Chief Engineer, TracRac
994 Jefferson Street
Fall River, MA 02721-4893
Dear Mr. Derecktor:
This is in reply to your letter of June 10, 1997, with respect to the relationship of the TracRac Overhead Rack system to the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108 for center high-mounted stop lamps (CHMSL).
Specifically, you have cited the concerns of the legal staff of General Motors (GM) that the rack may interfere with the visibility requirements for the CHMSL. The applicable requirements are those of SAE Recommended Practice J186a, September 1977, rather than of SAE J186 DEC89 as you quoted, but they are essentially the same. Paragraph 4.1 of J186a states that "Visibility of the signal shall not be obstructed by any part of the vehicle from 10U to 5D and from 10L to 10R unless the lamp is designed to comply with all requirements when the obstruction is considered."
The upper rails of TracRac may be retracted when the system is not in use. You point out that the CHMSL will comply when TracRac is in its retracted position, but does not comply in a minor respect when the rails are not retracted. You propose adding a label to the driver's side base rail, advising the customer where to position the upper rack when it is not in use. Alternatively, you propose adding a second CHMSL mounted below the forward rack crossbar. You state that this configuration will meet Standard No. 108 with the rack in any position.
Our opinion follows. From the literature you enclosed, we see that TracRac is an accessory promoted by GM in its product literature. We assume that this will be added by a GM dealer, either before or after sale of the vehicle to its first purchaser for purposes other than resale. Title 49 U.S.C. Sec. 30112(a) prohibits the sale of a nonconforming vehicle to its first purchaser for purposes other than resale. Once a vehicle is sold, 49 U.S.C. 30122 forbids a dealer (as well as a manufacturer, distributor, or motor vehicle repair business) from making inoperative any device or element of design installed in accordance with the Federal motor vehicle safety standards. This would apply to the aftermarket installation of racks that create a noncompliance with CHMSL visibility specifications.
Your alternative solution is to provide an additional lamp below the forward rack crossbar which "complements the original CHMSL, by blanketing the narrow blind spot caused by the rear rack", and that "this configuration likewise passes FMVSS 108." This language can be interpreted as meaning that neither lamp complies on its own but requirements are met by the array of two CHMSLs. This would not be acceptable. Paragraph S126.96.36.199(b) of Standard No. 108 states that if motor vehicle equipment prevents compliance with any visibility or photometric requirements of a required lamp, an auxiliary lamp shall be provided that meets all applicable visibility and photometric requirements. This means that your additional lamp must itself comply with Standard No. 108 when TracRac is installed on the vehicle.
In a recent telephone call to Taylor Vinson of this Office, you asked whether the CHMSL could be vertical rather than horizontal. Standard No. 108 does not specify the shape of a CHMSL. Most are rectangular but some have been circular (Cadillac Allante), or "string bean" in shape (Cadillac Seville). Thus, any shape may be chosen as long as photometric and visibility requirements are met.
With respect to your "Primary Solution", to add a warning label, we do not view the addition of a warning label as satisfying Standard No. 108. A noncompliance will exist when the rack is not retracted.
If you have any questions, you may call Taylor Vinson of this Office (202-366-5263).
Acting Chief Counsel