Vehicle Equipment Standards
The webpage, below, tracks regulations issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which are of specific interest to the aftermarket. Additionally, SEMA has compiled a comprehensive guide on how motor vehicle parts are regulated by the federal government: www.sema.org/fedregs. It is a must read document for every SEMA member.
SEMA supports reasonable and effective Federal safety and performance standards for motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. On the other hand, SEMA opposes any unnecessarily restrictive rules or actions.
Status: “TREAD Act Regulations"
NHTSA was required to issue a number of rulemakings under the TREAD Act, the law passed in 2000 in response to the Ford-Firestone controversy. The following are the major rules and their status.
Rollover Tests: NHTSA has created an enhanced scoring system for estimating the rollover potential of stock vehicles. The scoring system combines a vehicle’s mathematical profile (divide ½ of a vehicle’s track width by the height of the center of gravity) with the results of dynamic test to produce a percentage chance of rollover in a single vehicle crash. Using this approach, cars are the least likely to rollover, followed by pick-up trucks. SUVs are the most likely to tip, with 13 of the 36 SUVs test-driven by NHTSA tipping up on two wheels during the dynamic test’s tight, sudden turns. The new scoring system is not a safety standard but, rather, an extension of the current "rollover resistance" consumer information program.
Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS): In April 2005, NHTSA issued a final rule that requires all passenger cars weighing 10,000 pounds or less to have tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) by MY 2008. Vehicle manufacturers are required to install a system that can detect when one or more of the vehicle’s tires are 25 percent or more below the recommended inflation pressure. While NHTSA anticipates that the TPMS system will work with most replacement tires and aftermarket tire/rim combinations, the companies selling and installing such products are exempt from the “make inoperative” prohibition if the TPMS system does not work, so long as it is after the first retail sale. (The TPMS must work for dealer installations occurring prior to first sale.) Nevertheless, it is illegal for anybody to disable the malfunction indicator light on the dashboard. SEMA received confirmation from NHTSA that equivalent aftermarket TPMS that meet the safety standard may be installed on the vehicle. SEMA requested that the TPMS be reprogrammable in order to accommodate alternate and replacement tires with different pressure thresholds. However, NHTSA did not see a need to mandate reprogrammability or service information sharing since the agency believes this will occur naturally in the marketplace, without regulatory pressure. Click here for more information
Early Warning Rules: In 2002, NHTSA established a system for reporting information to the agency that could provide clues to potential future safety problems. Most of the direct reporting requirements are limited to vehicle and tire manufacturers (only). Vehicle and equipment manufacturers must provide NHTSA with notice of fatalities that are alleged or proven to be the result of defects. Furthermore, large volume vehicle manufacturers (more than 5,000 vehicles annually), large volume tire manufacturers (more than 15,000 tires of same size and design annually) and child restraint system manufacturers must supply NHTSA with “early warning” information about injuries, property damage, consumer complaints, warranty claims, field reports, and production data on a set time schedule. Equipment manufacturers are generally not required to supply early warning materials. However, please note the following two circumstances that automatically require sending materials to NHTSA: 1) any incident or allegation involving a death must be reported to NHTSA. 2) Recall notices, advisories or customer satisfaction campaigns where these reference the need to repair, replace, or modify motor vehicles or equipment. You must provide NHTSA with a copy of each document that was sent to more than one dealer. (With respect to the second item, this has been a longstanding NHTSA requirement that was incorporated into the early warning rule.)
Sale/Lease of Defective Tires: As of 2001, any person who knowingly sells or leases defective/noncompliant tires must report the sale or lease to NHTSA.
Sale/Lease of Defective Vehicles/Equipment: As of 2002, any person who knowingly sells or leases defective/noncompliant vehicles must report the sale or lease to NHTSA.
Foreign Safety Recalls: As of 2002, a vehicle/equipment manufacturer must notify NHTSA if it conducts a foreign safety recall or safety campaign, or if a foreign government requires a recall.
New Tire Performance Standard: NHTSA established a new tire performance standard (FMVSS No. 139) for most tires used on cars and light duty trucks, effective September 1, 2007. As a consequence, all radial tires are subjected to greater speeds and heavier loads during testing. Bias tires continue to be covered under the current tire standards (FMVSS Nos. 109 & 119). Responding to industry petitions, NHTSA agreed that radial tires with a tread depth of 18/32 inches or greater may continue to be regulated under FMVSS No. 119. These tires are frequently used for off-road operations. NHTSA determined that the thickness of the tread rubber makes it difficult to achieve the performance requirements of FMVSS No. 139 and reducing the thickness would diminish the tires’ off-road navigational capabilities. NHTSA also accommodated the special characteristics of radial snow tires regulated under FMVSS No. 139 by reducing the endurance and low-pressure test speeds for those tires from 120 km/h to 110 km/h.
Improved Tire Safety Information: In 2002, NHTSA updated the tire information rule which applies to both tire and vehicle manufacturers, and covers new passenger vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds and applicable tires. The Tire Identification Number (TIN) must now appear on both sides of the tire (although the manufacturing date need only appear on the intended outboard sidewall) and be at least one-quarter inch high. Automakers must place the tire inflation/load limit placard on the driver's side post, using a defined format. Automakers must also provide more tire safety information, including a discussion of correct tire inflation in owner's manuals.
Status: “Non-TREAD Act Regulations”
Brake Hoses: NHTSA amended the brake hose standard (FMVSS No. 106) in 2004, effective in 2007. The rule amended the performance requirements and tests relating to hydraulic, vacuum, and air brake hoses, and to adapt specific requirements for plastic air brake tubing and end fittings. The rule is consistent with the most current requirements adopted by the Society for Automotive Executives (SAE). Nevertheless, NHTSA received petitions for reconsideration from several companies that raise a wide and complex range of technical issues covering brake hoses, hose assemblies and end fittings. NHTSA has proposed subsequent clarifications.
CAFE & CO2 Emissions: The Obama Administration will set tough, new fuel-economy standards for model year 2012-2016 cars/trucks, and simultaneously reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through a national standard. The decision ends years of debate between California, the federal government and the automakers over who can regulate CO2 emissions. Fuel economy and CO2 emissions are directly related since CO2 is released in proportion to the amount of carbon-based fuel that is burned. In 2007, the Bush Administration blocked implementation of a California CO2 rule which had been adopted by 13 other states. California will now rewrite its CO2 rule to match the national standard. NHTSA will set CAFE standards for MY 2012-2016 vehicles that nearly match CO2 emission standards adopted by California. The EPA will also establish corresponding CO2 emissions standards using its authority under the Clean Air Act. 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 will set a CO2 emissions standard of 250 grams per mile for vehicles sold in 2016, roughly equivalent to 35.5 mpg.
Certifying Vehicles Built in Two or More Stages: In 2005, NHTSA issued a final rule designed to make it more practical for multi-stage vehicle manufacturers and alterers to certify their vehicles when they do not have the ability to perform the same crash tests or other engineering studies as the large vehicle manufacturers. Examples of multistage or altered vehicles would include converted vans, recreational vehicles, specialized trucks, and dealer modified vehicles. NHTSA will allow the use of pass-through certification so that it can be used not only for multi-stage vehicles based on chassis-cabs, but also for those based on other types of incomplete vehicles. NHTSA has also established a new process under which intermediate and final-stage manufacturers and alterers can obtain temporary exemptions from dynamic performance requirements. These manufacturers and alterers will also be given an automatic one year of additional lead time for new safety requirements, unless NHTSA deems a longer or shorter time period more appropriate.
Crashworthiness Stars: NHTSA has expanded the “New Car Assessment Program” (NCAP) to include a new “overall crashworthiness rating” which combines the front-end, side, and rollover test results. Begun in 1979, NCAP utilizes a five-star rating system to provide consumers with basic safety information about a new vehicle and foster comparison shopping between different makes and models. The tests employed under NCAP are basically the same as those required under the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. NCAP is viewed as a mechanism to encourage automakers to voluntarily improve the safety of their vehicles. NHTSA compiles and publishes the NCAP information through a brochure and via the website http://www.safercar.gov. The automakers are required to incorporate the information into the window price sticker. The new overall crashworthiness rating for passenger cars, pickup trucks, SUVs and vans will begin in MY 2010.
Door Locks: Starting in 2009, all minivans must have two latches to help prevent sliding doors from accidentally opening during a crash. In lieu of the back-up latch, there may be a signal system to warn the driver that the door is not fully closed and latched. Additionally, all double-doors on hinges (previously referred to as "cargo-doors") must also have a secondary latch. The new requirements are part of a final rule issued by NHTSA to harmonize its door lock standard (FMVSS No. 206) with Canada, Japan, the European Union and other countries, thereby becoming the first global technical regulation covering motor vehicles. The rule applies to all vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds, including most 15-passenger vans. NHTSA also adopted an optional test used in Europe to assess inertial forces.
Driver Distraction: There is growing debate across the country that drivers are not paying enough attention to the road. The distraction target list is an ever-expanding array of electronic devices and displays that make automobiles more useful, safe and comfortable. The list includes cell phones, navigational aids, plug-in computers, video monitors. NHTSA has been actively monitoring this issue for more than 15 years but wants more research data before it decides whether any regulatory actions would be appropriate. Meanwhile, the automakers have agreed on 23 voluntary guidelines for designing and installing telematic products (i.e., cell phones, in-car televisions, navigation equipment, etc.). For example, telematic products should not block the driver’s view or obstruct vehicle controls, and drivers should be able to complete tasks with brief glances. Meanwhile, a number of states have already passed laws or regulations to require hands-free phones or ban the use of cell phones while driving.
Electronic Stability Control Systems: NHTSA will require all new passenger cars be equipped with an ESC system by 2012. NHTSA’s three-year phase-in period mandating installation began with MY 2009 vehicles. The ESC computer technology works with antilock brakes to automatically brake individual wheels to help the driver maintain control. SEMA is working with industry and NHTSA to ensure that the rule will not have any unintended consequences for the installation of specialty equipment on vehicles with an ESC system. The new rule is found at FMVSS No. 126, Electronic Stability Control Systems. Under the performance standard, vehicles must pass a dynamic test that would work effectively in oversteer and understeer situations. ESC systems must: augment directional stability by adjusting brake torque individually; be computer controlled; be able to determine vehicle yaw rate and velocity; be able to monitor driving steering input; and be operational within the full speed range of the vehicle (except when there is a below-speed threshold where loss of control is unlikely). The system must have a telltale warning light mounted inside the occupant compartment in clear view of the driver, to alert the driver when the ESC system is not functioning properly. A driver-selectable off-switch would be permitted to address times when a vehicle is stuck in sand or gravel or is being run on a track.
Event Data Recorders (“Black Boxes”): NHTSA issued a rule to establish uniform requirements for electronic data recorders (EDRs), also known as "black boxes." EDRs document key events just before and after a car crash, such as speed, steering wheel movement and how hard the brakes were pressed. Beginning in Sept. 2010, any EDR installed on a light-duty vehicle (up to 8,500 pounds GVWR) must meet minimum performance criteria. Data to be retrieved includes crash speed, brake, accelerator pedal, safety belt and air bag deployment information. The data may help identify the causes of crashes and injuries, and potentially improve motor vehicle safety systems and road designs. Automakers will be required to inform new car buyers that the vehicle has a black box by including a statement in the owner’s manual describing the EDR’s basic functions and capabilities. The NHTSA rule does not specifically limit how the data is used, for example as evidence in court cases.
Lighting: Federal Lighting Standard, FMVSS 108: NHTSA’s revised lighting equipment standard is scheduled to take effect in December 2009. NHTSA reorganized and attempted to simplify the complex standard (FMVSS No. 108) by incorporating performance and test requirements previously referenced in about 35 standards adopted by the Society of Automotive Engineers. The revision also incorporates NHTSA policies outlined over the past several decades through “letters of interpretation.” Among the letters are confirmations issued by NHTSA in November 2005 and August 2006 in response to SEMA inquiries that confirm that aftermarket products may have different designs than original equipment, so long as it complies with FMVSS No. 108's performance requirements. Click here for a copy of the “old” version of the rule and the “new” (which starts at page 76): http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2008/octqtr/pdf/49cfr571.108.pdf
Rearward-Viewing Cameras & Sensors: Under a law passed in 2008, NHTSA has until early 2011 to implement a regulation requiring all new passenger cars be equipped with a means for alerting the driver if a child is behind the vehicle when it is being backed-up. NHTSA began the process by requesting public input on the effectiveness of various rear-visibility systems. NHTSA also wants guidance on developing tests to evaluate the performance of four countermeasures—direct view, rear-mounted convex mirrors, rear-object detection sensors (such as ultrasonic or radar-based devices), and rearview video systems. The specialty equipment market has been at the forefront of offering cameras and sensors to address the issue.
Roof Strength: NHTSA strengthened the vehicle roof crush rule by requiring manufacturers to design roofs that withstand at least three times the weight of a light duty vehicle (up to 6,000 pounds) during a two-sided roof strength test. The current standard, which had remained unchanged since 1971, requires the roof to support at least 1.5 times the vehicle weight when tested on one side only. The tests are conducted by pressing a metal plate down on the roof over the driver’s seat, then the passenger’s seat. The requirements will be phased-in between 2012 and 2016. Responding to SEMA’s comments, NHTSA does not believe the revised standard will have any detrimental impact on the industry’s ability to accessorize vehicles with a sunroof or other item of equipment that interacts with the roof crush standard.
Side Impact Standard: NHTSA upgraded the side-impact protection standard for new cars and trucks. FMVSS No. 214 will now require that test vehicles be slammed sideways into a pole to determine how well they protect occupants. Although NHTSA does not dictate how to construct vehicles that will comply with the test’s performance requirements, most automakers are expected to install air bags. The new rule will be phased-in over a four-year period starting in 2009. The deadline for most vehicles will be Sept. 1, 2012; however, there is a one-year extension for vehicles weighing between 8,500 and 10,000 pounds. The automakers had already agreed to a voluntary industry standard in 2003 that requires most cars to have head-protecting air bags by 2009. Nevertheless, NHTSA felt compelled to go beyond the voluntary approach since a federal safety standard triggers mandatory compliance and recall responsibilities. During the rulemaking process, SEMA recommended that NHTSA require automakers to provide all service information necessary to install equipment that will work in conjunction with vehicle air bags. NHTSA responded that it does not anticipate any marketplace problems and encouraged the auto industry to continue working together to share such information.
Theft Marking on All Cars and Light Trucks: As of 2006, the Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention Standard applies to all passenger cars and light trucks weighing less than 6,000 pounds, not just high-theft vehicles. This standard requires that vehicle manufacturers mark certain major parts with the VIN number. Those major parts are: engine, transmission, hood, fenders, doors, bumpers, quarter panels, and pickup boxes and/or cargo boxes. For altered vehicles and replacement parts, the parts must have the letter “R” (for replacement part), the DOT symbol, and the part manufacturer’s registered trademark. Vehicles equipped with an anti-theft device as standard equipment may be exempted from the marking requirement by NHTSA.
Tires: Tire/Vehicle Labeling: NHTSA issued a final “cargo carrying capacity” rule which requires a relabeling of the tire placard (or a supplemental label) if there has been a change to the vehicle’s cargo carrying capacity. The rule only applies to changes made prior to the vehicle’s first retail sale. SEMA, NADA and other industry groups have asked NHTSA to raise the safe harbor established in the rule below which no relabeling is required, from 1.5 percent/100 pounds of additional weight to 3 percent/220 pounds. The groups have also asked NHTSA to only apply the requirement to “alterations” (changes made other than the addition or subtraction of readily attachable equipment or tires). NHTSA has not yet issued a decision.
Tires: Tire Expiration Dates: NHTSA officials believe they have developed a test for determining the durability of aged tires. It reportedly involves subjecting a tire to high temperatures (up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit) for 8-to-10 weeks in a high oxygen environment. The test was given a stamp of approval by “The Aged Tire Durability Task Group,” a 33-member task force which includes representatives for tire makers, the auto industry and safety groups. The Task Group also endorsed its own, separate durability test that would run tires at about 75 miles an hour for more than 30 hours. At issue is the claim that some rubber compounds degrade over time, even if unused. Even if true, however, it may be difficult to establish a uniform time limit that takes into account other contributing aging factors such as climate, handling and storage. Several auto companies are backing a 6-year tire expiration date and a number of safety advocate groups are urging NHTSA to institute a regulation. SEMA believes it is important that regulators and lawmakers have the best science available before making any decisions on this topic. They should also consider the associated environmental, social and economic costs if expiration dates lead to premature tire scrappage. If a regulation were proposed, SEMA would likely seek a provision that exempts limited production tires (15,000 or less annually) and other specialized tires, similar to that already included in a California law requiring replacement tires be as fuel efficient as OE tires. Meanwhile, SEMA urges consumers to also focus on critical safety issues such as tire inflation and overloading of vehicles.
Tire Registration: NHTSA has agreed to update its tire registration regulations to allow consumers to register their tire purchases electronically rather than by mailing back a paper registration form. The action had been urged by SEMA along with the Rubber Manufacturers Association, Tire Industry Association and National Automobile Dealers Association. NHTSA has issued a proposed rule to modify the tire recordkeeping regulation (49 Code of Federal Regulations Part 574) to permit registration via the Internet, fax or through other electronic methods. Electronic registration should greatly increase the number of consumers who register their purchase (beyond the estimated 10 percent). It should also decrease the amount of information that is inaccurate, incomplete or illegible when the forms have been completed.
Tires: Tire Fuel Efficiency: California & Federal: California has yet to issue a regulation to implement a 2008 law that requires consumers be provided information on the fuel efficiency of replacement tires sold in California. The California Energy Commission is working with the California Integrated Waste Management Board to implement a program that would apply to most passenger cars/light-duty truck replacement tires. SEMA was able to exclude application of the law to limited production tires (15,000 or less annually). At the federal level, NHTSA is developing a program for mass-produced replacement tires, whereby tire manufacturers would be required to rate the tires for fuel efficiency, safety, and durability based on performance tests established by NHTSA. The program is required under a 2007 law which included a SEMA provision exempting from the rating system those tires that have been produced or imported in annual units of less than 15,000, and do not exceed 35,000 tires in total brand name production. The specialty tires at issue are mostly produced for classic and antique cars and for some off-highway vehicles. NHTSA may finalize the program by early 2010. As the laws and regulations have been debated, SEMA has reminded lawmakers and consumers to focus attention on other important concerns such as tire pressure, performance and handling, all of which have a direct correlation to tire fuel efficiency.
Window Switches: The automakers have been given a two-year extension, until October 2010, to comply with requirements that power window switches have a "pull-to-close" design to prevent children from accidentally leaning on a switch and closing a window on limbs, head or neck. While most new cars and light-duty trucks will have the switches sooner than 2010, a few models may still have recessed or shrouded “rocker” or “toggle” switches. NHTSA permitted continued use of rocker and toggle switches when it revised the power window rule (FMVSS No. 118) in 2004. It revised the rule again in 2006 to permit only pull-to-close switches, as required by Congress. In its most recent action (July 2008), NHTSA withdrew an exemption from the pull-to-close switch requirement if a sunroof or window had automatic reversal capability (Section S5 of FMVSS No. 118). While acknowledging that the switch is then a redundant feature, NHTSA did not believe it had the authority to craft an exemption under the language of the 2006 Congressional mandate. NHTSA also noted that a new safety law enacted in February 2008 requires the agency to consider mandating automatic reversal systems. The systems are currently voluntary equipment. NHTSA will initiate a separate rulemaking on that topic.