Racing is a dangerous activity that should take place at a track. Many states have increased the penalties for involvement in street racing, such as Florida with the Luis Ortega Street Racing Act, in an effort to cut down on street racing related deaths and injuries. The Racers Against Street Racing (RASR) is a coalition of auto manufacturers, aftermarket parts companies, professional drag racers, sanctioning bodies, race tracks and automotive magazines devoted to promoting safe and legal alternatives to illegal street racing on a national level. The goal of RASR is to provide a professional controlled environment in which today's sport compact enthusiasts can safely participate in automotive-related events throughout the United States.
"Gas Guzzler" Laws
Gas Guzzler laws primarily come out of state legislatures in misguided attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A bill in New York, for example, seeks to establish a progressive purchase or lease surcharge for some new motor vehicles based on calculations of carbon emissions. Depending on the vehicle purchased, this surcharge could require owners to pay up to $2,500 more for a vehicle. Another bill in New York proposes to create a task force that would recommend higher toll and registration fees for vehicles based on the vehicle's weight, emissions and fuel-efficiency ratings. In California, a similar measure was recently defeated that would have added a surcharge to some vehicles based on state calculations of carbon emissions. If such an effort was successful, the effects on a consumer's ability to purchase their vehicle of choice, not to mention vehicle safety, would be dramatic. These measures would also make popular performance and luxury cars, as well as SUVs, light trucks and minivans, substantially more expensive to own without necessarily curtailing greenhouse gas emissions, since greenhouse gas emissions have more to do with overall basic vehicle maintenance than with owning and operating any particular class of vehicle.
CAFE and CO2 Standards
Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards strive to achieve reduced greenhouse gas emissions through a reduction in the amount of fuel new vehicles burn. Manufacturers are given a fuel economy rating, measured in miles per gallon, that their fleet as a whole must average in a given model year. Congress passed a law in 1973 directing the EPA to set CAFE standards, making these standards a tool exclusively wielded by the federal government. The federal government finalized new fuel-economy standards as well as a national carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions tailpipe standard in April this past year. The two issues are related since CO2 is released in direct proportion to the amount of carbon-based fuel that is burned. Under the new rules, NHTSA has set CAFE standards for model year (MY) 2012-2016 vehicles and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established corresponding CO2 emissions standards. The combined action would match CO2 emission standards previously adopted by California and 13 other states.
The average CAFE rating will be 35.5 mpg in 2016 based on a combined 39 mpg rating for passenger cars and 30 mpg for light trucks. The EPA's CO2 emissions standard is 250 grams per mile for vehicles sold in 2016, roughly the equivalent of 35.5 mpg. The automakers support, and participated in formulating, the rules since they provide a reasonable national approach to regulating CO2 emissions rather than a patchwork of state rules.
NHTSA will use an attribute-based system which sets CAFE standards for individual fleets of vehicles based on size, taking into account the differences between cars and light trucks (SUVs, pickups and vans). Individual car companies will have flexibility on how to achieve the rules, whether placing more emphasis on hybrids or reducing vehicle size and weight. Nevertheless, a standard based on each vehicle's footprint should force automakers to increase the efficiency of every vehicle rather than downsizing some vehicles in order to offset the sale of bigger cars. Automakers will likely rely on more fuel-efficient tires, turbochargers, low-friction lubricants, six-speed automatic transmissions and similar technological means to achieve the standards.
While the new CAFE and CO2 standards for 2016 are reasonable, the Obama Administration announced plans to put in place stronger rules for 2017 and beyond. In May, President Obama directed the EPA to also reduce emissions of conventional pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides. The president also instructed regulators to establish fuel economy and CO2 standards for medium-and heavy-duty trucks for the first time beginning in MY 2014. Since the government is to regulate CO2 emissions from automobiles, it should do so through the CAFE standards and not allow any individual state to set overly harsh standards.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is also pursuing CO2 standards for MY 2017-25 cars and trucks. CARB intends to coordinate its action with the EPA and NHTSA, along with the automakers and other stakeholders, with the goal of setting a single national standard. Federal regulators intend to issue a "game plan" for MY 2017-25 light-duty vehicles by September 2010 and adopt a final rule by mid-2012, while CARB officials want to complete action on the CO2 standards by the end of 2010.
Drastically increased CAFE potentially limits consumer choice if manufacturers are forced to make smaller, less powerful and less useful cars and light duty vehicles in order to meet government fuel economy demands. Market-based solutions must be employed which allow the consumer to participate in and respond to national energy policies.
Tire Fuel Efficiency
A lot rides on your tires. That will soon include greenhouse gases, namely carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Both California and the federal government are pursuing regulations to rate replacement tires for "fuel efficiency" in an effort to influence consumer choice. In theory, if a tire is more fuel-efficient, less gas is burned and therefore less CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere. Some state lawmakers want to go one step further and mandate emissions limits...within their state boundaries.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is drafting a "consumer information system" to rate the fuel economy, safety and durability characteristics of most replacement tires. NHTSA has established test procedures to be used by tire manufacturers in determining tire ratings but is still considering options on how to convey the information to consumers at the point of sale and on the Internet. Companies that only produce 15,000 units or less in a tire line (or 35,000 tires in total brand name production) - mostly tires for classic and antique vehicles or off-highway vehicles - are exempted since fuel efficiency for these types is not a primary consumer concern. Tire manufacturers are considering new rubber compounds, tire designs and other methods to boost efficiency without negatively impacting traction and strength.
The premise for the new program is to allow consumers to compare ratings for different replacement tires and determine the effect of tire choices on fuel economy or the potential tradeoffs between tire fuel efficiency (rolling resistance), safety (wet traction), and durability (treadwear life). The information may be conveyed in the form of a 1-5 star rating system for each category, a 0-100 rating system, or some similar approach. The tire ratings would be included on a label affixed to each tire.
California is pursuing a variation on the federal program whereby state regulators could assign a "fuel efficient tire" ranking to the top 15 percent of tires with the lowest rolling resistance within their size and load class. All other tested tires would be ranked as "tires that are not fuel efficient." If enacted, the testing program could take effect in mid-2011. The California program also contains the exemption for tires produced in units less than 15,000.
California was the first to pursue the issue, passing a law in 2003 to require a consumer information program. Congress followed suit with a federal program in 2007 and pre-empted any other states from establishing consumer information initiatives that differed from the national or California programs.
But some state lawmakers still insist on going one step further. For example, a bill has been introduced in New York to mandate that replacement tires be as energy efficient as tires sold as original equipment. To date, the bill has been rejected since it would essentially set a 50-state standard; potentially impose substantial redesign costs on tire manufacturers, and conflict with the federal/California programs.
When it comes to consumer information, the big question is whether the focus of attention is misplaced. Will consumers be dissuaded from buying tires that may have improved performance, handling or appearance features, based solely on a rolling resistance rating? In addition, the program may easily distract consumers from focusing on more important safety issues such as tire inflation and overloading of vehicles.
On that topic, the most inefficient tires are the ones that are under-inflated. A motorist can easily lose 3 or 4 percent in gas mileage when tires are under-inflated. Moreover, a tire that is not properly inflated compromises handling and braking.
Severe limits on window film light transmission and reflectance percentages continue to surface in a number of states. It is important to constantly remind state legislators to advance the industry standard of not less than 35% light transmittance on all windows other than the windshield, and oppose measures that would unreasonably limit the use of window tint materials.
However, not every bill aims to limit the use of window tint. A bill directing the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a reduction in motor vehicle cabin temperature is currently moving through the California legislature. The cabin temperature of a vehicle can be lowered through the use of window tinting materials. Such a directive by the legislature would signal to regulators that tinting should be considered as a solution to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions created when drivers must idle their cars in California while waiting for them to cool down. Other states have introduced measures to provide exceptions to the limits on vehicle window tinting for drivers with sensitivity to light.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the federal agency that regulates original and aftermarket motor vehicle lighting products, including newer technologies coming into the marketplace. Attention has been focused on non-compliant High Intensity Discharge (HID) conversion kits that may produce glare and restyled combination lamps that are missing required functions existing on the original equipment lamps. Certain clear taillamp covers, marker lamps, certain "blue" headlamp bulbs and other equipment has also been subject to scrutiny.
Optional lighting equipment (non-federally required) is not prohibited by federal law, but is sometimes regulated by the states. Many states establish optional lighting restrictions through the authority of the state police or the state transportation agency.
State-level enforcement of federally required lighting equipment can not deviate from what is prescribed by the federal government. This is called federal preemption. However, states are free to enact and enforce safety and equipment regulations which are identical to the federal safety standards. States also have jurisdiction to enact and enforce vehicle equipment and safety regulations covering equipment not regulated at the federal level, such as "optional" or "accessory" lighting equipment. Some states prohibit a vehicle from being equipped with a lamp or lighting device unless such lamp or lighting device is expressly required or permitted by law or regulation. Other states may regulate optional lighting equipment for maximum candlepower, location and placement, aim of light beam and the times, places and conditions under which the lamps or lights may be used. They may prohibit the use of flashing, oscillating, modulating or rotating lights of any color while the vehicle is being operated on a public highway.
Still other states only allow optional lighting equipment that was developed and installed by the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). This OEM lighting equipment meets no standards except those established by the manufacturers themselves. These lamps are often of the same or greater intensity than those developed and installed by the aftermarket and frequently aimed and positioned similarly. In this way, these states unfairly discriminate against the installation and use of aftermarket lamps.
My Engine Is Not Vegetarian - It Wants Gas.
There is a battle raging in Washington that may force you to put ethanol in your car, whether you want to or not. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently allows gasoline to include up to 10 percent ethanol (E-10), a fuel additive made from corn or other biomass sources. The ethanol industry wants the EPA to increase the amount to 15 percent.
Who would object? Millions of owners of high-performance engines and older cars who fear corrosion and other nasty side-effects. Ethanol attracts water. In turn, the resulting condensation can corrode the fuel lines, fixtures and tank components (steel, rubber, aluminum, etc). We're talking rust, clogging and deterioration. For modern cars, the oxygen atom in the ethanol molecule may confuse the exhaust sensor when measuring the fuel/air mixture going into the cylinders. The mixture may be too lean, producing a hot exhaust capable of damaging the catalytic converter. The end result may also be more nitrogen oxides, a building block for smog.
Many newer engines and parts have been designed to be more compatible with alcohol fuels, and E-15 will not be an issue. But E-10 has been a problem for some current and older models, and E-15 may be worse. Many in the auto industry have cautioned the EPA to do more science before it rules on the request.
Why does it matter? The fact is gasoline without ethanol may eventually become scarce or non-existent when you pull up to the pump. We also face an education curve. For many people who already ignore the "contains 10% ethanol" sign will not understand that 15% may cost them a pretty penny in repair bills.