Illegal Car Modifications to Avoid

While you can modify your car, you can’t do anything you want—here’s a handy guide as to potential illegal modifications you should avoid.
Written by Jason Tushinski
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
If you’re a car enthusiast ready to put your own unique stamp on your precious set of wheels, think twice before souping it up to your heart's content—modifications such as window tinting, raised or lowered suspensions, loud exhausts, and even dangling air fresheners can flirt could be illegal in most states, potentially resulting in tickets, fines, or worse.
Before dreaming up how you’re going to trick-out your car with orange rims, blue headlights, and a massive, three-foot spoiler, be sure you have a robust
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To find out exactly how far you can go in modifying your vehicle before the law catches up to you, keep reading!

Radars, radar detectors, and laser jammers (oh my!)

Radars, laser jammers, and radar detectors sure sound cool, but the cops won’t necessarily be cool with you having any of them in your car if they pull you over.

Radars and laser jammers 

Radars and laser jammers block signals from police devices so they can’t track your speed. You can face a fine or even time in the slammer if you’re caught with one of these ‘lil toys.
Radar jammers are illegal under federal law, pursuant to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations on unregulated radio signals.
Laser jammers are illegal in many states, such as:
  • California
  • Colorado 
  • Illinois
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • District of Columbia

Radar detectors 

Radar detectors let you know if your speed is being tracked by police. 
They are illegal in the District of Columbia and Virginia. Radar detectors also Illegal in commercial vehicles in:
  • Illinois
  • New Jersey
  • New York
They are legal in California and Minnesota, but it is illegal to attach them to windshields as they’ll obstruct your vision. 

Loud exhausts

Some people like to be loud, and some like to be so loud that they remove or modify their mufflers to increase the sound coming from their car’s exhaust systems—each state sets its own limits as to how loud your exhaust can be.
So many people like to do this that there is a thriving aftermarket for exhaust modifying parts. Laws vary by state—In California, for example, 95 decibels is as loud as you can go.
In Texas, there are no limits—they obviously don’t care about your (or anyone else’s) eardrums. Some localities, like New York City, have their own exhaust laws—every car must have a muffler or be hit with a fine.
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Super loud sound systems

We know, you like to feel the music—but that doesn’t mean everyone else wants to feel your car’s music—state laws vary about how loud your car’s sound system can go.
Some drivers with super high-end audio systems sometimes feel the need to boost their sound systems.
Music that’s too loud may be considered noise pollution, and if the music is so loud in your car that people outside your car can hear it, the police might ticket you.
Laws vary, but most states have laws against noise pollution, especially in residential areas.

Nitrous oxide systems

These systems can give your car a boost if you like to...oh, we don’t know...street race? However, nitrous oxide is illegal in many states precisely for this reason.
It is never a good idea to purchase nitrous oxide for your vehicle, for a few reasons: 
  • Sellers must keep track of who buys it in-state for two years after purchase
  • Buyers must sign a form saying they will not use nitrous oxide in their car
  • Nitrous oxide can be very dangerous if the car is in an accident, and can pose extreme risks to first responders

Raised suspensions

Want a more commanding view of the road? The state you live in determines how high you can raise your vehicle’s bodywork from the roadway.
Some drivers like to separate their bodywork from the road, and this is allowed, but only within reason.
Raising suspension too much can make handling difficult and even dangerous due to rollover risk.
In Connecticut, for example, you can raise suspension no more than 4 inches. Whereas, in Georgia, you can just raise your vehicle two inches, so be sure to check your state regulations.

Lowered suspensions

We have the uppers, and then we have the downers—some drivers like lowering their suspensions but, again, restrictions vary by state. 
Why do people lower their suspensions? Because they think it looks cool, improves handling, and boosts speed. However, it can easily lead to damage if you go racing over an obstacle or speed bump. So second guess your choice to perform this mod.

Plate frames

We know you love your “My step-mother is an alien” license plate frame, but if it (or any other plate frame) obscures any numbers, letters, the state name, or any identifying information on the tag, it may be considered illegal.
However, if all the information on the plate is clearly visible, the frame can stay (no matter how offensive it is to your stepmom. Otherwise, liable to tickets and fines if pulled over

Too-dark window and windshield tinting

Even if you live a lifestyle of the rich and famous, tinting your car windows can lead to fines and tickets.
Level of tinting varies from one state to another (usually, tinting must allow 70% of natural light to enter into a vehicle). Tinting is discouraged because it can reduce visibility, especially in bad weather, even if it may help ward off light.
For windshields, most states allow only the top 5 or 6 inches of windshield to be tinted, to reflect low sunlight.

Dangling air fresheners

Dangling air fresheners may indeed bring the lovely scent of pine forest into your car’s cabin, but it is illegal to hang them from your rearview mirror in some states because these can obstruct a driver’s view.
For example, in California, it is illegal for exactly this reason, if a driver’s view is blocked in the windshield or through their side windows. So second guess buying that gas station air freshener (it’s too stinky anyway). 
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