“You don’t know it, but you are one bill away from losing your hobby.”
Editor’s note: With major elections coming in November, all Source Interlink Media publications (40-plus titles with 6.6 million paid readers-car, truck, and motorcycle) that are on the newsstands during the months of September and October will run a cover story with the theme of “Protecting our Passion, Sport, and Hobby.”
The future of our hobby depends on you. The ballot box is one venue for making your views known. We also urge you to work collectively with your fellow enthusiasts. How? Join the SEMA Action Network (SAN). SAN is a partnership between enthusiasts, car clubs, and members of the specialty auto parts industry in the United States and Canada who have pledged to join forces in support of legislative solutions for the auto hobby. It’s free to join; SAN keeps you informed about pending legislation and regulations-both good and bad-that will impact your state or the entire country. It also provides you with action alerts, speaking points, and lawmaker contact information if you want to support or oppose a bill. Join now:www.semasan.com.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that hot rods are under constant scrutiny. Whether it’s driving down the highway or a back road, hot rods by their very nature draw attention; some of this attention is warranted and some not. Some of the scrutiny under which we find ourselves is the direct consequence of our own actions, some is the result of music videos, a television series, and movies. Some of this undesirable scrutiny comes by way of city, state, and federal governments. Keep this in the forefront of your mind, “We are living in a powder keg and giving off sparks.” When this happens it becomes serious.
Until the current economic climate, when states began reaching into our pockets to balance budget deficits, the “live and let live” existence between the local Department of Motor Vehicles and you-and me- is all but over. Americans and hot rodders alike pay attention to dates with special meanings: birth dates, anniversaries, and dates like December 7, November 22, and September 11, which we don’t forget because they all mean something to us. In our small world of rodding there’s a date many may not know but should. It was on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2004 when hot rodding became mainstream in the eyes of the “law”. On that afternoon, 22 law enforcement agents, accompanied by other officials from the State of California, arrived with guns drawn and flak vests on (never know what a bunch of middle-aged hot rodders are capable of) at Boyd Coddington Hot Rods & Collectibles in La Habra, California. The surreal scene would have been funny if it hadn’t been so serious. Coddington was about to be served with a warrant on the suspicion of fraud. And so ended the naiveté that we rodders had existed within.
We think of ourselves as a large industry when in reality we aren’t a speck on a mule’s backside (colloquially speaking) and that’s where it becomes unfortunate. We are being viewed as “detrimental” to the overall good of society through the use of misleading, undocumented, or clearly misrepresented data that manifests itself in unrealistic emissions restrictions and registration standards for our street rods. While there are a number of states that have enacted street rod laws (some based on SEMA-model legislation), to protect both our hobby and industry there are still many states (including the federal government) wishing to enact laws of little or no substance with severe ramifications upon us and our hobby. Forewarned is forearmed, and that’s exactly where we now find ourselves with our hobby.
Let us start by saying that there are literally dozens of statewide organizations and hundreds if not thousands of individuals who have devoted a great deal of time, passion, and their own funds to protect our hobby. However, there’s one association that has put forth yeoman effort and has returned with noteworthy success.
SEMA is “fighting” on our behalf as individuals and has as an industry for the past 46 years. While it’s recognized as a trade association first, SEMA does work hard to protect consumers’ rights to drive personalized vehicles. It does this by keeping close tabs on legislators and regulators in Washington, D.C., and also in each state. A little known aspect is that SEMA also has a history of helping consumers interact with car dealers when consumers are wrongly charged for warranty claims based on the presence of aftermarket parts.
Over the past years SEMA has worked diligently in an attempt to come away with legislation that’s fair and equitable for both sides. These efforts sometimes require compromise. By reading the following you are going to see a good dose of what’s going on; both favorable and not so favorable. Keep this in mind when it comes time for you to vote the first Tuesday of November-another date to keep in mind. Find out if your representatives, at all levels of government, are doing their job by keeping your best interests at heart. Rest assured if you aren’t vigilant, those who care less about our hobby will remain vigilant and the results could be catastrophic for rodders. (Editor’s note: It’s important to understand, take a stance, and vote. By not committing you, and the rest of us, will most assuredly fall.)
Street Rod and Custom Vehicle Registration/Titling
Beginning with Illinois in 2001, versions of the SEMA-model bill have been successful in helping hobbyists title their rods in 21 states to date. It should also be pointed out that many car clubs and individuals have also taken up the cause and have proven a tremendous help in navigating the “political waters” within each state.
Street rods (including kit cars and replicas) have long struggled to find their place in the law. Almost all states have processes through which antiques can be registered, but fewer provide adequately for modified cars. Hobbyists attempting to title and register street rods that they have built often find loopholes in their state’s code to get it out on the road. Wisconsin working on its own was able to pass legislation that enacted street rod-friendly laws and the subsequent “hobbyist” license plate. Unfortunately, several states that have “hobbyist” or “street rod” plates without the model bill are often only providing another type of vanity plate without accompanying provisions that are useful for titling, registration, or emissions inspections purposes.
Then there’s California. Every year, only 500 vehicles are eligible to be registered with the California DMV as exempted specially constructed vehicles. If you are lucky enough to get one of these 500 registration slots (and they are hard to come by), you are then able to get a special smog check designation. The registrant gets the choice of having their vehicle tested based on the model year of the body or the model year of the engine. If the body does not closely match any particular model year, then it’s deemed to be a ’60 model-year vehicle. California exempts all vehicles manufactured prior to the ’76 model year from smog check.
Under current California policy, specially constructed vehicles that do not receive one of the 500 sequence numbers are subject to a “muddied” titling, registration, and smog check process.
Under a looming threat of prosecution faced by thousands of California specialty vehicle owners, SEMA, working on behalf of California enthusiasts and in cooperation with the DMV, Bureau of Automotive Repair, Air Resources Board, and Attorney General’s office, has resolved a complex and threatening issue to this market segment and the industry it serves. This procedure allows owners of certain illegally titled specially constructed vehicles to avoid a situation that could have led to confiscated cars and law enforcement action against vehicle builders and owners. Further, and with the enactment of legislation currently pending in the California legislature, the program will permit these vehicles to demonstrate state emission-compliance requirements. Specially constructed vehicles in California include certain street rods, custom vehicles, kit cars, and replicas.
Pending legislation will require the DMV to develop and administer this vehicle registration amnesty program from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012, and will provide a solution to vehicles that were previously registered or classified under erroneous or illegal circumstances. In addition, some specially constructed vehicles will be exempted from the visual inspection portion of smog check. Under the program, vehicle owners that have knowingly made any false statement or knowingly concealed any material fact in any document filed with the DMV or the California Highway Patrol will need to apply for amnesty. Examples of this would be failing to report the actual value of the vehicle and failure to pay the correct sales tax when the vehicle was first titled/registered in California, or incorrectly stating the actual age of the vehicle.
The consequences of not applying for amnesty and paying back-taxes and penalties could be severe. If an owner understated the value of the vehicle to the extent that the state lost more than $1,000 in revenue, the owner could be charged with a felony. If the amount is less or the owner incorrectly stated the age of the vehicle, the owner could be charged with a variety of misdemeanors. Recent prosecutions for this type of offense required owners to pay back-taxes and fees averaging $4,000 per vehicle. In some cases, owners will be forced to surrender the title to their car. To receive amnesty from future prosecution, any and all back-taxes must be paid in full and the vehicle’s title must be factually corrected.
A process was established to allow specially constructed vehicle owners who have been granted amnesty to avail themselves of emissions requirements that recognize the unique nature of these vehicles. While there are still details to be concluded, SEMA has reached a tentative agreement with the state to provide for three methods to achieve compliance:
1. The owner can pay all back-taxes and penalties and apply for one of 500 (per year) smog check exemptions
2. The owner can pay all back-taxes and penalties and then choose to install one of several OEM engines and related powertrain components (including specifications for the construction of a fuel tank and delivery system) that are intended to meet California emissions compliance requirements
3. The owner can pay all back-taxes and penalties and a SEMA-engineered “retrofit kit” of parts can be installed. Major components in the kit include an aftermarket electronic fuel injection (EFI) system, EFI controller, exhaust headers, camshaft, mufflers, and catalytic converters
While the engine SEMA used to develop the retrofit kit was considered a worst-case configuration, it still passed current-year smog check requirements. Variables like engine condition, accumulated mileage, and related factors affecting emissions from these parts may, in some cases, cause similar engines not to meet acceptable emissions levels. Nonetheless, transitioning from a carbureted environment to a fuel-injected environment while utilizing the latest controller technology and emissions parts upgrades resulted in dramatic and unprecedented reductions in tailpipe and evaporative emissions on the test vehicle. The retrofit kit actually improved performance while not limiting power in a full acceleration mode, compared to a carbureted engine.
There is an Upside
Most recently, on Aug. 19, 2010, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into law a version of SEMA-model legislation to create a vehicle registration classification for street rods, customs, replicas, and specially constructed vehicles. Under the new law, street rods and custom vehicles are exempted from emissions inspection requirements. In a compromise made with the state air quality regulators, the measure also provides that specially constructed and replica vehicles that are registered on or before Apr. 30, 2012 will be exempted from emissions inspection requirements. Specially constructed and replica vehicles registered after Apr. 30, 2012 will be subject to emission control requirements based on the model year and configuration of the engine installed, whether the engine is an original equipment manufacturer’s production engine, rebuilt engine, or crate engine.
To date the SEMA-model bill has been enacted in one form or another in Washington State (1999), California (2001, S.B.100), Illinois (2002), Missouri (2004), Rhode Island (2004), Hawaii (2004), Montana (2005), Maine (2005), Colorado (2006), Oregon (2006), Arkansas (2007), Virginia (2007), Nevada (2007), Florida (2007), Idaho (2008), Iowa (2008), Tennessee (2008), Utah (2009), Wyoming (2009), North Carolina (2009), and now Massachusetts (2010).
The Good and the Bad
The 10 Best Bills of the ’09-10 Legislative Session
2. Massachusetts H.B.4871 A version of the SEMA street rod and custom model bill, which creates vehicle registration and titling classifications for street rods, custom vehicles, replicas, and specially constructed vehicles.
3. Ohio H.B.199 Ohio’s version of the SEMA street rod and custom model bill chooses to classify these vehicles under the umbrella of the “historical motor vehicle” category. Street rods are additionally defined in this category as vehicles of, or manufactured to resemble, model-year 1948 or earlier that additionally have been altered from the manufacturer’s original design or has a body constructed of non-original material. Custom vehicles are defined separately in a similar manner, with the difference being that they are of, or manufactured to resemble, a model year of 1949 or later.
4. New York A.B.2429/S.B.3547 These two bills are New York’s versions of SEMA’s street rod and custom model bill and create a process by which these vehicles can be defined, titled, and registered as street rods and custom vehicles. Both bills also provide for a one-time registration fee for these vehicles.
5. New York A.B.10698 Under current New York law, a historical motor vehicle is either a vehicle manufactured more than 25 years ago or one that has unique characteristics and determined to be of historical, classic, or exhibition value. This bill creates a $100 one-time fee that would replace the current annual fee of $28.75 for the registration of these vehicles.
6. West Virginia H.B.2775/H.B.3243/H.B.4222/H.B.4575 Recognizing the historical importance of antique vehicles, these West Virginia bills aim to reduce the financial burden placed on antique vehicle owners by reducing the taxes and fees that they must pay on these vehicles.
7. Idaho H.B.591 In order to direct finite resources, this bill seeks to exempt vehicles driven less than 1,000 miles per year from the state’s mandatory emissions exemption program, regardless of the vehicle’s age.
8. Iowa S.F.2035 Establishing reasonable fees for the operation of a vehicle that’s only driven occasionally is the bill’s goal. Allowing any antique motor vehicle to be registered as a “limited-use” antique vehicle, the bill opens up the limited-use classification for an annual fee of $5. “Other occasional use” is added to the purposes for which a limited use antique vehicle may be driven. “Other occasional use” is defined as driven not more than 1,000 miles annually.
9. Vermont S.B.237 For the purpose of regulating salvage businesses in the state, this bill includes a provision stipulating that hobbyists are not to be confused with the owners of automobile graveyards. It includes a definition of an “automobile hobbyist” as a person not primarily engaged in the sale of vehicles and parts or dismantling junk vehicles and excludes from the definition of an “automobile graveyard”, an area used by an automobile hobbyist for storage and restoration purposes.
10. Louisiana H.B.118 Current Louisiana law exempts vehicle that are 40 years old and older from the state’s inspection requirements. This bill exempts all antique vehicles, defined as 25 years old and older, from the motor vehicle inspection requirements, which include equipment inspections and emissions inspections in certain areas.
The 10 Worst Bills of the ’09-10 Legislative Session
2. Colorado S.B.95 Current law in Colorado only requires that vehicles from model-year 1976 and newer undergo emissions testing. This bill would reset the model year target to include all model year of 1959 and newer vehicles, including seldom-driven collector items, for required emissions testing.
3. Hawaii H.B.1878 Tort law is seldom codified into state statute, but this bill aims to do just that by creating a cause of action (basis on which an individual can sue another individual) for maintaining an inoperable vehicle on private property. To succeed in such an action, the inoperable vehicle must directly or indirectly “injure” the person bringing the suit, possibly by decreasing their property value.
4. Michigan H.B.5897 Michigan historic vehicles’ owners must pay a registration fee of $30 every 10 years to operate on the state’s roads. Historic vehicles that use an authentic Michigan license plate from the vehicle’s model year are required to pay a one-time registration fee of $35. Under this bill to pad the state coffers, both registration fees would become due annually at a rate of $30 per year. This fee increase ignores the fact that these older cars are driven about one-third the miles each year as a new vehicle.
5. Nebraska L.B.688 This bill would expand the definition of “abandoned motor vehicle” to include project cars and trucks that are left unattended for only six hours on private property without valid plates, title, or permit, or that are inoperable, partially dismantled, wrecked, junked, or discarded. You heard that correctly! Six hours. In Nebraska, motor vehicles are defined as abandoned for the purpose of allowing state and local authorities to remove them from private property. If the magazine were located in Nebraska we would already be out of business. Looks like something for Speedway Motors under the guidance of Speedy Bill to become involved with.
6. New York A.B.1235 This bill provides that no automotive refinish material labeled “for professional use only” can be sold unless the purchaser demonstrates and meets all local ordinances for the use and application of the material. Bad luck for amateur hobbyists who want to paint their own hobby cars.
7. New York A.B.2800 Commonly referred to as “gas-guzzler” legislation, this bill would charge higher toll and registration fees for vehicles based on the vehicle’s weight, emissions, and fuel-efficiency ratings. If enacted, a consumer’s ability to purchase their vehicle of choice, not to mention vehicle safety, would be dramatic. Can you imagine what would happen to a street rod that’s emission free and gets less than 20 mph?
8. Virginia H.B.462 This bill would ban the sale of “any aftermarket exhaust system component” that would cause the vehicle to produce “excessive or unusual noise.” Since no definition exists in Virginia for what qualifies as “excessive or unusual noise,” this prohibition would effectively ban the sale of any of these parts, generally purchased for their durability, performance, and appearance. That means every street rod would be under scrutiny as all have an aftermarket exhaust system in some sense.
9. Washington H.B.2059 Implementing a vehicle scrappage program, this bill would provide sales tax incentives (for the first $2,000 of tax paid) for trade-in vehicles more than 15 years old that do not comply with emissions standards. All trade-in vehicles would be destroyed, regardless of their historical value or collector interest. You really didn’t want the ’32 Vicky you found in the wrecking yard, right? Or how about the Model A roadster or a ’48 Chevy pickup?
10. West Virginia H.B.3087/S.B.456 These West Virginia bills endeavor to include vehicles with exhaust systems deemed disturbing or loud in the definition of “disturbing the peace,” a crime that carries a fine of up to $1,000 per occurrence, six months in jail, or both. West Virginia currently has no standard on which to base whether an exhaust system is disturbing or loud and these judgment calls would be left to a law enforcement officer’s subjective opinion. I can see it now, West Virginia suffers from overcrowding of its jails because thousands of 55-year-old hot rodders where thrown in the slammer!
EPA Paint Regulations-Almost
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a rule to regulate paint stripping operations, surface coating, and autobody refinishing operations that use certain types of harmful materials. The rule targets hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) which the agency believes may cause cancer or other health disorders. “As this proposal was deliberated over the last two years there were significant concerns that the regulation would have a drastic impact on the ability of individual hobbyists from purchasing and using these types of paint,” explains a SEMA representative. “Through discussions with the EPA, SEMA was able to convince regulators that a rule could be produced that would develop ‘best practices’ for business operations while exempting hobbyists who infrequently paint their personal vehicles.”
As a result, the regulation does not apply to paint stripping and surface coating performed by individuals as part of a hobby, or for maintenance of their personal vehicles so long as those activities do not exceed two motor vehicles (or the equivalent in pieces) per year. Additionally, the rule does not apply to painting done with an airbrush or hand-held, non-refillable aerosol cans.
The EPA rule establishes “best practices” (spray booth, spray gun cleaning, etc.) for minimizing HAP emissions during commercial surface coating operations. All shops are effectively required to have a filtered spray booth or prep station and use high-volume low-pressure (HVLP) or equivalent spray equipment. Spray guns are required to be cleaned manually or with an enclosed spray gun washer. The EPA believes many shops have already implemented these best practices.
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. Cash for Clunkers operated through voluntary consumer participation, allowing car owners to receive a voucher to help buy a new car in exchange for scrapping a less fuel-efficient vehicle. Vehicle hobbyists eased the program’s effects by convincing lawmakers to include a requirement that the trade-in vehicle be a model year of 1984 or newer. This provision helped safeguard older vehicles, which are irreplaceable to hobbyists as a source of restoration parts.
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.
Over the past several years, the work of these lawmakers has brought a series of significant legislative accomplishments for the vehicle enthusiast community and specialty equipment industry on issues ranging from equipment standards to registration and titling classifications, and from emissions test exemptions to the rights of hobbyists to engage in backyard restorations.
“The automobile is part of our culture and history,” said New York Assemblyman Bill Reilich, the current Caucus chairman. “I am extremely pleased at how the membership numbers have increased, however, our work is not done. I will continue to work with the SEMA Government Affairs staff to help educate and encourage participation by our state governmental leaders and work toward our goal of having at least 500 members actively participating in the Caucus.”
The work of caucus members has brought a series of significant legislative accomplishments for the vehicle enthusiast community. By joining the Caucus, these legislators have demonstrated their commitment to upholding the rights of vehicle enthusiasts. In addition, hobbyists are able to quickly identify which state legislators have chosen to be recognized for their support of this great American hobby. Approximately 450 state legislators from all 50 states are involved in the Caucus. A comprehensive list of current caucus members is available at www.semasan.com.
The Congressional Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus
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.
Again, a full listing of Caucus members is posted at www.semasan.com.
Never be arrogant; especially when dealing with those in a position of power such as any letter writing or phone conversations you will have with legislators; it only pisses them off.
Don’t waste ammunition; speaking about friends we have in high places in public office, support them.
“Whiskey” makes you think you’re smarter than you are; until you have clearly thought about the subject and done your own research and formulated a thoughtful opinion keep your mouth and opinions to yourself, it only makes it worse for the rest of us.
Don’t mess with old men, they didn’t get old by being stupid; I’ve always liked this saying and now that I am one I am going to stick with it. So should you when dealing with older politicians at any level.
Know your enemy, and support those who support you.
(Editor’s note: Without the support of enthusiasts like you, laws that create additional opportunities for hobbyists won’t be going anywhere. Visit www.semasan.com for all the latest updates on these and many other issues.)
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