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These 9 Mods Are Illegal in California (But There's One You Can Get Instead)

Rahmi Doğucan E.
September 21, 2022

California spearheads many vehicle laws throughout the US. Whether it is the stricter smog inspections or ban on many aftermarket products, California led the way for many laws and continue to do so. That's why it is wise to assume that if a mod is illegal in California, it'll probably be illegal in your state sometime in the near future. That's why it is a good practice to check which car mods are illegal in California before upgrading your car. So, without further ado, we'll give you some vital information about aftermarket parts! 

Why Do Some of the Illegal Car Mods in California Exist?

California's tight restrictions make it a little more challenging to customize cars, and tuning may be one of the most difficult areas to handle legally. Unless you're modding a pre-1976 vehicle exempt, most significant performance modifications are considered illegal car mods. 

CA used to exempt any car that was 30 years old on a rolling basis; it is currently fixed at 1976. Regarding performance modifications, you can only install equipment if the aftermarket manufacturer has undergone the pricey CARB (California Air Resources Board) accreditation procedure and has been given the go-ahead.

Are California Car Modification Laws That Strict?

While some modifications are CARB-authorized, keep in mind that an aftermarket component also needs to be approved for your vehicle's exact year and model. A legal turbocharger, for instance, is available for a 2005 Vette with a specific engine. Even though a 2007 Vette has the same engine, it is not allowed. Well, yeah!

The CARB approval list can be seen on this page. You must choose a mod type and search through it to see if your vehicle's year and model are supported for the specific mod you're looking for because it is organized by equipment type.

What are the 9 Most Illegal Car Mods in California?

It should go without saying that some automotive changes affect performance while others are purely aesthetic. Although some auto modifications are safe, others may result in a fee and a ticket, especially if the change is not permitted on public roads. Here they are!

Window Tints

They are considered one of the most illegal car mods in California. Most states have rules prohibiting reflecting and tint because it makes it impossible to see inside the car. Some states have strict guidelines for window tint. For instance, a driver can only legally wear side or front window tint in Illinois if they have a valid medical condition. 

Dark window tints are illegal in California

Since tint is determined by the percentage of light that can still flow through the windows, those states that don't outright prohibit tint give a range of acceptable rates. The visible Light Transmission (VLT) percentage expresses how much light enters a car's window. This refers to the quantity of light that can pass through the glass and tinting. The front windshield and its side windows must be a 70 percent VLT to comply with California car modification laws in 2022.

  • Any shade of darkness is permitted for the back window and side windows.

Suspension Upgrades

Only if you adhere to the ride height adjustment restrictions set forth by your state will an aftermarket part suspension system be permitted. The reason for this is that when the suspension system is installed correctly, a skilled mechanic may tune it to optimize your car for how you drive, and your car will handle considerably better. And if not done correctly, it will cause the opposite of this situation.

A car being too low or too high might void your warranty

The frame and suspension heights are likewise restricted in California car modification laws: 

  • Body lifts are limited to five inches. Vehicle height is limited to 14 feet. 
  • The maximum frame height for vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of less than 4,500 pounds is 27 inches. 
  • The maximum frame height for GVWR between 4,501 and 7,500 pounds is 30 inches. 
  • The maximum frame height for GVWR between 7,501 and 10,000 pounds is 31 inches.

Turbochargers and Superchargers

Adding a supercharger or turbocharger to an automobile is another common modification that is a tough spot—these gadgets "boost" your car's engine by forcing in more air, producing greater power. In California laws on car modification, the answer to the question "are turbos legal?" is "occasionally."

Forced induction parts may be illegal in California

Since many turbos are prohibited under California's Vehicle Code Section 27156 and are one of the unlawful auto modifications in California, they can get you into legal problems. Fortunately, the principle has many exceptions. To save a lot of hassle, make sure you have an EO number, acquire an OEM turbo, and shop locally.

Screens and Monitors

In California car modification laws, using a TV while driving is one of the most illegal car mods in California and the driver cannot see the screen. TV monitors should therefore be placed out of the driver's line of sight or behind the vehicle. 

GPS navigation systems, parking camera screens, and car information displays are exempt from the restrictions. It is prohibited to use a monitoring device while driving if it can display television or receive other communications.

Cold Air Intakes

One of the most illegal car mods in California car modification laws. One of the most significant aftermarket improvements you can make to your car is a cold air intake system. Adding one usually results in the engine producing more horsepower, and more power equates to more fun, right? Tell that to the several state regulatory agencies that have restricted cold air intake systems in their respective regions.

Cold air intakes might be illegal

But if you really want to have that one real nice piece of aftermarket part, make sure that it has an CARB Executive Order (EO) number on it.

Are Cold Air Intakes Illegal in California?

Cold air intakes are not universally illegal in California but must comply with specific regulations. Any cold air intake system installed must have a California Air Resources Board (CARB) Executive Order (EO) number to be considered legal. This EO number indicates that the modification does not increase emissions and complies with California's strict air quality laws. Vehicle owners should ensure that any cold air intake system they install is CARB-certified to avoid legal issues.

Studded Tires

Although studded tires are excellent for winter driving, they can damage tarmac and other road surfaces when the snowy weather is gone and the roads are clear which is why they are one of the illegal car mods. 

Therefore, even if you can purchase and use studded tires in the winter, it's advisable to store them away from spring until autumn if you don't want to run afoul of the California laws on car modifications.

Laser Jammers

Another one of the illegal car mods is done by sending undetectable light sources back to the original police laser gun (or LiDAR gun). These laser rifles are significantly more precise and enable authorities to more precisely identify a single car.

The officer gets blocked to "clock" the driver's speed because the return signal throws off the laser gun. They’re banned not only in California car modification laws but in many states.

The Color Red

Yup, in accordance with California laws on car modifications, a car or other vehicle can not be painted or illuminated red in the front because it serves as a warning to other vehicles and to drivers of vehicles behind it, including by turning on brake lights.

This is considered one of the most illegal car mods. In California, red should never be utilized as a vehicle's under glow color, and flashing lights are also not allowed.

Mufflers and Exhaust

Also one of the most illegal car mods in California laws on car modifications. There are muffler rules in California. The quantity of sound that the vehicle makes cannot be increased or amplified beyond what is produced by factory equipment through the use of aftermarket exhaust systems.

Loud exhausts are very illegal in California.

Except for motorbikes, all vehicles that have a gross vehicle weight of less than 6,000 pounds must create a noise that is 95 decibels or less.

What Car Mods Are Legal in California?

Legal car modifications in California include those that meet the state's safety, noise, and emissions standards. For instance:
  • Engine modifications are legal if they use EPA-certified or CARB-exempted parts that do not negatively impact emissions.
  • Exhaust modifications are allowed if they do not amplify the sound beyond factory levels and meet decibel limits.
  • Suspension and body modifications can be done within specified height limits and should not compromise vehicle safety.
  • Window tints are legal, provided they adhere to the specific VLT (Visible Light Transmission) requirements the state sets.
  • Lighting modifications, such as aftermarket headlights or taillights, must comply with brightness and color regulations.

What Modifications Are Considered Illegal For Vehicles in California?

In California, several modifications are considered illegal, such as:

  • Modifications that significantly alter the exhaust system, making it louder than factory specifications.
  • Installation of very dark window tints that reduce visibility.
  • Application of red, blue, or amber window tints.
  • Extremely bright underglow lighting.
  • Installation of red lights at the front of the vehicle.
  • Adding TV screens in the driver's direct view.
  • Increasing vehicle height beyond specified limits.
  • Making engine modifications that affect emissions.
  • Hanging items from the rearview mirror that obstruct the driver's view.

Does Pedal Commander Get Stuck at California Laws on Car Modifications?

Pedal Commander doesn’t violate any California laws on car modifications, it has it’s CARB accreditation. Not only that but also Pedal Commander is the holder of multiple SEMA awards. Pedal Commander is approved and doesn't harm your car. 

Pedal Commander can be set up in 15 minutes. While other devices might need assistance from an expert. It is completely reversible and carries a two-year warranty. You will have total control over your throttle in the grip of your fingers thanks to Pedal Commander's Bluetooth compatibility. Your warranty won't be voided and it is an undetectable piece of technology.

These 9 Mods Are Illegal in California (But There's One You Can Get Instead)