Understanding vehicle certification

Published in February 2023 Fleet Affiliation.

Safety is one of the most important aspects in any workplace environment; however, in the vocational truck space, it can be extremely complex for vehicles that are built in multiple stages and incorporate numerous components. While the final-stage manufacturer is ultimately responsible for certifying the completed vehicle, fleet managers are obligated to provide safe and regulatory-compliant vehicles within their operations.

Defining a safe vehicle
For our purposes, a safe vehicle can be defined as one that is not overloaded, and no required safety devices have been removed or disabled. The term overloaded can refer to many aspects of the vehicle, beyond gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). For example, individual components have load restrictions. If any individual component rating is exceeded, the vehicle is overloaded. As mentioned, final-stage manufacturers are ultimately responsible for compliance, but it’s important to be aware of general requirements to avoid designing a vehicle that’s out of compliance. Bodybuilder books that guide upfitters or modifiers can be an important resource and may save time and costs associated with mid-build changes.

Second-life upfits
Fleet managers may consider second-life upfits of assets and perform those in-house. For example, a stainless-steel dump body may be a good candidate for a second life on a new chassis. It’s not uncommon for a fleet to buy a cab and chassis and install a used dump body. At this point, the fleet is now considered the final-stage manufacturer and is now responsible for certifying the vehicle. While it may make fiscal sense to perform such an upfit in-house, it’s important to understand safe work trucks require certification. There can be some liability implications attached, and it may be less costly in the long run to work with an upfitter for final-stage manufacturing.

Inhouse retrofits
Another notable topic is in-house retrofits. Vehicle certification ends when a vehicle completes its first retail sale; fleets commonly buy completed vehicles and perform retrofits. However, fleets may be performing retrofits without knowing the compliance issues they face. For example, fleets can purchase a cargo van that’s completed, certified and licensed for road use. However, if they install interior components (e.g., shelving and partitions), they have retrofitted the vehicle – even if it’s not been put into service yet.

The question often arises: is certification required for retrofits? The short answer is no – the vehicle was sold as a completed vehicle and certified by the final-stage manufacturer, sold, titled and licensed. But who is responsible for liability in the event of an incident? The answer is often discovered in costly litigation.

In the end, fleet professionals should always keep in mind that they are required to provide safe, regulatory-compliant vehicles.

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