SEMA News—August 2012

By Jim McFarland

Updates From the Regulatory Notebook…

SEMA Government Affairs Sorts Through Technical Issues on Membership’s Behalf



Equipped with a Portable Emissions Measuring System (PEMS), SEMA used this Ford Powerstroke diesel truck to perform “on-road” fuel-economy and CO2 emissions evaluations, based on the use of a performance aftermarket powertrain product.




SEMA’s government affairs and technical staff has a healthy agenda of regulatory issues that relate to and have impact upon the automotive specialty-equipment industry. Virtually every day, issues are addressed that can affect the short- and long-term interests of SEMA members and their customers. The following are some current and representative examples of challenges being routinely addressed. 

Diesel Performance Parts

One of the more pressing issues currently on the emissions-compliance table deals with the certification of certain diesel performance parts. SEMA has known for some time that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes that emissions-related parts certified in California satisfy the anti-tampering provisions in the Federal Clean Air Act, so obtaining California Air Resources Board (CARB) certifications enables legal use nationwide. Given the problems associated with certifying these types of parts and the difficulties this process created with vehicles passing California smog-check requirements, SEMA worked to help create a special protocol by which certifications could be obtained.

As the program began to unfold, various problems arose that were beyond the control of participants, resulting in further involvement by SEMA to secure extensions to the original deadline. This involvement included intervention by state lawmakers sympathetic to the affected SEMA members, again extending the program’s deadline. At the time of this writing, SEMA is continuing to reach out to member companies still struggling to complete the program and getting relief from smog-check problems.

Performance Parts Impact on CO2 Emissions

For the past several years, the SEMA government affairs department has been exploring the potential effects performance parts have on CO2 emissions. Research has shown that the EPA has two methods by which to identify CO2 emissions from on-road vehicles. Both methods involve fuel-economy computations based on exhaust emissions and the model year (MY) of the vehicle, and both methods involve emissions testing on a chassis dynamometer. Here’s how it works:

For ’07 and earlier MYs, a so-called “derived calculation” method is used in conjunction with the EPA’s standard Federal Test Procedure (FTP) and Highway Fuel Economy cycles. As in the past, calculations are based on the carbon balance method of analyzing carbon content from data gathered from these two tests. CO2 measurement is a byproduct of that calculation.


SEMA has known for some time that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes that emissions-related parts certified in California satisfy the anti-tampering provisions in the Federal Clean Air Act, so obtaining California Air Resources Board (CARB) certifications enables legal use nationwide.



For MYs ’08 and later, a “five cycle” method is used that takes the FTP, USO6, SC03 and highway fuel-economy cycle in combination with a 20-degree cold-start test (for CO data). Once again, the carbon balance method of computation then allows estimation of fuel economy and CO2 content. Since both of these methods use the carbon balance to determine fuel economy, the results are called “estimations” for purposes of comparing mileage from vehicle to vehicle. The data can be a bit misleading if applied to an actual on-road fuel-economy test. Happens all the time.

During this research, SEMA talked with representatives of test facilities capable of conducting one or both of these two test methods—labs that have also evaluated the effects of performance parts on emissions. In addition, to get a better idea of how such parts were affecting CO2 output in an on-road environment, SEMA helped develop a method of evaluating fuel-economy-related products by adapting a portion of the Federal Test Procedure to a closed-course route where emissions (fuel economy and CO2) were measured onboard the vehicle.

It turned out that a key component to this procedure was a Portable Emissions Measuring System (PEMS) of the type used by both the EPA and CARB. Test results showed that the product used in the initial test had little effect on CO2, although it caused a measurable increase in mileage.

So it appears, at least at this point, that most performance parts have only slight impact on emissions unless power gains are comparatively significant. SEMA is continuing its study of this issue, intending to increase its understanding of the relationship between CO2 emissions and certain automotive specialty-equipment parts.

SEMA’s Black Book

Not long ago, SEMA revised, updated and formatted for online usage its Black Book, which is a guide to emissions certification of specialty automotive parts. Currently available only to SEMA members, the guide has been simplified to help companies reach emissions compliance status with the CARB and EPA.

By design, SEMA wanted to provide a collection of valuable information that provides background and current guidelines presented in a way to simplify the process by which SEMA members can get parts certified. Where appropriate, SEMA has included website links to firsthand information from various compliance-related sources, including the CARB website. Plus, the information includes simplified steps to obtaining a CARB Executive Order, application forms, helpful hints, compliance criteria checklists, retail restrictions information and a list of independent laboratories equipped to carry out required emissions testing.

In its present form, the Black Book continues to be of particular value, especially to new SEMA members seeking information about how to obtain emissions certifications. Because the process of getting products emissions certified can be a bit daunting to first-time applicants, a goal of the Black Book was to reduce the process to a more understandable level.

California Specially Constructed Vehicles

CARB has finally adopted a program that will allow previously certified OEM engines used in on-road vehicles to be installed in specially constructed vehicles (SCVs). In addition, the agency is also developing a program that will allow use of engines not previously certified (crate engines). In the process, CARB has said that it would not override current California law that allows the first 500 SCVs annually to be registered without requiring emissions controls. You may recall that this is the result of language in California Senate Bill 100, first enacted into law in 1997.

This means that S.B. 100 vehicles can be legally registered based on the owner’s choice of either engine model year or vehicle model year. If an owner chooses to register by vehicle model year, then smog-check referees will compare the vehicle to vehicles of the era that it most closely resembles. The referee will then require use of only those emissions controls or systems applicable to the established model year.

According to CARB, this new program is intended to make it easier for SCV enthusiasts to register their vehicles after the 500 limit has been met. The SCV engine choices would cover MY ’12 and subsequent years. SEMA staff is also communicating with the California Department of Motor Vehicles to make certain that all of the governmental agencies involved have approved the program. Right now, the program is going through the usual administrative process for final approval, and the SEMA government affairs staff expects that it will go into effect later this year.

California Specialty Constructed Vehicle Amnesty Program

For the past several years and for good reason, SEMA has been working with the California legislature and state agencies to provide protection for owners of improperly or illegally titled and registered SCVs. Because there was a threat of prosecution, this program was intended to help vehicle owners and builders avoid a situation that easily could have led to confiscated cars and felony law-enforcement actions. Beginning July 1, 2011, an amnesty program went into affect that allowed proper registration of previously registered SCVs. The program concluded on June 30, 2012.

For owners who may have misrepresented the value of their vehicles or their model years at initial registration, this law provided a way to legally title and register an SCV. These solutions enabled owners to demonstrate compliance with current smog-check tailpipe emissions requirements. They also provided amnesty for owners who knowingly made false statements regarding the value of their vehicles, the year of manufacture or falsified any other facts in documents filed with the DMV or Highway Patrol.

Owners of vehicles that were subject to the smog laws and who chose to pursue compliance were allowed to install one of several OEM engines and related powertrain components intended to meet state emissions-compliance requirements. Finally, SEMA developed and successfully tested a “retrofit kit” of parts that owners could install to pass tailpipe emissions standards.

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