SEMA and California Agencies Solve Titling Dilemma for Hobbyist Vehicles

(November 2, 2009)

Contact: Della Domingo
909-396-0289, ext. 130


SEMA and California Agencies Solve Titling Dilemma for
Hobbyist Vehicles

Diamond Bar, CA (November 2, 2009) -- 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

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

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.

SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association founded in 1963, represents the
$31.85 billion specialty automotive industry of 7,144 member companies. It is
the authoritative source for research, data, trends and market growth
information for the specialty auto parts industry. The industry provides
appearance, performance, comfort, convenience and technology products for
passenger and recreational vehicles. For more information, contact SEMA at 1575
S. Valley Vista Dr., Diamond Bar, CA 91765, tel. 909/396-0289, or visit and


How do I know if I need to apply for amnesty?
If you have knowingly made any false statement or knowingly concealed any
material fact in any document filed with the Department of Motor Vehicles or the
California Highway Patrol, you will need to apply for amnesty. Examples of this
would be failing to report the actual value of the vehicle and failure to pay
the correct sales tax when the vehicle was first titled/registered in
California, or incorrectly stating the actual age of the vehicle. As a further
example, a replica of a 1932 Ford built in 2002 is not a 1932 vehicle for the
purposes of this California amnesty program. It is a 2002 vehicle. In general,
if you have reason to believe that there is erroneous information on your
vehicle’s title, it should be corrected.

What are the consequences if I do not re-title my vehicle prior to the
conclusion of the amnesty period?
If you understated the value of the vehicle to the extent that the State of
California lost more than $1,000 in revenue, you could be charged with a felony.
If the amount is less or you incorrectly stated the age of the vehicle, you
could be charged with a variety of misdemeanors. Recent prosecutions for this
type of offense required owners to pay back-taxes and fees averaging $4,000 per
vehicle. In some cases, owners were forced to surrender the title to their car.
To receive amnesty, any and all back-taxes must be paid in full and the
vehicle’s title must be factually corrected.

What documentation should I take to the DMV office when applying for amnesty?
Applying for amnesty will re-start the titling and registration process for
your specially constructed vehicle. You will need to submit a new DMV 343
Application for Title and Registration form. You will also be required to file a
DMV 5063 Statement of Construction form, listing the origin of the vehicle’s
parts and their purchase price. It would be helpful to have a bill of sale for
the vehicle or any appropriate receipts for parts/labor that can be used to
establish the actual value of the vehicle. If it is likely that your car had a
fraudulent title and will need to pass a smog check, it is advisable to apply
for one of the 500 smog check exemptions granted per year by the DMV.

How much should I expect to pay for the “retrofit” kit? How much should I
expect to pay for the GM engine and powertrain?
The retrofit kit is a collection of emissions-related parts with
specifications developed by SEMA for which a variety of aftermarket
manufacturers will be able to supply components. On average, the kit should cost
approximately $6,000. The labor to install the package will likely cost an
additional $5,000. If you choose to use a new engine and powertrain package from
GM, the current LS3 package will retail at an estimated $7,900. GM will also
offer a number of other emissions-approved engine packages with a variety of
performance options and price levels. Estimated installation cost for the GM
system is approximately $6,000.

If I use a GM engine, how will I know if I’ve used the correct parts and
properly installed them?
GM will include comprehensive instructions that leave little room for error.
If you feel that you do not have the mechanical experience to install the
package, there are local hot rod shops, independent repair facilities and
dealerships capable of installing the parts. Even when parts are correctly
installed, there are variables involved when attempting to meet certain
compliance requirements, such as engine condition, other modifications and
related factors that can affect emissions.

If I choose to retrofit my current engine, how will I know that the parts kit
will actually enable my car to pass the smog test?
The retrofit kit that SEMA developed consists of emissions-related parts
intended for a range of engine displacements. It was designed to work with
engines typically used in specially constructed vehicles. In general, these
would be carbureted V8 engines manufactured by GM, Ford and Chrysler. Although
these parts enabled SEMA’s project engine to meet emissions requirements, there
is no guarantee that they will allow any engine to meet smog check requirements,
depending upon variables that include, but limited to the following: mechanical
compression ratio limits, improperly installed catalytic converters, excessive
wear (valve guides, piston rings and cylinder bores), piston displacement limits
and a mal-functioning EGR system.

Is there a way I can get a pre-certification test check to see if my vehicle
will pass the smog test?
Yes. California law allows any licensed smog-check station to conduct a
pre-test on your vehicle to determine whether it can pass a loaded mode smog
test before you submit the car for inspection at a BAR Referee station. The
average price for a pre-certification smog test in California is approximately
$49. If your vehicle fails the pre-certification smog check, it may be possible
to make adjustments that will bring it into compliance. As with any vehicle
maintenance, it’s best to use a mechanic you know and trust.

What if I have questions about technical aspects of this program?
SEMA and GM will be available to provide some technical assistance for
enthusiasts who apply for amnesty to help them navigate through the process.

About SEMA
SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association founded in 1963, represents
the $31.85 billion specialty automotive industry of 7,144 member-companies. It
is the authoritative source for research, data, trends and market growth
information for the specialty auto parts industry. The industry provides
appearance, performance, comfort, convenience and technology products for
passenger and recreational vehicles. For more information, contact SEMA at 1575
S. Valley Vista Dr., Diamond Bar, CA 91765, tel: 909/396-0289, or visit or


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