Ms. Ramona Hutton
167 Deep Woods Way
Ormond Beach, FL 32174
Dear Ms. Hutton:
This responds to your letter asking about requirements applying to aftermarket slip-on seat covers for motor vehicles. In particular, you were interested in flammability requirements that would be applicable to the product.
By way of background, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to issue Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs) that set performance requirements for new motor vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment (see 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301, National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (Safety Act)). NHTSA does not provide approvals of motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment. Instead, manufacturers are required to self-certify that their products conform to all applicable safety standards that are in effect on the date of manufacture. NHTSA selects a sampling of new vehicles and equipment each year to determine their compliance with applicable FMVSSs. If our testing or examination reveals an apparent noncompliance, we may require the manufacturer to remedy the noncompliance, and may initiate an enforcement proceeding, if necessary, to ensure that the manufacturer takes appropriate action. NHTSA also investigates safety-related defects in motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment.
There is currently no FMVSS that directly applies to aftermarket slip-on seat covers. There are a number of FMVSSs that apply to vehicle seating systems. However, these apply to new complete motor vehicles and not to aftermarket slip-on seat covers. Nonetheless, there are Federal requirements that indirectly affect the manufacture and sale of your product.
Under the Safety Act, your product is considered to be an item of motor vehicle equipment. As a manufacturer of motor vehicle equipment, you would have to ensure that your product is free of safety-related defects. I have enclosed an information sheet that briefly describes those responsibilities. In the event that you or NHTSA determines that your seat cover contains a safety-related defect, you would be responsible for notifying purchasers of the defective equipment and remedying the problem free of charge.
In addition, 30122 of the Safety Act specifies: 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 ... The flammability resistance of the original vehicle is an element of design installed in a motor vehicle in compliance with FMVSS No. 302. Further, some motor vehicles have sensing systems in front seats installed in compliance with FMVSS No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection, and seat-mounted side air bags in compliance with FMVSS No. 214, Side Impact Protection. While it appears unlikely that persons in the aforementioned categories would be installing your product, installation of an item that made inoperative the vehicles compliance with flammability resistance, side or frontal impact protection requirements may subject the commercial entity to penalties for violating 30122.
The make inoperative prohibition of 30122 does not apply to the actions of vehicle owners in adding to or otherwise modifying their vehicles or items of motor vehicle equipment. Thus, if your seat cover were installed in vehicles by the vehicle owners, your product need not meet any FMVSSs. Nevertheless, we urge consumers not to degrade the safety of their vehicles. Further, for information on private tort liability, we suggest you contact your private attorney or insurance carrier.
State or local jurisdictions have their own traffic safety laws which could affect the flammability resistance of certain items. For information about those requirements, you should contact the State departments of motor vehicles.
In your letter, you provided data sheets of a product you are considering using to fire-retard the seat covers. As explained above, we regret to inform you that NHTSA is not able to approve or make any recommendations about the use of the product.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have further questions, please contact Deirdre Fujita of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Anthony M. Cooke