Mr. Roy E. Pack
13828 W. Pinetree Dr.
Sun City West, AZ 85375
Dear Mr. Pack:
This responds to your letter asking about manufacturing a Weight Distribution Tag Axle for use with slide-in campers on pickup trucks (slide-in pickup campers). In your follow-up letter from January 2017, you state that you will refer to your product as a Weight Distribution Truck Camper Trailer (WDTCT). Throughout this letter, we will refer to your product as a WDTCT, or alternatively, a trailer.
You describe the WDTCT as an attachment that serves as an extension of the truck frame. You explain that the WDTCT is designed to be used with slide-in pickup campers, with tires of its own, and is attached to the rear of the pickup truck. You state that the WDTCT removes some of the load from the rear axle of the pickup truck and redistributes it to the front axle and the WDTCT.
In a telephone conversation on October 4, 2016 with Ms. Callie Roach of my staff, you clarified that you would like to know: (1) whether manufacturing your product for use with a pickup truck is permitted; and (2) what rules and regulations would apply to the manufacture of it. You also state that you intend that a manufacturing company other than yourself would produce the WDTCT.
As explained below, our regulations do not prohibit the manufacture of your product for use with slide-in pickup campers. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has requirements that would apply, which will be generally discussed below. The following is our interpretation based on our understanding of the facts you provided.
By way of background, the NHTSA is authorized by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (Safety Act), 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301, to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs) that set performance requirements for new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA does not approve motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment and does not determine whether a product conforms to the FMVSSs outside of a NHTSA compliance proceeding. Instead, the Safety Act requires manufacturers to self-certify that their products conform to all applicable FMVSSs that are in effect on the date of manufacture. Manufacturers must also ensure that their vehicles and equipment are free of safety-related defects.
Applicable Standards and Requirements
After considering the information and photographs you provided, we conclude that your product is a type of motor vehicle called a trailer. The term trailer is defined at 49 CFR 571.3 as a motor vehicle with or without motive power, designed for carrying persons or property and for being drawn by another motor vehicle. Trailers are required to meet certain FMVSSs, such as those for lighting, tires, braking systems, brake hoses and brake fluids. Manufacturers, including trailer manufacturers, are also subject to informational requirements.
We are not in the position to determine what specific FMVSSs would apply to your product and whether your product would comply with those standards. Under the Safety Act, the responsibility to assure compliance rests with the manufacturer of the product. However, we are able to discuss generally the portions of the Safety Act and the FMVSSs that appear particularly relevant to your product.
As a motor vehicle, your product must comply with all applicable FMVSSs, which may include, but are not limited to: FMVSS No. 108, Lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment, which addresses lighting and conspicuity; FMVSS No. 110, Tire selection and rims and motor home/recreation vehicle trailer load carrying capacity information for motor vehicles with a GVWR of 4,536 kilograms (10,0000 pounds) or less; FMVSS No. 119, New pneumatic tires for vehicles other than passenger cars; and FMVSS No. 139, New pneumatic radial tires for light vehicles. Also, while your vehicle is not required to be equipped with brakes, if it is equipped with hydraulic brakes, then you would need to use brake hoses and brake fluids that comply with FMVSS No. 106, Brake hoses, and FMVSS No. 116, Motor Vehicle Brake Fluids, respectively. If the WDTCT is equipped with air brakes, the vehicle is required to comply with FMVSS No. 106 and with FMVSS No. 121, Air brake systems.
Assigning Gross Vehicle Weight Rating
In your letter, you mention the pickup trucks gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and indicate that you understand that the WDTCT would not in any manner change the GVWR or GAWRs of the pickup truck. Furthermore, you indicate that you understand that the WDTCT is required to have its own GVWR. Under 49 CFR 567.4 (g) (4), Certification, trailers are required to have the GVWR and gross axle weight rating (GAWR) of each axle printed on its certification label.
In your follow-up letter from November 2016, you state that the WDTCT would have GVWRs between 2,000 and 3,500 pounds. When assigning the weight ratings, the manufacturer must ensure that the trailers GVWR and GAWR represent the vehicle's cargo-carrying capacity and the maximum load at which the trailer may be safely operated. NHTSA considers vehicle overloading a serious safety problem for slide-in campers and issued 49 C.F.R. 575.103 which contains labeling requirements for slide-in campers and trucks capable of accommodating slide-in campers. While this provision does not apply to your trailer, it contains requirements with regard to providing warning labels for use of slide-in campers, which could prove useful to your customers. While you are not required to do so, you may want to consider informing users that they should weigh each combination of slide-in camper, pickup truck, and WDTCT in order to determine if there is any overloading.
In your letter, you mention weighing a particular slide-in camper, pickup truck, and WDTCT combination with the WDTCTs wheels off the scale to determine whether the pickup truck would be overloaded. However, that weighing configuration would only tell users whether the vehicles GVWR is exceeded. To ensure that there is no overloading, users must ensure that none of the axles are overloaded by weighing each axle separately. In 49 CFR 575.103(e)(2)(i)(E), NHTSA requires that manufacturers of pickup trucks capable of accommodating a slide-in camper provide a statement which specifies that each axle should be weighed separately. After each axle has been weighed, the combined weight should be added together to ensure that it does not exceed the vehicles GVWR. Furthermore, when your product is used with a slide-in camper, the WDTCT should also be weighed separately to ensure that its GVWR and GAWR are not exceeded when used with a particular slide-in camper.
Defects and Recall Responsibilities
Manufacturers of motor vehicles are subject to the requirements of the Safety Act concerning the recall and remedy of products with safety-related defects under 49 U.S.C. 30118-30121. If a manufacturer or NHTSA determines that a motor vehicle contains a safety-related defect, the manufacturer would be responsible for notifying purchasers of the defective equipment and remedying the problem free of charge.
NHTSA expects vehicle manufacturers to take reasonable steps to minimize the likelihood of vehicle misuse through overloading. If your product creates an unreasonable risk that the user will overload the GVWR or GAWR of either the pickup truck or the WDTCT, NHTSA will likely consider the product to have a safety-related defect. A manufacturer's responsibility for any subsequent overloading of the vehicles it manufactures would be determined by the reasonableness of its GVWR and GAWR, given the size and configuration of its vehicles and the types of loads which they could reasonably be expected to carry.
You should also be aware that State and local jurisdictions have the authority to set requirements that apply to the use of vehicles and may have regulations that apply to the manufacture and/or use of your WDTCT. Further, for information on private tort liability, we suggest you contact your private attorney or insurance carrier.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have further questions, please contact Ms. Roach at (202) 366-2992.
Jonathan C. Morrison
Ref: VSA 571.3 (definitions for trailer, GVWR, and GAWR)
 Some of these are as follows. Manufacturers of motor vehicles are required to submit identification information to NHTSA in accordance with 49 CFR Part 566, Manufacturer Identification. A manufacturer must also permanently affix to each motor vehicle it manufactures for sale in the United States a label that, among other things, identifies the manufacturer and the vehicles date of manufacture, and states that the vehicle complies with all applicable FMVSS in effect on that date. As a trailer, the WDTCT must have a vehicle identification number (VIN). The content requirements for the VIN are found at 49 CFR Part 565, Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) Requirements.
 For more information, you may consult NHTSAs New Manufacturers Handbook which includes a general discussion of NHTSA regulations that apply to manufacturers. Please note that the handbook was last updated in 2016 and may not contain the most updated provisions. You can find the handbook at https://vpic.nhtsa.dot.gov/Manufacturer_Handbook_20161019.pdf.