Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
United States Department of Transportation



It is the responsibility of a manufacturer of vehicles and/or items of motor vehicle equipment to certify that each motor vehicle and/or equipment item is in full compliance with the minimum performance requirements of all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs). This is a self-certification process as opposed to the type approval process which is used in some other countries such as Japan. The NHTSA does not issue approval tags, stickers or labels for vehicles or equipment items before or after the first sale. In order to provide certification, the manufacturer takes whatever actions it deems appropriate. This usually means laboratory testing in accordance with the FMVSS or conducting other studies or analyses (due care process) to ensure that its products fully comply.

The manufacturer must not only be concerned with the initial certification, but should also monitor continued compliance of vehicles and/or items of motor vehicle equipment throughout the production run. To accomplish this, an effective quality control program must be established to periodically inspect and test vehicles and/or items of motor vehicle equipment randomly selected from the assembly line to ensure that the original performance is carried through to all other units.

The Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance (OVSC) does not specify the type of quality control program that a manufacturer should employ. That decision is left to the manufacturer. If the vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment is designed with a reasonable factor of safety, the manufacturer can elect to have a selective sample surveillance program to demonstrate that production variations will not take the vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment out of the range of full compliance. On the other hand, if the margin of safety is less with respect to the required performance, a more stringent quality control program would be needed.


Administer programs to ensure compliance with Federal laws, standards and regulations pertinent to vehicle safety, fuel economy, damageability, and consumer information. The approach used is to develop an annual compliance test program which includes an average of 30 of the 44 testable FMVSSs (30 vehicle standards and 14 equipment standards) and to randomly select test samples from the marketplace and test them to the minimum performance requirements of the applicable standard. In addition, vehicle inspections are conducted at new car dealerships and testing laboratories to visually verify compliance to the 7 non-testable FMVSSs. If a test failure occurs, an investigation is conducted which could ultimately lead to an owner notification and remedy campaign along with a civil penalty.

The investigative approach used is to work closely with the manufacturer, on a technical basis, to resolve the failure issue. Typically, this procedure has led to corrective action in the form of a redesigned vehicle component or equipment item or an improvement in the manufacturer's quality control process. Most manufacturers cooperate fully with the OVSC during investigations and institute changes when it becomes clear that a revision in vehicle or equipment item design or production procedures is required in order to return to full compliance. Manufacturers generally maintain a strong quality control program in the manufacture of vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment knowing such an enforcement program is in place.


For any FMVSS compliance program, a detailed OVSC Laboratory Test Procedure must be developed and continually upgraded. The FMVSS specifies the minimum performance requirements and, in general terms, the objective tests required to demonstrate product compliance. The OVSC Laboratory Test Procedure specifies the types of laboratory test equipment to be used, testing tolerances, equipment calibration requirements, step-by-step instructions and check sheets, and reporting requirements. The purpose of the test procedure is two-fold.

1. Since all compliance testing is conducted by contractors, it provides a detailed description of the various requirements to independent testing laboratories (contractors) conducting compliance tests for the OVSC. This is very important to insure the quality of the compliance test results which could result in an owner notification and remedy campaign along with a civil penalty.

2. It provides a detailed description to the vehicle and equipment manufacturers of how the OVSC intends to verify that the affected products meet the minimum performance requirements of applicable FMVSSs. Manufacturers can use the OVSC Laboratory Test Procedure as a guide in conducting its own certification and product surveillance tests, preferably testing more stringently to ensure an adequate margin of safety. OVSC does not necessarily test for all requirements, but the manufacturers should do so.

The Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance (OVSC) provides contractor laboratories with Laboratory Test Procedures as guidelines for obtaining compliance test data. The data are used to determine if a specific vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment meets the minimum performance requirements of the subject Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS). The purpose of the OVSC Laboratory Test Procedures is to present a uniform testing and data recording format, and provide suggestions for the use of specific equipment and procedures. If any contractor views any part of an OVSC Laboratory Test Procedure to be in conflict with a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) or observes deficiencies in a Laboratory Test Procedure, the contractor is required to advise the Contracting Officer's Technical Representative (COTR) and resolve the discrepancy prior to the start of compliance testing.

Every contractor is required to submit a detailed test procedure to the COTR before initiating the compliance test program. The procedure must include a step-by-step description of the methodology to be used. The contractor's test procedure shall contain a complete listing of test equipment with make and model number and a detailed check-off sheet. The list of test equipment shall include instrument accuracy and calibration dates. All equipment shall be calibrated in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. There shall be no contradictions between the Laboratory Test Procedure and the contractor's in-house test procedure. Written approval of the in-house test procedures shall be obtained from the COTR before initiating the compliance test program. The OVSC Laboratory Test Procedures are not intended to limit or restrain a contractor from developing or utilizing any testing techniques or equipment which will assist in procuring the required compliance test data. These Laboratory Test Procedures do not constitute an endorsement or recommendation for use of any product or method. However, the application of any such testing technique or equipment is subject to prior approval of the COTR.

NOTE: The OVSC Laboratory Test Procedures, prepared for the limited purpose of use by independent laboratories under contract to conduct compliance tests for the OVSC, are not rules, regulations or NHTSA interpretations regarding the meaning of a FMVSS. The Laboratory Test Procedures are not intended to limit the requirements of the applicable FMVSS(s). In some cases, the OVSC Laboratory Test Procedures do not include all of the various FMVSS minimum performance requirements. Recognizing applicable test tolerances, the Laboratory Test Procedures may specify test conditions that are less severe than the minimum requirements of the standard. In addition, the Laboratory Test Procedures may be modified by the OVSC at any time without notice, and the COTR may direct or authorize contractors to deviate from these procedures, as long as the tests are performed in a manner consistent with the standard itself and within the scope of the contract. Laboratory Test Procedures may not be relied upon to create any right or benefit in any person. Therefore, compliance of a vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment is not necessarily guaranteed if the manufacturer limits its certification tests to those described in the OVSC Laboratory Test Procedures.


The OVSC does not have the testing facilities required to conduct compliance tests. Testing is contracted to approximately 21independent testing laboratories located in Arizona, California, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. Proposals are solicited on a competitive basis from those organizations expressing interest or indicating a basic capability in the vehicle and/or equipment testing field. The proposals are evaluated and a selection made on the basis of the proposer's capability to conduct all phases of compliance tests as outlined in the particular FMVSS as well as the quoted price per test (qualified low-bidder selected).


Information is requested to determine the makes, models, styles and types of vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment which are available in the marketplace. Vehicle and equipment selection matrices are developed which include new entries into the marketplace, new designs, past failures, consumer complaints, etc. It is not possible to test the majority of vehicle makes and models or items of motor vehicle equipment due to budget limitations. However, an effort is made to select new entries and high volume items. Vehicles are purchased from new vehicle dealerships by obtaining competitive bids on vehicles which have the equipment as specified by the OVSC safety compliance engineer. Equipment items are selected at random from manufacturing plants, distribution centers or retail stores. This approach is used by OVSC to ensure that the test specimens selected are a true representation of the product which could be purchased by the consumer.


The conduct of compliance tests is quite different from development or research tests. It is extremely important that the test be conducted within the criteria specified in the particular FMVSS. The reason for this is that a test failure could lead to an owner notification and remedy campaign along with a civil penalty for the manufacturer. Such consequences can be very expensive for the company involved and the OVSC wants to be sure that its test data are accurate. As a general approach, test condition tolerances are set on the conservative side, and the width of the tolerance band in any compliance test is established based on the accuracy of test equipment utilized.

The independent laboratories under contract with OVSC are required to conduct compliance tests in accordance with the OVSC Laboratory Test Procedures. The contractors are required to write their own in-house test procedures prior to conducting compliance tests which cannot conflict with the OVSC Laboratory Test Procedures. It is the contractor's responsibility to ensure that all tolerances are maintained within the prescribed bands. The test equipment must be calibrated every 6 months unless otherwise specified with traceability to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Laboratory testing activities are monitored by OVSC safety compliance engineers, who make periodic visits to ensure that the correct procedures are being followed and by reviewing recent test results for accuracy. This includes verifying that required instrumentation is in place, functional, and the calibration data is within specification and up to date. This program helps to ensure that the laboratory's in-house testing procedures and equipment are within prescribed guidelines.


The apparent failure of a compliance test specimen is not, in itself, proof that the particular vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment does not meet the requirements of a particular FMVSS. It is, however, an indication of a possible problem and it triggers a comprehensive technical investigation. One of the first actions is to notify the manufacturer by telephone of the test failure. This permits the manufacturer to immediately take action to check the adequacy of the vehicles or items of motor vehicle equipment involved. The manufacturer then has the option of attending a technical meeting at the test laboratory with the OVSC compliance engineer. During this visit, the manufacturer is given the opportunity to review the test procedure, test instrument calibration, detailed test results, examine the failed vehicle or equipment item, and question the laboratory personnel. This is followed by the initiation of a Preliminary Evaluation (PE) file. A PE letter is sent to the manufacturer requesting certification test data along with inspection and other quality control information. The PE letter response data are analyzed by an OVSC safety compliance engineer. After completion of the analysis, a technical meeting is held with the manufacturer's representatives to discuss any unresolved issues and any planned owner notification and remedy action to be taken by the manufacturer. After the technical meeting, a decision is made as to whether there is a strong indication of noncompliance with FMVSS requirements, and whether to upgrade the investigation to a Compliance Investigation (CI). A CI letter may be sent to the manufacturer requesting additional information. A retest also may be conducted using an identical vehicle or item(s) of motor vehicle equipment.

After all information is collected, OVSC engineers conduct an intensive analysis of the data with particular interest paid to the tests conducted by the manufacturer for original certification and in-process quality control. In addition, the certification test procedures and equipment used by the manufacturer are reviewed. Any differences between the manufacturer's certification test results and the OVSC compliance test results are analyzed and an attempt is made to ascertain the reasons for such differences.

Based on all of the information available, the OVSC Director makes a decision to either close the PE file or CI file if a noncompliance is not indicated or to proceed with the investigation. A CI letter is sent to the manufacturer stating that the agency is proceeding with the investigation and that the initiation of a recall campaign by the manufacturer is indicated. If there is no recall campaign announced by the manufacturer, an initial decision of noncompliance is made by the Associate Administrator for Safety Assurance and the case is forwarded to the Chief Counsel's office for appropriate legal action.

The process just described is the most simplified case. In some instances, there may be additional visits to the test laboratory or the manufacturer's test and manufacturing facilities, additional technical meetings and correspondence exchanges.

Once the case is forwarded to the Chief Counsel's office, the processing procedure is more formal. In accordance with Public Law 89-563, the complete process requires that after the initial decision of noncompliance is made by the Associate Administrator for Safety Assurance, a public hearing is held to afford the manufacturer or any other interested party an opportunity to present their views and then a final decision of noncompliance may be made by the agency Administrator.


A compliance testing program has been in place since 1968. All of the 44 testable FMVSSs are included in a compliance test program over a period of 5 years with vehicle inspections conducted for the remaining 7 non-testable FMVSSs. A FMVSS self-certification program exists in the United States. The NHTSA does not certify that vehicles or items of motor vehicle equipment meet the requirements of various FMVSSs or issue "approval" stickers, labels, certificates, etc. Each year the OVSC randomly selects vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment for compliance testing by approximately 21 independent testing laboratories under contract with the OVSC to verify that the manufacturer's certification is valid. The OVSC compliance testing program is a strong incentive for manufacturers of vehicles and/or items of motor vehicle equipment to institute and maintain a strong quality control/product surveillance program.



101-Controls and Displays (Inspection)
102-Transmission Shift Lever Sequences, etc. (Inspection)
103-Windshield Defrosting and Defogging
104-Windshield Wiping and Washing
105-Hydraulic Brake System
106-Brake Hoses
108-Lamps, Reflective Devices etc.
109-Pass. Car New Pneumatic Tires
110-Pass. Car Tire Selection & Rims
111-Rearview Mirrors
113-Hood Latch Systems (Inspection)
114-Theft Protection
116-Hydraulic Brake Fluids
117-Retreaded Pneumatic Tires (Inspection)
118-Power-Operated Window Systems
119-Truck/Bus New Pneumatic Tires
120-Truck/Bus Tire Selection & Rims
121DAir Brake Systems (Dynamometer)
121VAir Brake Systems (Vehicles)
122-Motorcycle Brake Systems
123-Motorcycle Controls and Displays (Inspection)
124-Accelerator Control Systems
125-Warning Devices
129-Passenger Car New Non-Pneumatic Tires
131-School Bus Pedestrian Safety Devices
135-Passenger Car Brake Systems
201-Occupant Protection in Interior Impact
201UOccupant Protection in Interior Impact - Upper Interior Head Impact Protection
201PRigid Pole Side Impact Test
202-Head Restraints
203-Impact Protection for the Driver from Steering Control
204-Steering Control Rearward Displacement
205-Glazing Materials (Inspection)
206-Door Locks and Door Retention Components
207-Seating Systems
208-Occupant Crash Protection
209-Seat Belt Assemblies
210-Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages
212-Windshield Mounting
213-Child Restraint Systems
214DSide Impact Protection (Dynamic)
214SSide Impact Protection (Static)
216-Roof Crush Resistance
217-Bus Window Retention and Release
218-Motorcycle Helmets
219-Windshield Zone Intrusion
220-School Bus Rollover Protection
221-School Bus Body Joint Strength
222-School Bus Passenger Seating
223-Rear Impact Guards
224-Rear Impact Protection (Inspection)
301F Fuel System Integrity - Frontal
301L Fuel System Integrity - Lateral
301RFuel System Integrity - Rear
301S Fuel System Integrity - Sch Bus
302-Flammability of Interior Materials
303-Fuel System Integrity of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Vehicles
304-CNG Fuel Container Integrity


512-Confidential Business Information
523-Vehicle Classification
525-Exemptions from Average Fuel Economy Standards
529-Manufacturers of Multistage Automobiles
531-Passenger Car Average Fuel Economy Standards
533-Light Truck Fuel Economy Standards
5353-year Carryforward and Carryback of Fuel Economy Credits
537-Automotive Fuel Economy Reports
541-Federal Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention Standard
542-Procedures for Selection of Covered Vehicles
543-Petitions for Exemption from Vehicle Theft Prevention Standard
544-Insurer Reporting Requirements
552-Petitions for Rulemaking, Defect and Noncompliance Orders
554-Standards Enforcement and Defect Investigation
555-Temporary Exemption from Motor Vehicle Safety Standards
556-Exemption for Inconsequential Defect or Noncompliance
557-Petitions for Hearings on Notification & Remedy of Defects
565-Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) Content Requirements
566-Manufacturer Identification
567-Certification Regulation
568-Vehicles Manufactured in Two or More Stages
569-Regrooved Tires
570-Vehicle in Use Inspection Standards
572-Anthropomorphic Test Dummy
572B50th Percentile Male (Hybrid II)
572C3-year Old Child
572D6-month Old Infant
572EHybrid III Test Dummy
572FSide Impact Dummy (SID) 50th Percentile Male
572I6-year Old Child
572J9-month Old Child
572KNewborn Infant
573-Defect and Noncompliance Reports
574-Tire Identification and Record Keeping
575-Consumer Information Regulation
575.103Truck-Camper Loading
575.104Uniform Tire Quality Grading Standards
577-Defect and Noncompliance Notification
579-Defect and Noncompliance Responsibility
580-Odometer Disclosure Requirements
581-Bumper Standard
583-Automotive Parts Content Labeling
585-Automatic Restraint Phase-In Reporting Requirements
586-Side Impact Phase-In Reporting Requirements
587-Side Impact Moving Deformable Barrier
588-Child Restraint Systems Recordkeeping Requirements
589-Upper Interior Component Head Impact Protection Phase-in Reporting Requirements
590-Motor Vehicle Emission Inspections
591-Importation of Vehicles/Equipment Subject to Federal Safety Standards
592-Registered Importers (RIs)
593-Determination for Eligibility for Importation of Vehicles
594-Registered Importer (RI) Fee Schedule

Issued by the Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance/NHTSA

Revised: August 18,1998