Evan J. Smith
September 21, 2010
Contributers: Jim McFarland, Sema Action Network Photos By: Courtesy of SEMA, MM&FF

Since the very first vehicle was built, modifying, racing, and/or personalizing your vehicle has been a rite of passage. Altering your Ford to suit your own style and needs is part of Americana. Whether your plans include aftermarket wheels, tires, and window tint, or an all-out 1,000hp engine and a rollcage, the common denominator is that millions of hard-working car people spend every day thinking about the next modification to enhance their pride and joy.

Believe it or not, there are people whose goal is to prevent us from obtaining automotive bliss. And this threat is real. On a daily basis, some legislators and regulators are trying to tighten the rules that govern what we can and can't do to our cars and trucks.

Thankfully, the people at SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) work tirelessly with legislators to squash bills that may harm our way of life. SEMA staff and SEMA Action Network members press flesh with government officials to ensure enthusiasts, aftermarket manufacturers, racetrack owners, event promoters, and the like can continue enjoying cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc., without interruption from the law. This is not an easy task, as some government officials are waging war against our hobby. It they had it their way, hot rodding would be banned!

It's A Changing Political Landscape-Get Involved!
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. Now we are again at an election crossroads in which many voters are seeking "change." This is an opportunity to consider how actions being taken by federal and state lawmakers impact you, the auto enthusiast. The need for the enthusiast community to stay informed and become involved is greater than ever as the government is making decisions about your current and future cars.

The future of our hobby depends on you, and the ballot box is one venue for making your views known. We urge you to work collectively with your fellow enthusiasts. How? Join the SEMA Action Network (SAN). The SAN is a partnership between enthusiasts, car clubs, and members of the specialty auto parts industry in the U.S. and Canada, who have pledged to join forces in support of legislative solutions for the auto hobby. It's free to join and the SAN keeps you informed about pending legislation and regulations-both good and bad-that will impact your state or the entire country. You can join now at www.semasan.com.

You might be surprised at the number of car guys (and gals) in Washington, D.C. working on behalf of hobbyists like yourself. These are senators and congressional representatives. who, as enthusiasts, are interested in protecting and expanding our hobby.

The Congressional Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus is now nearing 100 members, and pays tribute to America's ever-growing love affair with the car and motorsports. In Washington, SEMA works in partnership with Caucus members to amplify the message among national policy-makers that the automotive performance industry is a vital engine in today's economy, employing more than a million Americans and generating $32 billion in sales annually.

In its efforts to promote and protect the specialty equipment industry and the automotive hobby in the states, SEMA partners with state lawmakers from across the country through the State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus. Formed in 2005 to supplement the work of our grassroots hobbyist network (SAN), the Caucus is a bipartisan group of more than 450 state lawmakers whose common thread is a love and appreciation for automobiles. Supported by SEMA's Government Affairs office in Washington, D.C., the Caucus is serving to raise the motor vehicle hobby's profile in the state legislatures and in the eyes of the public.

The legislative accomplishments range from equipment standards to registration and titling classifications, emissions test exemptions, and the rights of hobbyists to engage in backyard restorations.

Don't Get Zoned Out!
Imagine that you came 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 and others pending-can 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 could be towed right out of your yard. Some zealous government officials are waging war against what they consider "eyesores."

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, no license tag.

Scrapping Cars
In recent years, state and federal officials have attempted to implement emissions-reduction programs targeting older vehicles. Some scrapping programs allow "smokestack" industries to avoid reducing their own emissions by buying pollution credits generated through destroying these vehicles. These programs accelerate the normal retirement of vehicles through the purchase of older cars, which are then typically crushed. 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, scrapping provisions are not. There is a thought that all "old cars are dirty cars," however, the true culprits are vehicles of any model year that are poorly maintained. Scrapping programs ignore better options like vehicle maintenance, repair, and upgrade programs that maximize the emissions systems of existing vehicles. In the past year, scrapping initiatives have been defeated in North Carolina and Washington State.

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. Vehicle hobbyists eased the program's effects by convincing lawmakers to include a requirement that the trade-in vehicle be a model year 1984 or newer vehicle. This provision helped safeguard older vehicles. Understanding how vehicles and car parts are regulated can be a bit confusing. The Federal government, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 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 does not dictate shape or size. The FMVSS covers basic types of equipment (e.g., tires, rims, headlamps/tail lamps, brake hoses, etc.) and establishes vehicle crashworthiness requirements (front and side impact, roof crush resistance, fuel system integrity, etc.).

Nitrous Oxide
The hobby must work with legislators to mitigate legislation that would ban the installation of power booster systems, including nitrous oxide systems, intended for off-road (track) use. The SEMA model bill aims to do just that with language that provides for the operation of a vehicle equipped for nitrous oxide, so long as the nitrous oxide is disconnected from the engine when the vehicle is operated on public roadways.

CAFE and CO2 Standards
Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards strive to achieve reduced greenhouse gas emissions through a reduction in the amount of fuel new vehicles burn. Manufacturers are given a fuel economy rating, measured in mpg, that the fleet as a whole must average in a given model year. Congress passed a law in 1973 directing the EPA to set CAFE standards. Under new rules, NHTSA has set CAFE standards for model year '12-'16 vehicles and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established corresponding CO2 emissions standards. The combined action would match CO2 emission standards previously adopted by California and 13 other states.

The average CAFE rating will be 35.5 mpg in 2016 based on a combined 39 mpg rating for passenger cars and 30 mpg for light trucks. The EPA's CO2 emissions standard is 250 grams per mile for vehicles sold in 2016, roughly the equivalent of 35.5 mpg. The automakers support, and participated in formulating, the rules since they provide a reasonable national approach to regulating CO2 emissions rather than a patchwork of state rules. Automakers will likely rely on more fuel-efficient tires, turbochargers, low-friction lubricants, six-speed automatic transmissions, and similar technological means to achieve the standards

Kick The Tires. Are They Fuel-Efficient?
A lot rides on your tires. That will soon include greenhouse gases. Both California and the federal government are pursuing regulations to rate replacement tires for "fuel efficiency" in an effort to influence consumer choice. Some state lawmakers want to go one step further and mandate emissions limits within their state boundaries.

The NHTSA is drafting a "consumer information system" to rate the fuel economy, safety and durability characteristics of most replacement tires. Companies that only produce 15,000 units or less in a tire line (or 35,000 tires in total brand name production), mostly tires for classic and antique vehicles or off-highway vehicles, are exempted since fuel efficiency for these types is not a primary consumer concern.

Tire manufacturers are considering new rubber compounds, tire designs, and other methods to boost efficiency without negatively impacting traction and strength. Will consumers be dissuaded from buying tires that may have improved performance, handling or appearance features, based solely on a rolling resistance rating? In addition, the program may easily distract consumers from focusing on more important safety issues such as tire inflation and overloading of vehicles.

Window Tint
Severe limits on window film light transmission and reflectance percentages continue to surface in a number of states. It is important to constantly remind state legislators to advance the industry standard of not-less-than 35 percent light transmittance on all windows other than the windshield, and oppose measures that would unreasonably limit the use of window tint materials.

A bill directing the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a reduction in motor vehicle cabin temperature is currently moving through the California legislature. The cabin temperature of a vehicle can be lowered through the use of window tinting materials. Tinting should be considered as a solution to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions created when drivers must idle their cars in California while waiting for them to cool down.

Lighting technology has entered a new dimension. Light emitting diodes are blazing a new path from tail lamps to headlamps. Car lamps can now produce light beams that bend around corners, lengthen when the car is going fast and shorten and widen when the car slows down. The aftermarket industry is on the leading edge of these technological advances that promote safety and provide styling alternatives for new lighting products. Much of this innovative aftermarket equipment for cars, trucks and SUVs provides greater road illumination and creates increased visibility. Federal and state regulators are working to keep current with these advances and also confirm that new products comply with existing regulations.

Attention has been focused on non-compliant High Intensity Discharge (HID) conversion kits that may produce glare and restyled combination lamps that are missing required functions existing on the original equipment lamps. Certain clear tail lamp covers, marker lamps, certain "blue" headlamp bulbs, and other equipment has also been subject to scrutiny.

State-level enforcement of federally required lighting equipment can't deviate from what is prescribed by the federal government. This is called federal preemption. However, states are free to enact and enforce safety and equipment regulations, which are identical to the federal safety standards. States also have jurisdiction to enact and enforce vehicle equipment and safety regulations covering equipment not regulated at the federal level, such as "optional" or "accessory" lighting equipment. Still other states only allow optional lighting equipment that was developed and installed by the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). This OEM lighting equipment meets no standards except those established by the manufacturers themselves. These lamps are often of the same or greater intensity than those developed and installed by the aftermarket and frequently aimed and positioned similarly. In this way, these states unfairly discriminate against the installation and use of aftermarket lamps.

Engine Swaps Made Easier
Hobbyists frequently ask us about the rules governing engine switching in project vehicles and there are general guidelines to consider. 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.

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. Environmental Protection Agency and/or the California Air Resources Board. 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.

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.

For further information, please consult the EPA and California Bureau of Automotive Repair at:

Hot Rod Emissions: Past, Present, and Future
Government regulations continue filtering into the hot rod community. You will become aware of the role enthusiasts can play in this process, in addition to steps that have been and are being taken by the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) on behalf of the users of their products. The material is current, precise and intended to explain issues helpful to maintaining the future of hot rodding.

It has been approximately 40 years since the government agency that became California's Air Resources Board (CARB) first met with specialty aftermarket parts manufacturers. The agency had become aware that non-stock, emissions-related aftermarket parts were being installed on California vehicles and wanted to establish guidelines for their use. About a dozen specialty parts manufacturers attended the meeting that was convened by the agency setting "design limits" based on the most robust parts options available from the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM or new vehicle manufacturers). In other words, if an OEM offered any versions of "high-performance" parts as options to stock counterparts, emissions-related specialty aftermarket parts would not be allowed to exceed the design criteria of higher performance OEM components. For example, multiple carburetors, dual exhausts, camshaft specifications, and similar limits to other such aftermarket parts would be the rule.

Moving into the 1970s and '80s, enthusiasts began to see and experience the impact of OEM emissions controls. Federal emissions standards imposed on the OEM were mandated in shorter time periods and included the downsizing of piston displacements, reducing vehicle weight, redesigning engine packages and making companion changes requiring years to accomplish. As a result, we entered the emissions "Band-Aid" era involving short-term modifications the OEMs could make in order to meet required standards. Air pumps, carburetors with limited adjustments, EGR, catalytic converters, rear gear changes to reduce on-road engine speeds, and comparable "quick fixes" were imposed on consumers and enthusiasts, the net effect being both a real and perceived reduction in prior vehicle performance.

At the enthusiast level, emissions controls were perceived as performance-reducing components. It would be another 10 years before redesigned engine packages with computer-controlled EFI and higher overall combustion efficiency would restore "high performance" to the OEM community while meeting even more stringent emissions and fuel economy requirements.

Even during these years, and flying somewhat under the radar, there was the need for specialty aftermarket parts manufacturers to begin adapting to new OEM technologies. Failure to do this impacted two areas in particular. One dealt with attempts to develop products with consumer value, in the face of much more daunting engineering tasks. The other was the requirement that certain emissions standards be met, because by this time both the CARB and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were aware that improperly designed emissions-related parts could take an otherwise certified vehicle out of compliance.

SEMA took a proactive role working directly with the CARB to create a method by which emissions-related specialty aftermarket parts could be brought into compliance. While the EPA had its own anti-tampering provisions contained in the federal law affecting aftermarket parts, the CARB had taken a more aggressive position in regulating these components. Working directly with the CARB staff, SEMA helped establish an emissions testing program whereby emissions-critical parts could be made legal for on-road use in California. Ultimately, the EPA would recognize this certification for use elsewhere in the country. At the time, as now, the so-called CARB "Executive Order" (E.O.) certification process that was created embodied test procedures required of the OEMs when certifying new vehicles. Today, SEMA continues working with both the CARB and EPA to help enable its membership to achieve emissions compliance for specialty aftermarket parts, all of which has a direct impact on several segments in the performance enthusiast community.

Most recently, there have been concerns about the regulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and how performance parts relate to so-called greenhouse gases. After a review of data gathered during emissions compliance testing of specialty aftermarket products that successfully passed these tests, the levels of CO2 that exceeded baseline emissions were quite low. In fact, although increased air/fuel charge enrichment in and of itself can somewhat increase CO2, if combustion efficiency levels associated with improved fuel economy and acceptable emissions are maintained, little or no unfavorable impact has been observed. So it would appear that performance products, when designed and used in a way that enables fuel economy equal to or better than that obtained with stock components, create a negligible effect on CO2 output.

Looking ahead, it is clear that OEM technology and ways it can be improved by enthusiasts or made compatible with specific performance objectives is a further challenge. The car companies build vehicles with technologies that must be understood and addressed, not only within regulatory requirements that include safety and emissions, but also as the platform on which the aftermarket must operate. This challenge has included increased pressure from regulatory requirements, largely dealing with emissions performance and compliance. Gone are the days when performance parts manufacturers could simply expand on the dimensions or specifications of an OEM part or system to produce more power.

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.

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.

The hobby must 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.

SEMA Action Network Maintains Record of Achievement Legislative Partnership has Yielded Unprecedented Successes
The SEMA Action Network (SAN) has been breaking through political gridlock and promoting legislative solutions for the automotive hobby since 1997. The 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, the SAN is the premier organization defending the rights of the vehicle hobby. When it comes to taking the action needed to protect the automotive hobby, only the 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:

  • A professional government affairs staff in Washington, D.C. that works in all 50 states and at the federal level.
  • A full-time research staff that monitors every bill introduced in every state.
  • Tailored action alerts sent to enthusiasts with bill information, speaking points, and legislator contact information.
  • The SEMA SAN website, which features tracked legislation, action alerts, guidance on letter writing, lobbying elected officials, land use policies, warranty denial, and a means by which you can identify your legislators.
  • The award winning monthly legislative newsletter-Driving Force.
  • Pro-hobby model legislation crafted by SEMA SAN staff.
  • The State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus-a collection of nearly 450 state legislators with a common goal to support the motor vehicle hobby.
  • The Congressional Motorsports Caucus-100 U.S. Representatives and Senators who have aligned to pay tribute to America's ever growing love affair with the car and motorsports.
  • To raise awareness of important issues affecting the hobby around the country, SAN sponsors the Hot Rod Power Tour bus, travels to car shows and events, raises awareness through automotive media, operates a Facebook group and a Twitter page, and distributes issue brochures to car clubs and businesses. The SAN further supports car clubs by advertising their shows and charitable events in Driving Force.

In its 13-year history, the effect of the SAN on shaping government policy has been enormous. The 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.
  • Advocated to ensure public lands remain open to responsible off-road recreation.

Lobby for the Hobby
"We the people of the United States" are not just words from the first line of an old document. We are the people who love muscle cars, hot rods, street rods, tuners, replicas, off road trucks, and many other varieties of automotive pursuits that are as diverse as the country in which we live. We are also the people who have to work to protect our automotive passions from unnecessary, unfair, or well-intentioned, but poorly written laws and regulations. Fortunately, we the people live in a country where we can still make a difference in how we are governed.

Our greatest tool in making that difference is our voice. 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. When legislatures are out of session, representatives are in their home districts and typically have more time to meet casually with their constituents. They are also planning for the next legislative session and deciding which bills to introduce. Contacting them can have a tremendous impact by raising their awareness of issues that could impact our hobby during the next session. That is what makes right now the perfect time to get involved and build relationships with your legislators, so hit the gas and keep your foot down!

Lastly, for more on this important topic, visit www.musclemustangfastfords.com for an even greater in-depth look at these issues.

10 Tips To Effectively Lobby Your Lawmakers

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 their staff who monitor 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 fundraisers provide 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.

SEMA Contacts

Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA)
1317 F St., NW Ste. 500
Washington, DC 20008

Steve McDonald
Vice President, Government Affairs
(202) 783-6007 x31

Stuart Gosswein
Sr. Director, Federal Government Affairs
(202) 783-6007 x30

Ethan Landesman
Government & Public Affairs Manager
Director, SEMA Action Network
(202) 783-6007 x39

Daniel Sadowski
Congressional Affairs Manager
(202) 783-6007 x19

Ashley Ailsworth
Research Manager, Government Affairs
(202) 783-6007 x38