Top 5 Common Illegal Car Modifications

The motor industry is in uproar over the Cape Town traffic department’s efforts to clamp down on modified cars as part of their actions against illegal street racers. Doesn’t matter what type is your car ( sedan, sport sedan, coupe, suv ) it can be stopped and checked. Even seemingly simple modifications, such as wider or larger wheels and tyres, larger exhausts, or any fittings not clearly specified by the car’s manufacturer may now have a motorist running the risk of having a car declared not roadworthy.

The city’s traffic officers have been stopping cars they saw as having been modified and removing their licence disks, forcing the owners to go through a roadworthy process.

Traffic department spokesman Richard Coleman said that it doesn’t matter if your car is a sedan, small suv, sport sedan or a regular suv and pointed out that regulations stated no modifications could be made to any vehicle that was not specified by the manufacturer, and that all work on cars had to be done by individuals or organizations who carried a letter of authority regarding the specific car.

Essentially, no modifications were legal, including lowering a car or changing the wheel size, he said. In 3 short pages we will try to explain what’s wrong with this new law!


Owners of modified cars complained that they were being victimised by traffic officers even when the modifications they made were with proper, high-quality components that were recognised around the world.

But Coleman contended that the mere action of lowering a car made it unsafe on the road. When asked how it could be unsafe if the Federation Internationale d’Automobile (FIA) allowed the lowering of cars for competitive motor racing, he said it would be safe for the track but not for the road.

This week the city said that it was renewing its focus on fast-tracking regulations to tackle illegal racing. This would include imposing heavier fines, impounding vehicles and calling for longer jail sentences for those caught breaking the law.

Mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said the city was not authorised to arrest motorists nor suspend illegally modified vehicles from the roads.

He asked that the new provincial traffic regulations, which are set to be announced by Transport MEC Donald Grant in April, give city officials more authority.

But several owners of modified cars, who spoke to the Cape Argus on condition of anonymity, said traffic officers who stopped them, directly accused them of being street racers.

“I have installed a very high quality coil-over-shock suspension system on my car. The coil springs are made in such a way that the coils are closer together at one point and further apart at another, in order to allow for a stepped spring action. A traffic officer stopped me and told me the springs were collapsed,” an owner said.

Coleman referred to various regulationsmand said traffic officers were not able to change or interpret the laws, they just had to apply them.

One of the regulations he referred to was that which determined roadworthiness and what roadworthy testing stations had to reject. Here, the regulation expressly states that components which were not specified by the original manufacturer had to be rejected.

The Top 5 Illegal Car Modifications

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.


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