7810 N.W. 40 Street
Coral Springs, FL 33065
Dear Mr. Hindson:
This responds to your letter asking about how this agency's regulations might apply to your product. I apologize for the delay in responding. In your letter, you described your product as a car cover that stows beneath the rear bumper of an automobile. When used, the cover is propelled from its casing by an electric motor as the driver guides the cover over the car with a handle, which then attaches to the front bumper. In a February 14, 1995 telephone conversation with Paul Atelsek of my staff, you described the product in more detail and said that vehicle owners will not be installing your product. Instead, you plan to market this either as a dealer-installed option on new cars or by having a business approved by you retrofitting used cars.
The short answer to your question is that there are no regulations that apply specifically to your car cover. However, there are some safety concerns and Federal requirements that you should know about.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not issued any standards for car covers. However, the cover is an item of motor vehicle equipment. As a manufacturer of motor vehicle equipment, you are subject to the requirements in sections 30118-30122 of Title 49 of the U.S. Code concerning the recall and remedy of products with defects related to motor vehicle safety. If you or NHTSA determines that your product contains a safety related defect, you would be responsible for notifying purchasers of the defective equipment and remedying the problem free of charge.
Since your product would be installed by a motor vehicle manufacturer, distributor, dealer or repair business, you should know that section 30122(b) of title 49 prohibits those commercial businesses from "knowingly mak[ing] 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 . . ." Any violation of this "make inoperative" prohibition would subject the violator (i.e., the installer) to a potential civil penalty of up to
$1,000 for each violation. Because your product is not "readily attachable," if the car cover is installed on a new vehicle prior to sale, the installer would be considered an "alterer" under section 567.7 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Therefore, the installer would have to certify that the vehicle, as altered, continues to comply with all the standards affected by the modification.
There do not appear to be any definite problems with your system, as it was described to us. However, allow me to reiterate our concern in a few areas that Mr. Atelsek described to you over the phone. These are safety related areas that you want to be careful of.
Our regulations are in title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Part 581 describes the bumper standard, which basically requires that there be no damage in collision at 2.5 mph. The housing of the car cover unit bolts both to the bumper and to the trunk pan, thus bridging the area between the bumper and the vehicle chassis. Although you said the polyurethane housing "gives" and did not degrade performance even in a 5 mph collision you conducted, this is a standard you should consider for all vehicles on which your device is installed.
Standard 301 is the fuel system integrity standard. It restricts fuel system spillage in collisions from many angles. Although you told Mr. Atelsek there were no pieces that could pierce the gas tank in a rear end collision, the illustrations you sent him seem to show some kind of rod-like support structure running longitudinally on either side of the cover housing. These structures run the entire length of the housing and even extend slightly beyond it. You told him that the housing was approximately 40 to 44 inches in the longitudinal direction. In a rear end collision (the test we use is described in S6.2 of Standard 301) these structures must not be driven into the gas tank to cause an unsafe fuel leakage problem.
A related area of concern is the electrical conduit that runs from the battery lead to the electrical motor on the rear bumper which deploys the car cover. We suggest that you consider constructing and routing the conduit so that it will not be damaged in an accident, possibly causing a short and increasing the likelihood of ignition if there is fuel spillage.
Finally, you should be cautious when mounting your unit near hot exhaust system components. You stated that you may mount the housing within 3/4 of an inch underneath the muffler, in which case you would use heat resistant aluminum sheet materials. You appeared to be very conscious of this potential danger, and we agree the flammability of components attached to a vehicle is an important safety concern.
I hope this information is helpful. I am also enclosing a copy of a general fact sheet titled "Information for New Manufacturers of Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicle Equipment." If you have any further questions about NHTSA's safety standards, please feel free to contact Mr. Atelsek at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Philip R. Recht Acting Chief Counsel