While cars that come from the factory can be distinguished one from another with selected options, many of them are sold with the same equipment and even the same color. Perhaps one reason why engineers invented the vehicle remote key that sounds the horn when activated was to help owners find their cars in a parking lot crowded with identical vehicles.
To some, individuality is best expressed by driving a car that perfectly caters to the owner’s taste and is entirely different from what everyone else drives. Car customization is the solution to mundane vehicles.
A custom paint job is a good start and can eliminate any cosmetic similarity with the legions of others, but it’s only one of the numerous modification options. These might include raising a truck up a foot or more, installing a deafening stereo system, or making performance upgrades. A faster car with distinctive mods that make the vehicle more visible to the police may require a device to help avoid speeding tickets.
Although customization can make a vehicle the “coolest” car around, it may also make it against the rules. Since state laws control most vehicle regulations, a modification may be okay in one place and disallowed in another.
The following are twenty custom cars with modifications any cop will pull over immediately.
20 Annoying Loud Exhaust
“Having a loud exhaust is like eating chips in a movie theatre. Everyone looks at you in disgust, but secretly they want some too.” To some, a loud exhaust is like music to the ears. To others, it is an irritation; and to the police, it may be a ticket. In California, 95 decibels is the maximum sound level limit for vehicle exhausts when measured next to the vehicle. The state muffler laws in Kansas state that vehicle exhaust sounds cannot exceed 90 decibels when measured from 50 feet away.
In other states and cities in the US, regulations prohibiting “loud” exhaust systems are not only subjective (based on the onsite police officer's judgment) but without a scientific measurement, the exhaust noise can be deemed loud enough to disturb the peace, and therefore warrant a ticket.
19 Lifted Trucks Offer a Great View
Lifted trucks not only feature improved approach angles and departure angles for off-roading, they offer the driver and passengers a better view of everything around them. However, adding a lift kit to a vehicle has restrictions. In California, lifted vehicles are limited to a maximum of five inches.
The vehicle's maximum frame height depends upon the gross vehicle weight: 27 inches for vehicles under 4,500 GVWR, 30 inches for a 4,501-7,500 GVWR and 31 inches for 7,501 to 10,000 GVWR. Each state has its own lift rules, often specifying maximum limits based on bumper, light, and reflector heights. Some states have no limits, but if the lifted vehicle requires a ladder to climb in and out, it’s probably against regulations.
18 Underbody Neon Lights
Neon signs were most popular in the US during the years 1920 to 1960. However, they have fallen out of favor and most people consider them brazen or ostentatious (except in Las Vegas, of course, where flamboyant is the norm). Underbody neon lights attach to the body of a motorcycle, car, or truck. Enthusiasts believe they provide an attractive safety feature, especially for motorcycle riders at night, by making them more visible to drivers of other vehicles.
They also like the halo effect neon lights create making the vehicle “cool.” State regulations vary regarding the use of accent lighting, but most prohibit red or blue colors and require them to remain covered and unlit on public roads.
17 Off-Road Lights are Forbidden on Highways
Off-road lights are a real asset when driving on a poorly-illuminated road or a wilderness path at night, but their use on public roads and highways is dangerous. The extra illumination provides a well-lit view of what’s ahead, but the additional bright lights can temporarily blind other drivers on the road. Even turned off, they can reflect lights from oncoming vehicles and risk confusing drivers.
Most states have regulations controlling the use of off-road lights, like those of California, “ …a vehicle may be equipped with not more than eight lamps for use as headlamps while the vehicle is operated or driven off the highway… whenever the vehicle is operated or driven upon a highway, [the lights] shall be covered or hooded with an opaque hood or cover, and turned off.”
16 Headlights or Taillights Modified
Three principle criteria motivate vehicle headlight laws and regulations: the headlight beam cannot blind an approaching driver, the light beam must reach a sufficient distance to illuminate upcoming road hazards while traveling at higher speeds, and the beam's color must properly highlight different colored objects. Any modifications to the headlights that alter these features are banned.
Taillights are controlled by regulations, as well. One state says taillights “shall emit a red light plainly visible from a distance of 1,000 feet to the rear.” Aftermarket black or tinted tail lights have become popular in Washington state and other areas, but several states have made their use prohibited.
15 Super Dark Window Tint
When a limo drives by with its tinted windows that obscure the view of the passengers, most drivers wonder which celebrity is inside and where they are going. Tinted windows provide benefits even when applied to standard vehicles. Privacy is the most common reason, but it is also used for aesthetics, comfort, safety, UV protection, and energy savings.
Tinting regulations that vary from state to state specify which vehicle windows can be covered and the tint percentage or measure of how much light can filter through the cover. While it might seem glamorous to cruise around in a car entirely covered with tinted windows, adherence to local rules will avoid attracting the attention of the police.
14 Plate Frames
Like vanity plates, vehicle license plate frames allow drivers to express their personal opinions about political issues, name a university alma mater, declare a favorite professional football team, express a well-known proverb, or write just about any cheesy expression which is of little interest to everyone else.
The frames are sold everywhere with the words already stamped in metal or plastic, or they can be custom designed for the individual. Many of the frames, both prefabricated and custom are not okay. A license frame that covers any part of the state name, letters, or numbers, is against the rules and the vehicle owner can receive a ticket.
13 Nitrous Oxide Injection Systems
The injection of nitrous oxide into an engine increases power in two ways. First, when it is heated to about 570 degrees Fahrenheit, it splits into oxygen and nitrogen, providing more oxygen for combustion. More oxygen means more fuel can be injected, resulting in more horsepower. Second, when it vaporizes, nitrous oxide has a substantial cooling effect on the intake air, increasing its density and the volume of oxygen in the cylinder.
In most states, a street car is permitted to have a nitrous oxide system installed, but it can be used only while the vehicle is on a race track or off-roading.
12 Rolling Coal
Although the practice of blasting soot called “rolling coal” in a diesel truck is not against the rules in the US, the process requires altering the emissions controls, which is banned under federal statutes.
Perhaps the act could be justified at a tractor or truck pull event, when drivers pump more fuel into their engines to maximize power from their machines. However, it makes no sense if a pickup owner spends money on a truck for the sole purpose of creating a black cloud of smoke without realizing any performance gains. It makes even less sense and becomes downright obnoxious when it is done to smoke out others on the road.
11 Radar Detectors
Like many statutes that govern the use of automobiles and their related equipment, regulations for the use of radar detectors are confusing, at best. In 49 of the 50 states, the use of radar detectors in automobiles is fine. However, some states have regulations that prohibit mounting them on the windshield because they can obstruct the driver’s view.
Under federal regulations governing radar detectors, all commercial vehicles over 10,000 pounds are forbidden to use radar detectors while in operation. But almost every trucker on the road uses one and is subject to receiving a ticket. What’s more, there are now radar detector detectors that advise the police when a detector is being used. The next device developed may be a radar detector-detector-detector. Where will it all end?
10 Laser and Radar Jammers
While radar detectors determine if the police are monitoring the speed of the vehicle and advise the driver to slow down, laser jammers seek to disrupt the signal, permitting the detected vehicle to continue exceeding the speed limit. Advanced laser jammers use a fast computer and a group of LEDs or laser diodes that are activated only when their sensors detect a LIDAR signal.
When they function correctly, the officer using the LIDAR will receive an erroneous speed readout and have no idea that jamming is taking place. In the US, radar jamming is against the rules, with stiff penalties, while laser jamming is okay in most of the country. More confusing regulations!
9 Removal of Mufflers or Catalytic Converters
Any part of a vehicle’s exhaust system that increases backpressure on the engine robs it of power. While the exhaust pipes themselves create resistance to exhaust flow, the muffler and catalytic converter also contribute. Removing these devices usually increases horsepower. However, almost everywhere in the United States, a car must have a muffler. Mufflers help cars comply with maximum noise levels regulated by states, cities, and local authorities.
Catalytic converters are regulated by federal statute, which prohibits their removal or replacement with "converter replacement pipes.” Along with engine development in recent years, catalytic converters help meet the requirements of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and reduce the number of pollutants released to the environment by automobiles.
8 Electric Exhaust System Cutouts
Electric exhaust cutouts are designed to increase horsepower and release that musical engine sound by eliminating downstream exhaust system flow resistance. The concept was developed to allow vehicles those benefits while on the track but remain compliant while on the street.
However, what driver, knowing that the mere push of a button is all that is needed to open the cutouts on the street, feel the boost in horsepower, and hear the loud rumble, could really be expected to resist that urge? Most likely, it is the driver who fears receiving a ticket. The loud exhaust noise is a police magnet, advising any officer in the nearby vicinity that something is amiss.
7 LED Headlights May Be Illegal
LED headlights that come with new cars are designed (in most cases) to meet legal requirements, so buyers need not worry about getting a ticket for illegal beams. The legal issue occurs when car owners change their headlights from standard halogen to LED lights. Brightness and beam angle are concerns. Newly installed LED lights that are too bright may momentarily blind other drivers head on or through their mirrors.
It is similar to an approaching car with its high beams on. A typical beam headlight must also point downward, slightly away from oncoming traffic to avoid blinding other drivers. Excessively bright or misaligned LED lights are sure to attract the attention of police and result in a ticket.
6 Lowriders Attract Attention
Various state regulations stipulate height limitations for all vehicles, including lifted trucks and lowriders. A scraping underbelly or concert-hall car stereo volume level from a lowrider is sure to attract police attention. These sleek-looking bottom-scrapers can be deemed unsafe, ticketed, and even impounded.
Some enterprising lowrider enthusiasts developed hydraulic systems as means around the height laws (and to provide hilarious entertainment on a Saturday night for observers watching cars bounce up and down while slowly crawling down the local main drag). However, many cities prohibit the use of hydraulics while a vehicle is moving, and others forbid their use above 15 mph.
5 Extreme Negatively Cambered Wheels
Setting a vehicle’s wheels with a negative camber is a method of maintaining a contact patch between the tire and road while the car is cornering. The result is a near upright tire that maximizes handling. Some enthusiasts have taken the negative camber principle to the extreme such that no traction benefits can be realized.
The effect is aesthetic only, but the result can be damage to the car’s body and suspension. These “stanced” cars are lowered close to the ground and require body kits or wheel-arch flares to at least partially cover the wheels as the statutes require. The “Hellaflush” modification is now against the rules in many states.
4 Blasting Sound System
Sitting in a car at a stoplight, waiting for it to turn green, a car pulls up beside. Despite having all the windows rolled up and the A/C blasting at maximum, the pounding bass from the adjacent vehicle rattles the windows, rocks the car, and feels like being punched in the chest.
Booming music from a car stereo was an invitation for a ticket in most states until a few years ago, when the supreme court of Florida unanimously struck down a state law that made driving with loud music forbidden. The rule had made it prohibited for drivers to play music if it could be heard more than 25 feet from the vehicle. Now, the sound systems have no limits…at least, in Florida.
3 Monster Tires
Federal statutes once governed the maximum size of vehicle tires. Now, restrictions are determined by each state. Most rules apply to off-road vehicles and built-up trucks and focus on the overall measurements of the vehicles and ground clearances more than the sizes of the truck tires themselves.
While there is no restriction in most states on the width of tires themselves, they're not permitted to extend beyond the vehicle’s fenders. All states have rules that mandate bumper heights to ensure that the bumpers on lifted trucks do not impact the windows of another vehicle during a collision. Oversized tires affect vehicle bumper height.
2 Aftermarket Racing Seats
All aftermarket racing seats installed in a vehicle must be Department of Transportation (DOT) approved. Even if approved, racing seats lack many safety features found in the seats of modern-day vehicles. These include side-impact airbags, anti-whiplash headrests, electronic controls, and specified seat belt angles for maximum safety during a collision.
Although racing teams invest hundreds of thousands of dollars for custom-designed seats for their drivers, an off-the-shelf Recaro is made to fit the average person. Perhaps most important, racing seats are not designed for comfort like the seats in a street vehicle. They are built to maintain the driver's stability during the extreme speeds and cornering of a typical car race.
1 Automatic License Plate Covers
It seems obvious that covering a license plate in any way while driving is forbidden. All methods and devices, from simple covers to automatic plate holders that retract to a hidden location under the bumper when activated by a remote controller, are not permitted. The only reason a driver would like to hide a license plate from view is to do something bad (like exceeding the speed limit) and prevent the police or a surveillance camera from recording the number.
Any modification to a license plate (including adding frames that cover letters and numbers) is always against the rules. Although the retractable license plate holders can be purchased online, if installed, the police will issue a ticket.
Sources: Cheatsheet, Cartoq, and Jalopnik.