Vehicle certification

Published in the August 2017 issue of Fleet Affiliation

In 1966, the United States Congress enacted the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, 49 USC 301. In turn, this empowered the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop and enforce a set of standards known as the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). As a fleet professional, it is important to understand vehicle certification and safety standards. All vehicles must be certified before they can be licensed. Before vehicles are sold in the United States, the final manufacturer must certify that the vehicle conforms to applicable FMVSS. This process is straightforward when buying completed units because the units are produced by a single manufacturer and sold as complete certified vehicles.

Within the vocational vehicle world, fleet professionals rarely find off-the-lot solutions, often buying incomplete vehicles which require a significant amount of upfitting before being placed into service. These vehicles are manufactured in two or more stages. Each manufacturer or upfitter who works on the vehicle must certify the work they did complies with FMVSS. The manufacturer or upfitter completing the vehicle to a point where it can be licensed is considered the final manufacturer. A company that alters a previously certified vehicle is required to certify that the vehicle has been altered and still complies with all requirements.

More than a sticker
Certification is required by law, making certain vehicles are safe, reliable and robust. It also mitigates your fleet’s risk. Technically and legally, the final-stage manufacturer bears the responsibility for certifying a completed truck. However, as a fleet professional you can do a bit of legwork to ensure the final design will be safe and in full FMVSS compliance. When specifying new units, begin with a basic weight distribution analysis. This establishes that the vehicle will not be overloaded and then require a spec rewrite. Additionally, it’s advantageous to review Incomplete Vehicle Documents so that you’re not asking upfitters to do things that will take the vehicle out of compliance. Before placing an order, take a few moments and work with your upfitter. Original equipment manufacturers change requirements from year to year. You may find a specific design can no longer be certified depending on chassis manufacturer changes. When working with reputable vendors it is imperative to listen to them. Normally, they are in the best position to understand certification requirements. If they indicate a specific design cannot be done, it is important to understand that they are the experts. Looking for another vendor that will upfit regardless of certification issues is not recommended. Doing so may place you and your company at risk in the event of an accident.

Visit for additional commercial vehicle certification information, products and resources, including access to a new three-part series on certification basics in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

NTEA member fleets have access to our technical services department to help with weight distribution calculations, chassis specification issues and other questions.  An NTEA fleet membership is for your entire organization and is extremely cost effective — for $300 per year, small fleets (100 or fewer work trucks) have access to all NTEA’s services, including engineering and regulatory support and member discounts on educational events and products.  For larger fleets (over 100 trucks) the annual membership fee is just $600. Contact NTEA Fleet Relations Director Chris Lyon at 248-479-8196 or for more information.