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So you were watching a Fast and Furious movie the other day and wondered why all the race cars had lights glowing from beneath their bodies. These lights mounted beneath cars are often called by the brand name “underglow.” They are an aftermarket accessory installed for purely stylistic reasons. Recent tech advances have made them cheap and easy to install, but they are illegal in many places.

As long as there have been cars, there have been car owners modifying their rides. It’s a great way to express yourself, and there are countless safe and inexpensive mods you can install. So I honestly have no clue when the first person decided to hang lights beneath their car.

In 1987, Andrew Wilson patented “ground effects lighting” for cars. Early systems used neon tubes, similar to the glowing signs businesses often hang in their windows. Glass tubes full of gases such as neon can create colorful glowing lights. But these glass tubes are delicate and not a great solution for automobiles that will be bumping their way down the road. Still, custom car builders prized the glowing pools of light these created beneath vehicles.

Custom Corvette sports car with underbody lighting.
Corvette with ground effect lights | RGB Halo Kits

Underglow or “ground effects” lights using LEDs were introduces in the mid 1990s. These are much cheaper, sturdier, and use less electricity. A single LED doesn’t create the same glow as a neon tube, but crafty mechanics found that if you hang enough of them, you can smooth out the effect. By the time The Fast and The Furious was released in 2001, these glowing ground effects were a staple of modified tuner cars. The big budget film launched them in to the mainstream.

LED underglow lights quickly became far too bright for authorities. Police and fire departments strategically use vehicle lighting to enforce the laws and remain visible while responding to a call. So many states outlawed red and blue underglow. In addition, authorities use flashing lights to command attention. So many states outlawed flashing ground effects, even to the beat of your car’s audio system. Some places still allow underglow on private property, such as at car shows. Others have forbidden owners from installing it altogether.

Next, learn why some sports cars have metal loops on their rear bumper or see how tuners install underglow in the video below:

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