James A. Brunet II, President
Excelsior Transportation Consultants, Inc.
18 Moonglow Road
Wilton, NY 12831
Dear Mr. Brunet:
This responds to your request for information about Federal laws that apply when a motor vehicle repair facility modifies a school bus (after first sale) in order to meet the needs of its customers. You represent a client that operates a maintenance and repair facility that primarily works on such school buses. Your client has received requests from customers that in some cases, require the removal, disconnection or modification of a component that was installed pursuant to a Federal motor vehicle safety standard for the type of vehicle as built by the original manufacturer.
As an example, you noted that your client wishes to remove or disconnect equipment on a used school bus that was installed by the manufacturer in compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 222, School bus passenger seating and crash protection. The school bus seats would be removed and new non-school bus seats would be installed. In addition, a wheel chair lift and door would be installed. Upon completion, the bus would be returned to the owner, for use in non-school transportation.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issues FMVSSs applicable to new motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. Chapter 301 of Title 49 of the United States Code, Motor Vehicle Safety (49 U.S.C. Section 30101 et seq.), establishes a self-certification process under which all manufacturers of new motor vehicles, including new school buses, are responsible for certifying that their new vehicles meet all applicable FMVSSs. The certification label requirements are listed in 49 CFR Part 567 Certification. Section 567.4(g)(7) specifies that the certification label must indicate the type of the vehicle being certified (e.g., truck, bus, trailer).
You posed the following questions, which are answered below:
Question 1 As a vehicle modifier/alterer (after first sale) does my client fall under the CFR definition of manufacturer? If so, does he have to register with NHTSA as such and what procedures need to be followed to do so?
The term manufacturer is defined in the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (Safety Act) (49 U.S.C.30102(a)(5)) as: a person (A) manufacturing or assembling motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment; or (B) importing motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment for resale. The agency would not consider your client to be an original manufacturer of the vehicle. Since your client is not a manufacturer, our regulation requiring manufacturers to identify themselves to NHTSA (49 CFR Part 566, Manufacturer identification) does not apply. In addition, although you referred to your client as an alterer, we do not consider it to be an alterer. Alterer is defined in our regulations as: a person who alters by addition, substitution, or removal of components (other than readily attachable components) a certified vehicle before the first purchase of the vehicle other than for resale. (49 CFR Section 567.3, Definitions.) Since your client modifies used vehicles, it does not meet this definition.
Question Two As with the school bus example above, the vehicle, after modification, would no longer comply with the CFR definition of school bus. Is my client required to re-tag the vehicle as a type of vehicle that meets the NHTSA definition of the vehicle type into which it falls, after modification? (I.e., per the example above, a vehicle is classified as a school bus by the original manufacturer, is modified and would now, possibly fall under the definition/classification of a bus.)
Our answer is your client would not re-tag the vehicle, unless the modifications were so extensive that it was engaged in the manufacture of a new vehicle. (We assume that re-tagging means certifying the vehicle as complying with all applicable FMVSSs.)
The requirement to certify the compliance of vehicles with the FMVSSs only applies to new vehicles. However, there is a limit in Federal law on the modifications that commercial businesses may make to vehicles. (See May 21, 2003 letter to Ms. Teresa Stillwell, copy enclosed.) The limit is set forth in 49 U.S.C. 30122(b) of the Safety Act as follows:
Prohibition. 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.
In general, this section prohibits the entities listed in Section 30122(b) from removing, disabling or otherwise making inoperative any of the safety systems or devices installed on the vehicle to comply with a safety standard. We regard modifiers such as your client to be a form of repair business for the purposes of this prohibition. However, with regard to modifications that change a vehicle from one vehicle type to another (e.g., from school bus to bus), NHTSA has interpreted the provision to hold that the modifications do not violate the make inoperative prohibition as long as the converted vehicle complies with the safety standards that would have applied if the vehicle had been originally manufactured as the new vehicle type. This means in your case that the modification must not make inoperative the devices or elements of design installed with regard to bus standards.
You indicate that your client wishes to install platform lifts (wheel chair lift) on the buses. We have addressed the installation of lifts on used vehicles in a January 21, 2005 letter to Mr. Deny Bertrand of Prevost Car, Inc. (copy enclosed). As you can see from the letter, different requirements apply, depending on factors such as the date of manufacture of the vehicle and whether the underlying vehicle had a lift. If you have specific questions about a particular modification, such as the installation of a platform lift on a particular vehicle, please feel free to contact us.
Question Three In addition to complying with all applicable New York State requirements, other than those areas specifically addressed above, what other NHTSA/CFR requirements does my client need to comply with?
Because of the variety of fact situations involved, it is difficult to address all possible scenarios, so it is more appropriate for us to provide opinions on a case-by-case basis. Different FMVSSs may apply to the modification, depending on the equipment that is being installed on the vehicle, whether there is an FMVSS that applies to that equipment item (for example, a new seat belt assembly would have to meet FMVSS No. 209, Seat belt assemblies, even when installed on a used vehicle), the date of manufacture of the underlying vehicle, etc. It is your clients responsibility to meet all applicable requirements. We also note that the Departments Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has jurisdiction over interstate motor carriers operating in the United States. You may contact the FMCSA at (202) 366-4009 for further information about that agencys regulations.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Ms. Dorothy Nakama of my staff by telephone at (202) 366-2992. Our new address is: Office of the Chief Counsel, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Mail Code: W41-227, Washington, DC 20590.
Anthony M. Cooke
 We note, however, that some modifications to a used vehicle could be so extensive so as to be considered a manufacture of a new vehicle. (For example, if a used bus body were placed on a new chassis, we would consider the resulting vehicle to be a new motor vehicle.) For information about this issue, see the enclosed copy of the March 16, 1988 letter to Morris East.
 By NHTSAs definition, a bus is a motor vehicle with motive power, except a trailer, designed for carrying more than 10 persons. (See 49 CFR 571.3, Definitions.)