Mmfp 1011 02 O Sema Action Network Legislation Battles Sema Show Mustang
September 21, 2010

In the November issue we're covering some of the legislative issues involving the car hobby. Because of space limitations we couldn't include everything. So, here is more information about those issues and what you can do to get involved.

Inoperable Vehicles
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.

Hobbyists are becoming increasingly concerned about the many states and localities currently enforcing or attempting to legislate strict property or zoning laws that include restrictions on visible inoperable automobile bodies and parts. Often, removal of these vehicles from private property is enforced through local nuisance laws with minimal or no notice to the owner. Jurisdictions enforce or seek to enact these laws for a variety of reasons, most particularly because they believe: 1) inoperative vehicles are eyesores that adversely affect property values or 2) inoperative vehicles pose a health risk associated with leaking fluids and chemicals. Many such laws are drafted broadly, allowing for the confiscation of vehicles being repaired or restored.

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. The following are some common conditions that cause vehicles to be in violation of these laws:

  • Missing tires
  • Vehicle on blocks
  • Front windshield missing
  • No engine
  • Steering wheel missing
  • License plate with expired registration date
  • No license tag

In the 2009-2010 legislative session, hobbyists 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. The new law defines an "automobile hobbyist" as a person not primarily engaged in the sale of vehicles and parts or dismantling junk vehicles. Further, the definition of "automobile graveyard" does not include an area used by an automobile hobbyist for storage and restoration purposes, provided their activities comply with federal, state and municipal law.

A model inoperative vehicle bill should contain the following elements:

  1. 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.
  2. A definition of collector vehicles that includes parts cars.
  3. A provision allowing an automobile collector to conduct mechanical repairs and modifications to a vehicle on private property.
  4. 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.
  5. A provision mandating due process of the law (adequate notice, right to hearing, etc.) prior to the removal of a vehicle from private property.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Experience indicates that it will be helpful to make a few preparations when you are working in your state or locality to modify damaging proposed inoperable vehicle language:

  1. Develop a specialty vehicle definition (e.g. vehicle is 25 years old or older; limited production vehicle; special interest vehicle, etc.).
  2. Build a coalition of interested clubs and organizations.
  3. Propose fair alternative language that benefits both the hobbyist and the community (e.g. screened from ordinary public view by means of a suitable fence, trees, shrubbery, etc.)
  4. Garner support from local media.
  5. Be persistent in your efforts.

Emissions, Smog Check Programs
Many states operate their own I/M 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. The EPA checks for carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide when designating these areas and when an area does not meet the standard for any individual pollutant, or any combination of the pollutants, then it is placed on the list of nonattainment areas.

To meet the EPA's emissions reduction requirements, many states are implementing more stringent emission inspection and maintenance (I/M) programs. An I/M program may be currently operating in your state, or could be soon.

Many states have incorporated the OBD testing method as part of the vehicle emissions inspection for 1996 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.

New Car Emissions Inspection Exemptions
It is not an effective use of resources to perform emissions tests on newer vehicles. The results of these tests predominately demonstrate no significant threats to air quality from these vehicles. New vehicles are regulated by the EPA, which provides strict emissions standards, which these vehicles have already met. The idea behind exempting all classes of new vehicles is to reduce costs while not losing appreciable emission reductions. This strategy builds support for emission inspection programs, but also directs finite resources to where they will be most valuable in cleaning the air. Even California, the toughest state on vehicle emissions, recognized the benefits of exempting new vehicles and does not require smog checks to be performed on vehicles 6 model years old or newer.