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Is the EPA banning modified cars? The answer is no — at least not yet.
First, let us preface this with a statement: The EPA is not currently making any plans to ban modified cars. Let us repeat: The EPA is not banning modified vehicles in 2022. That doesn’t mean that they haven’t tried to accomplish that task in the past. Let’s take a closer look at their last attempt at banning modified cars in 2016. How could this impact your plans to buy parts for or modify your next project car?
SEMA vs. the EPA, 2016
In 2016, a pending EPA rule threatened to prohibit converting vehicles designed for on-road use into race cars. It would also make it illegal to sell aftermarket products to modify these vehicles — at least according to an announcement by the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA).
The goal of the new rule was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, clarifying an already long-standing provision of the Clean Air Act. For decades, the EPA has essentially ignored the emissions created by non-street legal race cars.
For a long time, everyone assumed that the Clean Air Act didn’t apply to competition vehicles, but according to the EPA, the opposite is true. The agency has always claimed authority over modifications that tamper with the emissions systems and prevent the vehicle from meeting emissions standards.
The rule change that sparked this controversy was specifically targeted at nonroad vehicles that have been converted for competition purposes. Still, the rule could easily be twisted to apply to on-road vehicles and those that have been modified or converted for racing.
These events all occurred in 2016, but the story doesn’t end there.
Court Declines to Rule
The same rule that sparked such controversy in 2016 is still making waves in 2022. In response to what SEMA perceived was the EPA pulling a fast on a $245 billion global industry, the association filed a lawsuit against the EPA. SEMA argued that the Clean Air Act doesn’t apply to vehicles used exclusively on racing tracks.
This lawsuit proved a win for SEMA, with the Arizona District Court refusing to rule on the matter. The ball is now in the EPA’s court. The burden on them is to provide evidence that aftermarket conversion technology is actively violating the Clean Air Act. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the win the organization was looking for.
SEMA also supported the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act of 2021 (RPM Act), which called on Congress to protect the racing industry from the EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act. As of this writing, the RPM was introduced to the Senate, so time will tell whether the act will make its way to the President’s desk or disappear into the legislative void.
The 2023 Update on Banning Modified Cars
It’s been a while, so let’s check back on modified cars and see what’s happening with governmental action. The federal government and EPA are all in with electric vehicles (EVs) so how does that affect modified cars? Has any new legislation passed in Congress?
The RPM Act made little progress after Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., introduced the bill in 2021. Records show the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee held a meeting about the bill in September 2022. However, the bill never advanced outside of the committee or held a vote despite bipartisan support. Supporters of the bill included Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa and Joe Manchin, D-W.V.
Congress essentially sealed the bill’s fate in the last session. A bill that doesn’t pass expires at the end of the two-year run. Any hope for the bill’s passage means Burr or another hopeful senator needs to reintroduce the bill for the new Congress. Then they start the process over with committee meetings, hearings and votes. The full U.S. Senate needs to vote on it and hope the U.S. House does the same. Do you see how tough it is to get anything done?
The EPA is digging its heels in the enforcement sector. The EPA’s website says it has strictly enforced rules against devices designated to circumvent emission controls. In fact, the agency says it has resolved 24 civil enforcement cases this year and tripled the penalties compared to last year.
For example, the EPA has brought lawsuits against companies like Gear Box Z, Advanced Flow Engineering and Keystone Automotive Operations, Inc. You don’t have to worry about outright bans on modded cars from the EPA. However, keep up with the news in your state because some legislatures have taken action against particular modifications.
In 2023, some states have taken action against particular modifications to cars and trucks. For example, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster signed a bill banning the Carolina squat on any passenger vehicle. The Carolina squat is a popular mod where you lift the truck’s front higher than the back, making the car appear like it’s doing a squat. It’ll soon be illegal in the area where it originates.
In South Carolina, you can’t raise or lower your vehicle more than six inches or else risk a misdemeanor. The law also makes it illegal to raise the suspension, frame, chassis or front fender more than four inches. You’ll get a $100 fine the first time and a $200 fine on a repeated offense. The third time is not the charm because the state will suspend your license for a year.
So, why is the Carolina squat illegal now? Law enforcement in the state says this modification has increased wrecks in the area. Raising a car makes it harder for the driver behind you to see — thus increasing the likelihood of a crash.
Modified car lovers may have a harder time in places like South Carolina. However, there is some good news. In 2022, Sacramento — home to over 500,000 residents — repealed its ban on lowriders. A year later, car enthusiasts have rejoiced and still enjoy cruising down the highway. Street cruising is safer now than it was in the ‘90s, so hopefully, Sacramento’s success inspires other cities to do the same.
Are Modded Cars at Risk?
Is the EPA banning modified cars? No, at least not currently. There’s no telling how the climate might play out in the future, but your modded race cars are safe for the moment. We’ll be closely watching the RPM Act as it passes through Congress. The results of this bill could shape the future of aftermarket car modifications.