Mr. Jeremy Karmel
    Account Executive
    Agar Truck Sales, Inc.
    2 Agar Street
    Yonkers, NY 10701

    Dear Mr. Karmel:

    This responds to your letter of August 13, 2002, requesting information on regulations concerning the installation of passenger seats in a van.In yourletter you stated that a customer would like to purchase a van from your company.You indicated that the customer would then like "to install an extra row of seating, himself, using factory equipment, to carry two more passengers." As you further explained in a telephone conversation with a member of my staff, either the customer would perform the installation or a third party repair business would install the extra seating. As explained below, there are different Federal requirements depending on the timing of the installation and the person installing the seating.

    I am pleased to have this opportunity to explain our laws and regulations to you.The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (49 U.S.C. 30101 et seq.; Vehicle Safety Act) to issue motor vehicle safety standards that apply to the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment.Section 108(a)(1)(A) of the Vehicle Safety Act (49 U.S.C. 30112(a)) prohibits any person from manufacturing, introducing into commerce, selling, or importing equipment unless the vehicle or equipment item is in conformity with all applicable safety standards.

    NHTSA has exercised authority to establish five Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS), which could be relevant to installation of a seat in a vehicle: Standard No. 207, Seating Systems; Standard No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection; Standard No. 209, Seat Belt Assemblies; Standard No. 210, Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages; and Standard No. 302, Flammability of Interior Materials. Standard Nos. 207, 208, 210, and 302 apply, with certain exceptions that are not relevant to this situation, to vehicles and not directly to items of equipment. Standard No. 209, however, applies to seat belt assemblies as separate items of motor vehicle equipment, regardless of whether the belts are installed as original equipment in a motor vehicle or sold as replacement belts.Thus, if new seat belts are installed on an already certified vehicle, the manufacturer of the seat belts is required to certify that the seat belts comply with standard No. 209.

    If additional seats are installed in an already certified vehicle prior to its first retail sale, the person modifying the vehicle would be considered an alterer of a previously certified motor vehicle and would be subject to certification requirements.Under 49 CFR Part 567, Certification, an alterer is defined as:

      A person who alters a vehicle that has previously been certified ... other than by the addition, substitution, or removal of readily attachable components such as mirrors or tire and rim assemblies, or minor finishing operations such as painting, ... before the first purchase of the vehicle in good faith for purposes other than resale ....

    As an alterer, the person installing the seats would be subject to the certification requirements of 49 CFR 567.7. These requirements include provisions that the alterer supplement the original manufacturer's certification label, which must remain on the vehicle, by affixing an additional label. The label must state that the vehicle as altered conforms to all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards. The label must also state the name of the alterer, the month and the year in which the alterations were completed, and the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and the gross axle weight rating (GAWR), if changed by the vehicle alteration.

    If additional seats are installed after the vehicle's first purchase for purposes other than resale (i.e., the first retail sale of the vehicle), a vehicle modifier or repair business could not install additional seats in your customers van if it caused the vehicle to no longer comply with any of the safety standards.The only provision in Federal law that affects a vehicle's continuing compliance with an applicable safety standard is set forth in 108(a)(2)(A) of the Safety Act (49 U.S.C. 30122(b)).That section provides that:

      A manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business may not knowingly make inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable motor vehicle safety standard

    If, for example, a third party repair facility installs the extra passenger seat, then the "render inoperative" prohibition would mean that it must be done is such a way as to not affect the vehicles compliance with all applicable FMVSS.This would require, among other things, that installation of the new seat be done such that the attachment of the original seats and seat belts to the vehicle must not be compromised.

    In addition, the "render inoperative" prohibition does not apply to modifications vehicle owners make to their own vehicles. Thus, if the customer, as an individual vehicle owner, were to install the seats himself in his own vehicle, Federal law would not apply.

    While Federal law would not apply to a modification if it were made by your customer to his own vehicle, I would urge him to exercise care in installing the seat bench and to install seat belts on the seats. The seats and seat belts will not provide any protection to occupants if they separate from the vehicle frame in a crash. Additionally, you and your customer should be aware that States have the authority to regulate modifications that individual vehicle owners may make to their own vehicles.Also, your customer may wish to consult a private attorney familiar with the law in the New York State regarding potential liability in tort for his business in these circumstances.

    I hope this information is helpful.If you have any other questions please contact Chris Calamita of my staff at this address or by phone at (202) 366-2992.


    Jacqueline Glassman
    Chief Counsel