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The Top 5 Illegal Car Modifications

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

Car modifications, if illegal, can get you unwanted attention from law enforcement. They can give police a valid excuse to pull you over, and vehicle owners can face citations and fines.

Which illegal car modifications seem to rev up the most trouble?

Laws differ in each state, but here are five types of car modifications that generally seem to cross the line:

  • Sound and noise modifications. State laws spell out how loud your car stereo can be. Similar laws may prohibit excessively noisy exhaust systems and mufflers, even if the modified parts claim to be legal in all states (that likely refers to smog, not noise, the California Highway Patrol points out). An officer's on-scene judgment is often enough for a citation.

  • Frame and suspension modifications. How low can you go in a low-rider? Some states have limits based on various measurements, like a certain number of inches off the ground or the lowest point of a wheel rim. Raised vehicles may also be subject to height limits. Any air or hydraulic suspension systems that violate these limits or make the car unsafe are also illegal.

  • Engine modifications. These are generally considered illegal car modifications if they violate your state's smog or clean-air standards. Of course, modified engines can also affect the noise level of your vehicle.

  • After-market lighting modifications. Headlights and tail lights must emit certain colors at certain intensity levels, as specified by the laws in your state. Xenon or high-intensity "blue" headlights may be illegal if not factory-installed, and neon underglow lights are likely also prohibited because of the colors they emit.

  • Tinted windows. Windshields are generally off-limits, but tinting may be allowed on other car windows. Some states dictate tint percentages for different windows. Check out FindLaw's Window Tint Laws for state-specific information.

If police cite you for an illegal car modification, the good news is your ticket may be dismissed if you correct the alleged violation in a timely manner. You may also want to consult a local traffic law attorney for advice about the best route to take.

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