New rules ease certification angst

April 1, 2007
WHAT'S THIS? New NHTSA regulations that the truck equipment industry is glad to see? Definitely so, according to NTEA's Mike Kastner and Bob Raybuck.

WHAT'S THIS? New NHTSA regulations that the truck equipment industry is glad to see? Definitely so, according to NTEA's Mike Kastner and Bob Raybuck.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration implemented new rules last fall that will simplify truck certification and make the legal responsibilities more equitable. Kastner, the association's government relations director, and Raybuck, NTEA's technical services director, explained how the changes affect the truck equipment industry during a presentation at The Work Truck Show,

“There were several changes made to the way trucks are certified — and the changes were all favorable to our industry,” Kastner said.

Prior to the changes, truck equipment distributors and other final stage manufacturers were in a very uncomfortable legal position — sometimes forced to accept the liability for areas of the truck that they did not touch.

“Before, when you were building on a cutaway, you were certifying every single safety standard,” Kastner said. “If there was a recall for example, on windshield wipers, the final-stage manufacturer was responsible for conducting the recall — even though he had nothing to do with the windshield wipers.”

Under the new regulations, final-stage manufacturers are responsible for their own work and nobody else's.

The changes, triggered by NTEA's successful lawsuit of NHTSA, include:

  • A new type of vehicle category — the multistage vehicle. This makes it easier for NHTSA to specify the vehicle type to which future regulations can apply. They can now exempt multistage vehicles from regulations if they believe future regulations do not apply to them.

    “This is something NHTSA has not felt they had the legal authority to do before,” Kastner said. “Because these regulations are so new, this is something that has not happened yet, but it is in the process.”

  • Additional lead time. Under the old system, chassis manufacturers had to scramble simply to figure out how they were going to comply with forthcoming regulations before the implementation date. With the new system, chassis manufacturers have an additional year after the regulation goes into effect to set guidelines that final-stage manufacturers can follow so that they can certify compliance.

    The changes do away with the distinction between chassis cabs, cowls, cutaways, and other types of chassis. For this and several other reasons, new certification labels will be required.

    Raybuck explained the new labels in particular and the certification process in general — past and present.

    As of September 1, 2006, the old certification labels are no longer valid. They have been replaced by new certification labels that can be used with any truck and GVW rating.

    NTEA offers preprinted certification labels as well as labels in an Excel spreadsheet format that enables the labels to be printed locally with a laser printer. The printer, however, must be a laser — inkjets will not work on the label stock.

    Metric measurements are now primary, with English units secondary.

    The regulations do not mandate a particular color — labels can be black and white if they meet all criteria. However, NTEA has given each type of label a specific color in order to make each label easier to identify.

  • Yellow. This label, the one most commonly used, is applied when a truck can be certified according to the guidelines of the chassis manufacturer. Its official name is “final-stage certification label for vehicles completed within the guidance of the incomplete vehicle document.”

  • White. This is for vehicles that cannot be completed within the guidance of the incomplete vehicle document. These labels can be used for custom applications involving advanced engineering calculations in order to certify compliance. They also can be used for something as simple as removing and reattaching a parking brake cable. While chassis manufacturers will not allow the parking brake cable to be removed and reinstalled, it is possible to confidently certify compliance. Simply go to the chassis manufacturer's service manual and follow its instructions on how to remove and reinstall the parking brake — and apply a white certification label.

  • Green. Intermediate-stage manufacturing requires this label. This is used if a third party installs lift axles, changes wheelbases, or performs other operations affecting federal motor vehicle safety standards — but he does not complete the vehicle.

  • Gray. Altered certification labels are for vehicles that receive additional equipment after they have already been certified. Examples: pickup box removal or snowplow installation.

What you say

The statements made in the certification process are comparable to those made under the previous regulations. There are three basic statements:

  • Type I. With a Type I statement, the chassis manufacturer certifies that the truck complies with one or more federal motor vehicle safety standards provided that subsequent manufacturers do not alter the components covered by the safety standard. Typical examples are standards regulating windshield wipers, controls and displays, steering wheel controls, and gauges.

  • Type II. With this statement, chassis manufacturers say that the truck will meet certain safety regulations as long as it is completed according to the conditions it sets in the incomplete vehicle document.

  • Type III statements declare that the chassis manufacturer does not accept responsibility for compliance.

In addition to certification labels, vehicles (including trailers) with GVW ratings of 10,000 pounds or below must have a vehicle placard if completed — or altered — after September 1, 2005.

Alterations to completed vehicles could include such operations as adding snowplows, toolboxes, and removing pickup boxes because they affect the loads placed on the tires of these light-duty vehicles. Placards are required by FMVSS 110, a spin-off of the Bridgestone/Firestone tire dilemma.

NHTSA's placard requirement places stringent restrictions on the amount of weight that can be added to a truck — one-half of one percent of GVWR.

“This can be as little as 50 pounds — the weight of a toolbox and ladder rack,” Raybuck said. “The good news is that the placard is almost completely filled out. All you have to do is put the weight of the equipment you are adding.”

Basic misunderstandings

Raybuck reviewed the basics of certification and addressed some of the misconceptions he has encountered in his 18 years of providing technical answers to NTEA member questions.

“A common misconception about certification is that companies need to be certified and that somewhere out there is a place that they can go to get certified,” Raybuck said. “That is not true. Companies certify the trucks that they modify or complete.”

Raybuck said vehicle certification has nothing to do with titling and licensing. The vehicle must be certified prior to the first purchase.

“Titling and licensing generally is done under state regulations,” Raybuck said. “Certification is a federal requirement. Some states will allow titling and licensing before the vehicle is certified, but it still must be certified under federal law.”

Although companies aren't certified, they are required by law to register as a manufacturer (final-stage, intermediate stage, alterer).

To determine if your company has registered, check the searchable database NHTSA maintains on its Web site The NTEA Web site has information on how to register.

Where to look

Raybuck addressed the basic questions of truck certification.

What do you certify to?

Federal motor vehicle safety standards. There currently are 58 of them, 43 of which relate to trucks.

Where are they found?

In the Title 49, Part 571 of the United States Code of Federal Regulations. “This law prohibits the sale of a truck that has not been certified,” Raybuck said. “This means that you as a truck equipment distributor must make sure that the truck has been certified in order to legally sell it. If not, you will be subject to product liability issues as much as any actions from the federal government.”

Three elements

Three elements are involved in properly certifying trucks, Raybuck said.

  • Payload analysis

    This is a critical factor in making sure that the customer gets a truck that performs well. This involves learning from the customer how much he expects the truck to be able to carry — including all gear. You need to know what he really plans to carry. If you know he is going to overload the proposed truck, he needs to buy a bigger truck. The customer will be more satisfied with the truck's performance, and you will be able to more easily meet the certification requirements,” Raybuck said. “NHTSA does consider vehicle overloading to be a safety defect.”

    NTEA has worksheets that can help distributors through the process of payload analysis.

  • Weight distribution

    The truck may be capable of carrying the payload, but the vehicle will still be overloaded if the design of the truck does not distribute the load among all of the axles. When NHTSA considers overloaded vehicles to have a safety defect, that includes exceeding the overall gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) as well as the capacities of individual axles.

    “There are three of us in the technical services department at NTEA who can help you with this,” Raybuck said. “There are ways to move things around on a truck so that you can meet the weight distribution requirements and still give the customer the payload he wants. Our objective is to help you build a safe truck that meets or exceeds your customer's expectations.”

    Raybuck suggested that copies of the payload and weight distribution analyses be kept on file for future reference.

  • FMVSS compliance analysis

    The basis for this analysis is the incomplete vehicle document that comes with the chassis cab. Federal law requires chassis manufacturers to include the document with every incomplete vehicle. It is not just another owner's manual, Raybuck said. It is a document written specifically for the final-stage manufacturer, and it should accompany the vehicle when the dealer or customer brings the truck to the distributor's shop.

    “This has always been a very important document,” Raybuck said. “It's even more important now.”

    Companies must do more than certify — they must be able to prove that they certify. Raybuck suggests that distributors make a photocopy of every certification label for two reasons. First, this proves that the vehicle was certified.

    “If the truck gets in an accident, and the door has to be repainted, guess what the painter is going to do,” Raybuck said. “And if you give the customer a photocopy of the certification label, he has a record.”

    The incomplete vehicle document also needs to be retained. Businesses that work on the same chassis repeatedly can keep a couple of incomplete vehicle manuals for that model and then photocopy the front page of the incomplete vehicle manual for the rest since the back pages of the manuals typically do not vary.

    He suggests keeping a record of the certification for 10 years in order to meet all federal recordkeeping requirements.

Getting easier

Despite the requirements, the certification process has gotten easier, the two NTEA staffers concluded.

“By winning its suit against NHTSA over one particular standard, NTEA and the safety agency entered into negotiated rulemaking,” Kastner said. “We in effect rewrote the regulations regarding multistage vehicle certification. Bottom line: we are in much better legal position than we were before, and I think that this is a much fairer certification scheme. You are now in a much more favorable position than you were before.”