The 2010 elections are here, and at no time in recent history has Washington been so divided. Less than two years ago, then-Senator Barack Obama led a movement united by the desire for change. Voters wanted a new era of bipartisan cooperation, openness, and an abandonment of "politics as usual".
The realities of backroom politics quickly eroded campaign ideals. Whether President Obama and the Democratic leadership failed to deliver, or his opponents refused the invitation, the battle lines were fortified and partisan rancor is now stronger than ever.
We are again at an election crossroads in which many voters are seeking "change". That's what this magazine article is about-an opportunity to consider how actions being taken by federal and state lawmakers impacts you, the auto enthusiast. The need for the enthusiast community to stay informed and become involved is greater than ever. From emissions to auto equipment standards, the government is making decisions about your current and future car.
This topic is not limited to Washington. While the federal government issues national rules dictating vehicle safety and emissions equipment, most other issues are handled at the state and local levels. From titling and registration to inspection/maintenance, your car is subject to decisions made by state and local officials.
The future of our hobby depends on you. The ballot box is one venue for making your views known. We also urge you to work collectively with your fellow enthusiasts. How? Join the SEMA Action Network (SAN). SAN is a partnership between enthusiasts, car clubs, and members of the specialty auto parts industry in the United States and Canada who have pledged to join forces in support of legislative solutions for the auto hobby. It's free to join and SAN keeps you informed about pending legislation and regulations-both good and bad-that will impact your state or the entire country. It also provides you with action alerts, speaking points, and lawmaker contact information if you want to support or oppose a bill. Join now: www.semasan.com.
Street Rod And Custom Vehicle Registration And Titling
Special titling and registration designation and recognition of specialty cars, including antique, street rod, custom, classic, collector, modified, replica, and kit car vehicles, has led to an easing of certain equipment standards and exemptions from stringent emission testing-allowing enthusiasts to enjoy the auto hobby legally and providing more business opportunities to the industry. SAN supports initiatives to establish distinctive license plates and separate vehicle code definitions for these cars to increase awareness and allow special consideration during emission testing and equipment inspections. SAN also supports initiatives to create classic motor vehicle project titles that apply to vehicles undergoing restoration that are at least 25 years old, not road worthy, and currently without a title or with a title from another state. SAN also supports initiatives to establish minimal one-time registration fees for specialty vehicles.
Street rods, customs, and kit cars are a unique and exciting niche of the automotive hobby and are enjoyed by hobbyists across the country. That is why for the past 10 years SAN, with the support of its dedicated enthusiasts, has championed SEMA-model legislation to make them easier to title and register. Beginning with Illinois in 2001, versions of the model bill have been successful in helping hobbyists title their rods in 20 states to date and SAN is working to add four more states to the list: Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio.
For many vehicle enthusiasts throughout America, building, maintaining, and enjoying their vehicles is a favorite pastime. The SEMA-model legislation represents an opportunity to acknowledge their commitment to the hobby and to protect it for future generations. As market trends come and go it seems the street rod and custom car segment remains a consistently "hot" segment of the automotive aftermarket. Participants on both sides of the counter are driven by passion and enthusiasm. After all, what could be better than going for a cruise in a shiny deuce coupe on a Saturday morning? To the citizens who the street rod and custom bill would most benefit, not much.
However, beloved street rods and customs (including kit cars and replicas) have long struggled to find their place in the law. Almost all states have processes through which antiques can be registered, but fewer provide adequately for modified cars. Hobbyists attempting to title and register vehicles that they have built from the ground up must often find loopholes in their state's code to get it out on the road. The steps can be so time-consuming and confusing that many throw in the towel.
Summary of the SEMA Street Rod Custom Vehicle Bill
Defines a street rod as an altered vehicle manufactured before 1949 and a custom vehicle as an altered vehicle manufactured after 1948. Provides specific registration classes and license plates for street rods and custom vehicles. Provides that replica vehicles and kit cars will be assigned the same model-year designations as the production vehicles they most closely resemble and allows the use of non-original materials. Exempts street rods and custom vehicles from periodic vehicle inspections and emissions inspections. Provides that vehicles titled and registered as street rods and custom vehicles may only be used for occasional transportation, exhibitions, club activities, parades, tours, etc., and not for general daily transportation. Exempts street rods and custom vehicles from a range of standard equipment requirements.
Most scrappage programs allow "smokestack" industries to avoid reducing their own emissions by buying pollution credits generated through destroying older vehicles. These programs accelerate the normal retirement of vehicles through the purchase of older cars, which are then typically crushed into blocks of scrap metal. Hobbyists suffer from the indiscriminate destruction of older cars, trucks, and parts. America safeguards its artistic and architectural heritage against indiscriminate destruction, and our automotive and industrial heritage deserves the same protection.
While some legislation designed to spur sales of new and used automobiles is positive, such as vouchers toward the purchase of a new or used cars or tax credits to help upgrade, repair, or maintain older vehicles, scrappage provisions are not. Scrappage programs focus on vehicle age rather than actual emissions produced. This approach is based on the erroneous assumption that all "old cars are dirty cars". However, the true culprits are "gross polluters"-vehicles of any model year that are poorly maintained. Scrappage programs ignore better options like vehicle maintenance, repair, and upgrade programs that maximize the emissions systems of existing vehicles. In the past year, scrappage initiatives have been defeated in California, North Carolina, and Washington.
Through SAN, enthusiasts played a vital role in altering federal scrappage legislation in 2009 when an amendment was worked into the "Cash for Clunkers" program to spare vehicles 25 years and older from the scrappage heap and expand parts recycling opportunities. This provision helped safeguard older vehicles, which are irreplaceable to hobbyists as a source of restoration parts.
Don't Get Zoned Out!
You come home one afternoon only to find a ticket on your project vehicle that's parked on your property. Sounds like a nightmare scenario, doesn't it? But in some areas of the country, it's all too real. State and local laws-some on the books now, others pending-can or will dictate where you can work to restore or modify your project vehicle. Believe it or not, that project car or truck you've stashed behind your house until the new crate engine arrives or the cherished collectible you've hung onto since high school to pass down to your kids could very easily be towed right out of your yard depending on the zoning laws in your area.
Why is the long arm of the law reaching into your backyard? Some zealous government officials are waging war against what they consider "eyesores". To us, of course, these are valuable on-going restoration projects. But to a non-enthusiast lawmaker, your diamond-in-the-rough looks like a junker ready for the salvage yard. If you're not careful, that's exactly where it will wind up.
For the purposes of these laws, "inoperable vehicles" are most often defined as those on which the engine, wheels, or other parts have been removed, altered, damaged, or allowed to deteriorate so that the vehicle cannot be driven.
This year, SAN defeated bills in Hawaii, Kansas, Nebraska, Virginia, and West Virginia that would have established unreasonable restrictions on backyard restoration projects. In response to these and other anti-hobbyist efforts, SEMA has drafted its own inoperable vehicle bill that's fair to restorers while still considerate of neighbors who don't want a junkyard operating next door. The SEMA-model bill simply states that project vehicles and their parts must be maintained or stored outside of "ordinary public view". States can adopt this model legislation as their own; in 2005, Kentucky did just that. This past session, Vermont also chose to protect hobbyists from a bill that was targeted at salvage yards. The new law increases the regulation of salvage yards and automobile graveyards in the state, but includes a provision stipulating that hobbyists are not to be confused with the owners of automobile graveyards.
A model inoperative vehicle bill should contain the following elements: An explicit provision prohibiting a local area from adopting or implementing an ordinance or land use regulation that prohibits a person from engaging in the activities of an automobile collector in an area zoned by the municipality. A definition of collector vehicles that includes parts cars. A provision allowing an automobile collector to conduct mechanical repairs and modifications to a vehicle on private property. A provision mandating that government authorities provide actual notice to the vehicle's last registered owner and provide an opportunity for voluntary compliance prior to confiscation. A provision mandating due process of the law (adequate notice, right to hearing, etc.) prior to the removal of a vehicle from private property. Language to permit the outdoor storage of a motor vehicle if the vehicle is maintained in such a manner as not to constitute a health hazard. The condition that parts vehicles be located away from public view, or screened by means of a suitable fence, trees, shrubbery, opaque covering, or other appropriate means.
Emissions And Smog Check Programs
Many states operate their own emissions inspection programs in areas that the EPA has designated as a "nonattainment area," meaning that the area has not attained the EPA's required air quality. To meet the EPA's emissions reduction requirements, many states are now implementing more stringent emission inspection and maintenance (I/M) programs.
Many states have incorporated the OBD testing method as part of the vehicle emissions inspection for '96-and-newer vehicles. These OBD tests replace tailpipe tests by identifying emissions problems through information stored in the vehicle's on-board computer system. Some states have even proposed only testing vehicles with the OBD test, limiting the vehicles that need to be tested to those manufactured in 1996 and later. The I/M 240 is an enhanced emissions testing program, with 240 representing the number of seconds that the tailpipe portion of the test lasts. I/M 240 tests require visual inspection of emissions control devices, an evaporative emissions test, and a transient drive-cycle exhaust emissions test, performed while the vehicle is running on rollers. Many state programs mistakenly fail vehicles in the visual test based on the presence of aftermarket engine products or force older collector vehicles to undergo some type of testing.
Policy makers must properly focus inspection procedures and not confuse legitimate aftermarket parts with emission defeat devices and tampering violations. The hobby must also pursue proactive legislative initiatives to establish exemptions from inspections for low-mileage vehicles, classic vehicles (defined as 25 years old and older), and newer vehicles. It is useful to remind legislators that the emissions from this small portion of the vehicle fleet are negligible. This is especially true when you consider the low miles typically driven by hobby vehicles and the excellent condition in which these vehicles are maintained.
Equipment Standards And Inspections
The federal government, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has the right to set, enforce, and investigate safety standards for new motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. These Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) are performance-based. They do not dictate design elements. For example, the federal lighting standard prescribes the photometric requirements for a headlamp but doesn't dictate shape or size.
The FMVSS covers basic types of equipment (tires, rims, headlamps/taillamps, brake hoses) and establishes vehicle crashworthiness requirements (front and side impact, roof crush resistance, fuel system integrity).
Emissions and emissions-related parts are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and various state agencies, primarily the California Air Resources Board (CARB). For products sold in California (and states that have adopted the California standards), manufacturers must conform to standards issued by CARB.
Federal law prohibits states from issuing motor vehicle safety regulations that conflict with federal standards. However, states are free to enact and enforce safety and equipment regulations that are identical to the FMVSS or, in the absence of a federal rule, establish their own laws and regulations. The most frequent examples of individual state rules cover parts like "optional" or "accessory" lighting equipment, noise levels for exhaust and stereo systems, suspension height, and window tinting. States also establish rules on how a vehicle is titled and registered. State and local jurisdictions have the authority to regulate inoperable vehicles or determine whether an enthusiast is engaged in a business versus private activity. State and local law enforcement officials issue tickets and inspect cars.
State laws have evolved over many generations and they continue to change. Some laws are better than others, and there is a constant need to remind state policy makers not to be biased in favor of the vehicle's original equipment, such as lighting, tires and wheels, suspension components, and bumper/frame height. For example, some state laws allow motorists to be ticketed when an officer has made a subjective noise level determination that the exhaust system is "louder than what came with the car". Opposing arbitrary and unnecessarily restrictive equipment and inspection laws is a constant challenge.
How Loud Is Too Loud?
Imagine driving down the road and getting stopped for the modified muffler on your hot rod. Now imagine sitting on the shoulder, receiving a citation from local law enforcement, while a stock Ferrari overtakes your car and drives on. This is the scene being played on state highways across the country, the result of poorly drafted or ineffective state laws and regulations. The laws on the books in these states frequently cite the manufacturer's specifications or a factory-installed muffler as the basis on which vehicle exhaust noise is measured.
On this topic, states can generally be divided into two major categories: states with noise standards and states without noise standards. Of the states with a test standard on the books, many ignore guidelines when handing out citations. Most states that have chosen to go the route of setting specifications choose to measure a vehicle's noise by decibels. States that have quantifiable noise standards on the books are shaded red on the map below. These standards often go unenforced. One reason these regulations are not enforced is that they are based on an in-use standard-exhaust noise is measured while a vehicle is in motion on the highway. The states that employ these operating standards typically divide vehicles into classes and then set separate standards: one for vehicles while driving on roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or less and a second standard for vehicles driving on roadways with a speed limit greater than 35 mph. The measurements are to be taken while the vehicle is in motion on the road, usually from a distance of 50 feet from the center lane of travel.
Other states choose not to specify a quantifiable noise standard. These states are shown in yellow on the map. Typical language in these states' statutes includes prohibitions on "excessive or unusual noise" from a vehicle's exhaust system. While most motorists believe that exhaust systems should not be used in a way that causes overly loud or objectionable noise, these vague provisions fail to provide a clear and objective standard for those seeking more durable exhaust systems that enhance a vehicle's appearance and increase performance.
Language that effectively limits the use of aftermarket exhausts can be found among both yellow and red states. Such language includes sentences such as "no person shall modify the exhaust system of a motor vehicle in any manner which will amplify or increase the noise or sound emitted louder than that emitted by the muffler originally installed on the vehicle". While such language does not specifically prohibit all modification, it doesn't provide any means of measuring whether a vehicle has been acceptably modified. Such language also negatively affects the aftermarket industry by placing the noise limit authority in the hands of the OEMs and ignores the fact that aftermarket exhaust systems are designed to make vehicles run more efficiently without increasing emissions.
The green on the map identifies the three states that have enacted SEMA-model legislation to provide enthusiasts and law enforcement officials with a fair and enforceable alternative. The model legislation establishes a 95dB exhaust noise limit based on an industry standard adopted by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Under this standard (SAE J1169), a sound meter is placed 20 inches from the exhaust outlet at a 45-degree angle and the engine is revved to three-quarters of maximum-rated horsepower. The highest decibel reading is then recorded.
My Engine is Not a Vegetarian, It Wants Gas
There is a battle raging in Washington that may force you to put ethanol in your car, whether you want to or not. The U.S. EPA currently allows gasoline to include up to 10 percent ethanol (E-10), a fuel additive made from corn or other biomass sources. The ethanol industry wants the EPA to increase the amount to 15 percent.
Who would object?
Answer: Millions of owners of high-performance engines and older cars who fear corrosion and other nasty side effects. Ethanol attracts water. In turn, the resulting condensation can corrode the fuel lines, fixtures, and tank components (steel, rubber, aluminum, etc). We're talking rust, clogging, and deterioration. For modern cars, the oxygen atom in the ethanol molecule may confuse the exhaust sensor when measuring the fuel/air mixture going into the cylinders. The mixture may be too lean, producing a hot exhaust capable of damaging the catalytic converter. The end result may also be more nitrogen oxides, a building block for smog.
Many newer engines and parts have been designed to be more compatible with alcohol fuels, and E-15 will not be an issue. But E-10 has been a problem for some current and older models, and E-15 may be worse. Many in the auto industry have cautioned the EPA to do more science before it rules on the request.
Why does it matter? The fact is gasoline without ethanol may eventually become scarce or non-existent at the pump. We also face an education curve. For many people who already ignore the "contains up to 10 percent ethanol" they won't understand that 15 percent may cost them a pretty penny in repair bills.
A Quick Guide To Paint Regulations
There are two main issues with respect to regulatory oversight, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). VOCs include both man-made and naturally occurring chemical compounds that are released into the atmosphere as a gas. They are found in oil-based paints, adhesives, and cleaning supplies and may trigger respiratory irritation, headaches, or other health concerns. VOCs also react with nitrogen oxides and sunlight to form smog. Both federal and state regulators have imposed limits on VOC emissions, primarily at the manufacturer level. A number of products, from paint to engine degreasers and windshield washer fluids, have been reformulated to reduce their VOC levels. Additionally, there has been an effort to switch the public from oil-based paints and cleaning solvents (enamel, lacquer, mineral spirits, etc.) to water-based paints like latex. The paint industry has expanded the range of water-based finishes that are available to assist in the conversion. Sometimes it is not a voluntary switch. A number of states or urban areas have banned retail sales of certain oil-based products in an effort to combat smog.
HAPs pose a separate concern. They are hazardous metal compounds-cadmium, chromium, nickel, etc.-that become airborne during paint stripping operations or surface coating and autobody refinishing operations. The EPA now regulates most activities except low-volume operations, such as when hobbyists restore or customize one or two personal vehicles (or the equivalent in pieces) per year. The EPA rule establishes "best practices" (spray booth, spray gun cleaning, etc.) for minimizing HAP emissions during surface coating operations.
Regulating paint has been a balancing act: making sure hobbyists and commercial entities have access to affordable, quality paints while protecting health and environment. It has also been a moving target, since there is always the chance rules put in place today may not be deemed adequate upon further review. A good source for additional information is: http://www.ccar-greenlink.org/paintrule.html.
Engine Swaps Made Easier
Hobbyists frequently ask us about the rules governing engine switching in project vehicles. First of all, those engaged in engine switching activities are bound by specific state laws that may vary from state to state. Having said that, there are some general guidelines one may consider. This article will cover the rules for switching the engine in production-type vehicles (but not specially constructed vehicles, street rods, kit cars, and the like). The basic rule of engine switching (as opposed to installing a "replacement" engine) is that the change must do no harm. This means that the engine being installed must theoretically be at least as "clean" as the one taken out. Several requirements may define "clean" for the purposes of engine switching:
Model Year: The engine to be installed must be the same age or newer than the one being replaced. Crate engines can be used if they are configured to resemble an engine that was certified by the U.S. EPA and/or CARB. This essentially means that the required emissions parts must be present on the engine.
Certification Level: The engine to be installed must come from a vehicle certified to meet the same or more stringent emissions standards than the one replaced.
Vehicle Class: An engine from a vehicle class such as a motor home, medium-duty truck, or marine application must not be used since these engines were certified to different types of emissions standards, using different tests.
System/Equipment: When swapping in a newer engine from a later-model vehicle, all of the relevant emissions control equipment must be transferred as well. This includes the carbon canister, the catalytic converter(s), and even parts of the on-board diagnostic (OBD) system. Some states have exceptions to this requirement, but the general rule is that as much of the donor vehicle's emissions system as possible should be transferred. The vehicle will likely run more efficiently with a full transfer of the system and shouldn't cause any undue heartache.
Of course, engine switching can be much more complex than described here, but these are good general rules to follow and should keep engine switchers out of trouble in most cases.
The U.S. EPA and many states have enforceable policies and guidelines on how to perform legal engine changes. For further information, please consult the EPA and California Bureau of Automotive Repair at: www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/policies/civil/caa/mobile/engswitch.pdf and www.bar.ca.gov/80_BARResources/07_AutoRepair/Engine_Change_Guidelines.html.
SEMA Action Network Maintains Record of Achievement
Legislative Partnership has Yielded Unprecedented Successes
Gridlock and bitter partisan politics continue to persist in Washington, D.C., and in the state capitals around the country, making positive legislative action difficult. Fortunately, SAN has been breaking through the gridlock and promoting legislative solutions for the automotive hobby since 1997.
SAN is a partnership between enthusiasts, vehicle clubs, and members of the specialty automotive parts industry in the United States and Canada who have joined forces to promote hobby-friendly legislation and oppose unfair laws. With nearly 40,000 members, 3 million contacts, and an ability to reach 30 million enthusiasts through print and press, SAN is the premier organization defending the rights of the vehicle hobby. SAN is free to join with no obligations or commitments.
When it comes to taking the action needed to protect the automotive hobby, only SAN has the experience, the resources, and the dedicated network of enthusiasts to stop unreasonable bills in their tracks and keep the hobby free from overly restrictive government regulation. No other organization brings such a comprehensive set of tools and resources to bear on this mission.
In its 13-year history, the effect of SAN on shaping government policy has been enormous. SAN has successfully: enacted street rod and custom vehicle (including kit cars and replicas) registration and titling laws in 20 states; protected classic vehicles waiting to be restored on private property from confiscation; safeguarded legal off-road nitrous oxide use with SAN model legislation; defended enthusiast's right to use more durable aftermarket exhaust systems; junked state level "Cash for Clunkers" legislation; enacted legislation to lower taxes and fees for hobbyist vehicles; and advocated to ensure public lands remain open to responsible off-road recreation.
The current economic and legislative environment is emboldening the government to become more aggressive with their anti-auto hobby legislation. States are seeking new avenues for generating revenue and new ways of dictating what you can and cannot do with your vehicles. The message government is sending is clear-the hobby needs the SEMA Action Network now more than ever. Enlist now in this fellowship of auto enthusiasts, join SAN at www.semasan.com.
Lobby for the Hobby
By speaking out on issues that concern the automotive hobby, contacting our representatives, and working constructively with government officials, we have the power to protect our passion and keep it safe for future generations of auto hobbyists and enthusiasts. To get you started, we have prepared 10 tips you can use when contacting your representatives:
1. Develop and maintain relationships with your legislators and their staff
Make contact and develop productive relationships with individual legislators. It is the most effective form of grassroots lobbying. It's also important to develop a relationship with the staff who monitors ongoing legislative and community initiatives.
2. Educate legislators about our hobby and our issues
Educate your legislator about the hobby and emphasize the positive impact it has on the community.
3. Maintain a positive attitude
Develop a positive relationship with your legislator. The next time an enthusiast-related issue comes up, that same legislator may be needed to support your cause.
4. Stay informed
Keep up-to-date on the legislative issues that affect the hobby in your state. Share this information with fellow enthusiasts.
5. Get involved in the community
Join with other community groups to build positive exposure. Holding charity runs and fund-raisers provides a great opportunity to show local residents and politicians that auto clubs are a positive community force.
6. Build relationships with the local media
Contact local newspapers and radio/TV stations to publicize car shows, charity events, etc.
7. Invite officials to participate in your events
Give legislators a platform to reach an audience of constituents.
8. Build an automotive coalition
Create coalitions to add strength in numbers and ensure that the rights of all vehicle enthusiasts are represented. Actively participating in regional and statewide councils will develop a unified message to lawmakers. These types of pro-hobbyist groups can be an influential political force.
9. Spread the word
Take this information to your next club meeting, cruise night, or post it on your online forums. Share this information with other enthusiasts who are willing to help lobby for the hobby.
10. Register to vote
Exercise your right to support pro-hobby candidates. Constituents are an elected official's number one priority. Without you and your vote of support, they would not be in office, so make sure you're registered and get out and vote.