Opinion: Big Fines and EPA Crackdowns Spell Big Trouble for Speed Shops

Jo Borras
by Jo Borras
opinion big fines and epa crackdowns spell big trouble for speed shops
Whether it’s adapting to a rapidly changing performance landscape or overcoming the encryption that’s being built in to cars’ electronic brains, it’s tough to be a tuner these days. But you know what they say, “When it rains, it pours.” And, for aftermarket performance tuners, the hits just keep on coming.Don’t take my word for it, though. Ask Brent Leivestad, the owner of a small Colorado speed shop called PFI Speed who just got hit with an $18,000 EPA fine – a fine that, if not paid within 30 days, could increase to $180,000.“I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t even believe it,” Leivestad told Drag Illustrated in an interview published earlier this week. “I am a speed shop and sell race parts – I didn’t know that was wrong. I didn’t understand the basis of the EPA’s claim, I didn’t go in front of any trial or talk to anybody from the EPA, and the threat of ‘settle and pay within 30 days or else’ felt like a real shakedown intended to deny my rights.”There’s a lot to unpack here, of course, but the overall trend that I want to draw attention to is one of enforcement. Environmental agencies at federal and state levels seem to have grown some teeth in recent months, and they’re not just going the speed shops – they’re going after their customers, too.In California, CARB (the California Air Resource Board) and BAR (the Bureau of Automotive Repair) has already put measures in place to validate the sanctity of your car’s ECU. If your car’s ECU is found to be running unapproved software, that means no smog certificate for you. The official guide to the ruling reads, “Beginning July 19, 2021, vehicles with software not provided by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or approved through a California Air Resources Board (CARB) Executive Order (EO) will fail Smog Check. Before your vehicle will pass a Smog Check, you must take your vehicle to a licensed repair facility to have the vehicle’s software restored to the OEM software version. Once the software is restored, have your vehicle reinspected by a licensed Smog Check station. Note that vehicles initially directed to a STAR or Referee station must return to that station type to complete the inspection process.”This isn’t a new thing. In fact, there have been CARB rules on the books prohibiting non- CARB certified emissions-related components (ex.: ECU software, catalytic converters, mufflers, etc.) since at least 2009. The difference now is that these CARB and EPA rules are getting more firmly enforced, and not everyone is happy about how they’re being enforced.PFI SPEED AND THE COMING FLOODTo their credit, Performance Racing Industry (PRI) seems to have jumped to Leivestad’s defense, calling the EPA fine overreach in a statement, citing Leivestad’s claims that he complied fully with EPA inquiries and that there was no trial or hearing prior to his fine. To PRI, whose core membership is made up of hundreds of PFI Speeds, it’s a big issue.“There are thousands of legitimate motorsports businesses that are at risk of EPA overreach,” said Dr. Jamie Meyer, PRI President, in a statement. “The EPA is putting these businesses – which are typically small, homegrown, less sophisticated shops – in situations where they have to take on the full might of the federal government. The EPA is doing nothing to validate its enforcement efforts, and these small businesses are left with little choice but to comply.”What Meyer is alluding to here is absolutely true, despite the slippery slope fallacy. If PFI Speed is forced to pay its fines, others will be, too. That’s made doubly important because of one other fact in this case: PFI Speed didn’t manufacture the parts it’s being fined over.You read that right. PFI Speed isn’t being fined because they knowingly removed a car’s emissions controls or represented a product as something “street legal” that wasn’t. According to them, they’re being fined for selling 37 Hondata S300 ECUs over a two-year span.WHAT THIS IS REALLY ABOUTIt’s hard to understand why the EPA and PRI (and, coming soon, SEMA) have decided to square off over this particular shop in Colorado in any context other than it being a test case.In that context, it makes sense for the EPA to go after a shop like PFI Speed, rather than Hondata. After all, the product page for the Hondata ECU in question reads, “Warning: Within the USA this product is legal only for racing vehicles which may never be used upon a public highway.”That “racing vehicles” bit is the tricky part. That’s because, according to the EPA, street cars can’t be legally converted into race cars (an issue highlighted in this 2016 Congressional Hearing titled “ Racing to Regulate: EPA’s Latest Overreach on Amateur Drivers” as presented by Representative Barry Loudermilk (R), Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives).If there is a court case (and that seems likely), PRI and SEMA will be pushing back on that key point while lobbying on the behalf of what they’re calling The Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports (RPM) Act of 2021 (H.R. 3281), which SEMA calls “common-sense, bi-partisan legislation to protect Americans’ right to convert street vehicles into dedicated racecars and the motorsports-parts industry’s ability to sell products that enable racers to compete. The bill clarifies that it is legal to make emissions-related changes to a street vehicle for the purpose of converting it into a racecar used exclusively in competition. It also confirms that it is legal to produce, market and install racing equipment.”If PFI Speed’s fine holds up, that’ll be game over for a lot of speed shops and amateur drag racers who, you know, do that sort of thing. And, as much fun as it might be to ramble off about “When does a streetcar become a race car?” these are people’s jobs we’re talking about, which is a heavy thing.That said, it’s also people’s clean air we’re talking about, so it’s hard to find an obvious bad guy in all this – especially as someone who loves tuning and racing, but has also been known to hug a tree now and again. But that’s me. You, however, are the Best and Brightest, and I want to know whether you’re cheering for the EPA or PFI Speed this time around.[Image: Twinsterphoto]
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  • Armadamaster Armadamaster on Sep 20, 2021


  • JonBoy470 JonBoy470 on Sep 24, 2021

    It is of course illegal to operate non-compliant vehicles on public roads, but the law, as written, also prohibits even the installation of non-compliant parts into road-going vehicles. These speed shops are operating without even the merest whiff of plausible deniability that parts vendors successfully hide behind. If the customer’s vehicle is registered, or arrives under its own power, it’s impossible for them to not reasonably know they’re installing parts that are illegal for on-road use, into vehicles they know to be road-going, which means they’re violating the law. To be fair, the guys who order and install go-fast parts from the Jegs catalog are breaking the same laws, but it’s a lot easier to fly under the radar, doing it once in your driveway, to your own car, using parts sourced from a vendor who scrupulously remains unwitting to their ultimate use.

  • Jeff S Corey--We know but we still want to give our support to you and let TTAC know that your articles are excellent and better than what the typical articles are.
  • Jeff S A sport utility vehicle or SUV is a car classification that combines elements of road-going passenger cars with features from off-road vehicles, such as raised ground clearance and four-wheel drive.There is no commonly agreed-upon definition of an SUV and usage of the term varies between countries. Thus, it is "a loose term that traditionally covers a broad range of vehicles with four-wheel drive." Some definitions claim that an SUV must be built on a light truck chassis; however, broader definitions consider any vehicle with off-road design features to be an SUV. A [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossover_(automobile)]crossover SUV[/url] is often defined as an SUV built with a unibody construction (as with passenger cars), however, the designations are increasingly blurred because of the capabilities of the vehicles, the labelling by marketers, and electrification of new models.The predecessors to SUVs date back to military and low-volume models from the late 1930s, and the four-wheel drive station wagons and carryalls that began to be introduced in 1949. The 1984 [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeep_Cherokee_(XJ)]Jeep Cherokee (XJ)[/url] is considered to be the first SUV in the modern style. Some SUVs produced today use unibody construction; however, in the past, more SUVs used body-on-frame construction. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the popularity of SUVs greatly increased, often at the expense of the popularity of large [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedan_(automobile)]sedans[/url] and station wagons.More recently, smaller SUVs, mid-size, and crossovers have become increasingly popular. SUVs are currently the world's largest automotive segment and accounted for 45.9% of the world's passenger car market in 2021. SUVs have been criticized for a variety of environmental and safety-related reasons. They generally have poorer fuel efficiency and require more resources to manufacture than smaller vehicles, contributing more to climate change and environmental degradation. Between 2010 and 2018 SUVs were the second largest contributor to the global increase in carbon emissions worldwide. Their higher center of gravity increases their risk of rollovers. Their larger mass increases their stopping distance, reduces visibility, and increases damage to other road users in collisions. Their higher front-end profile makes them at least twice as likely to kill pedestrians they hit. Additionally, the psychological sense of security they provide influences drivers to drive less cautiously. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sport_utility_vehicleWith the above definition of SUV any vehicle that is not a pickup truck if it is enclosed, doesn't have a trunk, and is jacked up with bigger tires. If the green activists adhere to this definition of what an SUV is there will be millions of vehicles with flat tires which include HRVs, Rav4s, CRVs, Ford Escapes, Buick Encores, and many of compact and subcompact vehicles. The green movement is going to have to recruit millions of new followers and will be busy flattening millions of tires in the US and across the globe. Might be easier to protest.
  • Sckid213 I actually do agree that most Nissans are ultimately junk. (I also think many BMWs are also). I was talking challenging the 3 in terms of driving dynamics. Agree all were failures in sales.
  • THX1136 More accurately said, we are seeing exponential growth in the manufacturing capabilities in this market. Unless, of course, all those vehicles are sold with customers waiting until more a produced so they can buy. Indeed, there are certainly more EVs being purchased now than back in 2016. Is demand outstripping manufacturing? Maybe or maybe not. I sincerely don't know which is why I ask.
  • ToolGuy The page here (linked in the writeup) is ridiculously stupid https://www.tyreextinguishers.com/how-to-spot-an-suvLike, seriously stupid, e.g., A) Not sure that particular Volvo is killing the planet as quickly as some other vehicles we might choose. B) A Juke is "huge"??? C) The last picture shows a RAV4 Hybrid?