Which Car Modifications Are Illegal?

For many drivers, bringing a car home is only the first step to truly making it theirs. Once it’s in their garage, they begin the process of turning it into something they’re proud to drive.

But how far is too far when it comes to vehicle modifications? Unfortunately, many of the popular mods you see on the track and show cars are illegal for any vehicles you intend to operate on public roads.

With that in mind, which car modifications are illegal in North America?

Laser Jammers and Radar Detectors

This might seem like common sense, but if you’ve got a lead foot and tend to take speed limits as suggestions rather than rules, it might be tempting to add a laser jammer or radar detector to your car to prevent passing cops from nailing you with a speeding ticket.

Don’t give in to that temptation. While you can still buy laser jammers and radar detectors for your car, they’ve been banned by the FCC and are illegal in 12 states as well as Washington, D.C. If your daily driver is a Mustang, a Camaro, or another well-known sports car, you may find yourself a more popular target for laser and radar speed scans. The easiest way to avoid a problem is to stick to the speed limit.

Undercarriage Lighting

Adding colored neon LEDs to the undercarriage of your car might seem like a good idea — until you get pulled over and have to drive home with a massive ticket. You can have undercarriage neons installed on your car, but it is illegal to operate them on public roads. It is also illegal to have lights in red or blue or blink in any pattern that could be mistaken for police or emergency lights.

Feel free to install your favorite neons. Just make sure you keep them turned off when you’re driving unless you’re on a track. If you want to update the lighting on your car, consider swapping out your head and taillights for brighter and longer-lasting LEDs. They’re some of the more popular mods—and legal.

Loud Exhausts

There’s nothing quite like the throaty roar of a muscle car as you speed down the street. But trying to make that roar a bit louder could land you in a world of trouble.

California has a law on the books that states your car can’t emit noises louder than 95 decibels. For comparison, that’s about the sound level of a particularly noisy hairdryer or a busy restaurant. So if you install an aftermarket exhaust designed to make your car louder, expect to run afoul of law enforcement.

Cold Air Intakes

This might sound odd, especially since cold air intakes are some of the most commonly suggested aftermarket mods. But in states that require emissions testing, many aftermarket cold air intakes don’t meet the necessary standards for these tests. So installing one could make your car illegal to drive in these states if you fail an emissions test.

If you intend to install a cold air intake, look for one that carries a CARB Executive Order number. It might cost a little more, but it enables you to use cold air intakes in states where they might otherwise be illegal.

Dark Tint

Window tint by itself isn’t illegal. It only strays into lawbreaking territory when it reaches a certain light-blocking percentage and is difficult or impossible for law enforcement to see through.

The laws vary from state to state and even from window to window, so make sure you do your research before you start slapping the darkest tint you can find on your windows.

Light Bars and Ultrabright Headlights

There’s nothing worse than driving down the highway at night only to be blinded by the ultrabright headlights of an oncoming car. A truck or jeep equipped with a light bar can be even worse. Of course, some lights are legal accessories, but moderation is key.

Lightbars are valuable tools if you’re offroading or your headlights are covered in mud, but they aren’t legal to use on public roads in nearly every state. If you have a light bar, keep it turned off while you’re driving, or you could find yourself facing a costly ticket.

Be Smart About Your Modifications

There are many ways to modify even the most boring factory-standard car, but you need to be smart about the mods you choose. Just because you can buy it on the internet doesn’t mean it’s legal in your state. So do your research before you purchase and install any aftermarket mods.

Martin Banks is the managing editor at Modded, where he writes about cars, car mods and more. Follow him on Twitter @Tmodded for frequent updates.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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