6305 Renaissance Way
Atlanta, GA 30308
Dear Mr. Barbera:
This responds to your May 13, 1996, letter asking if the requirements of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) apply to your product, the "Fixcover." The Fixcover is a plastic disc that is designed to be attached to a motor vehicle wheel rim. You state that the Fixcover resembles a hub cap and when attached to a vehicle, "will stay in place and will not rotate even if the car is moving." You indicate that this enables any advertisement placed on the Fixcover to be legible at all times.
NHTSA is authorized to issue safety standards for new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. This agency does not approve motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment. Instead, manufacturers are required to certify that their vehicles and equipment meet applicable standards. The following opinion is based on the information in your letter.
While the Fixcover is an item of motor vehicle equipment, NHTSA has not issued any safety standards for such an item. You appear to believe that the Fixcover may have to meet Safety Standard No. 211 Wheel Nuts, Wheel Discs, and Hub Caps. The standard would not apply, as the Fixcover incorporates no "winged projections." In any event, on May 6, 1996, NHTSA rescinded Standard No. 211, effective June 5, 1996.
While no Federal safety standard applies to the Fixcover, you are subject to the provisions of sections 30118-10122 of our statute (at Title 49 of the United States Code) concerning the recall of products with safety-related defects. I have enclosed an information sheet that briefly describes those and other manufacturer responsibilities. In the event 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.
Other legal requirements may apply depending on how the Fixcover is sold. If the Fixcover were installed by a vehicle manufacturer as original equipment, the vehicle manufacturer would certify that the vehicle, with the Fixcover, meets all safety standards. In addition, if the Fixcover is installed by a motor vehicle manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or repair business on a new or used vehicle, '30122(b) of our statute prohibits those commercial businesses from "knowingly
making 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 subjects the violator to a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation.
The "make inoperative" prohibition does not apply to modifications that vehicle owners make to their own vehicles. Thus, Federal law would not apply in situations where individual vehicle owners install the Fixcover on their own vehicles, even if the installation were to somehow result in the vehicle no longer meeting a safety standard. However, NHTSA urges owners not to degrade the safety of their vehicles.
Individual States have the authority to regulate modifications that individual vehicle owners may make to their vehicles, so you might wish to consult State regulations to see whether your device would be permitted.
In the enclosed information sheet, I direct your attention to the discussion on pages 2-3, of NHTSA's requirement that foreign manufacturers designate a permanent resident of the U.S. as the manufacturer's agent for service of all process, notices, orders and decisions. While your letter states that you are a Swiss based company, you informed Dorothy Nakama of my staff that you intend to manufacture the Fixcover in this country. If your company manufactures all Fixcover components in the U.S., it need not designate an agent. However, if your company imports any Fixcover component into the U.S., including the plastic cover and metal components that hold the cover to the vehicle, the foreign manufacturer must designate an agent in accordance with 49 CFR Part 551, Procedural Rules, Subpart D.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Dorothy Nakama at (202) 366-2992.
Samuel J. Dubbin Chief Counsel
Enclosure ref:211#VSA d:6/5/96