difference for the BETTER. You will not win in Sacramento.. so do NOT move there. You can’t fix stupid.

      • I would find a different State. People are leaving this state in droves. The government here is authoritarian, and wants to run your life.

  • “Changing oil in your dad’s or girlfriend’s car…” – false statement: oil change is one of the operations listed under minor automotive repairs in Sacramento Zoning code.

    • Thanks for catching this. I corrected the wording in the post.

      • If your Dad or girlfriend did not live on your property, it WOULD be unlawful to change their oil.

  • So glad I don’t live somewhere like this. I like that I can shoot my firearms on my own property and work on whatever I want and have whatever I want for cars in whatever working condition I choose.

  • Don’t worry fellas, the way cars are being constructed the coming generations won’t even know how to work on a car. Pretty soon California will ban all fossil fuel cars. Ferraris, Porsches, Jags, Austin Healeys, Triumphs etc. the antique group will move to Montana.

    • Good point. What is REALLY going to happen is simple… the elite WILL have their cars of choice and have the bookoo money to pay for them. The rest of the riff raff will be in population compacting zones (aka HOAs) and call upon corporate owned electric cars, asking PERMISSION to travel…

      occupant: “Take me to Burger King”
      car : “Access Denied!”

      .. and there you have the REAL PLAN folks..

  • I think the intention of it is deter use of compressors and impact wrenches and the like..because they can be very loud. That being said..I have worked on vehicles in many garages I have owned, or apts/condos, I have lived in. Including on minor maintenance on street cars, and when I was building and maintaining race cars. It is ridiculous if Sacramento is enforcing this rule

  • What if you DON’T work on your car and it becomes inoperable for more than 24 hours because you didn’t, for example, keep the battery charged or failed to notice a flat tire? Is the time limit in “business hours”? What if your car conks out just at the beginning of a holiday AND a power outage such that not even Wal Mart is open to get replacement parts?

  • I heard that Russia was influencing things here but this is ridiculous.

    • This seems to be more of a China thing lol…not Russia. Come on…

  • How do we fight this?

    • We may have to get a petition going to overturn this law or at least modify it.

  • “using tools not normally found in a residence”
    What residence are they talking about?
    I have air compressors, air tools, hydraulic pumps, hydraulic tools (benders, etc.), sprayers, impact hammers, chainsaws, heavy duty jacks (50 to 200 ton), sand blasters and every hand tool and power tool known to man.
    I have table saws, planers, joiners, radial arm saws, ETC-ETC.
    To me those are normal household tools and I use ALL of them ALL the time.

  • “How do we fight this?”

    Apparently you would need to engage the Board of Supervisors – and failing that, run for Supervisor or support some other likeminded person’s campaign.

  • It seems to me this is pre-empted by state law. The Automotive Repair Act at Business and Professions Code Section 9880 et seq, and Title 16 of the California Code of Regulations fully occupy this area of law. Counties are limited to zone where businesses may locate.

  • This rule was obviously pushed by dealers and auto repair shops. It is so vague as to be meaningless. Tools not normally found in a residence would exclude most everything except can openers and screwdrivers. This is an attempt by government further to control us.

  • In March of this year fined nearly a thousand dollars for my hobby car. Under a car cover wheels off. Could barely see that they were off. Cited as a nuisance and dangerous. Don’t have a garage. But I do have a side of the house for RV parking. Asked if it could be moved there. Behind a six foot fence. Plenty of room for fire department to access rear of home. Told absolutely not. Repair needs to be done in fully enclosed garage. Asked if I could put up a portable garage. Told absolutely not has to be constructed of actual building materials. Which requires permits. Inspections. And told they will abate the vehicle if I don’t get it out of there. Well, they are under the impression that my vehicle has been removed. It took some doing, but it’s in my backyard. I did some work to my fence. Not allowing for any view between the boards. Good neighbor fence, I think it’s called. Let’s see how good my neighbors are. Because if it is reported again, there’s only two options for who did it. Sacramento City gives rewards to people who turn in nuisance violations. Paid to snitch. It’s deplorable.

    • Don’t blame your neighbors unless you’re sure they are snitching. I had a Code Enforcement officer self-reporting for months, only one call one time and she came back for a year based on her own self-reports. Have PRA documents showing she did it.

    • Rebecca,

      Could you contact the Pacific Legal Foundation? I’m an attorney there. We are a non-profit legal organization that brings constitutional suits against overbearing laws like this. We’d be interested in hearing your story and considering legal options.


  • Who are they to say what I do on my property, but also on my own vehicles? Telling me what tools I can and can’t purchase. If I want to purchase a tool then that is my right as well as others rights to do so. Overall, I feel this law oversteps the power of local government and is totally ridiculous.