SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association, working on behalf of California enthusiasts of specialty vehicles (street rods, custom vehicles, kit cars and replicas) and in cooperation with the Department of Motor Vehicles, Bureau of Automotive Repair, Air Resources Board and Attorney General’s office has resolved a complex and threatening issue to this market segment and the industry it serves. “This breakthrough procedure allows owners of certain specially constructed vehicles (SCVs) to avoid the pitfalls of a previously muddy process for legally registering and titling such vehicles in California,” said Steve McDonald, SEMA Vice President of Government Affairs. “Under this process, vehicle owners can avoid a situation that could have led to confiscated SCVs and law enforcement action. Further, the program now permits these vehicles to demonstrate state emissions-compliance requirements.”
Over the years, California’s complex vehicle registration laws have created confusion for hobbyists and the state employees who administer the regulations. Consequently, certain SCVs may be erroneously registered or titled. SEMA has worked with state agencies to address the interests of all parties, including enthusiasts in the SCV market, so that these vehicles can be properly registered and titled in the state.
“Given the looming threat of prosecution that owners of specially constructed vehicles were facing, SEMA’s charge was to find an equitable solution that provided these owners a reasonable period of time to voluntarily re-title their vehicles and pay any necessary back taxes and fees,” said SEMA General Counsel Russ Deane. “After five years of work on these issues, an innovative and ground-breaking solution has been created.”
Last year, SEMA helped enact into law a program whereby the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) would develop and administer a vehicle registration amnesty program. The amnesty program will be in effect from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2010 and will apply to vehicles that were previously registered or classified under erroneous or illegal circumstances. Under this new law, the DMV will grant amnesty from prosecution to a vehicle owner if certain conditions are met, including the owner filing a completed application with the department.
More recently, a process was established to allow specially constructed vehicle owners that have been granted amnesty to avail themselves of emissions requirements that recognize the unique nature of these vehicles. While there are still details to be concluded, SEMA has reached a tentative agreement with the state to provide for three methods to achieve compliance.
First, an owner can pay all back taxes and penalties and apply for one of 500 (per year) smog-check exemptions. Under California law, these 500 exemptions for specially constructed vehicles are available each year on a first come, first served basis. For vehicles with an exemption, a smog test referee compares the vehicle to production cars of the era that the specially constructed vehicle most closely resembles to determine the model year. The vehicle owner can then choose whether the inspector will certify the vehicle model year by body type or by the engine model year. Only those emissions controls applicable to the chosen model year are required. California law authorizes a $160 fee for each referee inspection.
Under a second option, SCV owners can pay all back taxes and penalties and then choose to install one of several approved OEM engines and related powertrain components (GM has secured approval for certain engines thus far). Using these OEM components and specifications for the construction of an approved fuel tank and delivery system, these engines provide performance-level power and are intended to meet California emissions compliance requirements. “The GM engine package represents another option for SCV owners seeking to legally register and title their vehicles,” commented SEMA Technical Consultant, Jim McFarland. “In fact, by using one of these engines, it’s also possible for owners of amnesty vehicles to exchange their existing engines for a powertrain that represents the latest in GM’s emissions and performance-related technologies. However, McFarland indicated that because certain variables are involved when configuring any engine or powertrain package for emissions purposes, some measure of compliance risk is involved when such components are installed in a range of vehicle types and conditions.
Finally, working under the banner of the “GreenRod Project” and recognizing that the demand for the 500 exemptions greatly exceeds the supply, SEMA configured a kit of emissions-related aftermarket parts that met California smog-check standards during a series of tests on a project vehicle. An owner can pay all back taxes and penalties and, if the owner is not able to obtain one of the 500 available exemptions, a “retrofit kit” of parts can be installed. Major components in the kit include an aftermarket electronic fuel injection (EFI) system, EFI controller, exhaust headers, camshaft, mufflers and catalytic converters. For the purposes of the GreenRod Project, the retrofit kit was installed on a high-mileage 1980 El Camino fitted with a 1986 carbureted, 5.7 liter engine. The 5.7 liter/350 cubic inch displacement small-block Chevrolet V8 engine is one of the most widely-used engine platforms for all types of specially constructed vehicles.
According to McFarland, “While the engine SEMA used to develop the kit was considered a worst case configuration, it still passed smog-check requirements. Variables such as engine condition, accumulated mileage, and related factors affecting emissions from these parts may, in some cases, cause similar engines not to meet acceptable emissions levels. Nonetheless, transitioning from a carbureted environment to a fuel injected environment while utilizing the latest controller technology and emissions parts upgrades available from the specialty equipment industry resulted in dramatic and unprecedented reductions in tailpipe and evaporative emissions on the test vehicle. The retrofit kit actually improved performance and drivability while not limiting power in a full acceleration mode, compared to a carbureted engine. It was perhaps the first time a package of specialty aftermarket parts has been assembled for the purpose of reducing tailpipe emissions which did not reduce power or performance.”
“Given the seriousness of the title and registration issue in California, SEMA’s work with the state agencies to create practical solutions for specialty vehicle owners, both now and in the future, is an outstanding accomplishment,” said So Cal Speed Shop owner, Pete Chapouris.
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