Car modifications in India: What is legal and what's not

  • While some car modifications in India are legal, there are many widely practised ones which are illegal.
Car modification
While some car modifications in India are legal, there are many widely practised ones which are illegal.
Car modification
While some car modifications in India are legal, there are many widely practised ones which are illegal.

Automotive enthusiasts who love driving and feel emotionally connected with their cars often customise the vehicles to make them distinctive. These customisations or modifications may look odd to the common people, but according to the owner's choice, these are the best fit for the vehicle. These modifications may take place in the form of design customisation, accessorising the car's interior or tuning the engine for higher power output. Honestly, there is no limit to modifications if somebody wants to customise his or her car.

However, not all car modifications are permitted by the law of the land. In fact, performing some weird modifications to your car may lead you to legal trouble. Hence, if you are planning to modify your car, make sure not to do anything that may compromise the safety of everyone in and around the vehicle. Don't do anything that weakens the strength of the car's chassis. Also, don't do anything that may impact the environment adversely.

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If you are planning to modify your car, here is a comprehensive guide with a list of legal and illegal modifications in India.

Types of modifications

Usually, car modifications can be segmented into three categories: aesthetic, functional and performance.

Aesthetic modifications: The most common car modifications around us are aesthetic modifications. Generally, such modifications make the car visually distinctive but don't add anything to the performance or utility. While some of these modifications are not allowed by the Motor Vehicle Act, some can be played with. Such customisation can be performed at the exterior and inside the cabin of the car.

Functional modifications: These modifications are usually done to make the use of vehicles more convenient for the driver and passengers. Usually, such modifications are aimed at providing better comfort and convenience to the occupants. These are generally based on accessories and not mechanical. Such customisation can be performed at the exterior and inside the cabin of the car.

Performance modifications: Performance modifications are meant to increase the performance of a car. An average car coming out of the OEM's plant is tuned to find a perfect balance between performance and fuel efficiency. People who seek extra from their vehicle, often customise the vehicle's powertrain.

Legal car modifications in India

Body kit installation: Body kit installation on a car is legal as long as it is fitted as a bolt-on and doesn't interfere with the structure of the vehicle. Usually, these kits like body cladding, side panels, front splitter etc are often fitted to cars to enhance the looks of the vehicles. Many automakers too offer some body kits as factory fitment or dealer-level fitment, which come with the benefit of no impact on warranty.

Colour change: Changing a car's colour is completely legal in India, but is subject to RTO's approval. However, some colours like Army Green are only reserved for military vehicles and not available for civilian vehicles. If you are planning to change the colour of your car, make sure to get approval from the RTO first and also update the registration certificate specifying the paint as accurately as possible.

Body wrapping: Similar to colour change, body wrap for a car is legal in India. It is generally a vinyl wrap applied directly on the vehicle's surface to protect the car’s original paint from damage from natural elements or minor impacts like scratches or scars. Besides this, it also enhances the glossy look of the car. The owner doesn't require RTO approval for body wrapping if the wrap is of the same colour as the car. However, if the wrap is of a different colour than the exterior paint of the car, the RTO needs to be informed and the RC should be updated accordingly.

Aftermarket CNG kit installation: Installing an aftermarket CNG kit on a car is legal in India. However, ensure the vehicular documents are updated with the local RTO accordingly and the CNG kit fitment is mentioned in the registration certificate.

Suspension change: Change of suspension is legal as long as the upgrade does not increase or decrease the vehicle's ground clearance significantly. Upgrading a suspension without hurting the ground clearance majorly can ensure the vehicle offers a more comfortable ride quality, especially considering the condition of the Indian roads.

Arrangement for differently abled: It is legal to make some changes to a car to suit the requirements of a differently-abled person. According to the amended Motor Vehicles Act, an orthopedically disabled person with a 40 per cent permanent disability or above can drive a car with a length less than or equal to four metres. He or she can drive a car with an engine capacity of 1,200 cc for petrol models and 1,500 cc for diesel vehicles. However, such cars should be registered as ‘Adapted Vehicles’ with the local RTO.

Hyundai Kona Jayde
Modifications that impact the car's structural integrity adversely, are prohibited by law.
Hyundai Kona Jayde
Modifications that impact the car's structural integrity adversely, are prohibited by law.

Illegal car modifications in India

Additional lights: This is another category, which also often sees rule violations. According to the MV Act, any light placed over 1.5 metres from the ground is illegal. This means the cars with lights mounted to the rooftop are violating the rule. Also, all vehicles are legally prohibited to have more than four headlights. Besides that, any lights that blind a person at a distance of eight metres or less are illegal. The cars are legally restricted to come with any additional light positioned in the front and above the height of stock headlamps. Also, such additional lights are supposed to be covered when driving around the city.

Aftermarket exhausts: One of the most common modifications done by car owners in India is the fitment of aftermarket exhausts. This modification is done on both cars and motorcycles. While many such exhausts don't make much difference to power output, some expensive ones do. However, the problem is that all these aftermarket exhausts come with painfully loud sounds. The amended MV Act mandates that any exhaust that is louder than 80 decibels is illegal. It is recommended to not fit such an exhaust unless it is approved by the RTO. While many motorists brazenly break this rule, doing so is illegal anyway.

Tinted screens: According to law, the screens at the front and the rear of any car must have at least 70 per cent visible light transmission. The sides of the car can be slightly darker and must have 50 per cent sunlight penetration capacity through them to the cabin of the car. While many cars often use very dark-tinted glasses, those are illegal as they not only hamper the vision of the driver but also prevent a clear view inside the car.

Bull bars: A common misconception is that bull bars enhance the safety of a vehicle. In reality, in case of a crash, the bull bar can critically damage the structure of the car and even impact the engine as well. Also, they pose a severe safety threat to pedestrians. While in India, many cars especially SUVs use aftermarket bull bars, they are illegal as they come bolted on the chassis and reduce the car's structural integrity. It also impacts the airbags' functionality adversely in case of a crash, posing a threat to the occupants inside the vehicle's cabin.

Fancy number plates: Again, a widely practised illegal modification is using fancy number plates. As per Indian law, all cars must have a high-security number plate with 3D hallmarked IND lettering embossed on them.

Changing body type: If you are thinking of turning your sedan into a limousine by stretching it as long as possible, or turning it into a convertible by chopping off the roof, refrain from doing so. Making any kind of structural change to any car in India is strictly illegal. Doing so can make the chassis weak and pose a threat to the safety of people.

Engine swapping: No matter how tempted you feel to try a V8 motor on your SUV by spending lakhs of money, be assured that it is illegal. The registration certificate of the car mentions the chassis and engine number of the vehicle, and they must remain the same throughout the life of the vehicle. If you ever consider swapping your car's engine, approach the local RTO first.

First Published Date: 20 Mar 2024, 17:32 PM IST

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