American gearheads have taken up a battle against the nation’s Environmental Protection Agency to secure the future of hot-rodding.
US car enthusiasts claim the EPA is trying to ban any form of modified street or race car by posing exorbitant fines for those selling aftermarket parts which alter a vehicle’s emissions.
The bunfight goes back to a November 2020 study from the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, which claimed 550,000 diesel trucks had their pollution controls removed or modified over a 10-year period – leading to 570,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxides and 5000 tonnes of particulate matter entering the atmosphere.
The findings of that study led the EPA to launch the ‘National Compliance Initiative: Stopping Aftermarket Defeat Devices for Vehicles and Engines’, using powers granted to it under the Clean Air Act. This didn’t just affect diesels, however, as companies manufacturing and installing parts which could lead to increased emissions on petrol cars and motorbikes were also in the EPA’s crosshairs.
Concerningly for US enthusiasts and part sellers, the EPA’s website says the initiative “focuses on stopping the manufacture, sale, and installation of defeat devices on vehicles and engines used on public roads as well as on non-road vehicles and engines” – meaning production cars modified into race cars that make up the foundations of the sport of hot-rodding and street machining would also be affected.
While the EPA publicly claims it’s not after race cars, it is actively fining and bringing proceedings against companies selling emissions-altering parts, as well as the tuners who have fitted them, with 31 cases brought during the 2020 US financial year alone. Fines start at US$4527 per tune and run up to US$45,268 per non-compliant vehicle.
Among the many companies and individuals already fined, Punch It Performance & Tuning in Florida copped a civil penalty of US$850,000 for making, fitting and distributing emissions control-defeating devices, while Idaho’s Premier Performance was also hit with a US$3 million fine. Brent Leivestad’s Colorado-based Honda-tuning shop, PFI Speed, received a US$18,000 fine in the mail, and told if it wasn’t paid in 30 days it would jump to US$180,000.
The US aftermarket industry is represented by the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), which is taking the fight to Washington, DC. SEMA has lobbied federal politicians to introduce an amendment to the Clean Air Act called the Recognizing [sic] the Protection of Motorsports Act (RPM Act).
SEMA claims the RPM Act will secure the future of the aftermarket industry, as it “clarifies that it is legal to make emissions-related changes to a street vehicle for the purpose of converting it into a race car used exclusively in competition. It also confirms that it is legal to produce, market and install racing equipment”.
While this would offer no protection to people wanting to modify their street-driven daily driver, it would go a long way to securing the future of the multi-billion-dollar aftermarket industry in the US.
Aussie engine management powerhouse Haltech, which has a significant presence in the American industry, has been watching developments closely.
“[The EPA action] has been on our radar for a number of years,” said Haltech’s marketing manager Richard Schumack.
“Senior Haltech personnel from both Australia and the US have held meetings with representatives from SEMA and consultants from the California Air Resources Board to discuss the topic and determine how we can be part of the solution, not seen as the problem.”
Haltech holds concerns about the manner in which the EPA has pursued its National Compliance Initiative.
“There are actually two issues of concern to us,” Schumack said. “First is the attack on all engine control devices. Whether the vehicle is destined for the race track or not is immaterial.
“The act of fitting it with an aftermarket engine management system doesn’t necessarily make it any less environmentally friendly; in fact, the exact opposite is often true. A vehicle that has been converted from carburetted induction to EFI with an aftermarket engine management system will almost certainly be more fuel-efficient and therefore more environmentally friendly than it was before.
“Also, a vehicle that has been modified, through the use of an aftermarket engine management system to run on ‘greener’ fuels such as ethanol, will also in most cases be more environmentally friendly than it originally was.”
He points out that Australian engineering testing requirements prove that aftermarket parts can be used to improve tailpipe emissions.
“Every year, state government agencies here in Australia individually test the emissions of thousands of vehicles fitted with aftermarket engine management systems. In doing so, those vehicles are proven to be just as environmentally friendly, if not more so, than the original platforms they were based on.
“That individual testing is a really key point, because emissions compliance depends solely on the individual who owns the vehicle fitted with an aftermarket engine management system, and how they have chosen to use it. We believe it is the EPA’s responsibility to hold that individual accountable if they use it incorrectly, not the industry.”
The RPM Act will be debated by both the US House of Representatives and the Senate during the next sitting session.
We’ll bring you more as the story develops into 2022.