Thomas R. Erickson, Esq.
Scott, Hulse, Marshall, Feuille, Finger & Thurmond, P.C.
Attorneys at Law
1100 Chase Tower
201 East Main Drive
El Paso, TX 79901
Dear Mr. Erickson,
This responds to your request for an interpretation on behalf of your client, asking several questions related to platform lifts and/or modifications to buses.
We note that some of the questions you ask relate to Mexican law, i.e., whether certain buses would be considered newly manufactured for purposes of importing them into Mexico. While we can provide interpretations concerning the U.S. Federal statutes and regulations that we administer, we cannot provide interpretations or other information about Mexican law. Therefore, we are addressing the questions you ask only in the context of U.S. law.
Similarly, while we can address the issue of whether modified used vehicles or vehicles constructed with both new and used parts would be considered a new vehicle for purposes of the laws and regulations administered by this agency, we would suggest that you contact the Federal Trade Commission concerning whether it would be appropriate to advertise such a vehicle as new.
In your correspondence, you explained that your client owns a bus transportation company. Your client has designed a platform lift that it wants to manufacture and install on its own buses and on buses owned by other companies. Your client is also considering taking used 40 foot buses and using two such buses to create single 60 foot articulated buses which would be driven in the United States.
By way of background, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs) (49 CFR Part 571) for new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA does not
provide approvals of motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment. Instead, manufacturers of new vehicles or new equipment are required to certify that their vehicles and equipment meet applicable standards. These manufacturers must also ensure that their vehicles and equipment are free of safety-related defects.
Question One - Your first question concerned platform lifts, which your client would like to manufacture and install on buses. You note that FMVSS No. 404 requires that platform lifts be installed in accordance with the installation instructions provided by the lift manufacturer. You asked whether there are any regulations that would require that the persons installing the lifts have any particular certification, such as being a certified welder or mechanic.
NHTSAs Response - There are no requirements in FMVSS Nos. 403 or 404 that persons installing platform lifts have any particular credentials. We note that State laws or regulations may speak to this issue.
Question Two - Your second question addressed taking two used 40 foot buses and joining portions of them to create a single 60 foot articulated bus. You note that there are no FMVSSs specifically addressing articulated buses and ask if the modifier would simply follow FMVSSs applicable to buses. You also ask if the modifiers who convert the two buses into one bus must have any particular type of certifications to do such work.
NHTSAs Response - There are no FMVSSs that apply solely to articulated buses. All articulated buses manufactured as new must meet the bus standards specified in the FMVSSs. The certification requirements (at 49 CFR Part 567) apply to manufacturers of new buses and alterers of new buses, before first sale of the new bus to the retail customer. However, we would generally not consider the joining together of portions of two used 40 foot buses to create a single 60 foot bus to constitute the manufacture of a new motor vehicle. (See also the response to the next question relating to this issue.)
Since your client plans to modify used buses, there is a statutory provision which I would like to bring to your attention: 49 U.S.C. 30122(b), which states:
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 do not require manufacturers, alterers, or modifiers of motor vehicles to have any special certifications, although, again, State laws may address this issue. We note that this point also applies to your next question.
Question Three - Your third question addressed the circumstances in which modifications to used buses could create new buses, as well as vehicle identification number (VIN) requirements. You stated that a person at NHTSA stated that a used bus could be considered new if the engine, transmission and drive axle were replaced on the used bus and such parts were not from the same vehicle. You requested confirmation as to whether this is correct and, if not, whether there is a way to make used buses qualify as new buses so that a new VIN could be placed on the bus. You also asked, assuming that it is possible to turn a used bus into a new bus, whether it is permissible to take a totaled or burned bus and turn it into a new bus or to use parts from such buses in the manufacture of a new bus. You also asked whether the persons/companies doing the actual manufacturing of the new buses need any special certification.
NHTSAs Response - In most cases NHTSA does not regulate the repair or refurbishment of used motor vehicles, except that the make inoperative provision discussed earlier may apply, and some of our safety standards apply to new motor vehicle equipment that may be used during the repair/refurbishment process. However, in some cases, the modifications could be so substantial that the resulting vehicle would be considered a new motor vehicle rather than a modified vehicle.
The replacement of a vehicles engine, transmission and drive axle would not create a new motor vehicle. Therefore, there would be no legal basis for the bus to be assigned a new VIN. We have enclosed two interpretation letters, addressed to Robert R. Keatinge, Esq., and C. N. Littler which address some of the circumstances in which modifications to buses could be so substantial that the resulting vehicle would be considered a new vehicle.
If the modifications to a used bus were so substantial that the resulting vehicle would be considered a new vehicle, the person making the modifications would be considered the manufacturer of a new motor vehicle and would be required to certify that the vehicle complies with all applicable safety standards in effect on the date of manufacture.
In addition, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), (which are also part of the U.S. Department of Transportation) may have requirements that apply to your clients proposed changes. For further information about FHWAs requirements, please contact: Mr. Michael P. Onder, Team Leader, Truck Size and Weight, Office of Freight Management and Operations, FHWA, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E., Washington, D.C. 20590.
For further information about FMCSAs requirements, please contact: Mr. Mike Huntley, Chief, Vehicle & Roadside Operations Division, Office of Bus and Truck Standards and Operation, FMCSA, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E., Washington, D.C. bh 20590.
We also note that State laws may also apply to the modified used buses.
I hope this information is helpful. I am enclosing our publication, Information for New Manufacturers of Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicle Equipment.
If you have any further questions about NHTSAs platform lift requirements, please feel free to contact Mr. Ari Scott of my staff. All other questions may be directed to Dorothy Nakama of my staff. Both attorneys are at this address and may be reached by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Stephen P. Wood
Acting Chief Counsel