As mini-truckers what's the one thing that pisses us off the most and isn't really anything we can fix? That would be the laws that affect our customized vehicles. It seems as if sometimes the laws are just there to piss us off. There has always been a lot of controversy as to what is legal, what isn't, and what is just plain pointless. We'll review the majority of the nation as well as touching on Japan and Australia, since those seem to be the two largest mini-truck communities outside of the States.
Problem: Frame height and bumper height, as well as aftermarket suspension and tire size, are drawing increasing attention from state regulators as they consider rules that are unnecessarily severe and burden owners without making their vehicles any safer. Others can affect virtually all automotive hobbyists, such as mini-trucks, street rods, kit cars, or lowriders. Still others discriminate against independent parts manufactur-ers and their customers by allowing the automakers to set the standards. In addition, suspension and height regulations are often so unclear that the industry, hobbyists, and inspection technicians have no firm guidelines to go by. State regulators continue to revise and update equipment and inspection standards that are usually biased against specialty stuff like custom lighting, wheels and tires, window tinting, and suspension components.
Regulations State by State
NH - No alteration to the OEM bumper that would make the bottom of the bumper less than 16 inches or more than 20 inches from the ground
WI - Cannot be altered beyond 4 inches from OEM
AK, AL, AR, AZ, DC, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IN, KS, LA, MD, MI, ND, NH, NJ, NV, SC, TX, WA, WI - Height of headlamps must be at least 24 inches from the ground
CA, CT, ME, MT, OK - Height of headlamps must be at least 22 inches from the ground
NM - Height of headlamps must be at least 20 inches from the ground
AL, AR, CO, DE, GA, IA, ID, IN, MD, NH, NJ, NM, RI, SC, WI - Taillights must be at least 20 inches off the ground
AZ, CT, DC, KS, MT, NV, OK, SD, TX, WA - Taillights must be at least 15 inches off the ground
CA - Taillights for post-'69 vehicles must be at a height of at least 15 inches
Wheels and Tires
ME - If the rim has been altered, then the overall diameter must be within the vehicle manufacturer's specifications
WI - Tires can be increased by up to 4 inches in radius over OEM for 4WD vehicles or trucks under 8,000 lbs
Frame and Body Modifications
LA - Vehicles must have at least 4 inches of ground clearance measured from the frame with a vehicle on a level surface
MA - Alterations not to exceed within 2 inches of OEM specifications
WI - Cannot modify suspension axles or chassis more than 4 inches from OEM
ME - Original suspension system cannot be disconnected; however, heavy-duty shocks and overload springs are among the exempt equipment
MN - Modifications to suspension system or bumper height of private passenger vehicles not to exceed more than 6 inches from OEM
WY - No apparent restrictions, just that vehicles must be in "safe" working condition.
Our buddy Makoto "Mark" Okamura of Truck Trends Japan gave us the skinny on what it takes to roll while slammed in the Land of the Rising Sun. We left most of it in its untampered with "R"-ridden glory for your viewing pleasure. Whenever you get confused put an "L" where there is an "R" and read on.
1.Rens (or "lens") color
In Japan we can't put red renses on tail for turn signal. It must be orange. We want same renses as U.S. So tail renses of our truck has orange part. Some guys changes it from Japanese one to U.S. one, but cops will give them ticket when they see it. Sucks!
2. Windshield stickers
In Japan windshield must be clear. Nobody can put any stickers on. Even tinting upper end of windshield is also illegal. Sucks!
3. Child seat
(We don't know where this falls into play. Obviously Mark has a few illegitimate children, so this is on his mind.)We must set child's seat when we have passengers under 5 year old. Any vehicle must set, even mini-trucks. Sucks!
4. Road Clearance
Every vehicle which has a wheelbase over 100 inches (2,500 mm) must clear the object which has 3.54 inches (9 cm) height under the floor. Every vehicle is checked for road clearance when it's in for inspection. (Yes, it's what you saw in Japan.) Sucks!
Every passenger vehicle is checked every two years. Commercial vehicle is checked every year!! Sucks!!
Jamie Starling of Negative Camber Australia went above and beyond with his compilation of ridiculous Australian laws. The U.S. audience reading this will be able to appreciate how hardcore Aussie mini-truckers have to be to roll a truck Down Under.
Mini-Truckin' in Australia
By Jamie Starling
Driving a mini-truck in Australia is no different to anywhere else in the world. No matter what you do, getting pulled over is part of driving something that stands out in the crowd. This being said, the best thing you can do to protect your investment (and wallet) is to know your rights and responsibilities in accordance with local and interstate laws and standards.
Austroads is the association of Australian and New Zealand road transport and traffic authorities. Austroads members are the six Australian state and two territory road transport and traffic authorities. Accompanying the state and territory vehicle standards are the Australian Design Rules (ADR), to which all Australian vehicles must adhere. The transport and traffic authorities which are most active in keeping mini-truckers in check are the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) - NSW (Sydney), VIC Roads - Victoria (Melbourne), and Queensland's Department of Main Roads.
There are three recognised levels of light vehicle modifications in NSW: owner-certified minor modifications, engineering-signatory-certified modified production vehicles, and engineering-signatory-certified individually constructed vehicles. Owner-certified minor modifications are generally the modifications which come as optional equipment for the vehicle concerned and which will not affect the level of safety, strength, or reliability of vital systems such as brakes, steering, and suspension. Major modifications include those that are likely to be found on a mini-truck (e.g., chassis modifications, change of engine capacity/motive power/number of cylinders, and altered suspension systems). These modifications must be approved by an engineering signatory and reported to the RTA. An Individually Constructed Vehicle (ICV) is built on a specially constructed floor plan or chassis structure. Some extensively modified production vehicles are also classified as ICVs. These vehicles must comply with current design and safety standards as well as meeting recognized standards for strength and controllability.
Driving a modified vehicle without an up-to-date engineer's report will leave you wide open to getting a ticket the next time you get pulled over. Police and RTA inspectors in NSW can issue the owners of modified vehicles who have not had all modifications listed in an engineer's report with a Vehicle Defect Notice. A standard defect notice gives you between 1 and 28 days of driving time to clear the specified defects and a further 21 days after the vehicle is allowed to be driven to clear the defects before the vehicle's registration can be cancelled. There are four defect categories: formal warning, minor, major, and major grounded. The issuing officer will specify whether a part inspection or full inspection is required. The former requires that only the faults listed in the Vehicle Defect Notice are cleared, and the latter that the whole vehicle is inspected. The defects have to be cleared by either an Authorized Inspection Station (AIS) or an Authorized Unregistered Vehicle Inspection Station (AUVIS).
If you are planning to start a new mini-truck project or have already started one, it is advisable that you contact an engineering signatory in your state as soon as possible. If you are already driving your truck but it has not been "engineered," it is important to make an appointment for an inspection to have your existing modifications approved. The experienced engineer will advise you on the safest way to build your truck and, most impor-tantly, guide you towards building a roadworthy vehicle that can be approved by the RTA or other state-level authority. The end result will be a street-legal mini-truck that you can drive with confidence, so if you do get pulled over you have done everything by the book and you have the paperwork to prove it. Just don't get caught railing!
This is only an overview of the legalities of building a roadworthy mini-truck in Australia. There are specific laws and standards that apply to each state and territory, which you can find further information on in the resources listed below.
Australian Design Rules (ADR)
RTA - Vehicle Standards Information Sheets (NSW)
Australian Engineering Signatories
Austroads - Road Facts 2005
Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA)
Survey - April 1999
The following is a portion of a survey pertaining to altered-height vehicles:Does your state have a law addressing altered suspension systems (lowriders or ultra-height vehicles)?
Alaska - Yes
Arizona - Yes, lowriders may not raise/lower at more than 15 mph.
California - We limit both maximum vehicle height, based on manufacturer's GVWR, (Section 24008.5 VC) and minimum vehicle height (Section 24008 VC).
Connecticut - Our laws do address altered suspension systems.
Florida Yes, maximum bumper heights allowable.
Indiana - Yes, pickup trucks cannot have bumpers higher than 30 inches. Passenger vehicles cannot be modified more than 3 inches from manufactured height.
Kansas - We do not have a law that specifically addresses altered suspensions. We do, however, have statutes that establish height limitations on lighting equipment that would make some of these vehicles that you reference illegal to operate on the highways/streets.
Louisiana - It is lawful to operate "lowrider" vehicles on the streets and highways in this state if the vehicle meets the following requirements:
1. The vehicle complies with the minimum and maximum requirements for height of headlamps. This means that the height measured from the center of the headlamp is not more than 54 inches, nor less than 24 inches.
2. The vehicle has operational shock absorbers and springs and has at least 3 inches of suspension travel.
3. The vehicle has at least 4 inches of ground clearance measured from the frame with the vehicle on a level surface.
4. The vehicle complies with the general requirements for motor vehicles.
Montana - Yes, dealing with the height of mounting headlights and taillights.
New York - No, but we do address bumper heights:
1. No person shall operate a passenger car registered in New York unless it is equipped with both a front and rear bumper, each securely fastened and with some part of the bumper located between 16 inches and 20 inches above the ground. This provision shall not apply to a vehicle registered as a historical vehicle.
Oklahoma - Yes, regulating the height of its headlights.
Oregon - Lowriders' hydraulics are OK. However, there is a statute that requires all motor vehicles to be a minimum height off the ground. The law specifies that if the vehicle is sitting on flat pavement with no tires mounted on the wheels, no part of the underside of the car can touch the ground.
Utah - Yes, vehicles with over 100-inch wheelbase may have 4 inches of mechanical lift. Vehicles under 100-inch wheelbase may have a mechanical lift of 2 inches and increase height 2 inches with oversized tires. Lowered vehicles may not have any part of the vehicle lower than 1 inch above the lowest part of any wheel. Vehicles with hydraulic suspensions are not permitted on highways and cannot be legally registered. We have been unable to find a hydraulic suspension system that meets the minimum federal motor vehicle safety standards.
Vermont - Requires annual safety inspections: bumper heights and suspension heights, relative to wheel height
Washington - No, no part of a vehicle can be below the lowest part of a wheel rim. (With the low-rise tires this doesn't help much.)
To become involved in the fight against obscene and unnecessary laws, please join the SEMA Action Network. For more info, check out www.sema.org.