Unlawful vehicle modifications refer to any changes that individuals make to their vehicles that violate the laws which regulate vehicle specifications and vehicle equipment in their state. Some vehicle modifications are subtle while other modifications are more obvious and can be easily noticed on the road.

What are Some Examples of Unlawful Vehicle Modifications?

These are some examples of vehicle modifications which can result in a penalty:

  • Modification of vehicle ground clearance such as “lowered” or “raised” vehicles;
  • Any addition of non-standard lighting such as neon or under-vehicle lights;
  • Window tinting; and/or
  • Removal of mufflers and other sound-control devices.

What are the Penalties for Unlawful Vehicle Modifications?

In most states, drivers may be given a traffic ticket for operating a vehicle that has been unlawfully modified. Traffic laws can vary by state and the best way to avoid being contacted by law enforcement is to simply not modify your car. To find out if a vehicle has been unlawfully modified, police officers are looking for certain features such as:

  • Sound and noise modifications;
  • Frame and suspension modifications;
  • Engine modifications; and/or
  • After-market lighting.

Citations for certain unlawful vehicle modifications are considered “fix-it” tickets or “correctable violations” in some states. In the state of California for example, if you are given a “fix-it” ticket by a police officer, a “yes” will be checked next to “Correctable Violation”. After the problem is fixed, you are required to get the signature of a local law enforcement officer on the “Certificate of Correction” portion of the ticket.

It is important to read the “fix-it” ticket to determine if you can mail the proof of correction rather than taking it to court. If the court accepts your correction, the case will be dismissed but if you do not fix the problem within a short period of time after receiving the “fix-it” ticket, you will have to pay a fine for the unlawful vehicle modification. You may also be given another ticket which will go on your record.

What is a Mechanical Violation?

When you are using a vehicle that is not properly equipped or whose equipment is malfunctioning, you are committing a mechanical violation. Traffic laws in all states require that all motor vehicles have certain equipment properly installed.

The equipment must also be functioning correctly while the vehicle is being used. A vehicle which is not properly equipped or equipped with malfunctioning equipment can receive a traffic ticket for a mechanical violation.

Similar to unlawful vehicle modifications, citations for mechanical violations are considered correctable violations in some states and you will receive a “fix-it” ticket. Once you get the problem fixed, you are required to get the signature of a local law enforcement officer on the “Certificate of Correction” portion of the ticket.

To avoid a mechanical violation, you must make sure that the equipment in your vehicle is installed and is in proper working order. The equipment that you have to pay attention to include:

  • Brakes;
  • Windshields and windows which are made of approved safety glass;
  • Mufflers;
  • Mirrors;
  • Lights;
  • Horns;
  • Safety belts;
  • Reflectors; and
  • Tires

Can the Vehicle Be Used After the Ticket?

In some states like California, once you have been given a traffic ticket for driving an unsafe vehicle or a vehicle with unlawful modifications, it is illegal to operate that vehicle unless you need to take the vehicle to your residence, place of business or a garage until the vehicle is made to conform to the regulations.

However, in other states such as Oregon, you are not allowed to operate a non-conforming vehicle in any manner. It would be a good idea to ask the law enforcement officer who gives you a ticket whether you can operate your vehicle.

You may not be allowed to drive your vehicle home if you have major unlawful modifications or major mechanical violations but you may be allowed to take your vehicle home if you only have a minor issue with your vehicle.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

The laws regarding vehicle modifications and mechanical violations vary from state to state and it is important to know what are the specific requirements. If you believe that you were wrongfully given a traffic ticket for any of these offenses or if you want to make sure that your equipment conforms to state regulations, it would be beneficial to consult with a local criminal lawyer before proceeding.