Should we clamp down on modified cars?

Many Cape Townians have had their license discs removed by the City’s traffic department as officers clamp down on modified vehicles. The automotive industry is still divided over whether or not this is justified, says Jeff Osborne, Head of Gumtree Automotive.

“I am certainly in favor of anything that makes our roads safer, however, if a modification is done safely and within guidelines, and if the vehicle has passed a roadworthy test, I see no reason to victimize the owners of modified vehicles,” says Osborne. “Cars are more than a mode of transportation. Many enthusiasts enjoy modifying or restoring cars as a hobby and there is a booming aftermarket industry as a result. Some individuals modify their cars for professional racing and rarely drive them on the open road except when en route to the track.”

Any modification, including larger exhausts or fittings not specified by the car’s manufacturer or not completed by an individual with a letter of authority by aforementioned manufacturer, may lead to the vehicle being declared unroadworthy, according to city officials.

Osborne says that the city may very well be making scapegoats of the owners of modified vehicles in order to clamp down on street racing. “Illegal racing is a big concern and many modifications – including lowering of vehicles – are associated with the activity. However, modification and racing do not always go together.”

Gumtree alone has over 10,000 automotive parts and accessories for sale in the Western Cape, and Osborne believes that aftermarket manufacturers will be equally impacted by the clampdowns.

“A distinction should be drawn between responsible and irresponsible modifications. There are many ill-maintained cars on the road made up of only original parts that are neither roadworthy nor safe at all, and the opposite could be said of certain modified cars. In fact, in some cases modifications improve the vehicle by introducing stronger or uprated parts, reducing fuel consumption or shortening braking distance.”

There are a few safety guidelines and regulations that must be adhered to before tinkering with your cars’ engine.

“It is important to use quality parts from a reputable manufacturer,” says Osborne. “It’s not uncommon to cars that have stood on cinder blocks in someone’s back yard for months being broken up for parts, but bear in mind that those parts have been exposed to the elements and may become hazardous.”

In addition, new and overhauled engines have to be legally obtained. “All engines and chassis must have VIN numbers or other forms of identification – do not purchase any part that cannot be identified.”

Similarly, if you are planning on fitting a custom body kit to your car (even one that you’ve made yourself) it must be done by a licensed professional. “Loose parts are particularly dangerous and it is important to adhere to guidelines in terms of specifications.”

Osborne says there are several dangerous but common modifications spotted on the roads, including:

  • Large exhausts: “The trend is to make your car as noisy as possible, but this can actually impact your car’s performance.”
  • Car electrics: “You should not attempt to DIY your car’s electrical system – if you fail to provide proper insulation or overload the circuits, the result could be a hazardous engine fire.”
  • Too much power: “Many people buy simplistic, small cars and then fit bigger, more powerful engines. Bear in mind that your brakes won’t be able to handle the power hike – a new engine may require a complete overhaul of brakes and suspension.”

Osborne advises all modification hobbyists to gather the necessary paperwork required and to consult the traffic department before attempting modifications. “It is better to err on the side of caution in this case.”