California’s Strict Car Modification Laws

By Omri Shahar

While driving along West Coast, you are bound to see a range of cars— from steezy lowriders, to clean Beamers, or even a Porsche or Lamborghini. Whether the members just liked to cruise around, go to car shows, or maybe even be involved in races, car communities have been big in California for a long time. But, the one thing that has stayed true since the beginning is the fact that stock, AKA, how it comes from the factory, is too slow. To tackle that problem, enthusiasts add new parts to their cars to either increase performance or make cosmetic changes to the frame. 

Unfortunately for those who live in California, as well as several other states with similar laws, making modifications to your vehicle may be more difficult as time passes. California has the strictest car modification laws in the US, and many are starting to find themselves very limited with what they can do to their own vehicle. Currently, there are laws and limits on suspension, window tints, exhaust swaps, ECU tuning, lights around the car, laser jammers, and more. While there is no one stopping drivers from buying and installing aftermarket parts not approved by California law, most cops look to enforce these laws on the road daily, by pulling over cars that sound too loud, or cars that clearly have illegal modifications. These new laws and a strong push to keep pumping out new regulations have become frustrating for many, causing most car enthusiasts to make the risky decision of driving their illegally modified car on the road day to day, instead of replacing all of their shiny, expensive, performance parts. 

While some may not consider putting some lights on your car a big deal, in California, if a cop sees you driving with underbody neon lights, lights around your license plate, or any door lights, you are liable to get slapped with an expensive ticket. You may think, no big deal, right? It’s just some lights after all. But as most enthusiasts point out, this is a personally owned vehicle; why should the government care what I do with it as long as I’m following the federal driving laws on the road. However, some regulations do have benefits, such as laws that restrict exhaust system modifications, as many aftermarket exhaust systems do not pass a traditional smog test, and release toxins and bad gasses into the air. The government should continue to regulate parts like these, that directly cause harm to the environment, or are unsafe to the general population. Lights, ECU tuning, paint jobs, window tinting, and other cosmetic or performance upgrades on a personal vehicle do not need to be regulated by the government. California has taken these restrictions to the next level, and in many cases, such as an exhaust system, require the stock exhaust to stay on, and no modifications to be made, legally anyway.