Last week, those of us who like to use our cars for competition now and again had a collective certified flopping fit after SEMA sent out an press release entitled EPA Seeks To Prevent Conversion Of Vehicles Into Racecars. The alert said the EPA intends to prohibit any and all modifications to street cars that make them suitable for hooning around your favorite race track.
It focused on a proposed set of new EPA regulations entitled, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles—Phase 2.” The SEMA bulletin alleged, “While the Clean Air Act (CAA) prohibits certain modifications to motor vehicles, it is clear that vehicles built or modified for racing, and not used on the streets, are not the ‘motor vehicles’ that Congress intended to regulate.”
In fact, as Road & Track points out, the proposed rules are a clarification of provisions that have been in effect since 1977. Under EPA rules, it has always been illegal to modify the emission control system of any engine intended for street use. If you bring your track day car to a race weekend on a trailer, you’ve got nothing to worry about. If, on the other hand, you drive your race car to the track on public roads, the engine in that car must meet all applicable emissions standards in effect on the date of manufacture.
What the EPA seems to be primarily concerned with is aftermarket companies that sell performance gear for street cars that bypasses or eliminates any software or hardware associated with meeting EPA rules. In 2012 it sued Edge Products for selling a device that allowed pickup truck engines to bypass their diesel particulate filters. EPA Deputy Press Secretary Laura Allen says, “People may use EPA-certified motor vehicles for competition, but to protect public health from air pollution, the Clean Air Act has… specifically prohibited tampering with or defeating the emission control systems on those vehicles.”
According to The Drive, “It has been illegal to modify any emissions equipment on any engine sold for road-legal use in the US since the Clean Air Act was amended in 1977.” Doing so is classified as “tampering.” In 1980, the EPA defined tampering as “removing, disconnecting, damaging, or in any way rendering ineffective any emission control device or element installed on a motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine.” In 1993, the definition was amended to include adding a turbocharger. The most recent update came in 2009 and includes a list of Prohibited Acts.
So what about that track day car in your garage that started life as a production car? The EPA’s Allen says, “In the course of selecting cases for enforcement, the EPA has and will continue to consider whether the tampered vehicle is used exclusively for competition. The EPA remains primarily concerned with cases where the tampered vehicle is used on public roads, and more specifically with aftermarket manufacturers who sell devices that defeat emission control systems on vehicles used on public roads.”
In other words, nothing much has changed. It has always been illegal to tamper with emissions controls. If your track day car is missing its catalytic converter or has had its computer reprogrammed, you could be in violation of the law. Thankfully, the EPA has never been known to raid a local autocross and shows no inclination to start now. So keep calm and race on. The EPA has bigger fish to fry than checking on what’s coming out the tailpipe of your spec racer.
Photo credit: The Drivc