CLOSE EMISSIONS-INSPECTION LOOPHOLES FOR CLASSIC CARS LICENSE PLATES

During the 2015 legislative session, Nevada’s legislators passed AB 146, requiring the Advisory Committee on the Control of Emissions from Motor Vehicles to complete a study on the inspection and testing of motor vehicles and emissions-control systems in Nevada. This study included an overview and analysis of the legislative history of the Classic Vehicle program and its current status with respect to emissions testing. It further provided recommendations to address the loophole that allows owners of motor vehicles that would not normally be considered classic vehicles, but nevertheless meet the statutory requirements necessary to obtain special license plates (Classic Vehicles, Classic Rods, or Old Timer), to obtain these plates in order to be exempt from emissions-testing requirements normally applied to model year 1968 and newer vehicles.

NAC 445B.592 exempts model year vehicles that are 1968 or older from emissions testing requirements. Nevada’s selection of 1968 as the threshold year for vehicle inspections was based on the requirements set forth by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 40 CFR 51.351(a), (g). The EPA’s selection of 1968 as the threshold year was based on congressional passage of the Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act of 1965, which amended the Clean Air Act (CAA) and established the first federal vehicle emissions standards beginning with 1968 model year vehicles.

There are, however, three categories of older vehicles, having model years of 1968 or newer, that can also be exempt from emissions testing. These vehicles are identified as:

  1. Old Timer vehicles, which are any motor vehicles manufactured more than 40 years before the date of application for registration (NRS 482.381); 
  2. Classic Rods, which are any passenger cars or light-duty commercial vehicles with a manufacturer’s rated carrying capacity of 1 ton or less that were manufactured at least 20 years before the application for registration (NRS 482.3814); and 
  3. Classic Vehicles, which are any passenger cars or light-duty commercial vehicles with a manufacturer’s rated carrying capacity of 1 ton or less that were manufactured at least 25 years before the application for registration and contain only “original parts which were used to manufacture the vehicle or replacement parts that duplicate those original parts” (NRS 482.3816). 

These three categories of vehicles are often collectively referred to as “classic vehicles,” even though only one of the three categories officially carries a “Classic Vehicle” designation. To avoid the ambiguity created by the collective use of the term and its statutory definition, these are referred to collectively as either “Classic and Old Timer” or “special license plate” vehicles.

The 1997 Nevada legislative session created a program that would allow an owner of a “restored” vehicle exemption from emissions-testing requirements. As the bill worked its way through committees, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) expressed concerns about creating an emissions-exemption program that might produce a loophole for old, unmaintained vehicles utilized for general transportation, which were also gross emitters of pollutants. Subsequent changes made during the 2011 legislative session created such a loophole. In that year, AB 2 was passed that allowed vehicles that would otherwise be subject to the Inspections/Maintenance (I/M) program, but had obtained special license plates, to avoid the requirement that they pass an initial emissions test.

In 2015, Clark County issued 19,805 and Washoe County issued 6,758 special license plates for Classic Vehicles and Classic Rods. This represents significant growth occurred as a result of the legislative changes made during the 2011 legislative session. To a lesser extent, Old Timer vehicles also experienced a similar growth pattern.

Nevada could reduce the emissions impact of these vehicle types by:

  • Providing a general definition for Classic Rods, Classic Vehicles, and Old Timer vehicles that is utilized by the Western states surrounding the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV);
  • Requiring owners applying for Classic Vehicle or Classic Rod special license plates to first pass an emissions test at the DMV prior to issuance; and
  • Requiring owners of Classic Vehicles and Classic Rods to have their odometer readings annually certified at a Nevada Licensed Emission Station prior to obtaining a special license plate renewal sticker.

Greenhouse Gas Implications

Closing the classic cars loophole will reduce tailpipe greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, the extent to which these regulation changes can reduce emissions on a timeline commensurate with the state’s emissions-reduction targets will be driven primarily by rate of adoption as well as better data and analysis regarding the actual mileage driven by these vehicles rather than a self-certification that the car is driven less than 5,000 miles/year.

A majority of the states with inspection and maintenance programs have justified upward revisions of the 1968 threshold model year. One of the common justifications for such revisions is that on a per-capita basis, most states have far few older vehicles in regular operation, and that because of their low numbers the emissions impact is minimal. However, Nevada is the driest state in the country, so vehicles here do not rust as quickly as they do in other states. As a result, older vehicles tend to remain in operation longer and the 1968 exemption threshold in Nevada has remained unchanged.

Older vehicles emit significantly more emissions on a per-mile basis than newer vehicles. Not only do old vehicles fail emissions tests at a much higher rate than newer vehicles, but they fail those tests while being subject to far less stringent emissions standards (NDEP 2016). Compared with a 2015 model year vehicle, emissions from a 1990 model year vehicle (i.e., a vehicle that is 25 years older, and therefore, potentially classifiable as a “Classic Vehicle”) are on average 9.1 and 18.3 times higher for the primary ozone precursor pollutants, VOC and NOx, respectively (ANL 2013). Additionally, the initial failure rates for light-duty gasoline vehicles are approximately 47 times higher for 1970 model year vehicles then they are for 2010 model year vehicles in Clark County, and 56 times higher in Washoe County (NV DMV 2014). The disparity is even greater for heavy-duty gasoline vehicles in both Clark and Washoe counties.

Taken together, the impact of adopting regulations to close emissions-inspection loopholes for classic cars license plates has the potential to reduce the state’s overall GHG emissions.

However, the rate at which emissions reductions can be achieved is highly uncertain. Additional analysis specific to GHG reductions is necessary to refine the emissions implications of this policy.

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Climate Justice

A policy requirement to pass an emissions test prior to obtaining special license plates could have a negative financial impact for low-income households via vehicle repair costs and a positive health impact for vulnerable populations via air quality improvements.

Other impacts are unknown, and should be explored through discussions with community members, but it is unlikely to disproportionately impact vulnerable communities. 

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Integrated Economic Assessment

The consideration and implementation of regulations to close emissions-inspection loopholes for classic cars license plates requires coordination across multiple state departments and divisions, particularly NDEP and DMV, in consultation with the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) and the Governor’s Office of Energy (GOE). Since Nevada is in the early stages of this process, it is unclear what the necessary full-time equivalent (FTE) and related budgetary requirements will be to implement.

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Implementation Feasibility

Fully enacting regulations to remove emissions-inspection exemptions for classic cars license plates may require statutory and regulatory changes. These changes may include identifying new definitions for “classic vehicles” and requiring owners applying for Classic Vehicle or Classic Rod special license plates to first pass an emissions test at the DMV prior to issuance. Requiring owners of Classic Vehicles and Classic Rods to have their odometer readings annually certified at a Nevada Licensed Emission Station prior to obtaining a special license plate renewal sticker has also been identified as a legal hurdle. A working group discussion is necessary to identify any additional legal hurdles pertaining to this policy.

The State Environmental Commission (SEC) has the authority to prescribe by regulation standards for exhaust emissions so long as the regulations exempt certain vehicles (“Exempt Vehicles”). Exempt Vehicles include:

Nevada regulations follow the statute and exempt these vehicles from emissions inspection and testing.

To implement this policy, the legislature could amend NRS 445B.760(1) to change or eliminate the exemption for Old Timer, Classic Rods, and Classic Vehicles and make conforming changes to the corresponding sections cited in 445B.760(1)(b). Following the statutory change, the SEC could amend or repeal NAC 445B.574.

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