SEMA eNews Vol. 19, No. 6, February 11, 2016

Debunking the Myths: The Threat of EPA Enforcement to Converted Racecars

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In July 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced a proposal that would have prohibited the conversion of street vehicles into race cars used exclusively for the track. While the EPA has formally withdrawn its proposal, the agency continues to assert authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate the modification of vehicles used for competition. Under the EPA’s new interpretation of the law, certified motor vehicles and engines and their emission control devices must remain in their certified configuration even if they are used solely for competition. Violators would be subject to the fines and penalties included in the tampering prohibitions.

MYTH: The threat of EPA enforcement is over since the agency formally withdrew its proposal.

The EPA maintains that is has the power to enforce against any vehicle owner that converts his or her emissions-controlled motor vehicle into a vehicle to be used solely for competition.  Whether or not the EPA chooses to enforce, it would be illegal for an individual to convert their motor vehicle.  Additionally, the EPA has stated that it has the authority to enforce against aftermarket companies that sell parts for use on the converted vehicles, which will limit racers’ access to parts. 

MYTH: The EPA’s interpretation is long-standing.

Congress never intended the Clean Air Act to be interpreted as giving the EPA the authority to regulate vehicles used solely for competition, regardless of whether the vehicles were once emissions-certified road vehicles.  Once a vehicle is taken out of use as a road vehicle and dedicated solely to racing, it is beyond the laws which apply to road vehicles.  The EPA and SEMA fundamentally disagree on this point.  SEMA has cited the statutory text, legislative history, and congressional intent of the Clean Air Act, as well as 46 years of history whereby vehicles have been converted from certified road status to status as race vehicles without any objection from EPA. 

MYTH: The EPA can’t use its newly-claimed enforcement authority on vehicles that have already been converted into racecars.  

It is the EPA’s position that they able to enforce against vehicles that have already been converted in the past.  While the EPA has indicated that it does not currently plan on enforcing against individuals, it does plan on going after the companies supplying parts for vehicles that have already been converted.  So, if you have a racecar that began life as a street car, this regulation would affect your access to parts, and leave you open to enforcement if the agency so chooses.  

MYTH: The EPA is merely clarifying the law as it relates to motor vehicles and nonroad vehicles, and its interpretation only affects vehicles driven on the streets.

The EPA’s interpretation claims that motor vehicles can never be modified, even if it is used solely for competition and never again used on public roads.  Without clarification, the EPA’s interpretation means modifications affecting any emissions-related component, such as engines, engine control modules, intakes, exhaust systems, etc. are prohibited.

FACT: Racecars with original emissions controls are not affected.

The EPA notes that race vehicles with original, unmodified emission controls, including the original engine configuration, engine control module, intake and exhaust components, do not violate the law.  The issue is that very few competition race vehicles have been left unmodified and in a certified configuration.  

FACT: The EPA’s enforcement authority does not include purpose-built racecars, such as sprint cars, open-wheel dragsters and the cars that currently compete in NASCAR.

The EPA agrees that vehicles that were originally manufactured for racing are excluded from regulation under the Clean Air Act.  However, the EPA believes this exclusion extends only to vehicles that were never certified for on-road use or issued a VIN. 

FACT: The EPA’s proposal will not affect the exemption for “nonroad vehicles,” such as dirt bikes, ATVs, snowmobiles and boats used solely for competition.

The EPA has indicated that it will continue to allow “nonroad vehicles” (dirt bikes, ATVs, snowmobiles, boats) to be exempted from certain emissions regulations if they are used solely for competition.  Distinct from its stance on motor vehicles, however, the EPA’s current position on nonroad vehicles allows emissions-certified nonroad vehicles to be converted into vehicles used solely for competition.


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