Jay Leno's Tank Car CA street legal?
September 16, 2008 4:36 PM   Subscribe

How is Jay Leno's Tank Car (Youtube) street-legal in California?

California has some of the most-strict laws regarding what kinds of car modifications you can make to a production car and still be street legal. Basically, if it's not on a list of approved mods, it's not legal.

Leno's car is a custom chassis mated with a 12 cylinder tank engine, and he drives it on public streets in California. How did he manage to get this CA legal with respect to the California Air Resources Board (CARB)?

I can just make out that it has a special CA license plate (42 seconds in). What kind of plate is it?
posted by zippy to Travel & Transportation around California (9 answers total)
The Tank Car's plate is a California "Historical Vehicle" plate, which many be issued upon request for vehicles that are at least 25 years old built after 1922 [PDF of plate application with requirements]. The plate restricts the vehicles to be only driven in historical exhibition, parades or historic club activities. So, it's not really street-legal in that Leno can drive it when/where ever he wants.
posted by jamaro at 4:55 PM on September 16, 2008

I think you've hit part of it. It's not a production car.

I don't know thing one about California law, but I know that a lot of states have a weight above which you're no longer required to meet certain requirements. I don't know what that thing weights, but I'm willing to bet it's in the neighborhood of three tons.

Also, the states I'm most familiar with list pollutant requirements as a percent of total emissions not as a quantity. So your Cooper Mini might be producing an unacceptable percentage of unburned hydrocarbons and still be putting out half as much as a larger vehicle.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:02 PM on September 16, 2008

The DMV has as special process for Custom Built Cars which includes a CHP vehicle verification and a SMOG cert. Basically the CHP verifies the road worthiness and the SMOG cert handles emissions.
posted by bitdamaged at 5:04 PM on September 16, 2008

Single vehicle and/or low production volume regulations exist for certain types of car and don't require meeting the same standards as production cars in many countries, including the US. There are a massive number of loopholes to get something like that through and most countries have a way of defining how one-offs and kit cars can be assessed. It would be extremely unusual if California didn't have an equivalent system.
posted by Brockles at 5:17 PM on September 16, 2008

Regarding the emissions, Calif exempts cars built in 1975 or older from emission testing. Given that DMV issued a historical plate for it which requires the car to be at least 25 years old, it's likely grandfathered in for the smog, too.
posted by jamaro at 5:38 PM on September 16, 2008

Added bonus fenders are not required.
posted by hortense at 6:04 PM on September 16, 2008

More than likely it's registered as a Specially Constructed Vehicle (SPCNS). The key here is that the chassis is custom and not based on any production car (something with a VIN). California SPCNS regulations are actually very liberal, and if you're particularly zealous and do your homework, you can even get a smog exemption.

If instead Jay had taken an actual old production vehicle and swapped the engine, then it would not fall under SPCNS regulations.
posted by merkuron at 6:18 PM on September 16, 2008

While the car was put together relatively recently you'd probably find if you pulled the registration that the car is officially a '48 ford or something. That gives you a historic plate on a new rod and neatly side steps requirements for stuff like emissions, fenders, lights and other assorted equipment.
posted by Mitheral at 6:23 PM on September 16, 2008

About 2 minutes into this video he swears it's totally street legal.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:54 PM on September 16, 2008

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