Car Mods: Street Legal, Locally Illegal?
Not only might an accessorized look that hits the mark in San Diego not play in Peoria, it might not be legal there. And take an off-road lifted, window-tinted, modified truck to quaint, coastal New England, and you might just get a ticket.
Local and state rules for accessories and vehicle modification vary greatly. States can’t issue regulations that conflict with federal standards (FMVSS), which set performance requirements, not design requirements for vehicles; but states are free to establish their own regulations and rules where ones from the federal government don’t already exist. And they certainly have.Beyond obvious upkeep issues like rust, leaky exhausts, and headlights that don’t work, here are ten rather unexpected reasons why, within the U.S. your vehicle might be street-legal in one place and illegal in another.
Your vehicle upgrade could be as simple as a new exhaust pipe or muffler, a resonator, or even an exhaust tip that’s mostly decorative, yet if the new setup is noticeably louder than the stock system you might be bait for a citation -- depending greatly on where you are. According to Steve McDonald, vice president for government affairs for the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), Massachusetts is among the most restrictive states in this respect, as the state has a law on the books that prohibits the use of exhaust-system components that increase sound output, and every year a law is introduced (and fortunately killed) that would prohibit the installation of any aftermarket exhaust components.
Even where the state restrictions aren’t as tight and you’ve installed an exhaust that’s fully legal, you can still get cited for an aftermarket exhaust. It’s really dependent on enforcement and at the officer’s discretion, said McDonald, who noted that some states rely on officers to judge whether an exhaust is significantly louder than stock (which means that they’re supposed to know how loud a particular model usually is). Others, like California, now rely a test-station system where decibels are objectively measured.As if that’s not enough, even if you’re legal on the state level, some communities might essentially have rules stating that if there are multiple noise complaints, an owner/vehicle will be cited.
Aftermarket Catalytic Converter
Cold Air Intake
HID Headlamp Kits
License Plate Frames
Too Much Lift
Most states (Wyoming is one exception we could find) place a limit on how high you can raise a vehicle -- whether it be through frame-and-body alterations or suspension modifications. Again here, it’s very confusing; some states have maximum headlight and taillight heights to meet, while others go by maximum bumper heights instead. For example, Rhode Island restricts light-vehicle truck or car owners from raising their vehicle more than four inches -- making the hardcore off-road look for trucks virtually impossible -- while Wyoming has no measurable limit. If you’re moving state to state in the wrong direction, your truck (or car) could quickly be illegal. This is one where you should consult your state’s DMV or DOT Web site.
Oddly, there are no federal regulations, and few state rules, that control what size wheels and tires you can put on a vehicle. Whether it be a low-riding off-road vehicle running dubs, or a sedan that’s been raised several feet with huge, skinny wheels, it’s your prerogative. “There really are no regulations ... unfortunately,” lamented Tire Rack’s Edmonds, pointing only to lift restrictions.
With respect to outrageous tires and wheels, it’s up to the owner to make sure that they’re fully compatible and it meets the load-carrying capacity for the vehicle. It’s a question that you’ll need to address with an expert when upgrading, but it’s nothing that you might be cited for.
Well ... perhaps by the style police.
Thanks To:Specialty Equipment Marketers Association (SEMA), Summit Racing Equipment, MagnaFlow, RaceInspired, Tire Rack and RalliTEK