The Future Of Hot Rodding - Let's Make Some Noise!

Is The Future Of Hot Rodding In Jeopardy?

Jim McFarland Oct 1, 2010 0 Comment(s)
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With the changing political landscape, government regulations could have a huge negative effect on the future of our hobby.

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The 2010 elections are here, and at no time in recent history has Washington been so divided. Less than two years ago, then-Senator Barack Obama led a movement united by the desire for change. Voters wanted a new era of bipartisan cooperation, openness and an abandonment of "politics as usual." We are again at an election crossroads in which many voters are seeking "change." That's what this issue of the magazine is about-an opportunity to consider how actions being taken by federal and state lawmakers impact you, the auto enthusiast. The need for the enthusiast community to stay informed and become involved is greater than ever. From emissions to auto equipment standards, the government is making decisions about your current and future car.

This topic is not limited to Washington. While the federal government issues national rules dictating vehicle safety and emissions equipment, most other issues are handled at the state and local levels. From titling and registration to inspection/maintenance, your car is subject to decisions made by state and local officials.

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 and 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.

Scrappage
In recent years, state and federal officials have attempted to implement emissions reduction programs that target older vehicles. Most scrappage programs allow "smokestack" industries to avoid reducing their own emissions by buying pollution credits generated through destroying these vehicles. These programs accelerate the normal retirement of vehicles through the purchase of older cars, which are then typically crushed into blocks of scrap metal. Hobbyists suffer from the indiscriminate destruction of older cars, trucks, and parts, which anyone undergoing a restoration project can attest. America safeguards its artistic and architectural heritage against indiscriminate destruction, and our automotive and industrial heritage deserves the same protection.

While some legislation designed to spur sales of new and used automobiles is positive, such as vouchers toward the purchase of a new or used cars or tax credits to help upgrade, repair, or maintain older vehicles, scrappage provisions are not. Scrappage programs focus on vehicle age rather than actual emissions produced. This approach is based on the erroneous assumption that all "old cars are dirty cars". However, the true culprits are "gross polluters"-vehicles of any model year that are poorly maintained. Scrappage programs ignore better options like vehicle maintenance, repair, and upgrade programs that maximize the emissions systems of existing vehicles. In the past year, scrappage initiatives have been defeated in California, North Carolina, and Washington.

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 1984 or newer vehicle. This provision helped safeguard older vehicles, which are irreplaceable to hobbyists as a source of restoration parts.

Freedom is ...... waking up on the weekend and being able to work on your own car, in your own backyard.

Don't Get Zoned Out!
You come home one afternoon only to find a ticket on your project vehicle that's parked on your property. Sounds like a nightmare scenario, doesn't it? But in some areas of the country, it's all too real. State and local laws-some on the books now, others pending-can or will dictate where you can work to restore or modify your project vehicle. Believe it or not, that project car or truck you've stashed behind your house until the new crate engine arrives or the cherished collectible you've hung onto since high school to pass down to your kids could very easily be towed right out of your yard depending on the zoning laws in your area.

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Why is the long arm of the law reaching into your backyard? Some zealous government officials are waging war against what they consider "eyesores". To us, of course, these are valuable on-going restoration projects. But to a non-enthusiast lawmaker, your diamond-in-the-rough looks like a junker ready for the salvage yard. If you're not careful, that's exactly where it will wind up.

Hobbyists are becoming increasingly concerned about the many states and local cities currently enforcing or attempting to legislate strict property or zoning laws, which include restrictions on visible inoperable automobile bodies and parts. Often, removal of these vehicles from private property is enforced through local nuisance laws with minimal or no notice to the owner. Jurisdictions enforce or seek to enact these laws for a variety of reasons, most particularly because they believe inoperative vehicles are eyesores that adversely affect property values or that inoperative vehicles pose a health risk associated with leaking fluids and chemicals. Many such laws are drafted broadly, allowing for the confiscation of vehicles being repaired or restored.

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.

In the '09-10 legislative session, hobbyists defeated bills in Hawaii, Kansas, Nebraska, Virginia, and West Virginia that would have established unreasonable restrictions on backyard restoration projects. In response to these and other anti-hobbyist efforts, SEMA has drafted its own inoperable vehicle bill that's fair to restorers while still considerate of neighbors who don't want a junkyard operating next door. The SEMA model bill simply states that project vehicles and their parts must be maintained or stored outside of "ordinary public view".

Emissions and Smog Check Programs
Many states operate their own I/M programs in areas that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated as a "non attainment area," meaning that the area has not attained the EPA's required air quality. The EPA checks for carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide when designating these areas and when an area does not meet the standard for any individual pollutant, or any combination of the pollutants, then it is placed on the list of non attainment areas.

To meet the EPA's emissions reduction requirements, many states are implementing more stringent emission inspection and maintenance (I/M) programs. An I/M program may be currently operating in your state, or could be soon.

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.

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Policy makers must properly focus 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.

EPA Ethanol
My engine is not vegetarian-it wants gas.
There is a battle raging in Washington that may force you to put ethanol in your car, whether you want to or not. The U.S. EPA currently allows gasoline to include up to 10 percent ethanol (E-10), a fuel additive made from corn or other biomass sources. The ethanol industry wants the EPA to increase the amount to 15 percent.

Who would object? Millions of owners of high-performance engines and older cars who fear corrosion and other nasty side effects. Ethanol attracts water. In turn, the resulting condensation can corrode the fuel lines, fixtures and tank components (steel, rubber, aluminum, etc). We're talking rust, clogging, and deterioration. For modern cars, the oxygen atom in the ethanol molecule may confuse the exhaust sensor when measuring the fuel/air mixture going into the cylinders. The mixture may be too lean, producing a hot exhaust capable of damaging the catalytic converter. The end result may also be more nitrogen oxides, a building block for smog.

Many newer engines and parts have been designed to be more compatible with alcohol fuels, and E-15 will not be an issue. But E-10 has been a problem for some current and older models, and E-15 may be worse. Many in the auto industry have cautioned the EPA to do more science before it rules on the request.

Why does it matter? The fact is gasoline without ethanol may eventually become scarce or non-existent when you pull up to the pump. We also face an education curve. For many people who already ignore the "contains 10 percent ethanol" sign will not understand that 15 percent may cost them a pretty penny in repair bills.

Engine Swaps Made Easier
Hobbyists frequently ask about the rules governing engine switching in project vehicles. First of all, those engaged in engine switching activities are bound by specific state laws that may vary from state to state. Having said that, there are some general guidelines one may consider. This article will cover the rules for switching the engine in production-type vehicles (but not specially constructed vehicles, street rods, kit cars, and the like). The basic rule of engine switching (as opposed to installing a "replacement" engine) is that the change must do no harm. This means that the engine being installed must theoretically be at least as "clean" as the one taken out. Several requirements may define "clean" for the purposes of engine switching.

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Model Year: The engine to be installed must be the same age or newer than the one being replaced. Crate engines can be used if they are configured to resemble an engine that was certified by the U.S. EPA and/or the California Air Resources Board (CARB). This essentially means that the required emissions parts must be present on the engine.

Certification Level: The engine to be installed must come from a vehicle certified to meet the same or more stringent emissions standards than the one replaced.

Vehicle Class: An engine from a vehicle class, such as a motor home, medium-duty truck, or marine application must not be used since these engines were certified to different types of emissions standards, using different tests.

System/Equipment: When swapping in a newer engine from a later-model vehicle, all of the relevant emissions control equipment must be transferred as well. This includes the carbon canister, the catalytic converter(s) and even parts of the on-board diagnostic (OBD) system. Some states have exceptions to this requirement, but the general rule is that as much of the donor vehicle's emissions system as possible should be transferred. The vehicle will likely run more efficiently with a full transfer of the system and shouldn't cause any undue heartache.

Of course, engine switching can be much more complex than described here, but these are good general rules to follow and should keep engine switchers out of trouble in most cases.

The U.S. EPA and many states have enforceable policies and guidelines on how to perform legal engine changes. For further information, please consult the EPA and CARB at: www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/policies/civil/caa/mobile/engswitch.pdf or www.bar.ca.gov/80_BARResources/07_AutoRepair/Engine_Change_Guidelines.html.

How Loud is Too Loud?
Imagine driving down the road and getting stopped for the modified muffler on your painstakingly restored Camaro. Now imagine sitting on the shoulder, receiving a citation from local law enforcement, while a stock Ferrari overtakes your car and drives on. This is the scene being played on state highways across the country, the result of poorly drafted or ineffective state laws and regulations. The laws on the books in these states frequently cite the manufacturer's specifications or a factory-installed muffler as the basis on which vehicle exhaust noise is measured.

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On this topic, states can generally be divided into two major categories: states with noise standards and states without noise standards. Of the states with a test standard on the books, many ignore guidelines when handing out citations. Most states that have chosen to go the route of setting specifications choose to measure a vehicle's noise by decibels. States that have quantifiable noise standards on the books are shaded red in the map above. These standards often go unenforced. One reason these regulations are not enforced is that they are based on an in-use standard-exhaust noise is measured while a vehicle is in motion on the highway. The states that employ these operating standards typically divide vehicles into classes and then set separate standards: one for vehicles while driving on roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or less and a second standard for vehicles driving on roadways with a speed limit greater than 35 mph. The measurements are to be taken while the vehicle is in motion on the road, usually from a distance of 50 feet from the center lane of travel.

Other states choose not to specify a quantifiable noise standard. These states are shown in yellow in the map above. Typical language in these states' statutes includes prohibitions on "excessive or unusual noise" from a vehicle's exhaust system. While most motorists believe that exhaust systems should not be used in a way that causes overly loud or objectionable noise, these vague provisions fail to provide a clear and objective standard for those seeking more durable exhaust systems that enhance a vehicle's appearance and increase performance. Language that effectively limits the use of aftermarket exhausts can be found among both yellow and red states. Such language includes sentences such as "no person shall modify the exhaust system of a motor vehicle in any manner that will amplify or increase the noise or sound emitted louder than that emitted by the muffler originally installed on the vehicle". While such language does not specifically prohibit all modification, it doesn't provide any means of measuring whether a vehicle has been acceptably modified. Such language also negatively affects the aftermarket industry by placing the noise-limit authority in the hands of the OEMs and ignores the fact that aftermarket exhaust systems are designed to make vehicles run more efficiently without increasing emissions.

Green on the map identifies the three states that have enacted SEMA model legislation to provide enthusiasts and law enforcement officials with a fair and enforceable alternative. The model legislation establishes a 95-decibel exhaust noise limit based on an industry standard adopted by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Under this standard (SAE J1169), a sound meter is placed 20 inches from the exhaust outlet at a 45-degree angle and the engine is revved to three-quarters of maximum-rated horsepower. The highest decibel reading is then recorded.

Previous California law allowed modifications so long as the noise levels did not exceed the 95-decibel limit. However, the roadside enforcement of this limit was chaotic, leading to subjective, selective, and improper enforcement.

Enforcement of the previous law and regulations in California, for example, resulted in many drivers being pulled over by state and local police and cited for improper modified exhaust systems despite having what they believed to be legal aftermarket exhausts. To prove our point (and educate ourselves) about the widespread improper enforcement of the previous California exhaust law, SEMA conducted a series of exhaust noise tests in early April 2001. First, we contacted California SAN members to see how many folks had received citations for excessive or modified exhaust. We were surprised and dismayed to learn how many fit the category! We then invited them to have their cars tested to see if they actually complied with California law. Finally, we hired a board-certified acoustical engineer and did the testing according to the standards set out in California law. Long story short, of the cars we tested only one exceeded the 95db legal level.

To remedy this problem, in 2002 SEMA helped enact a new enforcement procedure in California through its model bill. The new law forces compliance with an objectively measured standard in a fair and predictable test. Through this procedure, motorists who drive vehicles legally equipped with modified exhaust systems can confirm that they comply with California's exhaust noise standard. The California Bureau of Automotive Repair began operation of the motor vehicle exhaust noise-testing program in 2003. The law also allows courts to dismiss citations for exhaust systems that have been tested and for which a certificate of compliance has been issued. Under the program, the 40 smog check stations statewide that provide referee functions are performing the test. These referee stations are issuing certificates of compliance for vehicles when tests of their exhaust systems demonstrate that they emit no more than 95 dB under the SAE test procedure. However, only those vehicles that have received a citation for an exhaust noise violation are permitted to submit their vehicle for the test. A similar standard was enacted in Maine in 2003 and Montana in 2007.

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Regulating Hot Rod Emissions: Past, Present, and Future
Government regulations continue filtering into the hot rod community. The purpose of this article is to provide a chronology of events helpful to understanding the current regulatory landscape and then look into the future of what enthusiasts can expect.

It has been approximately 40 years since the government agency that became CARB first met with specialty aftermarket parts manufacturers. The agency had become aware that non-stock, emissions-related aftermarket parts were being installed on California vehicles and wanted to establish guidelines for their use. About a dozen specialty parts manufacturers attended the meeting that was convened by the agency setting "design limits" based on the most robust parts options available from the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM or new vehicle manufacturers). In other words, if an OEM offered any versions of "high-performance" parts as options to stock counterparts, emissions-related specialty aftermarket parts would not be allowed to exceed the design criteria of higher performance OEM components. For example, multiple carburetors, dual exhausts, camshaft specifications and similar limits to other such aftermarket parts would be the rule.

Moving into the '70s and '80s, enthusiasts began to see and experience the impact of OEM emissions controls. Federal emissions standards imposed on the OEM were mandated in shorter time periods and included the downsizing of piston displacements, reducing vehicle weight, redesigning engine packages, and making companion changes requiring years to accomplish. As a result, we entered the emissions "Band-Aid" era involving short-term modifications the OEMs could make in order to meet required standards. Air pumps, carburetors with limited adjustments, exhaust gas recirculation, catalytic converters, rear gear changes to reduce on-road engine speeds and comparable "quick fixes" were imposed on consumers and enthusiasts, the net effect being both a real and perceived reduction in prior vehicle performance.

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At the enthusiast level, emissions controls were perceived as performance-reducing components. It would be another 10 years before redesigned engine packages with computer controlled EFI and higher overall combustion efficiency would restore "high performance" to the OEM community while meeting even more stringent emissions and fuel economy requirements.

Even during these years, and flying somewhat under the radar, there was the need for specialty aftermarket parts manufacturers to begin adapting to new OEM technologies. Failure to do this impacted two areas in particular. One dealt with attempts to develop products with consumer value, in the face of much more daunting engineering tasks. The other was the requirement that certain emissions standards be met, because by this time both the CARB and the EPA were aware that improperly designed emissions-related parts could take an otherwise certified vehicle out of compliance.

At this point, SEMA took a proactive role in working directly with CARB to create a method by which emissions-related specialty aftermarket parts could be brought into compliance. While the EPA had its own anti-tampering provisions contained in the federal law affecting aftermarket parts, the CARB had taken a more aggressive position in regulating these components. Working directly with CARB staff, SEMA helped establish an emissions testing program whereby emissions-critical parts could be made legal for on-road use in California. Ultimately, EPA would recognize this certification for use elsewhere in the country. At the time, as now, the so-called CARB "executive order" (EO) certification process that was created embodied test procedures required of the OEMs when certifying new vehicles. Today, SEMA continues working with both CARB and EPA to help enable its membership to achieve emissions compliance for specialty aftermarket parts, all of which has a direct impact on several segments in the performance enthusiast community.

There have also been concerns for owners of specially built or kit car enthusiasts, pertaining to various titling issues and other state-based challenges in numerous locations across the country. Particularly in California where a significant number of specially built vehicles were identified by regulators as either improperly or illegally registered (approximately five years ago), a major threat to the street rod industry appeared. Because such violations were considered a felony offense, car owners were targeted for arrests and the probability of confiscated vehicles. It has required a major effort on the part of SEMA, working in conjunction with the California Attorney's Office, CARB, Bureau of Automotive Repair, Department of Motor Vehicles, and state legislators to craft a solution to this critical issue. Five years ago there was no clear path to obtaining legal registration and emissions-compliance for these vehicles; today there is a means by which it can be done. Concurrently, SEMA has continued working with states outside California to configure laws and regulations to enable legal registration of street rods and custom cars (including kit cars and replicas). The SEMA model legislation, enacted in 20 states to date, also provides for special license plates for these vehicles. The bill defines a street rod as an altered vehicle manufactured before 1949 and a custom as an altered vehicle at least 25 years old and manufactured after 1948. The bill allows kit cars and replica vehicles to be assigned a certificate of title bearing the same model year designation that the body of the vehicle was constructed to resemble.

Most recently, there have been concerns about the regulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and how performance parts relate to so-called greenhouse gases. After a review of data gathered during emissions compliance testing of specialty aftermarket products that successfully passed these tests, the levels of CO2 that exceeded baseline emissions were quite low. In fact, although increased air/fuel charge enrichment in and of itself can somewhat increase CO2, if combustion efficiency levels associated with improved fuel economy and acceptable emissions are maintained, little or no unfavorable impact has been observed. So it would appear that performance products, when designed and used in a way that enables fuel economy equal to or better than that obtained with stock components, create a negligible effect on CO2 output.

Looking ahead, it is clear that OEM technology and ways it can be improved by enthusiasts or made compatible with specific performance objectives is a further challenge. The car companies build vehicles with technologies that must be understood and addressed, not only within regulatory requirements that include safety and emissions, but also as the platform on which the aftermarket must operate. This challenge has included increased pressure from regulatory requirements, largely dealing with emissions performance and compliance. Gone are the days when performance parts manufacturers could simply expand on the dimensions or specifications of an OEM part or system to produce more power. Aftermarket parts manufacturers are required to upgrade their own technical capabilities and be prepared to meet new challenges to integrate emissions-related parts to regulatory test methods.

Seriously, Act Now ...
Due to limited page space here, additional important information regarding your rights as an automotive enthusiast can be found at www.camaroperformers.com.

As a reader of this publication, there is a good chance you have a vested interest in the automotive hobby in some form, be it restoration, painting, customizing, street performance, or all-out competition. So we can't stress it enough: To ensure the government refrains from intruding on your rights as an automotive enthusiast, make your voice heard. By joining the SEMA Action Network (www.semasan.com) you'll be able to keep up on the current and pending laws that could inhibit your ability to upgrade, customize, and personalize your Camaro the way YOU choose to do so.

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