Unlawful vehicle modifications refer to any changes that a person makes to their vehicles that violate the laws regulating vehicle specifications and vehicle equipment in their state. Some vehicle modifications are barely noticeable, while other modifications are quite visible and audible and can be easily observed on the road.

What are Some Examples of Unlawful Vehicle Modifications?

These are some examples of vehicle modifications which can result in a citation and the penalty that goes with it:

  • Modification of a vehicle’s ground clearance through lowering or raising the vehicle’s wheelbase;
  • Any addition of lighting that is not standard, such as adding neon light or lights under the vehicle’s body;
  • Tinting of the windows; and/or
  • Removal of mufflers and other sound-control devices.

What are the Penalties for Unlawful Vehicle Modifications?

In almost all states, drivers may be given a traffic citation for operating a vehicle that has been modified in violation of applicable traffic laws. Different states have different laws on the topic of vehicle modification and what is and is not allowable. Of course, the very best way for a person to avoid being stopped by law enforcement is for the person not to modify their car.

Law enforcement looks for certain types of modifications and will stop the vehicle in question and possibly issue a citation if they see the following:

  • Sound and noise modifications, generally intended to make the vehicle louder;
  • Frame and suspension modifications, ;
  • Engine modifications; and/or
  • After-market lighting.

Citations for certain unlawful vehicle modifications are referred to as “fix-it” tickets, which are tickets that require the person to correct the violation noted in the citation. In some states, they are referred to as “correctable violations.” In the state of California for example, if a person is given a “fix-it” ticket by a police officer, a “yes” will be checked in the box next to “Correctable Violation.” This means that a person can avoid penalties by fixing the problem. Once the problem has been fixed, the person can go to their local police station and get a local law enforcement officer to sign the “Certificate of Correction” portion of the ticket.

The person should then be sure to read the “fix-it” ticket to determine if they can mail in the proof of correction or if they must take it to their local traffic court. In either case, once the court accepts the proof of correction, the case will be dismissed.

If, however, the person does not fix the problem within a short period of time after receiving the “fix-it” ticket, they will have to pay a fine for the unlawful vehicle modification. The amount of time the person has to correct the violation is specified on the ticket, so again, the person should read the ticket carefully. In addition to paying a fine, the person may also be given another ticket which will go on their driving record. A person avoids having the violation on their driving record if they correct the violation.

What is a Mechanical Violation?

When a person drives a vehicle that does not have the proper equipment or whose equipment does not function as it is supposed to, they are guilty of a mechanical violation. In all states, the traffic laws require that motor vehicles have certain equipment and that the equipment is properly installed.

In addition, the equipment has to function properly when the vehicle is in use. The driver of a vehicle that is not equipped properly or that is equipped with malfunctioning equipment can receive a ticket for a mechanical violation.

Tickets for mechanical violations are correctable violations in some states and a driver with a mechanical violation will receive a “fix-it” ticket. Once the person fixes the mechanical problem, they should get the signature of a local law enforcement officer on the “Certificate of Correction” part of the ticket.

The best way to avoid a mechanical violation is for a person to have their vehicle inspected regularly in order to make sure that all necessary equipment is installed and is in good working order. The equipment to which the person should pay special attention includes the following:

  • Brakes: Clearly a driver wants to know that their vehicle has an operable braking system;
  • Windshields and windows: All glass should be approved safety glass;
  • Muffler: The muffler is supposed to muffle the loud roar of the engine;
  • Mirrors: A vehicle should have both a rear view mirror inside the cabin and side mirrors outside on either side of the vehicle. Special kinds of vehicles may have special mirror requirements;
  • Lights: A regular 4-wheel, passenger car should have headlights, taillights and turn signals;
  • Horn: Every vehicle needs a horn for warning other drivers of dangers;
  • Safety belts: Every vehicle must have safety belts and the driver and passengers should use them when the vehicle is in motion;
  • Reflectors: These look similar to lights, but do not shine except when the light of another car hits them. Their purpose is to make a car visible to other cars even the its engine is turned off;
  • Tires: No explanation is necessary when it comes to tires. One issue is not to leave a spare tire on a car for any longer than is needed to take the car to a garage, get the damaged tire repaired and return the repaired tire to its place on the vehicle.

Can the Vehicle Be Used After the Ticket?

In some states, such as California, as soon as a person has been given a traffic ticket for driving an unsafe vehicle or an unlawfully modified vehicle, they may not legally operate that vehicle. The person needs to take the vehicle to their residence, place of business or a garage until the vehicle can be made to conform to the traffic laws.

However, in other states, such as Oregon, a person is not allowed to operate a non-conforming vehicle in any manner. It would be a good idea for a person to ask the law enforcement officer who gives them a ticket whether they can continue to operate their vehicle until they are able to repair the problem.

It is possible that a person may not be allowed to drive their vehicle home if they have major unlawful modifications or major mechanical violations. A person, may, on the other hand, be allowed to take their vehicle home if they only have a minor issue. In any event, it is a good idea to correct the violation as soon as possible so there is no question about a person’s ability to continue to operate it.

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 the specific requirements are in your state. If you want to modify your vehicle, you should consult an experienced traffic violation attorney to find out if your planned modification is legal. You might save yourself a lot of money paying for a modification and then paying to remove it again if you get a ticket for an illegal modification.

If you believe that you were wrongfully given a traffic ticket for any of these offenses, it would be best to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer before proceeding.