Election time is nearing, campaign politics has reared its ugly head, and the country is being introduced to issues that can affect YOU, the custom-truck enthusiast.
As you go to the polls to vote in November, don't just keep your eyes on the federal candidates, make sure to pay attention to the politics going on in your state and local circuits as well. By now, you might be a little confused as to which specific issues we are talking about or how certain changes in governmental affairs will trickle down to dictate ownership and customization of vehicles in your personal garage. Don't get the wrong idea-not all members of government are out to attack our favorite hobby. There are many who were raised on turning wrenches and are still very much involved in getting their hands dirty with their own projects. Granted, most of them probably aren't riding around in 'bagged and 'bodied S-10s, but their fight for the right to customize is the same as ours.
With the help of the SEMA Action Network (SAN), we have compiled a few important topics of interest and what you can do to help protect our custom lifestyle.
"Car guys have every bit as...
"Car guys have every bit as much of a right to make their voices heard as the special interests and their lobbyists."
-Sen. John Tester (D-MT)
First off, let's discuss a big topic that is on the chopping block, and something that is one of the major facets of our hobby-vehicle height. Some state agencies and legislatures are pursuing vehicle height restrictions; however, a safe middle ground known as the "scrub line" can serve as a compromise between regulators and modifiers who plan on lowering their vehicle from stock ride height. The scrub line is an imaginary line created if lines were drawn from the very bottom of the wheel rim on one side to the bottom of the tire on the opposite side. When lines are drawn from both sides using a taut string, an intersecting "X" point underneath the suspension is created. Any suspension or chassis component, with the exception of any portion of an exhaust system or sheetmetal, will be not be allowed to dip lower than the top portion of the "X." Some states, Pennsylvania in particular, have made this type of measurement a standard procedure when inspecting vehicles being registered as a specially constructed or reconstructed vehicle. Many bumper height laws are also in effect out there, and just because you have decided to ditch your bumper in favor of a rollpan doesn't mean your truck is safe from the same scrutiny. Other states simply limit suspension modifications to heights that may cause the vehicle body or chassis to come into contact with the ground. These limitations are all in place for safety reasons, but as we all know, the improvements made to custom suspension systems have come a long way since these laws were put into effect.
Another hot topic at the moment is early vehicle retirement programs or "scrappage." In the past few years, state and fed officials have tried to create strict emissions programs, one of which targets the destruction of older vehicles. Now for those of you trying to build a classic Datsun, Toyota, or even a Chevy LUV or Mazda B-series, pay close attention. Destroying these valuable artifacts of our hobby can turn hard-to-find parts into impossible-to-find parts, which unfairly limits lovers of classic mini metal and can possibly push these models into extinction. One thing that really gets under our skin is the fact that these early-model vehicles are not being searched out and destroyed based on any type of actual emissions testing but rather their date of production. Age discrimination is not something anyone in the custom community should tolerate. If anything, these scrappage programs should promote fair options such as vehicle maintenance, repair, and upgrade provisions.
In the past year, state scrappage initiatives have been completely shot down in North Carolina and Washington. Last year's federal "Cash for Clunkers" program was geared to reward consumers with vouchers for new, fuel-efficient vehicles in return for an older "dirty" one. People like us, acting in concert with the SEMA Action Network, were able to convince lawmakers to include a stipulation to the program that the trade-in "clunker" be a 1984 model vehicle or newer, which helped protect irreplaceable classic cars and trucks. This is proof positive that our voice can be heard and that we can make a difference in preserving our hobby and lifestyle.
"Americans see their cars...
"Americans see their cars as an expression of their self-image, and carmakers, aftermarket suppliers, and consumers all benefit when competition is encouraged."
-Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)
Now, let's paint a picture of the worst possible nightmare any one of us could face as custom vehicle enthusiast. Take a second to think of the project truck you have sitting in your backyard-you know, the one that is on blocks, wheels off, engine plucked out, and the interior completely gutted. You've been ripping into it slowly whenever the luxury of extra time presents itself, but everyone knows, a custom job like this isn't finished overnight. Now imagine going outside to start wrenching away on it only to find a ticket taped to it, or worse yet, to find that the entire truck is missing. Depending on strict local zoning laws, both situations can be a reality. Aggressive, non-enthusiast government lawmakers are trying to rid neighborhoods of what they consider to be eyesores in their communities by ticketing and, in extreme cases, towing vehicles that are on private property. Protect your truck that is on your land by becoming aware of local zoning laws and the penalties attached to them. One good rule of thumb is your project can't offend the wrong set of eyes if it's not in plain sight. Walls, fences, tall trees and shrubbery, and garages or storage units are your friends.
Another area directly related to the minitruck scene and one that is also restricted by specific laws is engine swapping. Lots of owners of four-banger-equipped minis have more horsepower on their wish lists, but before searching for an upgrade, here are a few things to consider. One basic rule is that the new engine to be installed must be as "clean" as the one taken out (replacement, same-model engines do not apply). The engine to be installed must be of the same age as the recipient vehicle, although crate engines with proper EPA or CARB emission certifications are perfectly fine. When swapping in a newer engine from a considerably later model vehicle, all emissions controls must be transferred as well. Of course, there are more restrictions to follow, but to avoid any slaps on the wrist you can access official guidelines at epa.gov, or bar.ca.gov if you're a California resident.
Lighting, Window Tint, and Tires
"Automobiles and the open...
"Automobiles and the open road are a unique part of our nation's history and heritage... anything I can do to help preserve them for the future is important to me."
-Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)
Aftermarket lighting products are regulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and lately they have been focusing on non-compliant HID conversion kits. Specific taillight covers, marker lamps, and bulbs are also under further investigation, but remember, while it's illegal to manufacture and market a product that doesn't meet federal or state standards, it's completely legal to install them on your personal vehicle. Just be forewarned that you may still be violating state equipment laws.
Although window tint is another common custom mod that has been a widely ticketed offense, there are measures being presented that wish to explore the option of "legalizing" tinting. A bill directing the California Air Resources Board to lower greenhouse gas emissions by reducing vehicle cabin temperatures is advancing through the California legislature. Window tinting does a great job at keeping the cab cooler, and it also offers relief to drivers with sensitivity to light. It will be interesting to see the outcome of this one.
As far as tires go, new rubber compounds, designs, and other characteristics are being weighed for the sake of producing more fuel-efficient skins that won't negatively affect traction and durability. This is being done due to California and the federal suits pushing for regulations to rate replacement tires in order to widen the availability of fuel-saving models for consumers. The big question here is whether or not consumers will be persuaded from purchasing tires with improved performance, handling, or appearance features based on rolling resistance (fuel efficiency) ratings. Common vehicle maintenance practices such as keeping any set of tires properly inflated instantly boosts fuel economy by 3 to 4 percent over under-inflated rubber. If California pushes the need to further investigate a "fuel-efficient tire," a testing program can take effect by mid-2011. Will we be able to buy a set of "green" 24-inch tires one day?
Although we are doing our part to inform you, the custom enthusiast, about important issues being batted around federal, state, and local government branches, you can learn more by becoming involved with and joining the SEMA Action Network (SAN). They have been combing through the fine print and delivering legislative solutions for automotive junkies since 1997. In addition to being completely free of charge, SAN is hands down the best resource we have in order to stay informed on threatening issues and ways to take positive action against them. Customizing is not only a hobby, it's a lifestyle-let's do everything we can to preserve it, not only for ourselves but for future generations of enthusiasts. Visit SEMASAN.com for more information.
Here's a brief list of common terms the states have used to define the automotive hobby:
A Hobbyist, in Virginia, is an owner of one or more reconstructed or specially constructed vehicles, who collects, purchases, acquires, trades, or disposes of reconstructed or specially constructed vehicles or parts thereof for his own use in order to build, reconstruct, restore, preserve, and maintain a reconstructed or specially constructed vehicle for historic or hobby interest.
A Specially Constructed Vehicle, in California, is a vehicle which is built for private use, not for resale, is not constructed by a licensed manufacturer or remanufacturer, and may be built from a kit, new or used, or a combination of new and used parts, or a vehicle reported for dismantling, which, when reconstructed, does not resemble the original make of the vehicle dismantled.
A Modified Vehicle, in Illinois, is any vehicle of a type that is required to be registered under Illinois law that has been altered by the addition, deletion, or modification of the body, chassis, component, or essential parts, new or used.
A Historic Vehicle, in Michigan, is a vehicle which is over 25 years old and which is owned solely as a collector's item for participation in club activities, exhibitions, tours, parades, and similar uses, including mechanical testing, but is not used for general transportation.
A Parts Car, in New Mexico, is a motor vehicle generally in non-operable condition, which is owned by a collector to furnish parts that are usually non-obtainable from normal sources, thus enabling a collector to preserve, restore, and maintain a motor vehicle of historic or special interest.
A Street Cruiser, in Louisiana, is any automobile or truck 25 years or older, which has undergone some type of modernizing to include updating of the engine, transmission, drivetrain, and interior refinements, and any other modifications the builder desires, and is to be driven to events under its own power and to be used as a safe, non-racing vehicle for total family enjoyment.