From speedy sports cars to formidable four-wheel drives (4WDs), there are many reasons why vehicle owners are compelled to make modifications to their rides. But it's not a free for all; unlike the US where vehicle modification laws are more lax, Australia is fairly strict and navigating all the rules and regulations in this area can be challenging. Which is why Lifehacker Australia will attempt to demystify the laws surrounding vehicle modifications over the next few weeks. Today, we will look at the legalities around raising or lowering your automobile.
My partner and I purchased a 4WD a few months ago (1992 Toyota Hilux we affectionately called Bruce). It was from interstate and we had to have it re-registered in NSW. The ute already carried a range of modifications: it was raised to accommodate for large all-terrain tyres, it had a bunch of lights installed around the tray and flood lights mounted on top of the cab. It was at that point we looked into whether any of the modifications were legal and made the necessary adjustments to ensure that it would pass registration.
There were modifications that were illegal that generally aren't all that noticeable but the details matter when you're trying to get a car road registered. The experience had me thinking about the number of times I've seen cars that have been "done up" and whether any of those changes were allowed. It's entirely possible to "pimp your ride" with alterations and evade the authorities if you don't have to go through the inspection process (for example, to get a Blue Slip in NSW).
However, you run the risk of being in trouble if you're pulled over by the police for an on-the-spot inspection. All the money you spent would go down the drain if your vehicle is taken away so it's wise to arm yourself with knowledge on what is and what isn't legal before you even attempt to make alterations.
There's a lot to cover here but today we'll focus on raising and lowering your car. I've seen way too many Nissan Skylines that are so low they have to go through speed bumps diagonally so to avoid scuffing the bottom. I've also seen 4WDs that are so tall they look like Warthogs from Halo.
Changing The Height Of Your Vehicle
So are any of these legal on the road? Track days and remote 4WD adventures aside, if you're driving these vehicles around town, they have to meet some requirements. Firstly, cars need to satisfy Australian Design Rules (ADRs) which are the national technical standards for vehicle safety, theft resistance and emissions. If a car doesn't meet those rules they're not even allowed to be sold in Australia.
The ADRs are a bit convoluted so the National Code of Practice for Light Vehicle Construction and Modification was released by motoring groups and government agencies to make it easier for individuals to understand the rules, but even that document is a bit hefty. We take a closer look at the section concerning the height of vehicles but bear in mind that the national code doesn't cover some of the intricacies that exist in each region such as costs and exemptions that are specific to registering vehicles in your home state. So for administrative questions, you should contact your local traffic authority.
In terms of altering the height of your vehicle, you can do this by lowering and raising the suspension, using a body kit to boost the height and/or by using tyres of a different thickness. However, to do it legally without having to get a certification from your local traffic authority, it needs to meet certain requirements:
- For lowering or raising suspension, you can do so by no more than one-third of the original suspension travel that was set when the car was manufactured. There is a 50mm limit to this. You also need to think about the suspension bump and rebound positions. You need to balance out the front and rear suspension as well — you can't just change the front ones without adjusting the back by the same amount.
There are some restrictions for lowering or raising leaf spring suspension.
- You can use a body block or body kit to lower or lift the height of the vehicle but this cannot exceed 50mm.
- For lowered cars, you still need to comply with the minimum ground clearance and running clearance specified in ADR 43, which is measured from a flat surface to any point on the underside of the vehicle except the tyres, wheels and wheel hubs. It also has to be measured under the conditions of Maximum Loaded Test Mass, which is the maximum load your vehicle can carry as specified by the manufacturer.
- If you're changing the tyres to alter the height of a vehicle, the maximum increase in tyre diameter cannot exceed 50mm than what the manufacturer specifies as the largest size for the car.
- And here's the Golden Rule: You can only raise or lower your vehicle by a maximum of 50mm in total. For example, you can't do one modification that will lower the car by 30mm and another one that will lower it by another 30mm. It should also be said that some changes can cancel out, so a tyre that might raise the car by 75mm can be offset by lowering the suspension by 25mm. This way, the overall change is still 50mm, and you're within the guidelines.
If the changes do exceed 50mm, the vehicle will need to be officially tested.
- You also need to remember that anything you do to your car must not compromise the safety of the vehicle. This is extremely important and a good reason why you shouldn't take the do-it-yourself approach if you don't know exactly what you're doing. I'd leave these types of modifications to the professions or at least let them assess the alterations once you're done.
The list here is a stripped down version of the official regulations so it's not comprehensive and may not cover more complex types of modifications to raise or lower your vehicle. As mentioned there are some intricacies that vary from state to state so it is still worth checking with your local vehicle registration authority before you make modifications. Hopefully this will still be useful for those who are looking into making changes to their rides so they can do legally.
Tune in next week for the next instalment of Is It Legal? the Vehicle Modification edition.
Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.