SEMA News—August 2012 

By Steve McDonald 

Law and Order


Colorado Emissions Inspections: A SEMA-supported bill that originally sought to extend the emissions inspection exemption to vehicles that are eight model years old and newer died when the Colorado legislature adjourned for the year. The bill had been amended by the Senate Transportation Committee but did not advance further in the legislative process. Under the amendment, the bill would have provided the exemption to vehicles six model years old and newer. Current law exempts only vehicles that are four model years old or newer. The measure acknowledged the relatively minimal environmental impact of the vehicles targeted for this exemption.

Hawaii Audio Equipment: Legislation to ban the installation, ownership or use of any car with aftermarket speakers more than 6.5 inches in height or depth, any five-speaker aftermarket system, any aftermarket speaker more than 100 watts and any aftermarket speaker installed external to the passenger compartment or in an open hatchback was deferred from consideration in 2011. However, the legislature retained the option of reviving the bill in 2012. With the adjournment of the legislature for this year, the bill is now formally dead and would have to be reintroduced in 2013 in order to be reconsidered. The measure was discriminatory toward aftermarket products, as it did not seek to limit systems installed by the original vehicle manufacturer or dealer. If enacted, the bill would have denied hobbyists the opportunity to purchase and install a range of aftermarket alternatives to original-equipment stereos.

Hawaii Low-Mileage Credit: Resolutions urging the city and county of Honolulu to create a 10% vehicle registration credit for residents who drive limited miles in their vehicles were not approved by the Hawaii House of Representatives before the legislature adjourned for the year. The resolutions were introduced to offset the burden put on certain vehicle owners by increased registration fees. Under the resolutions, the credit would have extended to any resident who is registering a vehicle and can provide information from the two most recent safety inspections (at least 11 months apart) showing that fewer than 3,000 miles were driven between the two inspections. While the resolutions did not carry the weight of law, they did urge Honolulu to correct the unfairness associated with having those residents (including owners of rarely used hobby cars) who make less use of the roads contribute the same amount in fees.

Hawaii Exhaust Noise: SEMA-model legislation that would have allowed vehicle hobbyists to install and use aftermarket modified exhaust systems that meet an objective noise limit died when the Hawaii State Legislature adjourned for the year. Under the bill, car owners would have been issued certificates of compliance if their vehicles’ exhaust systems emitted no more than 95 decibels under a fair and predictable test. The measure would have remedied the enforcement policy currently used by police officers in which exhaust noise citations are prosecuted solely based on the officer’s subjective judgment. SEMA will again pursue this legislation in 2013.

Michigan Historic Vehicles: SEMA-supported legislation that would amend the state’s current law governing historic motor vehicles to permit their unlimited use as “exhibition” vehicles during the entire month of August each year was passed by the Michigan House Transportation Committee. Having already been approved by the full Senate, the bill now moves to the House floor for a vote by all House members. Under current state law, use of historic vehicles is limited to participation in club activities, exhibitions, tours, parades and similar uses, including mechanical testing, but not for general transportation. This bill will provide Michigan historic-vehicle owners with the opportunity to enjoy recreational driving in the month of August in addition to the other sanctioned uses.

Nebraska Ethanol: Persuaded by the opposition of SEMA, Nebraska legislation to remove labeling requirements on pumps dispensing ethanol-blended gasoline was “indefinitely postponed” in 2011. However, the legislature retained the option of reviving the bill in 2012. With the adjournment of the legislature for the year, the bill is now formally dead and would have to be reintroduced in 2013 in order to be reconsidered. Current law in Nebraska requires labeling when gasoline contains 1% or more alcohol, including labels for pumps dispensing E10. The bill would have made it impossible for owners to know whether the gasoline they put into their vehicles contained any ethanol, making unintentional misfueling and engine damage more likely.

New Mexico Collector Cars: New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez issued a proclamation designating July 13, 2012, as Collector Car Appreciation Day in the state. New Mexico joins Hawaii and New York as states that have officially recognized the celebration. Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed Senate Resolution 452 at SEMA’s request to raise awareness of the vital role automotive restoration and collection plays in American society. The date marked the third commemoration in what has become an annual event. As in the previous two years, thousands of Americans gathered at car cruises, parades and other events to celebrate the nation’s automotive heritage.

Pennsylvania Emissions Inspections: Legislation has been introduced in Pennsylvania to extend the emissions inspection exemption to vehicles never before registered in the state or any other jurisdiction for 10 years from the date of original registration. Current law exempts only new vehicles that have fewer than 5,000 miles on their odometers for one year after their first registration.

Vermont Exhaust Systems: A SEMA-opposed bill to ban motor-vehicle exhaust systems that increase the noise level above the level emitted by the originally installed system died when the Vermont State Legislature adjourned for the year. Under the bill, violators would not have passed the state’s required inspection. The bill also did not provide an opportunity for vehicle hobbyists to install and use aftermarket modified exhaust systems that meet an objective 95-decibel limit under a fair and predictable test and allowed law enforcement to make subjective judgments on whether an exhaust system increased noise.


OHV Access to Johnson Valley, California: The U.S. House of Representatives included a SEMA-supported provision in the annual defense authorization bill to require the U.S. Marines to issue a report that considers alternative ways to share the Johnson Valley off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation area in Southern California without taking ownership rights to the land. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has managed the land for decades. SEMA is working with the Off-Road Business Association, American Motorcyclist Association and others in the “Save Johnson Valley” coalition to support issuance of a BLM special-use permit to the Marines for the one or two months a year that it needs access for large-scale training activities. The Marines have suggested taking ownership rights and issuing OHV use permits on a limited portion of the land. Nearly 189,000 acres of land adjacent to the Marine’s Twentynine Palms base is designated as an OHV recreation area, including Johnson Valley, site of the “King of the Hammers” event and scores of other OHV activities throughout the year. Currently, only 2% of the California desert is open for OHV recreation, and Johnson Valley represents about half of that land. The U.S. Senate is now debating its version of the defense bill. If approved, a requirement for the Marines to conduct an OHV impact analysis will provide the interested parties with additional time to identify a mutually beneficial solution on ownership and access issues.

E15 Ethanol: A two-year study conducted by the Coordinating Research Council (CRC) concluded that at least 5 million newer vehicles on the road today could be threatened with engine damage from gasoline that contains 15% or 20% ethanol (E15/E20). The study supports SEMA’s claim that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was premature in approving the sale of E15 for use in ’01 and newer vehicles. The EPA simultaneously made it “illegal to fuel pre-’01 vehicles” with E15 but only required gas stations to place orange and black warning labels on E15 fuel pumps. Ethanol increases water formation, which can then create formic acid and corrode metals, plastics and rubber. E15 also burns hotter than E10 and poses a risk to high-performance specialty parts of any year. The CRC study tested eight vehicle types produced from model year ’01–’09 and representing a variety of popular valvetrain engines. During the tests, two engine types failed when running on E15 and E20 gas. The failures potentially represent about 5 million vehicles in the U.S. fleet. The damage included leaks, increased emissions and failure to meet the engine maker’s valve-clearance measurements. In addition to the CRC study results, SEMA contended that another 74 million pre-’01 vehicles are at risk of damage if misfueled. SEMA has urged Congress to enact legislation (H.R. 3199) to stop the sale of E15 pending further analysis by the National Academies. The bill has been approved by the U.S. House Science Committee and is pending on the House floor. A federal court is also expected to rule this summer on whether the EPA had authority to approve the sale of E15.