Simple Mistakes to Avoid to Keep Your Car Road Legal

Have you ever day-dreamed about owning a souped-up car; maybe exotic, or domestic… or perhaps you’ve wondered what it would be like to own a certain 6-7 figure car, only to find out that it’s not “street legal”?

If you’re wanting to start a new project – whether you’re wanting to soup up your current car, or you’re ready to buy a new car that’s been tweaked a bit – then you need to make sure you know the law. 

It’s essential that you know the basic legal requirements regarding your vehicle before investing your time and money into it to make sure you’ll actually be able to drive it.

What does makes a car “street legal”? 

“Street legal” literally means having a vehicle with a certain standard of equipment that the law requires. There are a variety of laws surrounding street-legality of a car, and these can vary state to state. 

This list of street legal tips is a general list to help you across the country; however, laws vary from state to state as well, so it’s important you check out your state’s laws as well.

Here Are 14 Features Legally Required To Be On Your Vehicle

1. Tires

Tires. That’s a no brainer – you wouldn’t get far without them anyways. But did you know your tires have to be installed in a specific way to prevent any debris from flying off your vehicle toward a following car?

The top half of your rear tires must be fully covered by either mud flaps or fenders to be street legal.

2. Horn

Surprising? Well, it may not be the most vital safety feature, but is just as much legal as any other feature. The law states that every vehicle has to have a horn that is audible from 200 feet away. 

Don’t worry, you can still have fun with it and get one installed that plays a fancy jingle (as long as you can hear it from 200 feet away). 

3. Brakes

Of course, you need brakes. But… some may not know this, but it is also legally required to have a functioning parking brake. 

4. Mirrors

Mirror requirements can sometimes range from one vehicle to the next, but the standard is a minimum of two. Most cars require the driver’s side to have a mirror, as well as a rearview mirror. 

Semi-trucks and other bigger vehicles that have a rearview obstruction will have to have a second one on the passenger side. 

5. Engine Hood

This one might also come as a surprise. But, the fact remains that it is indeed required to have a hood. Also, the air intakes or hood scoops can’t be over 4 inches higher than the hood itself in most states.

6. Lights

It’s the law to have turn signals, headlights, tail lights, and stop lights, all within the Department of Transportation’s regulated covers, using the approved bulbs (most bulbs are legal if installed correctly). 

Headlights have to be a minimum of 22 inches off the ground and be an approved color. There also may be restrictions on using additional lighting on your vehicle depending on your state.

7. Windshield

Windshields are obviously a requirement. Tinting your windshield, however is illegal in most states (though you can sometimes get away with a portion of tinting). 

Other windows have to allow 40-70% light (depending on the state). In some states, side window tinting is also illegal.

8. Windshield Wipers

Don’t have them? Get them. If you’ve ever had a windshield wiper break, you know how dangerous it can be to see when it’s raining (and especially snowing).

9. Steering Wheel

Good luck driving without this one. But, there are certain requirements. To have a legal steering wheel, it can’t be a “butterfly” style steering wheel. It has to be a circular wheel, with a minimum diameter of 13 inches.

10. Mufflers/Exhausts & Emission Control Systems

You may not like exhaust/EMS systems because they can negatively affect your engine’s performance.

But… they’re very much required to control pollutants. Mufflers are also required because of their role in the EMS system (and to prevent noise pollution).

11. License Plate

The general rule of thumb is: There has to be a spot for your license plate and it has to be visible at all times from up to 100 feet away.

Some states require just the rear license plate, while others require both the front and back. 

12. Seat Belts

This law came into effect 60 years ago. It’s another obvious one, but the fines can be hefty.

13. Reflectors

When your car lights are off, other drivers need to make sure they can still see your parked car so they don’t crash into it. A vehicle is required to have rear and side reflectors (usually built into the lights). 

14. Bumpers

You may not bump into anyone, but sooner or later someone will give you a little nudge. Keep them on. Your car would be naked without them. Plus, they’re legally required in every vehicle.

Want To Learn More?

If you want more information on your car to find out if it’s street legal, or you’re planning on purchasing or modifying a vehicle, you should reach out to your department of motor vehicles, and if you want to be certain, contact an attorney. 

Author: Brandon Park