In a recent regulatory update, the US EPA has stated that it intends to eliminate emissions exemptions for street cars turned into competition vehicles. We really really really really really hate writing about politics here, but we’re making an exception this once for two reasons: this is really really right up our collective alley and there’s already endless misinformation spreading. Without delay, let’s get to some facts. Currently, you’re not allowed to modify the emissions equipment on a new vehicle certified to meet emissions standards, except if it’s used “for competition use only”. For example, you could buy a new GT350R Mustang and do whatever you want with it, ECU and exhaust-wise, so long as you never put it back on the street. EPA is proposing to “fix” that regulation (emphasis ours):
In particular, we generally consider nonroad engines and vehicles to be ‘‘used solely for competition’’ based on usage characteristics. This allows EPA to set up an administrative process to approve competition exemptions, and to create an exemption from the tampering prohibition for products that are modified for competition purposes. There is no comparable allowance for motor vehicles. A motor vehicle qualifies for a competition exclusion based on the physical characteristics of the vehicle, not on its use. Also, if a motor vehicle is covered by a certificate of conformity at any point, there is no exemption from the tampering and defeat-device prohibitions that would allow for converting the engine or vehicle for competition use. There is no prohibition against actual use of certified motor vehicles or motor vehicle engines for competition purposes; however, it is not permissible to remove a motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine from its certified configuration regardless of the purpose for doing so.
This reads to say that from the date the regulation goes into effect a vehicle built to an EPA certification (i.e. all new cars) should never be modified from that certified configuration, even if it never drives another mile on a public road. A few thoughts and bullet points after the jump…
- This regulation would not be retroactive, meaning no one’s coming after your LeMons car or any other track car in existence today. It’s more like dedicated track cars made from 2018 model year street cars.
- It’s unclear there’s any way to enforce this. If a car is a dedicated track car, it’s no longer being registered for street use, which is the current mechanism by which local authorities enforce emissions requirements (e.g. semi-yearly smog checks required for registration renewal).
- As far as we know, the EPA has no local automotively-focused presence anywhere. To enforce this, they’d have to send inspectors to local track events or something?
- What’s also unclear is how long a car is required to remain in compliance with its certified configuration. Most states (not California, unfortunately) have rolling emissions exemptions. By the time something’s likely to be turned into a dedicated track car, it’s outside of emissions enforcement anyway. Will EPA black helicopters be circling LeMons Arse-Freeze-apalooza 2032?
To be clear on our stance here: The EPA has been good for cars and humanity in general. Cars today are faster, cleaner and more efficient because of the EPA. It’s good that leaded fuel is banned from mass usage. But this is dumb. Racecars in no way contribute meaningfully to air pollution. Regulatory enforcement would be better directed elsewhere. As an aside, the SEMA press release on the topic is useless. No citations and no link to the actual proposed regulations. They offer a tiny nugget of info then jump straight to fighting words. We know you’re a lobbying group, but c’mon guys, you can do better than that. In an effort to be more thorough and let you find things out for yourself, click through on the Proposed Rules and do a search for “competition”, you’ll come across the relevant sections.