Everybody should care, including manufacturers, alterers, modifiers, dealers, leasing companies, fleets, and end users

Past Work Truck Show seminars have focused on the nuts and bolts of vehicle certification, but have not addressed the issue of why it's important to various links in the chain besides the manufacturer.

Michael Kastner, senior director of government activities for NTEA's Washington, DC, office and Bob Raybuck, the NTEA's director of technical services, took care of that in “Why Should I Care About Vehicle Certification?”

Kastner said everybody should care: manufacturers, alterers, modifiers, dealers, leasing companies, fleets, and end users.

“Regardless of who you are on this list, you do have things to care about, and if you understand your role and the people above and below you, you'll get better value for yourself and present yourself to provide better value,” he said. “We're talking about the proper certification of a motor vehicle to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.”

Those involve 49 CFR Part 571 FMVSS, 61 FMVSS, and 49 FMVSS applicable to “trucks.” Laws and regulations include: Title 49, United States Code Section 30115 (certification of compliance); NHTSA regulations: 49 CFR Part 567 (certification) and 49 CFR Part 568 (vehicle manufactured in two or more stages); and 49 USC 30112, which prohibit a person from manufacturing for sale, selling, offering for sale , introducing, or delivering for introduction into interstate commerce, or importing into the United States, a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment manufactured on or after the date of an applicable FMVSS unless the vehicle or equipment complies with the standard and is covered by a certification issued under section 30115.

Raybuck said that by regulation, a manufacturer is “a company that completes a vehicle for the final stage. In our vernacular, many times that's considered a distributor.” There are final-stage manufacturers, intermediate manufacturers, and alterers of motor vehicles and motor-vehicle equipment.

The different types of motor-vehicle certification:

• Incomplete vehicle. “That’s how it comes from the original manufacturer—say, if I’m starting with a chassis cab.”

• Intermediate-stage certification. “Somebody who takes an incomplete vehicle and something is done to it, but it’s not complete, but then you go on to the final stage. A common example is putting on an underbody scraper and somebody else puts a dump body on.”

• Final-stage certification.

• Altered certification.

Raybuck said all vehicles must be certified in the final stage, and manufacturing operations performed on motor vehicles prior to the first purchase (meaning licensed and titled in some state) must be certified.

The certification (and labeling) obligation ends when the vehicle has been certified in the final stage and the vehicle has gone through the first purchase (meaning it has been licensed and titled in some state).

Used vehicles

A common question the NTEA receives: What about used vehicles?

Raybuck said 49 USC 30122 prohibits a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business from knowingly making inoperative any part, of a device or element of design installed on a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable motor vehicle safety standard.

“Realistically, you can’t do anything to a used vehicle that you would not have already been able to do to a new incomplete vehicle,” he said. “Just because it’s used doesn’t mean you can actually do something to it that you wouldn’t have been able to do to a new vehicle.”

He said used vehicles are still subject to the recall and remedy provisions of the Safety Act (Chapter 301, Motor Vehicle Safety).

He said the final-stage manufacturer “really takes the ultimate responsibility. He puts that label on and the other manufacturers on the chain up or down take responsibility for what they have done. That label, or labels, is what demonstrates that. That’s the bare minimum of what you have to be worried about. Other manufacturers and alterers are responsible for the certification of their manufacturing operations.”

He said certification is important for three reasons:

The label.

“It says who you are and what you did. It’s free advertising for life for that vehicle. Any time somebody looks at the vehicle, they can see who the final-stage manufacturer is, and the alterer. If they like it, that may give you new business.”


“If you’ve properly certified vehicles that are the subject of recalls, that proper certification and the records you kept will help you do the recall. And when you’re dealing with NHTSA on a recall and can show you’ve done everything right, they going to view it in a much better light. And surprisingly, in most instances, the agency is pretty reasonable if it can see you as a good guy and you have taken care. It will make your life easier down the line to understand the certification process and have done it as well as you can.”

Liability issues.

“It’s there in everything we do and any way we do it. A properly certified vehicle is always going to help you. It’s not a complete defense in a products liability case. The law unfortunately doesn’t work that way. Safety standards are actually minimum standards, so you can still have liability problems even if you can demonstrate you’ve properly labeled and certified a vehicle and met all standards.”

Kastner said an alterer does things to a vehicle before it’s sold and a modifier after it’s sold.

“An alterer has that label responsibility, so it is much more formalized,” he said. “A modifier does not have labeling responsibility, but that really shouldn’t change how you do your work. It should be done the same because you do have liability issues. Some people don’t realize they are an alterer or modifier. They don’t realize they have responsibility. For instance, if you’re a dealer and are doing things in-house. You might be an alterer if it’s prior to the first retail sale, and you might have a formal labeling obligation. You have to know that. Even if you’re a modifier, you still have legal responsibility.

“If you’re a dealer, it’s a responsibility you may be able to avoid. You could have an upfitter do that or you may decide it’s still worth doing in-house. That’s a valid business decision one way or another. You just want to make sure you’re doing it with the full facts. If you decide you want to farm that work out, understanding certain processes and responsibilities is going to help you better evaluate that partner you choose to do that work for you. You want to make sure they understand it.”

Fostering close relationships

Kastner said the manufacturing interaction between OEMs, final-stage manufacturers, dealers, alterers, and modifiers is very important.

“As an OEM, you want to evaluate the company you’re working with because you want to make sure your chassis performs the way you want it,” he said. “If they’re properly doing their work, you can be assured the work you’re doing is being respected and the vehicles are going to perform as you intended. As a manufacturer, you want to make sure the body manufacturers you’re getting equipment from are getting you good installation instructions and support, and vice versa. The closer everybody in the chain works together and the more they understand their responsibilities and others, the better the final vehicle is going to be. It’ll be a better world and a safer truck.

“Anything you do should be done as if you are certifying it. Even if you’re the end user, you think, ‘It’s my truck. I bought it. I can do whatever I want.’ Well, yes and no. The fact of the matter is, any work you do on it, you have responsibility. You’re putting your employees into it. It may not be certification, but it’s still an obligation. As an end user, knowing the vehicles you have are probably certified, it’s a risk-management issue. You have a better confidence you’re putting them in safe vehicles.

“People lose sight that when you’re spec’ing a vehicle, you’re taking responsibility. You’ve now had a hand in the design of that vehicle. If you understand how to properly certify a vehicle, you may recognize that spec’ing you’re asking for just isn’t going to work. Hopefully, whoever you’re working with is going to know that too. ‘Let’s change it this way or that way.’ The customer sometimes asks for things on a certain chassis that, as much as you want to make a sale, you have to say no because you know it’s not a certifiable vehicle.”

Raybuck says there is more to vehicle certification than putting labels on vehicles. When filling out labels, there are three critical elements:

Payload analysis.

“You want to help your customer understand that truck they have and what it’s capable of. If he’s trying to haul 10,000 pounds with a 10,000 GVW truck, it’s managing expectations: ‘You may or may not be able to work this properly. You may be talking about a bigger truck.’ ”

Weight distribution.

“You want it to operate properly. If you’re trying to put a 10-yard dump body on a truck that should really have a 5-yard body but you’re only going to carry feathers, they look at you like, ‘Well, it’s a 10–yard dump body. Why isn’t it a 10-yard trash body instead?’ But there’s also a weight-distribution level to make sure the front and rear are done properly. It’s also part of customer satisfaction when you’re all said and done.”

FMVSS compliance analysis.

“If you’ve done the first two, it’s now easier when you get into the actual nitty-gritty.”

He said the Incomplete Vehicle Document contains conditional compliance statements (body builders book for alterers): vehicle type, model, and GVWR will determine what standards are applicable; determine type of certification statement (Type I, II, or III); and compare the manufacturing operations (body and equipment installation) with the certification statement.

A Type 1-A statement says that the vehicle when completed will conform to the standard if no alterations are made in identified components of the incomplete vehicle.

A Type 2-A statement has specific conditions of the final manufacture under which the manufacturer specifies that the completed vehicle will conform to the standard.

A Type 3-A statement says that conformity with the standard cannot be determined based upon the components supplied on the incomplete vehicle, and that the incomplete vehicle manufacturer makes no representation as to conformity with the standard.

“In your certification process, you’re going to look at, ‘What did I do? Did I touch any of these items?’ ” Raybuck said. “You have to put down every one of them that specifically applies. The nice thing is that on the front of the document, it says trucks from most of the manufacturers, and it’ll check off which Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard applies based on the GVW of what you’re dealing with.”

There are new FMVSS standards that affect trucks 10,000 lbs GVWR and below:

FMVSS 126 Electronic Stability Control: May affect completed vehicles with additional equipment added. Effective September 1.

FMVSS 202A Rear Restraints: May require additional padding in the rear seat headrest if equipped. Was effective September 1, 2011.

For vehicles 10,000 GVWR and under, there are barrier test standards:

FMVSS 208 Occupant Crash Protection: 8500 GVWR and under.

•  FMVSS 212 Windshield Mounting.

FMVSS 214 Side Impact Protection: 6000 GVWR and under.

FMVSS 219 Windshield Zone Intrusion.

FMVSS 301 Fuel System Integrity. 

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