The 2010 elections are here, and at no time in recent history has Washington been so divided. Less than two years ago, then Senator Barack Obama led a movement united by the desire for change. Voters wanted a new era of bipartisan cooperation, openness and an abandonment of “politics as usual.”
The realities of backroom politics quickly eroded campaign ideals. Whether President Obama and the Democratic leadership failed to deliver, or his opponents refused the invitation, the battle lines were fortified and partisan rancor is now stronger than ever.
It’s easy to identify key events that hastened the downfall. We must also acknowledge that circumstances at the beginning of 2009 were dire. The world economy wavered and consumers and businesses alike were gripped in fear. Early decisions made by the Obama Administration and Congress helped bring stability to the markets but also left a sour taste for many. Did we bailout the right people? Did we mortgage our future to jump-start the economy? Will skyrocketing deficits lead to stagflation, inflation or other types of economic grief?
Health care reform underscored the divisions. Early on there was a “debate” on how to address the twin issues of skyrocketing premiums and the millions of Americans without health care insurance. But by last summer, it had devolved into issue ads and angry town hall gatherings.
We are again at an election crossroads in which many voters are seeking “change.” That’s what this issue of the magazine is about – an opportunity to consider how actions being taken by federal and state lawmakers impact you, the auto enthusiast. The need for the enthusiast community to stay informed and become involved is greater than ever. From emissions to auto equipment standards, the government is making decisions about your current and future car.
This topic is not limited to Washington. While the federal government issues national rules dictating vehicle safety and emissions equipment, most other issues are handled at the state and local levels. From titling and registration to inspection/maintenance, your car is subject to decisions made by state and local officials.
The future of our hobby depends on you. The ballot box is one venue for making your views known. We also urge you to work collectively with your fellow enthusiasts. How? Join the SEMA Action Network (SAN). The SAN is a partnership between enthusiasts, car clubs and members of the specialty auto parts industry in the U.S. and Canada who have pledged to join forces in support of legislative solutions for the auto hobby. It’s free to join and the SAN keeps you informed about pending legislation and regulations? both good and bad?that will impact your state or the entire country. It also provides you with action alerts, speaking points, and lawmaker contact information if you want to support or oppose a bill. Join now: www.semasan.com
1. Vehicle Height.
State agencies and legislatures sometimes pursue vehicle height restrictions. A compromise between regulators and modifiers who lower vehicles from the original height can apply the standard of the “scrub line.” A scrub line is an imaginary surface created if lines were drawn from the bottom of the wheel rim on one side to the bottom of the tire on the other side. When lines are drawn from both sides using a taut string, an ”X” under the vehicle’s suspension is created. A suspension or chassis component, excepting exhaust systems and sheet metal, may not be below the top portion of this ”X.” Pennsylvania utilizes this standard for a vehicle registered in the state as a street rod, specially constructed or reconstructed vehicle. The state’s minimum bumper height for all other passenger vehicles is 16 inches from some part of the main horizontal bumper bar, exclusive of any bumper guards.
Other states, such as Rhode Island, handle the issue of minimum vehicle height using the manufacturer’s specified height as the standard and do not allow for deviations more than 4 inches from that standard. Maine uses a similar standard based on frame height with the minimum frame height limited to no less than 10 inches from the ground, unless the vehicle was originally manufactured with a frame height of less than 10 inches. In Minnesota, a lowered vehicle is measured by its bumper height and may vary up to 6 inches from the manufacturer’s original manufactured bumper height. Many states choose simply to place limitations on maximum vehicle height. Others prohibit modification of a vehicle in a way that would cause the vehicle body or chassis to come into contact with the ground, expose the fuel tank to damage from collision, or cause the wheels to come in contact with the body.
2. Inoperable Vehicles
Freedom is…waking up on the weekend and being able to work on your own car, in your OWN BACKYARD. Don’t Get Zoned Out! You come home one afternoon only to find a ticket on your lowrider project vehicle that’s parked on your property. Sounds like a nightmare scenario, doesn’t it? But in some areas of the country, it’s all too real. State and local laws? some on the books now, others pending? can or will dictate where you can work to restore or modify your project vehicle. Believe it or not, that project car or truck you’ve stashed behind your house until the new crate engine arrives or the cherished collectible you’ve hung onto since high school to pass down to your kids could very easily be towed right out of your yard depending on the zoning laws in your area.
Why is the long arm of the law reaching into your backyard? Some zealous government officials are waging war against what they consider “eyesores.” To us, of course, these are valuable on-going restoration projects. But to a non-enthusiast lawmaker, your diamond-in-the-rough looks like a junker ready for the salvage yard. If you’re not careful, that’s exactly where it will wind up. Hobbyists are becoming increasingly concerned about the many states and localities currently enforcing or attempting to legislate strict property or zoning laws that include restrictions on visible inoperable automobile bodies and parts. Often, removal of these vehicles from private property is enforced through local nuisance laws with minimal or no notice to the owner. Jurisdictions enforce or seek to enact these laws for a variety of reasons, most particularly because they believe: 1) inoperative vehicles are eyesores that adversely affect property values or 2) inoperative vehicles pose a health risk associated with leaking fluids and chemicals. Many such laws are drafted broadly, allowing for the confiscation of vehicles being repaired or restored.
For the purposes of these laws, “inoperable vehicles” are most often defined as those on which the engine, wheels or other parts have been removed, altered, damaged or allowed to deteriorate so that the vehicle cannot be driven. The following are some common conditions that cause vehicles to be in violation of these laws:
* Missing tires
* Vehicle on blocks
* Front windshield missing
* No engine
* Steering wheel missing
* License plate with expired registration date
* No license tag
In the 2009-2010 legislative session, hobbyists defeated bills in Hawaii, Kansas, Nebraska, Virginia and West Virginia that would have established unreasonable restrictions on backyard restoration projects. In response to these and other anti-hobbyist efforts, SEMA has drafted its own inoperable vehicle bill that’s fair to restorers while still considerate of neighbors who don’t want a junkyard operating next door. The SEMA model bill simply states that project vehicles and their parts must be maintained or stored outside of “ordinary public view.” States can adopt this model legislation as their own; in 2005, Kentucky did just that. This past session, Vermont also chose to protect hobbyists from a bill that was targeted at salvage yards. The new law increases the regulation of salvage yards and automobile graveyards in the state, but includes a provision stipulating that hobbyists are not to be confused with the owners of automobile graveyards. The new law defines an “automobile hobbyist” as a person not primarily engaged in the sale of vehicles and parts or dismantling junk vehicles. Further, the definition of “automobile graveyard” does not include an area used by an automobile hobbyist for storage and restoration purposes, provided their activities comply with federal, state and municipal law.
A model inoperative vehicle bill should contain the following elements:
1. An explicit provision prohibiting a local area from adopting or implementing an ordinance or land use regulation that prohibits a person from engaging in the activities of an automobile collector in an area zoned by the municipality.
2. A definition of collector vehicles that includes parts cars.
3. A provision allowing an automobile collector to conduct mechanical repairs and modifications to a vehicle on private property.
4. A provision mandating that government authorities provide actual notice to the vehicle’s last registered owner and provide an opportunity for voluntary compliance prior to confiscation.
5. A provision mandating due process of the law (adequate notice, right to hearing, etc.) prior to the removal of a vehicle from private property.
6. Language to permit the outdoor storage of a motor vehicle if the vehicle is maintained in such a manner as not to constitute a health hazard.
7. The condition that parts vehicles be located away from public view, or screened by means of a suitable fence, trees, shrubbery, opaque covering or other appropriate means.
Experience indicates that it will be helpful to make a few preparations when you are working in your state or locality to modify damaging proposed inoperable vehicle language:
1. Develop a specialty vehicle definition (e.g. vehicle is 25 years old or older; limited production vehicle; special interest vehicle, etc.).
2. Build a coalition of interested clubs and organizations.
3. Propose fair alternative language that benefits both the hobbyist and the community (e.g. screened from ordinary public view by means of a suitable fence, trees, shrubbery, etc.)
4. Garner support from local media.
5. Be persistent in your efforts.
To learn more about other laws that might apply to you, log onto our website: www.lowridermagazine.com and remember, if you want to make a difference for our lifestyle and culture, become a SEMA Action Network member. For free membership log onto: www.semasan.com