When is everything old new again?

A while back, I had a big part replaced on my car.

It’s not the first time. Back in the 1980s, I drove a 1975 Plymouth Valiant Brougham, a car that was out of style the day it came off the assembly line but was as durable as a rock.

Durable or not, during the life of that car, I replaced body parts, engine parts and more. I even replaced the K frame, the structural element that held the entire front end of the car together. It had rusted to the point that it was only an inch wide at the most crucial point. Mechanics told me that without it the engine would just fall out, and it was bad enough that it would only take one crossing on a particularly rough railroad grade to break it.

Later, I had a Dodge Grand Caravan (I liked the Mopar for a long time). Over the time I owned it, that sucker had significant replacement of body parts on the rear, new front axles, large portions of the engine replaced, and on and on. It rant to more than 250,000 miles, which is a lot for a car.

I’ve had friends who virtually reinvented a car, completely disassembling, adding new parts as necessary, replacing body panels, whole sections of the front, the leaf springs on pickups – replacing a significant percentage of the vehicles involved.

During all of this, when did any of those vehicles become a new car?

I would contend never.

So when does an old truck become a new truck? When have you replaced so many parts that it’s no longer old?

That’s the real debate with glider kits.

If you replaced body and interior parts one at a time, over years, at no point would you consider that a new truck. You could even replace the frame rails, as long as you did it at a different time than the rest of it. That’s repair and maintenance.

You can even rebuild the engine and still legally it’s not a new truck.

But do a lot of that at once – let’s say, replace everything but the engine – and suddenly, people think you have a new truck.

EPA would have no authority over an old truck. If you can literally, over time, rebuild the entire truck – as long as they do it one part at a time, just not all at once – in the end, what’s the difference?

That’s far more than an intellectual exercise. It’s what’s happening right now. And God forbid any part of the government for one moment consider what would be good for small businesses.

That’s the point. Big business doesn’t want a break for glider kits. Big carriers don’t have a need for gliders, since they update their trucks every few years. Big truck makers don’t like it because they think it costs them business. Some may frame this as strictly an environmental issue, but it’s just as much a big vs. small business debate, as so many things are.

That said, one more aspect of this deserves consideration.

How many 1999 and before engines still exist? They are the real issue at the heart of this, the engines the environmentalists most object to. Well, it’s a finite number.

In the end, they will reach a point where they disappear forever. The problem the environmentalists worry about will be over.

Even if every single glider kit used a pre-1999 engine (they don’t – plenty of 10-02, ’07 and 2010 engines in those), all gliders combined are only 4 percent of annual truck sales, according to the latest figures available.

The New York Times took aim at glider kits in a recent article and pointed to that number as part of the reason gliders represent a problem.

To me, it represents how small of a problem it is and why we might want to consider another course.

How about we give small business a break? How about we acknowledge they have a different business model than big fleets, that they don’t replace their trucks every few years, that they work hard to make the truck last as long as possible? Can we agree that small businesses have a special need to save on expense, have a higher chance of failing, and yet produce more jobs than any other size of business, and so are worthy of helping and preserving?

How about we let these glider kits go, and acknowledge that at some point, the oldest of engines will finally be gone, and that the overwhelming bulk of trucks on the road now do have the pollution controls at issue, and that the environment will be safe?

I’m truly not sure that it will have a significant impact on the environment if gliders get a break. But it will make a hell of a difference to a lot of truckers, especially those one-truck carriers. It’s about time they got their due.


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