When you start modding your rig, you may stop and wonder if what you’re doing is street legal. Or maybe you’ve already had a run in with the law and know there are parts of your ride that shouldn’t be on the road. Street legal versus not can get really confusing once you start the mods. Here are a few things to keep you out of trouble with the law when you head out on the streets.
A Note About Being Pulled Over…
It’s important to understand that traffic officers are just doing their jobs. They’re not trying to ruin your day, but obviously a ticket can. Some officers can be hyper critical and harsh when it comes to modified vehicles, and others aren’t aware of their own errors and issue you tickets you’ll have to fight in court.
Regardless, it’s important to always be respectful to any officers who pull you over. If you feel the ticket is unjust, you’ll have your day in court to argue that out. The side of the road is not the time to bring it up, and arguing with a police officer is never a good idea. Just save your energy for the judge.
Differing Laws Throughout the Country Make Street Legal Hard To Define
Every state can make it’s own laws about accessories and add-ons, and as a result the definition of “street legal” changes from one state to the next. Cities can also make their own rules, meaning that the opportunity for confusion is significant.
What follows is a list of accessories that we know to be legally required or prohibited in various states – hopefully, this list will help you determine if your rig is street legal.
Mud Flaps – In many states, trucks are required to have mud flaps – but that doesn’t mean huge semi flaps with a chrome woman silhouette! If you live in a state that requires flaps, odds are good that they’ll be included on the vehicle when it’s sold. Therefore, if you have mud flaps on your truck or SUV, check the local laws before you remove them or trim them down.
If you’re worried about mud flaps when you’re off-roading, removable flaps are available.
Rearview Mirrors – Required in most states, rearview mirrors are an important safety device. Most states also have laws specifying the type of finish that can be used on the back of rearview mirrors (the side that faces oncoming traffic).
For example, chrome rearview mirrors are sold for off-road or show use only. The same goes for sideview mirrors in many areas too, as a highly reflective rearview or sideview mirror can be a hazard to other drivers at night.
Turn signals – This is important to off-roaders who are driving rigs from the 40’s and 50’s (or earlier), when turn signals weren’t required equipment. While a vehicle without signals can be technically street legal (again, if it was built in the era before turn signals were required), you can expect to be pulled over by some officer who either a) doesn’t realize your car is old enough to not require signals or b) doesn’t care.
Therefore, if you don’t have a set of turn signals, it’s a good idea to install them. Also, if you remove your turn signals because you’ve modified the vehicle body, it’s a good idea to replace them. Besides, signals help to make sure other drivers don’t run into, block lanes, etc. They’re a good safety device.
License Plate Covers and Mounting Location Changes – Another way a lot of trail riders get in trouble on the streets is if they move their license plate to modify the body. Your license plate must be mounted in clear view. It also has to be properly illuminated.
There are tons of lighting options out there, so you can move your license plate around and still keep it legal. You can even find license plate frames with illumination that will keep you legal in most cases.
After-market Replacement Lights – Headlights and brake lights are absolutely essential to keep your ride legal for the road. In most cases, there’s no reason to remove these, unless you have a one piece fiberglass body (i.e. you’re trying to drive the Gravedigger down the interstate).
But it’s also illegal to use certain types of aftermarket lighting units. So-called “Altezza” lamps are illegal in some areas, as are LED “halo” headlight units, lighting with a tinted lens, or lens covers. If you’re thinking about installing a set of lights on your vehicle, it’s a good idea to check with the manufacturer of the lights about legality in your area.
Grille Guards and Bull Bars – Some states have very strict rules regarding the correct placement of grille guards and/or bull bars. If the bars obscure the factory lighting, it can get you a ticket.
Exhaust Systems – Every state has laws regulating the decibel output of exhaust systems, eg. exhaust system noise laws. There are also city ordinances that cover exhaust systems, and these ordinances are pretty common.
However, exhaust system noise laws are unevenly enforced. Some communities make a point to enforce the noise limit in certain neighborhoods – or at certain times of day – and some do not. Some individual officers write tickets for noise violations, and some do not.
The best policy is to install some sort of muffler on your vehicle. While you’ll sacrifice some of that beautiful engine noise, you’ll avoid getting pulled over and ticketed for a violation. Not to mention, your old fuddy-duddy neighbors will thank you.
NOTE: There are state and federal laws that require certain emissions equipment to be installed on every vehicle, based on it’s year of manufacture. If you remove equipment, you’re almost certainly breaking the law. Therefore, we do not recommend removing emissions equipment.
Beadlock Wheels – Contrary to popular opinion, beadlock rims are perfectly legal in all 50 states. The trouble is that most beadlock wheels do not DOT or NHTSA standards, which means they should not be used on public roads without fear of consequence.
Of course, having said that, many police officers do not know what a “beadlock wheel” is, and wouldn’t know what ticket to issue to you. Your odds of getting a ticket for driving a 4WD with a set of beadlock rims are low. However, if you have an accident that can be traced back to a failing beadlock wheel, you can expect to be sued, as most of the beadlock wheels are specifically sold for off-road use only.
Regardless of what you can find on blogs and forums, you need to do some of your own research. The main problem with looking for advice online is that laws vary from state to state. Laws also change a lot over time, so it’s hard to keep up. Check out sites like LiftLaws.com, FindLaw.com, and the DMV site for your state to get an idea of what’s legal and what isn’t.
You need to make every effort to make sure your rig is street legal. Most (but certainly not all) laws are there for your safety and the safety of your fellow motorists. Most of the time, if you do get caught, you’ll get a fix it ticket to correct the violation before it actually goes on your record. Depending on the officer and state, it may or may not come with a fine. Once you’ve gotten a ticket, you’ll have a certain amount of time to meet regulations, which could get pretty expensive, so the best plan is to know about your mods before you start changing anything.