For those who aren’t familiar with the backstory leading to this editorial, a quick rundown of what is going on the world of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The folks responsible for the annual SEMA convention recently brought to light some current business by the EPA regarding modifying street vehicles for racing. According to SEMA, the EPA wants to make it illegal for vehicle owners to remove the emissions control components of modern vehicles in an effort to produce more power. For example, SEMA believes that if you bought a 2016 Mustang GT to go drag racing, it would be against federal law to remove the catalytic convertor, even if you only planned to use the vehicle for racing and you never planned to drive it on the street.
The thought process behind this is that the EPA approves vehicles for sale here in the United States with their full emissions control system. Part of the approval process includes the EPA requirements on engine emissions, so before a car, truck, van or SUV can be sold in the US - it has to be clean enough for the EPA. In states where they have emission testing, removing the catalytic convertor or any other emission component makes the car illegal for road use because it won’t pass emission tests.
Fortunately, those owners who don’t care about their vehicles being legal for road use don’t have to worry about emission laws, but under this proposed EPA law revision, it would be illegal to own a car with the emission controls components – even if you only have the car to go racing on a closed circuit.
The EPA contests that enforcing the law more heavily would allow the government to cut down on the number of modern vehicles which are devoid of their pollution control items. That makes sense, but what doesn’t make sense is the fact that the government has no business telling us what we can and cannot do with our vehicles if they are not driven on the road. More importantly, this law would be impossible to enforce without massive government expenditures and even with those massive expenditures – it wouldn’t be hard to avoid detection in some states.
Breaking Down the Enforcement of These Laws
In theory, making it against the law to own a vehicle with a catalytic convertor could have a positive impact on the amount of harmful greenhouse gases emitted by modified high performance cars, if everyone just followed laws based on the fact that those laws exist. However, we all know that people don’t always follow the law and because of that, the EPA would have to come up with some way to enforce this law.
Because of this, the EPA would have to come up with a way to keep track of whether or not every car, truck, van and SUV on the road still has the originally equipped emissions control components. To get an idea of how hard that task would be, let’s look at the most commonly modified vehicles in the US market – the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro.
Tracking the 2015 Muscle Cars
The Mustang, Challenger and Camaro moved more than 266,000 vehicles during the 2015 calendar year, so during 2016, those vehicles will all need to apply for new state registration and that would allow the EPA to track which vehicles are driven on the road. In states where there are mandatory annual emission tests like California and Pennsylvania, it would be easy for the EPA to monitor the state of the catalytic convertor or other emissions control components. However, in a state like Michigan, where there is no annual inspection and no annual emission test, the EPA would have to come up with some way to check all of the vehicles.
Even if the feds could implement a way to check every new Mustang, Camaro and Challenger once a year as part of the registration process, they would still need to track down every car that wasn’t registered. Instituting an annual check-up in states that don’t already have it would have to be sold to local legislators and the process would have to be set up – all of which would take time and money. However, while costly, it seems possible for the EPA to set up a nationwide registration process which includes a quick check-up of the emissions control components. Expensive, difficult and nearly impossible to troubleshoot, but it is remotely possible.
Say that 250,000 of those 266,000 are registered under this new EPA testing procedure during the 2016 calendar year, leaving 16,000 unregistered. Those Mustangs, Challengers and Camaros could have been removed from street use for racing, which would make them of particular interest to the EPA, or they could have been crashed, stolen or simply stuck in a garage by a driver who isn’t bothering to register the car that year. The only way that the EPA could really track down those cars is to look at the previous year registration information and go to the last known owner – demanding to either see the car or know where it went. But what if the car was stolen or destroyed in a crash? The EPA would have wasted time tracking down a car that burned to the ground months earlier.
Also, the simple fact that muscle car owners could swap emissions components in and out in a day would force the EPA to closely monitor every drag strip, every road course and every other closed circuit racing facility in the United States. Even if they do send emission police to every track, simply looking under a new vehicle won’t reveal whether or not the emissions components have been tampered with – so an emission test will be needed. I know people who have high performance vehicles with what looks to be a catalytic convertor in its stock location – but there is no catalyst in the metal canister. That could only be caught with an emission test.
Even if the EPA could somehow establish a secret service force that kept track of every new car, truck and SUV sold each year going forward – and every emission compliant vehicle sold in the last 20 years – they would have to then rely on the people conducting these emission tests to blow the whistle on the folks with the modified vehicles. I have had the pleasure of working as a mechanic in a strict emission state and I know firsthand how easily someone can duck around the emission testing requirements. I have seen 8-second drag cars breeze through emission tests under the eye of an inspector who stands to make more money in seeing the car pass the test – and this isn’t a rare thing. Emission states are chock full of cars sporting illegally acquired window stickers, so attempting to implement tougher laws against modifying vehicles across the country is only going to grow the black market for emission test passing stickers.
It Is an Impossible Task
So to review, the EPA would need to require a nationwide annual emission test along with putting together a task force that would have to track every vehicle that goes from one year to the next without being registered. Of course, in a country teeming with illegal drugs, it seems unlikely that the EPA would be able to adequately enforce any law like this one, so any further legislation is nothing but a waste of taxpayer money that could be better spent maintaining the road system. However, since the US federal government is great at ignoring the tough problems while focusing on an unbeatable foe like people who like to modify their vehicles to go faster, there is a very real chance that the EPA will continue to push for tougher laws and tougher punishments for those who are caught tinkering with the emissions control system of their vehicle.
The fact that the EPA is even considering an impossible task like banning everyone in the country from removing the catalytic convertors from their vehicle is a very clear sign that the EPA has gotten far too big for their britches. While their intentions of cleaning up the environment are legitimate, taking on the challenge of stopping racers from removing emissions components will prove to be a massive waste of money that will have no real impact on crafty racers.
People who are already “taking the risk” of removing their catalytic convertor aren’t going to think twice about doing it to a new car when there is no way for the government to catch them. Instituting laws with no means of enforcing them is simply tax money wasted at the hands of a governmental department which has become desperate to look useful. The EPA comes up with a stupid idea like this one and the pro-EPA, anti-performance car lemmings are quick to praise the government for trying – and all of the useless employees of the EPA save their comfy government jobs for a few more years.
So, if you live in a state with no annual safety inspection or emission test, you don’t have anything to worry about, even if the EPA does institute new laws pertaining to tampering with your vehicle’s emissions components. Even if you do live in an inspection or emission state, simply taking your car off of the road will make it nearly impossible for the feds to find out whether or not your car has been modified without administering an emission test on site. I don’t ever foresee that happening, but the EPA could waste a bunch more of our tax money chasing its tail in the name of lower tailpipe emissions before making the inevitable move of cancelling the failed program.
This is really the worst news for those folks who live in emission states, as this outlandish law could become a part of emission laws such as those enforced in California. It is already illegal to tamper with vehicles driven on the street in Cali, but a tougher law could make it mandatory for people who own non-street driven race cars to go through a similar process and that would have a massive negative impact on the racing and performance car world in CARB states.
As someone who lives in a non-emission state and drives vehicles that don’t have any of the emissions control components that came from the factory – I am not losing a second of sleep over this, simply because the EPA will never be able to enforce tougher laws. On the other hand, if I owned a newer street car turned race car, I would be reaching out to my local legislators to stand up to the Gestapo at the EPA.
The Hellcat Challenger at the top of this piece could be a stock car or it could be heavily modified with 707hp and all of the emission components or 1,2000hp and none of the emission components. Under the proposed EPA laws, the government would have to track down this car to see if it is legal, as it is registered in a state without any annual check-up. This is just one of the hundreds of thousands of performance cars that would be subject to these laws and I don’t see any realistic way for the feds to find this car or any of the other high performance cars sold from the 2015 calendar year alone.