For most car fans, modifying and tuning your car is a tempting option. At least once in their lives, most car enthusiasts have thought about adding visual and mechanical components to make their rides drive, handle or look better. But, there is a catch to that. If the modification component is available for purchase, it doesn’t mean it is legal. In fact, the results may cause you a big fat ticket or even a criminal charge.
Although there is already a list covering pointless and quite frankly idiotic car modifications, this list will describe the top illegal car modifications. The laws are different from state to state, so not all states consider these items illegal, but most areas in America do. That is why you have to be careful when planning to upgrade your vehicle. Avoid spending money on something that will only cause you trouble.
You will find many common visual modifications on this list. This just shows that the laws are evolving. What was once popular may now be outlawed since a state may consider them unsafe, environmentally unfriendly or even dangerous. So, read on to learn what you should watch out for when modifying your car or truck.
Are radar detectors legal or not? This is a burning question in the car community. Some states consider radar detectors illegal, while others allow you to have them. But if the police can prove you have been using one, you’re going to get a ticket. The new generation of police speed radars use cameras and calculators to determine your speed, so there are no radar waves a radar detector can find or jam.
In the past, police radars sent radar waves that bounce off the speeding vehicle and return to the radar. This calculated the returning speed or the speed of the moving car. Radar detectors work as a jammer or as an alerting device. The jammers cause police radars to get bad return signals to disable them from reading the speed properly. They also have alerting device telling you there is a radar up the road and you should slow down.
Although radar detectors used to be effective and save drivers a lot of money, they also gave drivers the false confidence to go even faster, which is unsafe. Today’s police radars work more like a camera that calculates the moving speed with greater precision. But since there are no radar waves or signals any longer, a traditional radar detector won’t work. So, if you are planning to buy a radar detector for your vehicle, save your money and drive within your local speed limit.
Everyone knows a powerful car needs to have a distinctive, strong exhaust sound. There is no better noise than a raspy V8 on idle. While the big part of the automotive culture is loud exhaust pipes, it looks like the insanely sounding muscle cars are going to be extinct. Most states forbid loud exhausts and ask manufacturers of such systems to tune them to legal decibel limits.
To be honest, you can always have a quality-sounding exhaust powerful enough to remind you that you are in a fast car. But it can also quiet enough, so it doesn’t wake up the neighborhood or start car alarms. One of the major concerns in urban areas is noise pollution. And much of the city noise comes from cars and other vehicles. So, to keep the noise levels down, police are cracking down on homemade straight pipe exhausts louder than approximately 90 decibels.
Pickup trucks are the automotive symbol of America and they had been around forever. This means that pickups were the basis for all kinds of modifications. They include those lift kits that add a lot of extra ground clearance for better off road driving. Most truck fans find that lifted up trucks look cool and tough. While millions of truck enthusiasts agree, there are some guys who take it too far.
Commonly known as “Bro Trucks,” extremely lifted pickups have been popular in recent years and illegal in some states. The problem is not with the concept of more ground clearance. There are numerous two to three-inch lift kits that will suit your truck and make it more capable. The problem is when you lift your vehicle two to three feet more than stock. This makes the truck hard to get in and out of and handle poorly.
Lifting makes trucks more prone to rollovers, too. Also, if you have a high vehicle, it is hard to see and maneuver in tight spaces, such as parking lots or crowded streets. All this makes those extremely lifted Bro Trucks illegal in some states. In fact, most states have imposed the maximum limit for bumper, hood or light height for this specific vehicle class.
Despite the affiliation with criminal gangs, Lowriders are one of the coolest, most impressive types of custom vehicles. Low and lean with wild color schemes, beautiful graphics, shiny chrome and hydraulic systems, you may ask, “How can they be illegal?” Apparently, apart from being police magnets, lowriders are also against the law in some states.
The problem with lowriders is their ride height. They tend to scrape the pavement, which results in the police being on the lookout for them. Some cities allow lowriders and their signature hopping, but only when stationary or at speeds below 15 mph.
Under Body Neon Lights
For decades, there were laws against additional lights on cars, like using flashing red and blue lights. This was to stop people from impersonating the police. There were cases when people used faux police lights to speed through busy traffic. They did this with ease since people thought they were letting a police car get by, as all state laws specify.
However, when neon lights became popular in the early 2000’s, things got even more complicated. Yes, when set up right, neon lights can look cool. But having an underbody glow can distract other motorists and cause problems, like eventually getting a ticket.
Emission Equipment Removal
It is no secret that any car will run better if the exhaust system is free of catalytic converters and mufflers because they choke the engine. However, in the relentless quest to meet safety regulations, manufacturers are forced to install multiple exhaust monitoring sensors. They also add mufflers and components that make the car pass emissions tests. In recent years, most manufacturers have been able to produce fast and powerful, yet still environmentally-acceptable sports cars.
Sometimes, people tend to remove mufflers to free the engine to perform better. But, by doing that, drivers may mess up engine electronics and ruin their warranty. They may also have big problems with the law. All states clearly forbid driving a car without the emissions equipment.
Headlight and Taillight Modifications
One of the fastest and most affordable things you could do to your car is to change the headlights or taillights. With a reputable brand name replacement unit, it will change the look of your ride while giving you the desired level of light and visibility. However, some people choose to go with low quality, budget replacement lights. These lights can ruin the looks of a car, as well as visibility and safety of the car.
It is against the law to mess with the lights and taillights of your car. In fact, changing them to the level that the car is not visible at night is dangerous. Altering the amount of light on the front headlights is not sufficient, either. If you drive a vehicle with only one taillight, one headlight, or any other illegal modification, the police will pull you over and give you a big ticket.
Extremely Dark Window Tint
Window tint is one of those things every state and even every county treats differently. In some areas, the darkest five percent tint is illegal to purchase and install. But, in some areas, with dark tint, you can get off with just a warning. The point is that some lawmakers consider window tint dangerous since it limits visibility. It also limits being able to see who is in the car.
High-quality window tints are designed to get the driver some additional privacy without limiting visibility from the car. Manufacturers also are offering factory-installed window tints, but on a smaller scale, up to 75 percent. If you want a dark window tint, it is best to ask around in specialized shops in your area. But be ready to talk to the police officers if you travel to a place with stricter laws on window tints.
License Plate Frames
License plate frames are an extremely inexpensive yet pointless modification. Nobody thought they could be outlawed but apparently, the police think having stylized license plate frames can affect its visibility, which is an offense.
The problem is, some thick license plate frames cover most of the plate. That makes it hard or even impossible to read important information. Some kitschy frames are clearly against the law since they make plates almost invisible. That is why you should avoid this kind of product, especially since it can cause you a ticket.
Nitrous Kits in Street Vehicles
Nitrous kits are popular with most speed freaks. When you properly install and control them, they are a potent power upgrade. However, the police are sensitive about nitrous bottles in street cars. That is why most guys hide their bottles in remote areas of the trunk or under the seats.
The reason the police don’t like nitrous kits is simple. If you have a nitrous bottle in your car, you are probably not a stranger to street racing, which is dangerous and illegal. Most backyard mechanics who install nitrous bottles and systems do a poor job. Nitrous is hazardous since it is highly flammable and in a pressurized bottle. Also, in the case of a crash, explosive nitrous can cause explosions and even fatal injuries.
Many people are not familiar with the concept of Rolling Coal. It is a big diesel truck that a mechanic has modified and tuned, engine and exhaust wise, to produce big clouds of black smoke. Trucks with Rolling Coal look menacing and sound like thunder. Rolling Coal trucks are not faster or more powerful than regular diesel trucks – they are just dirtier and louder.
However, a few states like New Jersey, Illinois and Texas want to make Rolling Coal trucks illegal. Truck owners who like to put out enormous clouds of black smoke could get fines of up to $5,000. Expect the rest of the country to introduce similar laws and regulations, as well.
Automatic License Plate Covers
The trick with this modification is that it is legal for drivers to own, but not legal to for them to use. For those who don’t know, automatic license plate covers are simple devices that mount on your license plate. They can fully cover your plate at the flick of a switch.
So, if you want to run a red light and there are cameras at the intersection, just press the button and go for it. But, if you get caught having one of those devices on your car, you are in big trouble with the law.
Extremely Loud Audio Systems
The cops cannot give you a ticket if you have a massively powered audio system in your car and drive around with it. But, you pump that bass beyond the legal limits, a patrol car will follow you. The definition of “loud” varies from state to state. Also, the police measure decibel levels, as well as the distance from the car to determine if your audio system is too loud.
LED light bars are extremely handy if you use them while driving off-road or in dark areas without traffic. However, it is illegal to have them on the highway unless you cover them and turn them off. Light bars produce extremely bright, powerful light, so having them on in regular traffic can blind oncoming traffic, causing accidents. So, if you have light bars, be sure to cover them when you’re not using them, so you don’t earn yourself a big ticket.