To some people, the idea of driving around in a factory standard vehicle is completely ludicrous. There's nothing separating them from everyone else who bought the exact same car. And it will be harder to find in the parking lot. Insanity! Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem: Modifying.
There are many different takes on how a car should be modified. Some want a sleeper, a fast car with ordinary looks. Others might want a custom paint job and massive chrome wheels, or maybe off-roading is more their thing? There are unlimited options and combinations when it comes to modifying a car. Some are legal, some highly illegal, and some exist in a grey area.
That’s where some get into a bit of trouble. A lot of people assume that just because a part is available in the local automotive aftermarket store that it's legal to fit it and use it on public roads. However, most of the time it probably isn't street-legal, and manufacturers maneuver around this "technicality" by using small print to say it's only for off-road use.
In some cases, there are alternative parts that have been approved for road use, or there really aren't any rules that straight up says it's against the rules, and even cases where it is such a common modification that the rules won't even bother with it - even if it isn't allowed While a lot of it depends on the state and even the county, here's a list of 20 mods most (if not all) of us can actually get away with.
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20 Studded Tires
Most of us can get away with studded tires, at least when it's winter. When the roads are covered in snow and ice, fitting studded tires can be of great help when trying to get somewhere by car. In fact, they can even help prevent accidents - which is why it is compulsory or highly recommended in some areas for drivers to fit them.
Apparently, some people think studded tires makes them look tough. The problem is that these studs give you less grip than regular tires when the roads aren't covered in ice. Some states have laws against studded tires on vehicles during warm periods. Other states have banned the use of metal studs in favor of rubber alternatives.
19 Wheel Spacers
Wheel spacers create space between the car's wheel and the hub, thus increasing clearance from the inner wheel well. This is done to give a vehicle a wider base with better stability. Also, they give the ability to put larger tires on an automobile.
Wheel spacers and adapters fall in a grey area as the Department of Transportation don't regulate this type of product. No existing federal law says wheel spacers and adapters are against the rules for on-road use, however, local inspection offices do have the authority to say otherwise. Most wheel spacers manufacturers market their spacers as being intended solely for off-road use to avoid any potential issues. Most of us will get away with it but check with your local authorities first.
18 Negative Camber
Running a car with negative camber isn't necessarily a bad thing. Like a lot of other things, it only gets worse when done excessively... which is how the whole stance camber thing managed to give both negative camber and stance a bad name. Done correctly it will make a car more stable at speed, and if not done excessively it won't create too much uneven tire wear.
Apparently, Ocean City, Maryland has gone to the extreme of having tools made in order to measure camber, and, according to Jalopnik, they were also given the ability to impound vehicles with too much camber. Which was the reason why the H20 car meet was canceled a few years back.
17 Electric Cutouts
As long as you're not using them in urban areas or waking up your neighbors in the middle of the night, it's perfectly possible to get away with using Electric cutouts - even if they are against the rules due to the noise levels. Basically, they are installed by cutting out a section of your exhaust system and then welding them in place. The cutouts are controlled by a switch either installed in the vehicle or by a wireless remote, allowing to be opened or closed.
According to Hot Rod, cutouts make more noise than actual power increases - at least compared to using a proper performance exhaust - but they did see a tiny power gain when dyno-testing a '67 GTO.
16 Aftermarket Headers
Most short tube headers are considered legal in most states. Long tube headers, on the other hand, are a bit of a different story. Not only will they make your vehicle louder, but it is also considered tampering with your vehicle's emissions, which according to the EPA is against the rules. Most of us will get away with it as long as the catalytic converter and O2 sensors are still in place, although, some help from a tuner might be needed to pass the annual inspection.
Open headers are a different matter. Basically, it just means there's no pipe attached after the header, meaning no exhaust system.
15 Change Ride Height
Whether lifting or lowering the suspension, there's a limit to how much you can alter the ride height. Different states have their own laws that cap both of these, but most rely on other laws regarding bumper and headlight height restrictions that would make extreme cases of both lifting and lowering illegal.
Seeing as it's such a common mod, we know most people are getting away with changing the ride height, and there's a simple reason behind that. Just buy a kit that's already road legal. Taking things to the extreme will only get you into trouble, both with the rules and by having a car that handles badly.
14 Race Seats
Those of us who prefer to drive older cars can easily get away with installing race seats while still using the car on the road. Aftermarket race seats and even harnesses are becoming a popular way to modify one's car, there are some potential problems though.
The race seats were not used when the car passed the crash test, which is why most manufacturers will say their seats aren't for road use. Another problem that's related to the crash test is that it might not be safe to install them in cars with airbags. Some cars, such as the Focus RS, have airbags in the seats, and by replacing the standard seat with an aftermarket unit the car refuses to go into 'Sport Mode'.
13 Tinted Windows
Tinted windows are such a common mod that most of the time the cops will leave you alone, but it is a potential reason for them to pull you over if they feel like it. Each state has different tint regulations, some being more strict than others.
Usually, the front side windows cannot be tinted, or can only have lighter tints. Most states don't allow the windshield to be entirely tinted - who thinks that's a good idea anyway? But in some places, they do allow a few inches on the top of the windshield. If you take things too far, the police can find out by using devices that measure the amount of light that passes through the windows.
12 ECU Tuning
Chip tuning is kind of like hacking your car's computer. The simplest systems are known as 'piggyback' tuning, where a tuning box is plugged into the car's management system to override the standard programming, then there's the option of replacing the car's original ECU with an aftermarket unit.
A far better, but more expensive option, is to have a complete engine management system installed and then put the car on a dyno and have it perfectly set up. There's little to no point doing this on an otherwise standard car - they can stick to the cheaper options - but to get the most from a tuned machine this is the way to go.
11 Radar Detectors (In Some Cases)
Radar detectors inform the driver when their speed is being measured by radar guns used by enforcement. Speed limits and police officers are there for a reason - to keep us safe - but a radar detector is really handy if you enjoy driving fast on deserted roads where there might be a cop hiding behind a bush.
The rules regarding radar detectors differ between states, some places they're perfectly legal, other places you'll need to keep it somewhat hidden. There's a difference between a detector and a jammer - radar and laser jammers go one step further and actually block the signals from the police's speed measuring devices. Radar jammers are against the rules under Federal law while laser jammers are a bit more of a grey area.
10 Oversized Tires
Tires are another one of those car mods where the rules differ from state to state. According to It Still Runs, it is against the rules in almost every state to fit tires that stick out further than the vehicle's fenders. Which could explain why there are so many wide body kits on the market now, yet it's hard to believe when looking at all the trucks with massive wheels these days.
The one state that allows tires wider than the fenders is Kentucky. In Ohio, the size of tires allowed on a vehicle is decided by the vehicle's weight. In most states, the vehicles tire size is dictated by other laws like bumper or headlight height or the ability to fit under bridges and overpasses.
9 Cat Removal
Catalytic converters were invented to help reduce the amount of smog produced by vehicles, unfortunately, along with the mufflers they tend to restrict the exhaust. Removing the catalytic converter is a super-simple way to gain horsepower, but it is also against the rules. A vehicle that requires an annual emission check would not be able to pass if its cats and mufflers have been tampered with or removed.
However, by fitting a road-legal cat-back exhaust and replacing the cat with a test-pipe, it's a simple job to just re-fit the cat if needed. No one will ever know, and the car performs better than ever.
8 Nitrous Oxide
Nitrous became a 'thing' largely because of the Fast & Furious movies. Before that, it was used mostly by hardcore racers, but once the first movie hit the theaters everyone and their dog wanted nitrous.
It's actually not against the rules to have nitrous oxide in your car, but it can be to have it connected and used on the street - and therefore it's sold with the intention to be used for off-road purposes only. Of course, the easy way around that is to just disconnect it when not racing. Street racing isn't allowed anyway, so having the bottle connected then makes no difference.
7 Rolling Coal
This is a modification made by the owners of diesel cars and trucks where more fuel is injected into the engine than necessary so that huge rolling black clouds are produced by the exhaust - rolling coal - and we're pretty sure the EPA doesn't approve.
It's certainly possible to get away with modifying a car or truck to roll coal, just don't do it when there are people around, but why would anyone want to do it in the first place? It requires excessive fuel consumption and results in engine wear and loss of power - in other words, they spend more money to go slower, which is not what we'd call a good time.
6 Off-Road Lights
Driving off-road might require additional lighting, and fitting light bars isn't against the rules as long as the lights are only used off-road. However, in order to drive the vehicle legally on the highway, the light bar must be covered. The reason is that it can reflect off oncoming headlights and put other drivers in danger, or accidentally using the light bars if not covered.
Then there are LED lightbars. State rules vary, but more states are starting to crack down passing specific laws to require them to be covered when on public roads - just like traditional off-road lights. West Virginia passed a rule banning them altogether, so we won't get away with using them there.
5 Neon Lights
Neon lights were considered kinda tacky until the first Fast and Furious movie, then all of a sudden they became cool. Well, it has been 18 years since that movie appeared in cinemas around the world, so we think it's time for neon lights to go away.
Even if we wish they weren't allowed, technically they're not, but there might be some local restrictions due to the fact that neons can be a distraction to yourself and to other road users. Some places won't allow flashing lights, and there are states where red and blue lights are banned - probably so it won't be mistaken for a police car.
4 Aftermarket HID
While you may think that installing brighter HID bulbs in your headlamps would be a great idea and much safer than having the standard lights, the police can actually pull you over for this. HID stands for High-Intensity Discharge and they give off a much brighter, bluish-white light than what you get from normal headlamp bulbs.
If you drive an old car there's no way you'll be able to convince the cop that those lights are standard equipment, but it could be plausible on cars from the mid-2000s and up. The best thing to do is to buy original ones if they were an optional extra on your vehicle.
3 Cold Air Intake
Fitting a cold air intake shouldn't be a problem... unless you live in California where it might be considered okay if it doesn’t have the appropriate certification. Why? Because it affects the emissions, and any modifications that have an impact on the vehicle’s factory settings emissions levels are forbidden in the Golden State.
So while most of us can buy whichever cold air intake we want, you Californians will have to get one that is stamped with a CARB EO exemption number. This means it has been approved by the state as maintaining or even improving the factory standard emissions levels, and once you fit it you can reap the benefits of having a car that breathes more easily.
2 License Plate Frames
What? License plate frames are breaking the rules? Yes, it turns out that some of them are. We can still get away with it once we know the rules though. A license plate frame that covers any of the numbers or letters, even partially, will be deemed by police as a violation of the rules. The state name, letters, and numbers must be visible for you to avoid a ticket.
Of course, the easiest way to solve that problem is not to get a license plate frame. But some people like to personalize their cars. By getting some that won't obscure the plate you'll be perfectly safe... unless you live in North Carolina, where plate frames are banned altogether.
1 Excessive Sound Systems
Now, this must be a joke, right? Nope! Just like loud exhausts can break rules designed to control noise pollution, massive stereo systems can get you in trouble. There are absolutely no laws that can stop you from upgrading your stereo, but most states have rules against noise pollution, especially in residential neighborhoods at night. Though Florida apparently dismissed an old law which stated that music was too loud if it could be heard 25 feet away as unconstitutional.
So if you don't live in Florida and your system emits a higher level of decibels than the state rules, the police can give you a ticket. Realistically speaking though, anyone with an ounce of common sense would never get in trouble for a stereo.