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20 Insane Car Mods That Are Illegal In The United States

Cameron EittreimAugust 23, 2021

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15: Open Headers

Open headers used to be popular in the hot rod community, but now most gearheads have adopted them. By removing the headers the engine will be ridiculously loud and in turn very illegal. The performance will be better but that is about the only benefit to this modification. Similar to other types of intake modifications open headers are another headache.

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In a place like California, open headers are illegal, and repeat tickets will mean jail time. The speed might not be worth it, especially in the case of registering your vehicle. If you aren’t going to be building a hot rod of some sort then avoiding open headers altogether is the best option.

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14: Strobing Brake Lights

LED lighting is everything and strobing lights have become popular. You’d think that more visibility would be a good thing, but strobing lights are a distraction. In most jurisdictions, this type of lighting is frowned upon. If you aren’t wanting to attract negative attention to your ride, strobing brake lights might be avoided.

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In addition to being illegal, a strobing brake light requires re-wiring the brake system, something that could end up causing shorts or worse to the car. Sometimes adding to the electrical on your vehicle can be a bit of a headache.

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13: Race Seats & Harness

After the popularity of “The Fast and the Furious,” everyone wanted a racing-inspired compact car that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case with many other cars from this segment. It’s a dream of many automotive enthusiasts to have authentic racing seats built into their vehicles.

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But the traditional role of the seatbelt in your vehicle hasn’t changed over the past decade and probably won’t. Race seats have been involved in so many crashes that they’re illegal. You can still get racing seating in most new vehicles but they won’t have the harness.

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12: Tinted Windows

If you live in a hot climate then tinted windows can be a great thing, but in an everyday driving situation tinted windows can cause a lot of problems. Police don’t like tinted windows, and the drivers that typically do this to their rides are prone to getting tickets.

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Tinted windows have evolved a lot over the past couple of decades. New York is just one of the states that will not pass a vehicles inspection if the windows are tinted too dark. California also has strict laws on dark window tint when it comes to the front windows of the vehicle.

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11: LED Light Bars

There is no doubt that you haven’t seen the huge lifted pickup trucks that have LED light bars on them. While these add-ons are great for off-roading the end result is blinding to other drivers who are on the road. These LED light bars aren’t illegal in all of the states just yet, but West Virginia has banned them altogether.

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LED light bars have their usages, but for the most part, these are nothing more than an exterior aesthetic. Most consumers would never actually use a light bar for the intended purpose, and this is why most municipalities are starting to outlaw them altogether.

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10: NOS

Nitrous Oxide is a common thing in the performance community, but it’s often illegal on the street. You can buy NOS for use on the race-track or off-roading, using it on the street however can be a very dangerous proposition. NOS freezes the pistons inside of the engine and increases the acceleration and performance to scary fast levels.

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There are no real uses for Nitrous Oxide that the average car owner could use, but there are still drivers that risk using this on the streets. Using NOS on a regular street can be dangerous to both the driver and other cars on the road.

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9: Engine Tuning

As with most things that negatively affect the smog and emissions of a car, engine tuning is also illegal. Hacking into your car’s ECU can have a number of negative effects on the engine, but it will also get you into trouble with the local smog authority. In California and New York especially your car will need to pass a very specific set of tests.

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One of these smog tests is done by connecting the smog machine up to your vehicle’s computer system, and modding with an engine tuner will be immediately visible. Your vehicle will fail the smog inspection and you’ll risk getting a sizable fine.

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8: Windshield Decals

While you might not think that Windshield decals are illegal, in most instances they are. Anything that obstructs the view of the road is considered an illegal modification. The most common windshield decals are being placed up the side of the windshield, and these are extremely illegal and will result in a ticket.

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Likewise, covering the back window with a massive decal is also not the most practical thing. You’ll see this every once in a while but the end result isn’t very good as the visibility is blocked and you are a target for police officers.

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7: Modified Suspensions

As with the camber kits that we previously highlighted, it’s also illegal in some states to lift your ride as well. The state of New Jrsey will only allow you to lift your vehicle once it has been approved and you have to have an elevated vehicle approval certificate on your ride. Georgia on the other hand will only allow you to lift a vehicle by two inches.

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Obviously, drivers go way over this, but is it really worth it? You’ll spend more time dealing with fines and less time enjoying your ride. A modified suspension can look cool but the end result is nothing more than a headache – and an illegal one.

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6: Sound System

This entry should be without question because we’ve all heard those obscenely loud sound systems that go up and down the neighborhood. Most custom sound systems are illegal for the simple fact that they emit a sound that is higher than the noise ordinance. Most police officers will pull you over and give you a noise violation for that alone.

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But if you rack up too many of these noise violations, you’re going to get hit with a pretty hefty fine and eventually get your car impounded. A high-quality sound system can be great if you spend a lot of time on your ride, but taking it overboard just isn’t recommended.

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5: Colored Lights

Colored headlights have been coming into their own lately, whether powered by an app or a switch you can change the colors of these lights. Unfortunately on most mainstream roads, this is an illegal thing to do, and with good reason. You aren’t going to be able to maintain visibility on a dark road with a pair of red headlights.

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Most of the drivers that do these custom light setups aren’t thinking about the bigger picture. Adding colored lights to your vehicle isn’t easy, there will be a lot of re-wiring that needs to be done, and after that, there are still shorts that can happen.

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4: Oversized Tires

Just like racing slicks are illegal on the streets so are oversized tires. If you’ve ever dreamed about slapping some tractor tires on your ride, you’d better keep dreaming. In most states, the size of your tires is greatly determined by the other size aspects of your vehicle. In Ohio, the size of the tire is dictated by the height of the vehicle.

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Most police know to look out for tires that don’t belong on a vehicle and you will get pulled over for it. There have been plenty of YouTube videos where obscene wheels have been put onto a vehicle, but this is far from being legal.

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3: Radar Detectors

The police clearly don’t want you to know that they are tracking your speed. This is why radar detectors are illegal and there is no legality to using one. You might think that you are getting away with speeding but most cops have upgraded their own tools to detect radar detection systems in cars.

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Needless to say, you are probably going to be pulled over and the confrontation probably isn’t going to be too nice. The rise of radar detectors was once a popular subject, but nowadays most police are hip to drivers doing this method.

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2: Rolling Coal

There is no doubt that you’ve missed those lifted 4X4 trucks spewing black smoke all over the road. This is a term that’s dubbed “rolling coal” and it’s illegal in most states. The black smoke chips that we covered earlier in the article are only a small portion of the problem. Some older diesel trucks just spew black smoke naturally and the owners do this on purpose.

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There are many instances where rolling coal has caused a road rage incident between two or more drivers. The end result is never pretty and you can bet that you’ll have a lot of issues when it comes to rolling coal. Rolling coal might seem like fun but the negative impact on your wallet won’t be.

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1: Catalytic Converter Delete

Catalytic converters are an important part of the emissions system that’s put into your vehicle. If you bypass this system you are going to be in trouble with the smog authorities in your state. Nevertheless, many people tend to find a way to cut out or bypass this system to increase the performance or the sound of their vehicle.

Photo Credit: Boss Exhaust

There is no right way to do this, and most automakers have installed computer systems that let the vehicle know when the airflow just isn’t right. When you remove a catalytic converter you are removing an important part of the vehicle, and this usually won’t work out.

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