June 2001

Scrappage: Smashing Success . . . We Don't Think So!

It seems our friends at the California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) are very proud of their efforts as of late.

In their newsletter, (Smog Check Advisory, March/April 2000 edition), there is an article on the front page touting the supreme goodness of their scrappage program. They even go so far as to call it a "smashing success." How clever of them.

To put what BAR is doing into perspective, 2,778 vehicles were crushed in February. Almost 1,600 were crushed the month before that. Who knows how many future classics and rare parts sources were lost in those 2 months alone?

BAR was even gracious enough to provide a picture of them crushing a 1985 Cadillac Eldorado in a recent Dog and Pony Show they conducted. Driving Force understands that 1985 Cadillacs aren't exactly hemi 'Cudas, but then again, if we really knew what cars were destined to become classics, there wouldn't be so many stories about guys and gals selling their 428 Cobra Jet Mach One 'Stangs because they were tired of tinkering with the carburetor all the time.

Some of you may be wondering why such a late-model car would be eligible to be scrapped? It's actually quite easy to qualify for California's program, and if you do, the BAR will fork over $1,000 for your vehicle. What's noteworthy about that figure is that if you participate in BAR's Consumer Assistance Program which is supposed to help cover the cost of repairs to bring a vehicle into compliance, the most they will give you is $500, and that's if you even qualify for the program based on your income. However, anyone can scrap his or her qualifying car, regardless of economic status. This disparity leaves little doubt as to the agency's ultimate goal.

BAR says that it is providing a great service to the community by getting so many "polluting" vehicles off the road. However, there's no test conducted to measure just how much pollution these cars are producing and no way to be certain that they are even driven on a regular basis. It's quite possible that vehicles are being scrapped when $50 worth of work could have brought them into compliance.

BAR also touts how scrapped vehicles are recycled and sent off to manufacturing facilities to be used in new products. While many folks not involved with the hobby might think that this is a great system, collectors and restorers know that once you crush a car, you've lost a valuable source of parts for other vehicles. In fact, the BAR not only prohibits parting out cars that have been surrendered to the program; it also sends state inspectors to audit dismantler sites just to make sure nothing is salvaged. So if some unenlightened motorist happens to take Grandpa's old, black Buick in to collect his $1,000, there's no hope that someone is going to recognize that it's a Grand National and save it from a most unbecoming end. The car is going to be reduced to brick-sized pieces before the guy even gets to the bank and cashes the check.

If you're interested in what the California BAR has to say about their program, you can check out their web site at: www.smogcheck.ca.gov. If you're interested in BAR's Smog Check newsletter, it can be accessed at www.smogcheck.ca.gov/smogweb/ftp/scapdf/sca0301.pdf.

California Bill Calls for Destruction of Pre-1970 Cars

A bill (A.B. 1390) has been introduced in the California legislature that would allow automobile manufacturers to crush pre-1970 vehicles in exchange for credits toward their obligations under the state's Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program. The owners who surrender their vehicles would receive a voucher of at least $2,500 for the purchase of a new or used vehicle.

This legislation would essentially create a "back-door" scrappage plan alarmingly aimed directly at crushing muscle-car era and earlier vehicles. There are a number of glaring problems with this legislation.

At a minimum, A.B. 1390 allows auto manufacturers to create markets for their new cars at the expense of automotive hobbyists. At the same time, the bill is self-defeating because lower-income car owners cannot reasonably afford to purchase new - or even newer - used vehicles with the limited money this program would provide.

The bill also neglects to set up a program to verify emissions reductions from destroyed vehicles, so it will never be clear if such a program helps clean the air or not! Further, A.B. 1390 fails to recognize that pre-1970 cars are typically second or third vehicles rarely driven in the first place and makes no provisions for rescuing valuable parts and parts-cars for repair and restoration projects. SEMA has said it many times before: Crush old cars and watch the restoration market die off and parts prices skyrocket, turning an accessible and fun hobby into the sole playground of the affluent.

SEMA-member companies, the popular press and SEMA Action Network contacts in California, including the Beach Cities Mustang Club, Mopar Alley and the Golden West Chevelle and El Camino Club, have all been alerted to this bill. We are pleased with and hopeful that the sizable amount of letters, faxes and e-mails pouring into the legislature from enthusiasts will stop this bill before it moves any further.

Massachusetts Legislation Bans the Sale/Installation of Custom Exhaust Systems

A bill (H.B. 3593) has passed the Massachusetts Legislature's Joint Committee on Public Safety that would prohibit the sale or installation of "an exhaust system which has been modified in a manner which will amplify or increase the noise emitted by the exhaust." This bill could soon be voted on by the full House of Representatives.

This legislation was introduced by a well-meaning Massachusetts legislator who somehow came to the conclusion that the throatier sound of performance exhaust systems has some sort of correlation to car-related gang activity. Not knowing the particulars of this legislator's home or district, SEMA cannot comment on the level of gang activity and whether this is a problem that needs addressing or not. However, at a minimum, we find the notion that exhaust noise and gang activity are intertwined questionable. At a maximum, we find the assertion ludicrous and dangerous in that it stereotypes custom-car enthusiasts as hoodlums.

The facts on H.B. 3593 are clear: First and foremost, the bill ignores the fact that aftermarket exhaust systems are designed to increase performance, making vehicles run more efficiently without increasing emissions. Second, H.B. 3593 would make it difficult for hobbyists to replace factory exhaust systems with more durable and better-looking stainless steel ones. Finally, H.B. 3593 does not supply law enforcement officials with a clear standard to enforce, allowing them to make subjective judgments on whether or not a modified exhaust system is in violation.

"Decidedly non-hoodlum" SEMA Action Network members in Massachusetts such as the upstanding Bearing Burners Car Club, the above-board Dominators Car Club, and the pillar-of-the-community Massachusetts Cruisers Auto Club, have been contacted about this legislation and have all registered concerns with the legislature. On a serious note, SEMA is proud of their participation in this effort and is hopeful that through our combined efforts we will be able to kill this ill-reasoned and harmful legislation.

What's The Deal with Street Rods in Pennsylvania?

Thanks to a number of our SEMA Action Network contacts in Pennsylvania, we were recently made aware of a situation concerning the street rod community. Many folks were attempting to register their vehicles and were shocked when they did not pass the street rod safety inspection. We looked into the matter and were surprised at what we discovered.

We went online and studied the Pennsylvania Street Rod inspection criteria and learned that it hasn't changed over the last 20 years. At this point, we were a little perplexed, so we called Tom Zamboni, manager of the Special Services Unit at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), who confirmed that the regulations have not changed at all. What has changed is that inspectors are enforcing standards much more strictly than they have in the past. Vehicles are being failed for violations such as shaded glass, inadequate fender coverage and non-approved fuel cells. However, Zamboni said that he was unaware of any directive for police to step up enforcement on the street.

Why PennDOT has chosen to follow the inspection criteria so closely after 20 years of lax enforcement is unclear, but there is no denying that they are and it looks like they will continue to do so. Many Pennsylvania street rodders, including some SEMA Action Network members, have begun work on drafting more hobbyist-friendly legislation. Zamboni and PennDOT also remain open to discussing policy issues regarding street rod regulations. We are hopeful that a resolution to this problem can be found in the near future.

If you live in Pennsylvania and are currently building or plan to build a street rod, Zamboni recommends that you pay close attention to the inspection manual. It can be accessed at: www.pacode.com/secure/data/067/chapter175/subchapKtoc.html, or you can purchase a copy at the Department of Motor Vehicles for a nominal fee.

Driving Force would like to recognize Mike Kramer, Joe Paplosky and the many SEMA Action Network members in Pennsylvania for keeping us informed about this situation and for working to find a solution. Also, we want to commend Zamboni at PennDOT for his willingness to speak with our members while keeping an open mind.

Driving Force Wants to Hear Your Automotive-Related 'Horror Stories'

More and more, SEMA hears about people being "turned in" to authorities because they violated the law by changing their oil in the driveway rather than at the local gas station or because a nosy neighbor peered over their privacy fence and reported them to zoning officials for having a project car in their backyard.

Other folks point to being pulled over (and sometimes ticketed) for silly reasons, including, but not limited to, the following: Street rodders pulled over for "unsafe" blue-dot taillights or for having "non-stock" parts on customized vehicles. Antique-car owners ticketed for not wearing seatbelts when the car was never originally equipped with them. Import-performance rides pulled over and cited because they simply have a modified exhaust or it "sounds too loud." Lowriders ticketed for using hydraulics at a designated car show (not while driving). Lifted 4x4 owners pulled over and cited because, "Man, that thing is just TOO tall." Garage owners who were forced out of business because of overzealous government regulation.

The automotive hobby, from street rods to lifted 4x4's and every vehicle type in-between, is subject to a nationwide hodge-podge of silly laws, weird regulations and chaotic enforcement . And it seems everybody has a story to tell about their experiences.

We want to hear these stories!

Write to SEMA with your experiences, tales of woe, accounts of silliness and narratives of the bizarre. We'll do our part by publishing them in a semi-regular column in Driving Force called "Can You Believe?!"

Perhaps by publicizing the ridiculous lengths the government will go through to harass, restrict and confuse hobbyists, we can inject a little common sense into how vehicle laws (and vehicle hobbyist laws) are developed and enforced.

Submit stories, pictures, documentary evidence, etc. to "Can You Believe?!," Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA),1317 F Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, D.C., 20004; fax: 202/783-6024; e-mail: san@sema.org.