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New Vehicle Modification

Written by Wayne Checker, 2002.
Anyone employed in the commercial vehicle business will know that it is common practice to alter new vehicles before delivering them to the customer. It could be something as simple as the substitution of a seat belt or more involved such as a wheelbase alteration or the fitting of a lazy axle. Sometimes the changes are very complex and involve a number of alterations to convert the vehicle to the customers requirements For example a new ambulance would typically involve a van being refitted with different seats and seats belts, the installation of extra seating, changes to interior fittings and the fitting of additional external lighting.

But are these changes legal?

The Commonwealth Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1980 makes it illegal to alter a new vehicle before it is registered and placed in-service. Alteration in this context means any change that will compromise the original manufacturer’s certification for ADR compliance. If the change will prevent the original manufacturers compliance evidence from being valid then it is a prohibited alteration.

This requirement is not new, although in my experience, it is not well known or understood. It particularly affects new vehicles supplied by dealerships and those altered by modifiers or bodybuilders. See Table 1 for the Australian Design Rules to watch out for.

Now you may be thinking not a problem

With the vehicles I am involved with because they have been accepted by the government agency for registration. Right? Wrong. Whilst some agencies identify non-compliant vehicles quite effectively, others do not do so well. In any case, you should not ignore the fact that whether you are a supplier or an operator of a vehicle, lack of action by the government agency does not relieve you from your responsibilities. Of course we know that the alteration of new vehicles is taking place daily across the country, but how are they being achieved without breaking the law?

Then read on.

All new vehicle modifications or alterations should be done under a Second Manufacturer’s Compliance Plate Approval that is part of a scheme administered by the Commonwealth Department of Transport and Regional Services (DOTARS). At this point let me remind you that I said earlier we are only referring to changes that will affect the original manufacturer's ADR compliance evidence.  I have found that where a business supplies no more than three of the same modified vehicles in a twelve month period DOTARS generally allows the local government
agency to “approve” the modifications as per their modified vehicle approval scheme. More than three vehicles will evoke the requirement for Second Manufacturer’s Compliance Plate Approval from DOTARS. Now my advice to every business is don’t take my comments for granted.

Before you commit yourself to a sale get your directions direct, and in writing from the governing authorities. You could start by contacting your local registration office. It is important to establish at this stage which approval process will apply because there is a vast difference in the cost associated in obtaining them. A wrong decision at this stage of the sale could cause you to lose the sale, or your profit on the sale. Not to mention the potential for sanctions or penalties to be applied at any time during the life of the vehicle.

The modified vehicle approval process is relatively cheap and simple.

The changes will need to comply with the registering State/Territory Standards, as they will be the
approving authority. Both the Standards and the approval process vary slightly between the jurisdictions so it is important to establish where the vehicle will be registered and what will be their requirements. Most people engage an automotive engineering consultancy to assist in the process. The State and Territory registration agency is able to advice the contact details of suitable consultants.

The Compliance Plate Approval Process is an expensive and complex process.

Unlike the other option, this process is the same irrespective of where the vehicle will be registered or operated. It utilises National Standards and the Commonwealth grants the approval. Again most people engage an automotive engineering consultancy to assist in the process. The manufacturer (generally this is the modifier or bodybuilder), design office, manufacturing facility, consultant and test authority must all be registered in the Road Vehicle Certification Scheme (RVCS). The manufacturer will also need to demonstrate that they have a quality system in place that will ensure completed vehicles conform to their compliance evidence and the Australian Design Rules.

Once a modified new vehicle has been granted Compliance Plate Approval DOTARS grant the manufacturer the authority to fit a Second Manufacturers Compliance Plate. With the Plate fitted to the vehicle all legal obligations in respect of selling and registering a modified vehicle have been met.

We suggest that you do not act solely on the basis of the material contained in this site because the items herein are comments of a general nature only and may be liable to misinterpretation in a particular circumstance. Also changes to legislation and policy occur quickly. We therefore recommend that our advice be sought before acting on any of this information.