Car modifications: What the law says in SA

<i>Image: Youtube</i>
<i>Image: Youtube</i>

Cape Town - Law officials have been showing zero tolerance on speedsters and illegal street racers especially in the Western Cape.

There has been uproar among young motorists being pulled over or fined for having vehicle modifications or alterations done to their cars.

Arrive Alive, together with vehicle experts Stan Bezuidenhout from IBF Investigations, MasterDrive SA's Eugene Herbert and FleetMax Africa's Ashraf Ismail share some insights regarding vehicle modifications.

1. What are the most popular vehicle modifications

The most popular alterations/modifications involve boosting engine capacity, the use of illegal devices such as nitrous oxide cylinders, dropping suspensions, fitting bigger wheels, applying extremely dark tinted windows, fitment of various body panels, spoilers, diffusers, tail fins and the like as well as changing the exhaust/silencer system to emit louder sounds, and not forgetting the installation of super sound systems that exceed the approved decibels levels as prescribed in the Act.

When the alterations fall outside the manufacturer’s approved accessory installation and falls foul of the Act, then not only can it affect the warranty of a vehicle, but the car can be deemed illegal for use on a public road and can be “discontinued from service” necessitating restoring it to its original condition and presenting it for a re-test at an approved vehicle testing station.

Read the original article here.

Have you ever been in trouble with the law for car modifications? What are your thoughts about the matter? Email us

2. Does our road legislation have provisions for vehicle modifications and alterations?

Image: YouTube

Regrettably, not much of the Road Traffic Legislation deals with modifications and alterations. The proliferation of the kinds of enhancements and modifications seen today came into effect long after the Road Traffic Act was originally promulgated.

In some provinces, law enforcement officials have taken vehicles off the road based on their interpretation of the RTA which in “loose terms" deals with the fact the vehicle is not the way it left the factory.

The National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996 Clause 216 (1) states:

"A motor car, minibus, bus or goods vehicle fitted with at least four wheels, or a trailer, operated on a public road, shall comply with the relevant requirements as specified in the Government Notices issued in terms of section 22 of the Standards Act, 1993 (Act No 29 of 1993) and listed in Annex A to code of practice SABS 047: “The Testing of motor vehicles for roadworthiness”.

It further goes on to say:

(3) “Notwithstanding anything pertaining to the extent of the application of the requirements referred to in sub-regulation (1), any motor vehicle design or any design of a motor vehicle modification submitted to the inspectorate of manufacturers, builders, and importers in terms of regulation 43, shall comply with the requirements relevant to such motor vehicle design or any design of a motor vehicle modification.”

While design modifications like the excessive dropping of suspensions could place the owner in a position where he is in violation of – for instance – wheel clearance (body contact) regulations, the act lacks the depth to address this industry directly.

The simplest test would be to take a modified vehicle for a roadworthy test. If anything fails, which might include even something as seemingly innocent as for instance spot-light positions, the car should probably not even be on the road.

3. What would be valid reasons for making any modifications or alterations to a “street legal” vehicle?

Image: YouTube

At the end of the day, with the sheer number of different models available and the very wide array of after-market enhancements and modifications being available, there are many that would impact positively on vehicle use, economy and safety.

On older vehicles (like VW Beetles) the drum brakes could be swapped for disk brakes – this is a safety enhancement.

For LDV’s, there could be the addition of off-road tyres and winches for vehicles that are used for 4x4-ing.

While "valid” is such a generic term, there would be many reasonable reasons for modification, which may include (but might not be limited to):

Tyre selection – better, lower-cost or more suitable wheels and tires.
Improved lighting – especially on certain types or models of vehicles.
Smash and grab window tinting for protection from sunlight and criminals.
So-called computer mapping boxes, to improve fuel economy (although many will result in warranties being affected).

4. What are some of the dangers of modifying your car?

Any modification that enhances the capabilities of a vehicle – improve handling, safety or performance – can be either positive or negative.

If your car has more power and you use it with restraint, you can experience fuel economy benefits, but if you race like a maniac you could be at risk.

If you fit larger rims and better tyres you could improve road holding or even road noise but if they are not compatible with your vehicle, do not fit properly or are of the incorrect speed rating, they could also expose you to risk.

In short – the enhancement or modification, as long as they are not preposterous, could be either good or bad depending on the user.

When a driver fits after-market accessories or does upgrades on a vehicle which are listed below then, generally speaking, there will be no problems:

• Has the manufacturers approval
• Has been developed and/or provided by companies which have suitable certifications regarding standards.
• Are supplied by a local company who have an elevated level of credibility

On the other hand, modifications performed in earlier years (and sometimes still done) compromised the vehicles, and could deem your vehicle unroadworthy. These included:

• Cutting and widening of rims in a DIY manner
• Cutting of springs or heating of coils to lower a vehicle
• Swapping between vehicles that had not been designed for. Common were engine swaps which saw V8 engines being placed in small cars where the chassis were not strong enough to cope with the increased power or brakes were not improved to make it possible for the vehicle to be brought to a stop from the speeds it could now achieve.

Image: YouTube

5. What are some 'valid' modifications?

“Valid” modifications are those that involve the fitment of manufacturer approved accessories that do not affect the warranty of vehicles.

When people start tampering with the engine performance, drivetrain, suspension, wheels, and brakes of a vehicle, obviously going outside the approved parameters, then such vehicles’ dynamic performance, whilst enhanced, will compromise safety as the vehicles were not designed with high performance driving on a public road in mind.

Such highly modified vehicles can only be restricted for use on racing tracks. Illegal street racing with vehicles modified to boost the performance of the vehicle has become a significant concern to all in road traffic enforcement and a threat to all road users.

6. Which modifications are a threat to road safety?

• Speed enhancement modifications.
• Dropping ride heights significantly (suspension modifications) which affect the ride and handling and fitment of overly large wheels which affect steering and control of a vehicle.
• The "home done" suspension modifications which have seen springs falling out of the vehicle having no suspension travel at all.
• Too big an engine  for the vehicle which compromised:
• Handling
• Stopping ability
• Premature wear of wheel bearings and other critical components as a result of wide wheels and incorrect tyres.

Minibus Taxis

A major threat is the aftermarket enhancement of seating in minibus taxis. If the number of seats that are available to passengers is increased without due consideration to vehicle design, extremely dangerous situations can follow.

Read the original article here.

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