Is the EPA Banning Modified Cars?

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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.

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.