10 Illegal Vehicle Options You May Not Be Able to Enjoy

Corvette Stingray Headlight
Corvette Stingray Headlight | Source: Chevrolet

Nobody likes to be told what they can or cannot do, but we live in a world of rules and laws, and have to give some ground every now and then. What a lot of people don’t realize, however, is how many rules and regulations we actually live under, especially with our own property. If you own a house or property, you absolutely understand. There are volumes filled with regulatory issues to take into consideration, all the way from distance measurements of certain household figures to plumbing and sidewalk maintenance.

But how about your car? Yes, you own it, and presumably should be able to do whatever you want to it. But there are actually numerous rules governing what accessories or modifications can be done to a vehicle. Naturally, most of these rules have perfectly good reasoning behind them, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it.

A lot of older laws that have been on the books have been repealed over the years, but even now the government is having a hard time keeping up with all of the aftermarket upgrades being made available to consumers. So, what are some examples of things that are or were outlawed?

Dan Carney over at Popular Mechanics put together a solid list, and we’ve added a few of our own, as these 10 automotive upgrades are practically guaranteed to land you a fat ticket.

1. Exhaust flame kits

Datsun Race Car | Source: 24 Hours of Lemons
Datsun Race Car | Source: 24 Hours of Lemons

While it may sound like a great idea to have flames pouring out your exhaust pipe Fast & Furious style, it’s pretty illegal in most states with many states adopting California Code 27153 as their own mandate. Under the law it is clearly written that: “No motor vehicle shall be operated in a manner resulting in the escape of excessive smoke, flame, gas, oil, or fuel residue.”

2. Dynamic light spot

Mercedes-Benz LED Running Lights | Source: Mercedes-Benz

You may have never heard about dynamic light spotting, but it’s out there. It’s a technology that can identify pedestrians through infrared sensors, and then bathe them with a beam of light to make them easier to see (think of a spotlight on the side of a police car). Certain European automakers have developed and deployed this technology, but the feds have given it a big thumbs-down.

3. Strobe brake lights

SCG-003 Stradale | Source: Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus

Strobe brake lights just sound like a bad idea, don’t they? When you give it some thought, it’s kind of neat, because with this feature brake lights will pulsate and flash in accordance to pressure on the brake pedal. For instance, if you’re slamming on the brakes to avoid a collision, your brake lights would flash to give extra warning to drivers tailing you. Regulators, however, have determined that the only thing brake lights should do is shine brighter than tail lights.

4. Dual-view front video display

Mitsubishi Infotainment System | Source: Mitsubishi

It’s no doubt that distracted drivers are at fault in a lot of accidents, and with the multitude of infotainment options available in vehicles these days, it can happen to anyone. Mercedes has developed a technology that, in Popular Mechanics’ words, “lets the central display screen on the dashboard show navigation, infotainment, or other typical information for the driver while simultaneously showing a movie or other entertainment for the front-seat passenger.” Maybe regulators are being over-cautious, but we’ll see if this kind of feature ever gains a legal foothold.

5. Rear-view mirror cameras

Source: Continental
Camera Mirrors | Source: Continental

Soon, every car in America will be equipped with a rear-view camera. But for screens that show what is behind you at all times, including when the vehicle is moving forward? Regulators have put their foot down on that idea. Audi had the idea to put these screens near the driver, which would essentially show you what is happening, just like a rear-view mirror, but the idea didn’t have the muster to get past lawmakers. Automakers are still working on it though, and are looking at ways to circumvent the law.

6. Remote-mount magnetic cameras

Source: Continental
Remote Side Cameras | Source: Continental

Come up with a cool idea, and ultimately, someone will shut you down. That’s what the feds did to Land Rover, which developed cool little cameras that could be stuck to any steel surface, and stream a live video feed to the dashboard. This would be helpful for all kinds of things, like parallel parking, or navigating a tight parking garage, but lawmakers weren’t having any of it. It’s too bad, because the idea is extremely cool and inventive.

7. Lightweight seats

Lightweight Race Seats | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

You may have never given much thought to the weight of your vehicle’s seats, but the regulations are quite stringent. Porsche learned that the hard way, when the government imposed new rules that made the seats that came stock with some of the company’s vehicles illegal. For crash safety reasons, many performance vehicles need to be outfitted with special seats, as American regulators won’t allow seats under a certain weight to be installed from the factory.

8. Overly slammed or lifted

Source: Micah Wright
Slammed Honda Odyssey | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

This is one of those state-by-state deals, where you get ticketed in certain states, and complemented by the cops in another. Yes, there is such a thing as too low, and you can also get busted for going over the top and lifting a truck too high. This list of ride height regulations from AAA is a great reference to let you know if you’re a risk.

9. Remote start

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet
Push Button Start | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Here’s one feature that U.S. consumers get to enjoy, while our European counterparts (and some Americans) miss out on: Remote start. That’s right, starting your vehicle from the comfort of your house while the snow or rain continues to fall is one of the great joys of living in America, but it is illegal in many other countries. There’s probably a good reason why international lawmakers think this needs to be outlawed, but it’s kind of silly when you think about it.

10. Satellite radio

Honda HR-V Center Stack
Honda HR-V Center Stack | Source: Honda

One other feature Americans get to enjoy is satellite radio, which many other nations do not allow. The reasons are rather complicated, and have to do with multiple regulatory agencies jockeying against each other for a particular area that may receive transmissions. “The U.S. represents one large population covered by a single broadcasting regulatory body and a single primary language,” Popular Mechanics writes. “Other continents are significantly divided among governments and languages, which would make it hard to gain approvals and would divide the potential audience for each channel to only the people who speak the language.”