Many states have incorporated the OBD testing method as part of the vehicle emissions inspection for 1996-and-newer vehicles. These OBD tests replace tailpipe tests by identifying emissions problems through information stored in the vehicle's on-board computer system. Some states have even proposed only testing vehicles with the OBD test, limiting the vehicles that need to be tested to those manufactured in 1996 and later. The I/M 240 is an enhanced emissions testing program, with "240" representing the number of seconds that the tailpipe portion of the test lasts. I/M 240 tests require visual inspection of emissions control devices, an evaporative emissions test, and a transient drive-cycle exhaust emissions test, performed while the vehicle is running on rollers. Many state programs mistakenly fail vehicles in the visual test based on the presence of aftermarket engine products or force older collector vehicles to undergo some type of testing.
Policy makers must properly focus on inspection procedures and not confuse legitimate aftermarket parts with emission defeat devices and tampering violations. The hobby must also pursue proactive legislative initiatives to establish exemptions from inspections for low-mileage vehicles, classic vehicles (defined as 25-years old and older), and newer vehicles. It is useful to remind legislators that the emissions from this small portion of the vehicle fleet are negligible. This is especially true when you consider the low miles typically driven by hobby vehicles and the excellent condition in which these vehicles are maintained.
The hobby must work with legislators to mitigate legislation that would ban the installation of power booster systems, including nitrous oxide systems intended for off-road (track) use. The SEMA model bill aims to do just that with language that provides for the operation of a vehicle equipped for nitrous oxide, so long as the nitrous oxide is disconnected from the engine when the vehicle is anywhere other than the track.
New Car Emissions Inspection Exemptions
It is not an effective use of resources to perform emissions tests on newer vehicles. The results of these tests predominately demonstrate no significant threats to air quality from these vehicles. New vehicles are regulated by the EPA, which provides strict emissions standards, which these vehicles have already met. The idea behind exempting all classes of new vehicles is to reduce costs while not losing appreciable emission reductions. This strategy builds support for emission inspection programs, but also directs finite resources to where they will be most valuable in cleaning the air. Even California, the toughest state on vehicle emissions, recognized the benefits of exempting new vehicles and does not require smog checks to be performed on vehicles 6 model years old or newer.
Equipment Standards & Inspections
Understanding how vehicles and car parts are regulated can be a bit confusing. Here is a quick overview.
The Federal government, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has the right to set, enforce, and investigate safety standards for new motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. These "Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards" (FMVSS) are performance-based. They do not dictate design elements. For example, the federal lighting standard prescribes the photometric requirements for a headlamp but does not dictate shape or size.
The FMVSS covers basic types of equipment (e.g., tires, rims, headlamps/tail lamps, brake hoses, etc.) and establishes vehicle crashworthiness requirements (front and side impact, roof crush resistance, fuel system integrity, etc.).