With more than half a million South Africans browsing Gumtree for parts, there’s a booming online aftermarket for car parts and accessories which is being accessed largely by informal mechanics indulging in their favourite hobby.
But whether it’s done for style or for performance (or both), changing a manufacturer’s specs on a vehicle should be done with great caution.
Firstly, it’s a bit of a legal minefield.
The relevant Acts are inadequate to cover most modifications and, in particular, lack detail, which means the authorities have a broad license to interpret almost any changes as illegal simply because the vehicle is no longer identical to the way it rolled off the production line.
Obviously any modifications which demonstrably improve the safety of a vehicle (better brakes as an example) will not be problematic but almost anything else could get you into trouble.
Some areas to keep a special eye on are:
- being able to prove that a replacement engine has been legally obtained - all engines and chassis should have VIN numbers or other forms of identification
- completely darkened windows are illegal immediately and attract attention from the police
- highly exaggerated noise from massive exhausts is anti-social, drains expensive fuel and, once again, draws notice from the authorities.
The best way to protect yourself is to get a roadworthy on the modified vehicle once you have finished the work.
Leaving aside the law, your primary concern should be the safety of the modified vehicle. Here you should follow some basic rules:
- don’t overpower the vehicle body – the braking system and structure of a smaller car may not be able to cope with a massive boost in engine power
- always get a licensed professional to fit a custom body kit to your car (even one that you’ve made yourself) - loose parts are particularly dangerous
- do not DIY your car’s electrical system – improper insulation or overloaded circuits can cause a hazardous engine fire
- ‘dropping the ride’ (lowering the vehicle) carries serious handling implications and can cause accidents at speed – the same applies to outsized wheels
- don’t add to passenger capacity – squeezing in some extra seats is acutely dangerous especially if those seats are not properly anchored and don’t have seat belts.
Finally, many of the problems facing vehicle modifiers come from the ‘street racing’ perception that it’s all about risk and speed in ways that endanger drivers and the public. Don’t be part of that. If your passion is to drive fast then only use your modified vehicle on a properly regulated racetrack.