Acting General Counsel
United States Consumer Product Safety Commission
Washington, DC 20207
Dear Ms. Birenbaum:
This responds to several letters asking whether various products are items of motor vehicle equipment: (1) "SNAP fix-a-flat", an aerosol container of liquid latex and a highly flammable propellant of pressurized gas which can be used to temporarily seal and inflate flat tires; (2) an electric windshield de-icer and windshield scraper which can be inserted into the cigarette lighter receptacle in a motor vehicle; and (3) a bicycle rack. In response to your request regarding the de-icer and rack, we will not disclose information regarding those items to the public.
As explained in detail below, each of these three items would be considered an item of motor vehicle equipment under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (the Safety Act). In reaching these conclusions, we were cognizant of that fact that, as you noted, section 3(a)(1)(c) of the Consumer Product Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. 2052(a)(1)(c), excludes items of "motor vehicle equipment" from the definition of "consumer product."
Before I respond further to the substantive points in your letters, I would like to express my regret for the delay in this response. While preparing our response to your letters, we conducted an extensive review of our past interpretations regarding whether a product is an item of "motor vehicle equipment" within the meaning of the Safety Act. After that review, and in response to the issues raised in your letters, we have decided to clarify and revise our interpretation of what constitutes "motor vehicle equipment."
As you are aware, section 102(4) of the Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. 1391(4), defines, in relevant part, the term "motor vehicle equipment" as:
any system, part, or component of a motor vehicle as originally manufactured or any similar part or component manufactured or sold for replacement or improvement of such system, part, or component or as any accessory, or addition to the motor vehicle . . . (emphasis added).
In determining whether an item of equipment is considered an "accessory . . . to the motor vehicle," NHTSA has in the past generally applied not only the relevant statutory language, but also the following two criteria: first, whether the item has no ostensible purpose other than use with a motor vehicle (e.g., a battery charger that could be used for marine batteries as well as motor vehicle batteries would not qualify) and second, whether it is intended to be used principally by ordinary users of motor vehicles (e.g., items normally used by professional vehicle repair and maintenance personnel would not qualify). In most cases, the agency concluded that a product was an item of "motor vehicle equipment" only if it met both criteria. However, in several instances, the agency found products to be items of motor vehicle equipment without an explicit finding that they satisfied the first criterion (e.g., a June 11, 1986 letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, concerning a tow strap, and an August 18, 1987 letter to Ziemke, concerning window shades).
Your recent requests have led us to review our approach to this issue. We have concluded that the first criterion stated above for determining whether a product should be regarded as an "accessory . . . to the motor vehicle" has been too restrictive. Neither the Safety Act nor its legislative history limits that category to items used exclusively in conjunction with motor vehicles. Moreover, we believe that a broader view of what comes within that term, and therefore what may be properly characterized as an item of motor vehicle equipment, is more consistent with the statutory language and with the Safety Act's purposes of enhancing motor vehicle safety.
Therefore, we have decided that a product will be deemed to satisfy the first criterion whenever a substantial portion of its expected uses are related to the operation or maintenance of motor vehicles. We will determine the expected uses by considering product advertising, product labeling, and the type of store that retails the product, as well as available information about the actual use of the product. We anticipate that products found to satisfy the first criterion will ordinarily, although not necessarily, be ones that are carried in a vehicle. If the product also satisfies the second criterion (which is directed to the nature of the likely users of the product), the product will be considered an "accessory" and thus be subject to the provisions of the Safety Act.
Applying these criteria to the three products about which you inquired, NHTSA has come to the following conclusions:
SNAP fix-a-flat. You explained that while this product is primarily intended for use with motor vehicles, the product's label suggests it also can be used with tires on bicycles, tractors, and off-road all-terrain-vehicles. According to your letter, all but one of the reported injuries have been sustained by a mechanic rather than the vehicle owner.
The agency considers this to be an item of motor vehicle equipment. First, although the product can be used to repair tires on bicycles and other vehicles not subject to the Safety Act, it is evident that a substantial use of the product is for the purpose of repairing motor vehicle tires. Second, based on the product's purpose as suggested by the statements on the can (e.g., "Quick and easy to use. No jacks. No tools. No tire changing." and "Keep out of reach of children"), it appears that this product was intended to be used principally by ordinary vehicle owners. The fact that mechanics have typically been the ones being injured by this product may reflect, not the fact that the primary users are mechanics, but the fact that mechanics are more likely than other users to engage in practices that lead to problems with fix-a-flat.
Bicycle rack. NHTSA considers these racks to be items of motor vehicle equipment. First, insofar as this agency is aware, bicycle racks are used exclusively in conjunction with motor vehicles. Even if bicycle racks were occasionally used on vehicles other than motor vehicles, use with motor vehicles is the primary use of these racks. Second, based on the product's function, which is to transport bicycles on motor vehicles, and their typically simple method of installation, it appears that this product was intended to be used principally by ordinary vehicle owners.
De-icer. This agency considers the de-icer to be an item of motor vehicle equipment. First, several facts indicate that it is primarily intended for use in conjunction with motor vehicles. Its plug fits a type of outlet which we believe is most commonly found in motor vehicles. While that type of outlet may be found in some boats, boats are comparatively unlikely to be used in conditions in which ice may form. Thus, we conclude that use with motor vehicles is the primary use of this product. Second, based on the product's purpose, method of installation and operation, and likely circumstancs of its use, it appears that this product was intended to be used principally by ordinary vehicle owners.
Stephen P. Wood Acting Chief Counsel