January 1998

Washington Proposal to Regulate Special Vehicles Undergoes Revisions

In response to a revised proposal to amend the state of Washington's vehicle equipment standards, SEMA submitted supplemental legal and technical arguments urging the Washington State Patrol (WSP) to consider less restrictive alternatives in regulating bumper standards, suspensions and electrical system requirements.

Under its current proposal, WSP would prohibit the addition of a second bumper to meet maximum bumper height requirements. In the final hour, WSP also added a provision that would ban lift kits for separating a vehicle's frame from the body. The SEMA Washington, D.C., staff provided strong arguments against the proposed ban on body lifts. "Despite our request, WSP has not provided any data or studies to indicate a ban is a warranted degree of regulation in pursuit of public safety. We are unaware of any safety aspect of such lift kits which would provide cause for this blanket ban. To the contrary, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators' model regulation on vehicle frame height makes specific provisions to allow modification in height between the body floor and the top of the frame. A blanket ban on lift kits would therefore be unduly restrictive, with no documented safety benefit."

SEMA also pointed out examples of 10 states that regulate body lifts, noting that none have bans and all allow 4 inches or more of body lift.

To accommodate SEMA's previous comments, WSP deleted from consideration a provision that would have required inspection and "certification" of specially constructed vehicles by "certified body shops." The agency also exempted certain street rods and kit vehicles from fender requirements and consented to the use of covers, flaps or splash aprons in lieu of fenders to minimize water and mud spray.

WSP officials are reviewing comments and a final ruling will be issued in the near future. SEMA will continue to pursue alternatives to the ban on body lifts. The agency is also currently accepting comments to a proposal to regulate aftermarket lighting devices.

Legislative Moratorium to Halt Ozone/PM Standards

Critics of the EPA's new air-quality standards for ozone and particulate matter (PM) continue to seek legislative relief. Washington lawmakers have heard from hundreds of SEMA constituents in support of legislation (H.R.1984/S.1084) to impose a 4- or 5-year moratorium on the new rules.

The legislation faces an uphill battle due to the surprising opposition of many Republicans and some industrial-state Democrats.

In allowing the EPA to issue the new standards, President Clinton directed the agency to provide maximum flexibility for the industry and the states to achieve the standards and to give extra time to implement the rules. This has been enough to appease many members of Congress who are fearful of being labeled anti-environment before the November elections.

Before Congress adjourned in November, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) successfully attached the moratorium language to the pending fast-track trade bill. The move came late at night in a nearly empty Senate chamber. The language was later withdrawn when opponents complained about the tactic. Senate consideration in 1998 will likely go through normal legislative channels, starting in the Senate Environment Committee.

In the House, Commerce Committee Chairman Tom Bliley (R-Va.) has said he will not move H.R. 1984 out of the Committee until it has 100 Democratic co-sponsors. Currently 197 Representatives support the bill, 53 of them Democrats. Lawmakers will use the winter months to muster votes for the legislation, which will require two-thirds support in each chamber to override an expected Presidential veto. SEMA has received a strong response from State Leaders in response to an action alert urging enthusiast to write to their representatives in support of the legislation.

Opposition Develops to Colorado Suspension Bill

SEMA has joined with representatives from the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, the Old Car Council, the National Street Rod Association and vehicle enthusiasts in the SEMA Action Network (SAN) throughout the state in opposition to draft legislation that would ban all modifications that raise or lower vehicles. A meeting with Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Richard F. Mutzebaugh, the likely sponsor of the bill when the legislature reconvenes in 1998, revealed that the senator is amenable to alternatives and has asked the group to draft amended legislation.

As currently drafted, the bill would specifically ban vehicles with altered suspensions and also would prohibit changes to tire or wheel size, body height, chassis configuration and steering systems. The bill gained the preliminary approval of the Colorado Legislature's Transportation Review Committee last October.

Nevada to Exempt 'Restored Vehicles' from Emissions Testing

The state of Nevada recently proposed a regulation which seeks to define "restored vehicles" in order to exempt them from the current emissions program. A "restored vehicle" must be equipped with an engine that is within original factory specifications or has an engine that has been maintained or rebuilt such that it meets the emissions standards for the year of the body. The regulations would only apply to vehicles which qualify and are registered under Nevada law as "classic vehicles" and "classic rods." "Classic vehicles" are those manufactured prior to 1973 and "classic rods" are vehicles manufactured prior to 1978 and no earlier than 1949. These vehicles must meet prescribed exhaust emissions standards as measured by a two-speed idle test performed at a state emissions lab and emit no visible smoke.

SEMA supports efforts to ease the burden on automotive hobbyists by exempting hobbyist's vehicles from emissions testing programs.

Scrappage Debate Brews Again in Arizona

The Arizona Automobile Hobbyist Council (AAHC) and other interested parties are meeting with Maricopa County officials to determine the feasibility of alternatives to an accelerated motor vehicle scrappage program. A scrappage program has long been a priority of Phoenix-area legislators. Last year, SEMA joined with the Arizona hobbyists in mounting an aggressive campaign against legislation that would have appropriated funds for a taxpayer-subsidized program targeting older vehicles for scrappage. Some government officials have expressed interest in a program that would identify high-emitting vehicles and provide owners with the option of having these vehicles repaired or retrofitted with upgraded emission-control devices. This program would spare clean-running older vehicles from indiscriminate scrappage and provide increased air-quality benefits. SEMA has prepared a repair/retrofit proposal citing studies and other pilot programs to demonstrate the advantages of such programs over vehicle scrappage.

Tech Corner

As a new service to State Leaders, SEMA is proud to announce a new column, "Tech Corner" which will appear regularly in "The Driving Force." This new addition to the monthly newsletter is designed to provide up-to-date information on a range of issues of concern to hobbyists and the industry. SEMA welcomes questions and will post as many questions and answers as space permits.

What laws determine if an aftermarket muffler is too loud?

Most states have vehicle code regulations which prohibit the modification of the original factory exhaust system in such a way that the changes cause excessive noise. The ways in which this can be determined vary considerably from state to state but generally rely either on a subjective comparison to the sound level of an unmodified vehicle, or on a specified test procedure. The former has been a source of considerable controversy as it can leave too much discretion to law enforcement; numerous cases of alleged harassment and/or discrimination have been reported. The latter method allows aftermarket manufacturers to test their products and provide their customers with verification that the noise level of the product is not excessive. SEMA has been working with various state agencies such as the California Highway Patrol to ensure such verification is considered before a citation is issued and/or may eventually be considered sufficient terms for dismissal if such verification is not readily available when cited. SEMA is also working with these agencies to help them train their officers to ensure that blatant cases of harassment (such as citing any vehicle with a large/polished exhaust tip, even if it isn't being driven) can be avoided in the future.

Is using any other kind of vehicle lighting besides incandescent illegal?

Lighting laws vary tremendously from state to state. In general, vehicle codes do not prohibit the use of a particular lighting technology as much as they tend to restrict how it may be applied to the vehicle. Most states limit colors so they do not resemble emergency and/or police vehicles.

They also tend to require that certain high-powered, high-mounted lights have an opaque cover on them when the vehicle is being driven on the road. It is impossible to ban a specific technology such as neon, for example, since some new vehicles use this technology from the factory.

Many states will, however, restrict it's use with regards to license plate frames or undercarriage lighting, etc. (except, generally, for show purposes or when the vehicle is not moving). New vehicles are even starting to use Light Emitting Diode (LED) and High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting technologies which have far greater output than standard lights. Thus, prohibitions against blinking while moving, etc. may remain yet regulations on light output or technology will continually have to allow such new technologies.

State Leader's Sound-off

To whom it may concern:

As a car owner and hobbyist, I strongly oppose any regulations that would eliminate my freedom to choose where I get automotive parts and services. I will not stand by and let someone interfere with my ability to take part in, and maintain, the hobby of my choice. As an automotive enthusiast, I strongly oppose any old-car buyback legislation ("clunker" programs, "accelerated vehicle scrappage" programs). I also oppose "OBD II" regulations and the new smog test "I/M 240". There are alternatives and different solutions for having a clean environment without the expense to the "little guy". I do support the SEMA organization.


Kit McCory

Newly Introduced Legislation

The following state bills are not yet law; they have recently been introduced and are currently being considered for adoption.


Kentucky B.R. 847 would allow historic vehicles defined as 25 years or older to display authentic Kentucky license plates that are as old or older than the vehicles.


Missouri S.B 518 would limit historic vehicles to a one-time only safety inspection.

Can You Believe?

Here is another regulatory horror story, an example of unfair or illogical laws and regulations that place unnecessary burdens on businesses and individuals. If the following example makes you as angry as they make us, let your Representative know and offer to work with him/her to reduce the onslaught of regulations. Also, let the SEMA Washington office staff know if you have any similar horror stories to share; we'll keep track of all calls, as well as print them in upcoming editions.

Tanks a Lot!

A young couple in a rural area owned a home that was not hooked up to a central sewage system. Their troubles began when they put in a septic tank which, it turns out, leaked. For this "offense" the state of New York charged the two with 102 counts of "intending" to "pollute" the waters of New York State. This despite the fact that the septic tank was designed and approved by HUD, that the prosecution's expert witness admitted that he never visited the site, and no evidence that even one drop of sewage water from the tank had seeped into state waters. The judge fined Kent and Glenda Duell, parents of two young children, $68,000, 5 years probation and 6 months in jail each.