January 2001

California Looks to Emissions Test Older Cars, Increase Scrappage Opportunities
California regulators are at it again. Scant months since California's car club community and SEMA helped beat back a legislative effort by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to eliminate California's 30-year rolling emissions testing exemption comes news that the exemption is under fire again. Only this time the consequences are potentially much worse.
California's I/M Review Committee, the group tasked with developing and evaluating the success of the state's emissions testing program, has issued a report recommending that 1966-1973 model year vehicles be emissions tested and eligible for scrappage. For the first time, California regulators are specifically targeting "muscle-car" era vehicles. From 1966 Chevelles to1970 Mustangs to 1973 Chargers, some California regulators want your car in their smog check program. This is even more of a head-scratcher when we remember that pre-1974 vehicles were not originally equipped with modern pollution control equipment.
SEMA has learned that there may be plans afoot to use the committee recommendations in the coming legislative session to, at a minimum, again seek a repeal of the current 30-year rolling emissions exemption. At a maximum, California may try to extend testing back to model-year 1966.
SEMA Action Network Director Brian Caudill notes that, "SEMA-member companies, as well as California SEMA Action Network clubs, individual members and publications, have been encouraged to contact their legislators to oppose repealing California's emissions testing exemption for older vehicles. We anticipate a tough battle this year and we will need everyone's help."
(To read the SEMA Legislative Alert on this matter, click here. For information on how to turn this alert into a letter you can send to a California legislator, read SEMA's information on How to Lobby Your Elected Officials available here.)
SEMA Seeks Testing and Certification Program to Remedy Exhaust Noise Enforcement Problem in California
Working with the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR), SEMA is drafting legislation, for possible introduction in the new year, to allow California vehicles equipped with aftermarket exhaust systems to be tested and certified to the state's 95-decibel noise limit.
Current law in California limits exhaust noise at the 95-decibel (db) level for aftermarket and modified exhaust systems. However, current road-side enforcement of this limit is chaotic at best, leading to subjective, selective and often improper enforcement.
SEMA has been aware of this problem for some time. Scores of SEMA Action Network members -- the majority of them in the import performance scene -- have been pulled-over by state and local police and cited for improper modified exhaust systems. Responding to hobbyist concerns, SEMA worked with the CHP to produce guidelines clarifying state exhaust noise regulations. These guidelines made clear that aftermarket exhaust systems do not violate noise restrictions unless they exceed 95db.
This partnership with CHP was successful in educating many hobbyists and law enforcement personnel on the true scope of California's modified exhaust rules. Nonetheless, enthusiasts continued to be pulled-over and many police officers simply ignored any compliance documentation hobbyists provided to plead their case. In a nutshell, many hobbyists with modified exhaust systems were, and currently are, being told to "tell it to the judge." SEMA is hopeful that a method for certifying aftermarket exhaust systems to the 95db threshold will help protect enthusiasts.
Late last year, the California Motor Vehicle Conference approved the SEMA draft bill. The Motor Vehicle Conference consists of state legislators, regulators and other agencies and organizations interested in all facets of the motor vehicle industry. The group meets twice yearly to consider legislative initiatives for possible introduction in the California legislature.
Under the draft bill, authority to conduct the tests would be given to the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR). The tests would be conducted at BAR's referee stations for a yet to be determined fee. The upside of this legislation is that it would allow motorists who choose to have their vehicles tested the ability to have unfair traffic citations written off.
SEMA is hopeful that this common-sense pro-hobby and pro-industry legislation will be introduced in the legislature and not meet with any opposition. "The current California Code does not prohibit exhaust modifications, modified tailpipes or muffler tips which increase noise levels as long as noise levels do not exceed the 95 db limit," said Steve McDonald, SEMA director of government and technical affairs. "SEMA's goal with this legislation is to reduce improper citations and encourage modifications that comply with these regulations. A testing and certification program could be the answer."
SEMA Urges Georgia to Protect Hot Rods and Kit Cars from Dynamometer Testing
SEMA is leading an effort to oppose a proposed regulation in Georgia that would require kit cars and hot rods registered after Dec. 31, 1998, to be emissions tested using a dynamometer. These vehicles are currently eligible for special standards (two-speed idle test) under the state's emissions inspection program.
SEMA's argument to Georgia regulators mirrors much of what we have emphasized about collector vehicles in the past: Kit cars and hot rods constitute a small portion of the vehicle fleet, are generally well maintained and infrequently operated and have a minimal environmental impact on air quality. In fact, many states have moved to exempt similar vehicles from emissions testing requirements with legislative and regulatory actions of their own.
In addition, Steve McDonald, SEMA director of government and technical affairs, emphasized to Georgia authorities that hot rods and kit cars are not standard production vehicles, but rather, a unique and valuable assemblage of components and parts. Notes McDonald, "Because of their value, distinctiveness and unique design, hot rods and kit cars do not easily lend themselves to dynamometer emissions testing, often conducted by inspectors that have little or no experience with these unique vehicles."
Affected hobbyists and SEMA argue that dynamometer tests can result in pinched tires and damaged wheels, a problem exacerbated by the nonstandard tire and wheel sizes of the subject vehicles. In addition, dynamometer tests can cause these vehicles to operate beyond safe RPM limits and can lead to permanent engine damage. In fact, the potential for damage to these vehicles is significantly greater than for standard production vehicles, for the general reason that their design was not considered in the design of most dynamometer tests.
OHV Enthusiasts Cautiously Optimistic With USFS Ruling, Await BLM Rules
Capping a year of argument between the pro- and anti-off-highway vehicle (OHV) environmentalist communities, in early January, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) will issue its final rule on road building and maintenance on 58.5 million acres of public land under the agency's control.
It was originally feared that the regulation would further restrict OHV access to public land and eliminate regular maintenance for existing trails. However, in a victory many in the OHV enthusiast community did not predict, the USFS final environmental impact statement looks to maintain the status quo, calling for continued OHV access and trail maintenance where both already exist. East Coast Four Wheel Drive Association's Helen "Sugar" Fields expressed guarded relief with the USFS news. Said Fields, "We are pleased, but only cautiously optimistic, about what this means for the future of OHV access to public land."
In related news, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) intends to release its own national "OHV strategy" on Jan. 19, 2001. BLM oversees the most land of any federal agency (more than 264 million acres) and expressed the need to develop a policy for dealing with OHV access due, in part, to concerns over the growth in OHV trail-riding popularity, as well as environmental concerns such as endangered species protection.
Not surprisingly, the OHV community's concerns with BLM's proposed OHV strategy mirror those they initially had for the Forest Service's proposed Roadless Initiative. That is, OHVers fear that trail access will be curtailed and OHV recreationists will be frozen out of BLM's land-use policy-making decisions.
BLM's proposed OHV strategy is merely an internal policy and will not have the weight of law or regulation. Nevertheless, the OHV community remains justifiably concerned about its possible effect.
Pro-Hobbyist Street Rod Bill Introduced in Alabama
A bill (H.B. 16) has been introduced in the Alabama legislature that would create a vehicle registration classification for street rods. The legislation defines a street rod as a vehicle produced by an American manufacturer prior to 1949 which has undergone some type of modernization. It also provides for distinctive license plates to be designed in consultation with the National Street Rod Association. These plates will be inscribed with "street rod" and be valid without renewal following an initial registration fee.
H.B. 16 also exempts street rods from some motor vehicle licensing requirements and from payment of a license tax for the privilege of operating the vehicle on public roads, as well as any property tax. Finally, vehicles registered as street rods would be considered collectors items and could not be used for general transportation purposes.
Alabama SEMA Action Network individual members and clubs like the Alabama Vehicle Club Council and the Shelby County Wheels of Time have been alerted to this legislation.
(To read the SEMA Legislative Alert on this matter, click here. For information on how to turn this alert into a letter you can send to an Alabama legislator, read SEMA's information on How to Lobby Your Elected Officials available here.)
Restoration Projects Help Teens at the 'Crossroads' of Life
At the Crossroads Teen Center in Tustin, Calif., Barbara Martin and her staff have developed a program called "Team Crossroads," which includes a classic car restoration projects of pre-1973 vehicles. The program is supported by the History and Traditions Foundation Inc., a California nonprofit organization established by Martin and her husband. All the participants are between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. Instead of hanging out after school with nothing to do, the kids come to the center and learn to repair and restore many of the mechanical components of the cars. Their current projects are enough to make more than one auto enthusiast's mouth water. The lineup includes a 1968 Camaro, a 1970 Mercedes, a 1957 Chevy, a 1973 Corvette and a 1950 Chevy pickup. Martin says the participants "enjoy working with community volunteers and mentors who know what it takes to restore vehicles to either original, stock or prostreet versions."
On Aug. 26, the History and Traditions Foundation Inc. and the Crossroads Teen Center sponsored the third annual Hot August Night Car Show where some of the cars that were restored through the program were on display, along with other local enthusiasts' vehicles. The event has grown larger every year.
While giving the youth of Tustin something meaningful to do in their free time and a chance to display their efforts is certainly an accomplishment in itself, Martin has taken the program much further. She has established a partnership with Tustin Lexus to help program participants who decide they want to pursue careers in automotive mechanics. Martin explains, "Once one of the teens completes a series of repairs and the vehicle comes up and running, we refer them to a local college to complete a mechanics automotive repair course. Upon completion of this, the local dealer then again participates by assisting with job placement into a position which may start at $50,000 per year or more. All of this for a youth who would otherwise have not attended college."
Driving Force commends Team Crossroads' Martin for her efforts in making a difference in the lives of youths in Tustin. This is certainly a program that could be successfully duplicated all over the country. That said, it takes some help to keep a program like this going. If anyone is interested in donating a pre-1973 vehicle, tools, shop space or any other resources they think might be helpful to the "Team Crossroads" program, please e-mail Barbara at barbmartin@worldnet.att.net, or give her a call at 714/648-0248.
Put SEMA on Your Mailing List, Etc.
We'd like to know what clubs and enthusiasts across the country are up to, and what issues concern club members and individual enthusiasts. Consider putting SEMA on your mailing list. Send correspondence to SEMA Action Network, 1317 F St., NW, Ste. 500, Washington, D.C. 20004. Clubs can also reach SEMA Action Network via e-mail at san@sema.org or by fax at 202/783-6024.