Car Modification

Inside a Tuning Store When the EPA Comes Knocking

Inside a Tuning Store When the EPA Comes Knocking

Illustration by Tim Marrs

The EPA has been flexing its may towards the automotive aftermarket as of late. Simply this 12 months we’ve seen huge modifications to the product traces of main tuning firms, with the EPA bringing enormous fines towards sellers, even levying legal expenses towards aftermarket half suppliers. With a view to get a greater understanding of what these EPA lawsuits associated to the Clear Air Act are like from inside a store going through down the federal government company, R&T sat down with PFI Velocity founder Brent Leivestad.

PFI Velocity is a tuning store in Frederick, Colorado. Leivestad began the enterprise again in 1995, at which level it was referred to as Components Finder Worldwide. Within the early days, Leivestad served as a components locator, looking out junkyards for priceless JDM components. He had discovered himself enthralled by the interchangeability of the Honda elements, which allowed for budget-friendly modification throughout platforms. After constructing a hot-rod Honda CRX of his personal, Leivestad began to place collectively automobiles for different lovers in the course of the week, heading to California each weekend to order dyno time. After realizing this workflow can be too costly to take care of in the long term, Leivestad bought his personal dyno and PFI Velocity was born. Right now, PFI Velocity is a well-respected title within the Honda neighborhood, however you might also know Brent and the store from their in style YouTube channel.

pfi speed honda build in shop

PFI Velocity

Again in December 2020, Leivestad was on a visit to California to assist finalize a tune for fellow YouTuber Emilia Hartford’s Okay-24-swapped Toyota Prius. Whereas making an attempt to get the turbocharged hatch to run appropriately, Leivestad obtained a worrying name from the store again in Colorado. PFI Velocity had been issued a letter from the EPA, which requested details about the entire builds PFI Velocity had completed, in addition to particulars associated to each half bought by the group. The company made it clear there have been no options to complying with this request ought to PFI Velocity want to stay in authorized operation.

“After we first received the letter, I actually thought this was simply a part of some overview course of,” Leivestad instructed R&T. “Being in enterprise, there’s all the time some kind of factor that somebody wants from you. Whether or not it’s the county or the state, there’s all the time somebody who needs one thing from you. I simply thought it was one other a kind of issues. I believed that they had been auditing the world to determine what’s what, making an attempt to get a deal with on issues. I didn’t take into consideration the Clear Air Act, I didn’t assume that something I used to be doing was improper. I kinda went into all the pieces blind.”

As a part of the request, the EPA required PFI Velocity to show over an intensive record of paperwork. Pictures and make contact with info associated to every of the builds and their respective homeowners, lists of each half put in on stated builds, names of distributors and retailers utilized to buy these components, in addition to lists of components bought with consumer info connected had been all requested. Having beforehand handled the EPA within the early 2000s with out contrition, Leivestad and his group went to work compiling the information with out severe concern.

“All the completely different documentation that they needed actually took us months to place collectively,” Leivestad stated. “It really took a lot time that it’s unbelievable. My case wasn’t even that large, I can’t even think about what it’s like for a few of these different retailers the place there are a whole lot of builds.”

pfi speed working on honda build in shop

PFI Velocity

Leivestad additional famous that PFI Velocity didn’t obtain any follow-up with the EPA for over six months after the store turned over the paperwork. After they did finally hear again from the EPA the next June, the message didn’t include excellent news.

“Simply earlier than Race Week 2021, I used to be hit with the high quality, which totaled $18,000 for promoting the Hondata S300 product by our store,” Leivestad stated. “The discover knowledgeable us that we had been to pay the high quality inside 30 days, or the determine would bounce to $180,000. If I agreed to pay the high quality immediately, I needed to signal a letter that clearly said that I might now not modify automobiles past that date. I bodily couldn’t do it anymore. That simply wasn’t an choice for me.”

The Hondata S300 is a well-liked plug-in OBD1 ECU for Honda merchandise that includes a ton of aftermarket pleasant options, like assist for pressured induction, ethanol sensor capabilities, and CAN output. Whereas designed for off-road purposes in Civics, Integras and Preludes from the Nineties and early 2000s, there have been in style OBD2 conversions obtainable for this half. That opened up the vary of autos that might make the most of these merchandise, which in the end noticed extra of those items find yourself on avenue automobiles. The EPA’s enforcement initiatives make it clear the company received’t tolerate retailers prepared to permit these kinds of components to seek out their method on the road.

Leivestad and PFI Velocity in the end refused to pay the preliminary high quality or signal the discover, opting as a substitute to hunt the steerage of authorized counsel.

“It was like an audit at first, however it grew to become a stop and desist kind state of affairs,” Leivestad stated. “I don’t consider that I’ve completed something improper. All the merchandise that the EPA dinged me for within the case, I used to be in a position to show had been for automobiles that had been solely going to the monitor.”

pfi speed builds

PFI Velocity

With a view to show to the EPA that the autos in query had been solely for competitors use, Leivestad instructed R&T that the automobiles wanted to be instantly identifiable as racing autos. That included the presence of a full roll-cage, non-DOT compliant rubber, an absence of street registration, and a devoted trailer for transportation. As soon as this info was supplied by the store and respective homeowners, the EPA was extra amenable to PFI Velocity’s work, although not completely accepting of it. A brand new spherical of doc requests shortly adopted.

“They got here again to me earlier this 12 months with a facility investigation wanting entry to all of my tunes,” stated Leivestad. “That request additionally included a extra detailed record of a few of the different components we promote, akin to FuelTech and Haltech {hardware}, in addition to the mandatory particulars to confirm the place these components ended up. I cooperated with that after once more and turned over all my stuff. I’m in a sample proper now of ready to see what they are saying.”

“The Clear Air Act doesn’t comprise any exemption from the tampering and defeat gadget prohibitions for motor autos utilized in competitors,” an EPA spokesperson instructed R&T. “Nonetheless, EPA doesn’t search to cease the decades-old apply of changing licensed manufacturing autos to competitors autos which might be for use solely for sanctioned occasions. Within the Clear Air Act’s 50-year historical past, EPA, in its discretion, has by no means taken an enforcement motion towards any individual for changing his or her car right into a devoted race automotive, and EPA has no intention to take action sooner or later below this longstanding enforcement coverage.”

pfi speed honda built engine

PFI Velocity

The company went on to verify that if a components firm is ready to show its merchandise are used solely for aggressive motorsports, the EPA won’t interact in an enforcement motion towards them. That stated, the company maintains that no specific info is conclusive by itself, and that the totality of the circumstances will probably be thought of when tour enforcement discretion towards an aftermarket store.

Leivestad notes that this case has him growingly apprehensive concerning the aftermarket’s viability shifting ahead. Two of Brent’s sons presently work with their dad at PFI Velocity, and had each intention of taking on the enterprise sooner or later. That’s one thing Leivestad now sees as unlikely at this level.

“For the reason that letter got here by the mail, we actually flip away any car that we now have to plug into with an OBD2 port,” Leivestad instructed R&T. “We don’t take something avenue automotive associated, not even when you simply need us to learn it. Every little thing should be towed into the store and towed out. Every little thing is on devoted ECUs, and we’re not doing one single factor exterior that.”

There may be some frustration on Leivestad’s half so far as the bigger tuning firms are involved. As we noticed earlier this 12 months, firms like Cobb Tuning are actively eradicating elements from their catalogs in an effort to keep away from related lawsuits or fines. Regardless of the sheer variety of components that come out of these firms, Leivestad believes the EPA has focused small retailers for a selected purpose.

pfi speed honda build in parking lot

PFI Velocity

“I don’t perceive why a few of the bigger firms aren’t diving in to assist, as they’ve the identical bullseye on them,” stated Leivestad. “The EPA was good in its choice to go after small retailers like ours, as we’re the assist community for these firms. We basically do tech assist, and we’re the fellows who determine how one can make all of these items truly work. They went after the small firms first as a result of we are able to’t afford the attorneys to combat a federal company. We raised some cash to combat with our YouTube movies, however I’m already previous that. They’ll bury me within the lawyer charges. If anything kills the enterprise, it’ll be that.”

The EPA’s web site hosts a group of case resolutions associated to Clear Air Act violations relationship again to 2005. For the reason that company’s clarification of the competitors exemption in 2016, there’s been a rise in instances towards particular person tuning retailers. Whereas a big portion of the offending retailers primarily labored on diesel autos, PFI Velocity isn’t alone in its expertise on the gasoline facet of the aftermarket. Evans Tuning was additionally fined for promoting the identical Hondata ECUs as PFI Velocity, touchdown a $4223 diminished settlement cost of its personal. PSI Efficiency was given a diminished settlement of $5438 for promoting different engine administration methods, together with these from industry-giant Cobb Tuning. Weistec Engineering was fined $8500 for eradicating catalytic converters from car exhaust methods and writing the mandatory tunes for these mods. VMP Tuning was fined $60,000 for his or her Ford Mustang builds, whereas Extra Energy Tuning was fined $100,025 for promoting engine tuners for quite a lot of Ford and GM merchandise.

Hope isn’t completely misplaced at PFI Velocity nevertheless. Working with the Bandimere Speedway and the sanctioning physique PSCA, Leivestad has created an area racing sequence consisting of automobiles constructed by his group. Prepping, servicing and sustaining these machines for the PFI Velocity Professional Import Collection, in addition to producing extra video content material is how Leivestad plans to maintain PFI Velocity shifting into the long run. That stated, the tuner nonetheless hopes to see some further clarification added to the Clear Air Act for folks like himself contained in the automotive aftermarket. Like others within the enterprise, Leivestad needs extra details about what defines a contest car, what retailers should do to obtain these exemptions, and whether or not or not they’ll be capable to function reputable enterprise shifting ahead.

pfi speed honda civic turbo drag race car

PFI Velocity

“There are lots of people on the market who don’t notice what different retailers are going by, or they merely don’t need to acknowledge the impression that might finally come to their very own door,” stated Leivestad. “It nonetheless appears like generally I’m screaming on deaf ears. I see folks on-line asking for assist tuning setups, and different folks will straight up record names of tuners versus direct messaging or one thing. That’s only a gallery for the EPA to look by and be aware of who to look out for subsequent.”

Whereas not the EPA straight, we’ve already seen environmental businesses on the state degree make the most of the techniques highlighted by Leivestad. As R&T first reported in July, New Jersey DEP brokers are allegedly utilizing for-sale listings to find autos exterior the scope of emissions compliance. The state requires these autos to be repaired or scrapped, issuing fines and fix-it tickets to particular person homeowners. Resident Mike Sebold instructed R&T that he was even threatened with potential jail time by an assigned DEP agent. The company was unwilling to verify to R&T that this interplay didn’t happen.

For now, PFI Velocity continues to be ready for the outcomes of their current facility inspection. The store’s present authorized battle doesn’t seem like wrapping up anytime quickly, although Leivestad isn’t deterred by the wait. Like many different aftermarket tuning retailers, PFI Velocity is in the end a household enterprise that Leivestad needs to carry on to. Whether or not or not that’s a viable choice goes to come back right down to the EPA’s interpretation of the Clear Air Act. Primarily based on all the pieces taking place within the {industry}, the EPA doesn’t seem prepared to alter its thoughts.

pfi speed founder brent leivestad

PFI Velocity

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