Albert W. Unrath, Inc.
P.O. Box 631
Colmar, PA 18915
Dear Mr. Unrath:
This responds to your request for an interpretation of how NHTSA's regulations apply to your company's plans to refurbish used vehicles. In a telephone conversation with Dorothy Nakama of my staff, you explained that after refurbishing, the vehicles will have lower gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWRs). You wish to know whether you could add a label showing the lower GVWR to the vehicles' original certification label (which you refer to as the "original Vin Plate").
As explained below, NHTSA does not require the supplementary label on a refurbished--and not newly manufactured--used vehicle. We would, however, encourage you to add the label on the refurbished vehicles, since the label would provide important safety information to the vehicle operator. On the other hand, the modifications you make to the vehicle could be so extensive that the resulting vehicle is considered "new" under our regulations. If the vehicle is a new vehicle, you must certify the vehicle as complying with all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS's), and include on your certification label the new GVWR of the vehicle.
Based on the information you provided, the vehicles you are refurbishing are "trucks" under section 571.3 of our regulations. Section 571.3 defines a "truck" as a motor vehicle with motive power "designed primarily for the transportation of property or special purpose equipment." You provided two photographs of the vehicles after they have been refurbished. Your photographs show the refurbished vehicles as carrying 4' x 8' "Advanced Warning Flashing Arrow" signs on flat beds. Since your vehicles are designed for transporting property or special purpose equipment, the vehicles are "trucks" under 571.3.
You describe your refurbishing process in your letter. You state that you will take a used truck with a GVWR of 45,000 or 80,000 pounds (lbs.), "scrap" the body, and check remaining truck parts such as the subframe, brakes, steering system, axles, and
suspension. You will repair and replace those parts, as needed. Next, you will clean and paint the frame and running gear, and add a new support frame and "attenuator mounting hardware with braces." After the vehicle is refurbished, its GVWR will be approximately 25,500 lbs.
As a general rule, NHTSA has no requirements for "used" vehicles. Whether a vehicle is considered new or used depends on the origin of its parts. For example, we regard an assemblage of a new body on a chassis of a vehicle that was previously registered for use on the public roads to be a "used" vehicle and therefore not subject to the FMVSS's. When a modified chassis is being used in the refurbishment, NHTSA has a regulation (49 CFR section 571.7(e)) for determining when the modifications to the used chassis are so extensive that the resulting vehicle will be considered new for the purposes of the FMVSS's. Section 571.7(e) states:
When a new cab is used in the assembly of a truck, the truck will be considered newly manufactured . . ., unless the engine, transmission, and drive axle(s) (as a minimum) of the assembled vehicle are not new, and at least two of these components were taken from the same vehicle. It does not appear that you plan to add a new engine, transmission, or drive axle to each refurbished truck. If you leave the requisite components specified in section 571.7(e) in place from the previous vehicle, we would consider the vehicle you produce to be a used vehicle. However, please keep in mind that you would be subject to the provisions of 49 U.S.C. section 30122(b), which 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 ... in compliance with an applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standard . . .
This means that the refurbished truck must continue to meet the FMVSS's that it met before the modification, such as those for braking, lighting and safety belt systems. Any violation of this "make inoperative" prohibition would subject the violator to a potential civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation.
You ask whether, after refurbishing the used truck, your company may affix additional labels with a new GVWR to reflect the lower GVWR. Since NHTSA generally does not regulate used vehicles, we do not require or prohibit the addition of a supplementary GVWR label. However, we would encourage you to add the supplementary GVWR label to the vehicle.
As you note, in an interpretation letter of May 24, 1993 to the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB), NHTSA recognized that certain modifications that might be made to a used vehicle (e.g., adding or deleting an axle) could make the originally assigned GVWR inappropriate for the vehicle as modified. In the letter to the AABA, NHTSA stated that although it is not required by our regulations, we believe it would be appropriate in these situations to add a label to the vehicle which indicates the appropriate loaded weight of the modified vehicle. Similarly, in your case, since the GVWR of the refurbished trucks would be much lower than that indicated on the certification label, we believe it would be appropriate for your company to add a label to the trucks which indicates the appropriate loaded weight of the refurbished truck.
As noted at the beginning of this letter, it is possible that your modifications could result in a "new" vehicle. You indicate that, if needed, you could replace the vehicle's subframe, brakes, steering system, axles, suspension, and/or support frame. If you were to remove all the drive components from the frame of the original vehicle and add new drive components or rebuilt drive components from different vehicles, the vehicle would be a new vehicle and would have to be certified by you as complying with all applicable FMVSS's in effect on the date of the remanufacture of the new vehicle.
You also asked that NHTSA "approve" your proposed operations. NHTSA has no authority to "approve" refurbishing operations. Under our regulations, manufacturers of new vehicles "self-certify" that their vehicles comply with all applicable FMVSS's. Likewise, businesses refurbishing used vehicles must assure themselves that the resulting vehicle continues to meet the FMVSS's that it met before the modification. NHTSA can examine the refurbisher's determination in the context of an enforcement proceeding.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any other questions, please contact Dorothy Nakama at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Philip R. Recht Chief Counsel ref:567 d:10/11/94