New incomplete vehicle guidelines still under development

by Frank Condron

TORONTO, Ont. – Those who complete incomplete vehicles, adding such things as cement mixers to truck chassis, may have a temporary reprieve from new rules governing their work – but the changes are still on their way.

Peter Zongora, a regulations enforcement officer with Transport Canada, recently updated members of the Canadian Transportation Equipment Association on the status of proposed amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act. Originally put forward in September 1999, the proposed amendments would introduce new requirements for vehicles manufactured in two or more stages so that, once completed, they conform to all applicable Canadian motor vehicle safety standards.

The changes would also bring Canadian requirements more in line with those in the U.S., Zongora added, although U.S. incomplete vehicle requirements are undergoing some changes of their own.

“Where are the incomplete vehicle amendments now? They’re stalled,” said Zongora. “The CTEA said it wants us to wait to see what’s happening in the States and that is what we’ve done. But it gives us more time to develop the regulations some more, and we are holding off on enforcement activity until this is finished.”

The amendments to the Act would come into effect one year after they’re registered.

Currently, incomplete vehicles are classified by the MVA as “chassis-cabs”, and they must satisfy certain specific motor vehicle safety regulations and have an affixed compliance label from the initial manufacturer specifying gross vehicle weight restrictions and gross axle weight restrictions.

“But,” said Zongora, “Canada’s current labeling and document requirements governing vehicles aren’t sufficient to ensure that vehicles manufactured in two or more stages will comply with all the applicable safety standards when they’re finished.”

Quite simply, those working on the chassis could have no idea of the impact of the work that had been completed before them. Nor is there a distinction between the responsibilities of the intermediate and final stage manufacturers.

Also, under the current regulations, it is hard to identify intermediate manufacturers and tell if a vehicle needs to be re-tested for compliance.

The amended requirements would call for the initial vehicle manufacturer to provide instructions to those who follow on how to properly alter vehicles, and the subsequent manufacturer would then have to document their alterations. Also, the final-stage manufacturer would have to ensure that the completed vehicle conforms to all applicable standards and affix a compliance label confirming that.

The ultimate goal of the amendments is to crack down on the growing “home-made” vehicle business.

“Anyone who alters an original vehicle can potentially make that vehicle non-compliant,” Zongora explained. “The last manufacturer that puts something on a vehicle should have the responsibility of putting the final stamp on it. And that vehicle should still comply with the initial manufacturer’s requirements.”

Toward that end, the CTEA and Transport Canada’s Road Safety Branch have teamed up to create what they call a “job file” for truck compliance. The idea of the job file is to create a compliance profile that would grow as the vehicle moved from the initial manufacturer through the various stages of construction, with each manufacturer signing off along the way.

“What this is is a paper trail for what is, hopefully, a legal vehicle construction,” explained CTEA president Eddy Tschirmart. “It is a progression from the initial sale until the vehicle is in the customer’s hands.”

The job file starts with a customer information sheet and also includes specing and installation details, worksheets for payload analysis, load distribution and center of gravity calculations, and a FMVSS/CMVSS compliance worksheet. The job file was created using suggestions from CTEA members and Tschirmart said Transport Minister David Collenette has already made a commitment to the organization to “look into this.”

“There are hundreds of backyard shops that cut and chop and don’t even try to comply, and this will put an end to that,” said Tschirmart, who works as manager, sales and engineering, for C-Max Transportation.

The problem, said Zongora, is Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) only certify the incomplete vehicle as a single unit, and withdraw their certification if the vehicle is modified.

“The message we are getting from the OEMs is that they are not going to be flexible on their brake systems, and I can see why they wouldn’t be,” Zongora said. “So if you are out there stretching vehicles and moving axles, you are violating the MVA because that vehicle no longer has the necessary certification from the OEM.”

The discussion prompted a number of OEM representatives in the audience to speak up:

“The OE is in a legal box because they can only stand behind a vehicle that conforms to their testing parameters,” one explained. “We carry $50 million worth of product liability insurance, and that’s the issue with modification.”

“The only reason to add an axle is to add gross vehicle weight,” added another. “And for that reason alone, the OE is right to say you’re on your own.”

Enabling the OEM to stand behind the modified vehicle was the motivation behind the creation of the job file for truck compliance, said Tschirmart. The challenge for the industry, he said, is to come up with a way to ensure the vehicle remains compliant through every stage of construction. n

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