There are lots of differences between race cars and street legal cars. Some involve physical components, and others involve non-physical differences such as the documentation required to drive them. This article will take a look at these differences and how to make a race car street legal.
In order to make a race car street legal the proper hardware needs to be used within the car itself, but it is also important that you gain a deep understanding of the state-by-state requirements, as they often vary a lot.
The hardware ranges from components inside the car to ones on the outside, and there is also a range of specific documentation required as well. As we have said, this varies by state and so you should always make sure you understand what is required where you live.
Things To Consider
Safety Over Performance
Race cars are made for performance, and street cars are made for safety and reliability. This is a very big generalization, as obviously race cars need to be safe and road cars need to perform well, but these are the differences in the priorities of each. Race cars are usually designed to be as fast as possible, while road cars are designed to safely get you from A to B.
There are a lot of components that vary between race and street cars, and this is usually because of this difference in priorities. Race cars will often try to reduce the weight as much as possible, and so a lot of the standard safety features and legally required components of street cars are abandoned. However, to make a race car street legal they must be present.
The Lights & Reflectors
The Lights Are Essential
One of the main components that is not usually missing from a race car but often does not meet road legal requirements is the light system of the car. This is made up of several different lights at different points on the car, as well as a system of reflectors that are often not present on race cars at all. Lights are essential for visibility for both the driver and other motorists.
There are a few specific lights that are required, namely driving lights, taillights, brake or stop lights and turn signal lights. The driving lights are what allow you to see in low visibility conditions, as well as other motorists to be able to see you coming. However, the other types of light are essential for showing other drivers your intentions while driving and are thus vital for safety.
The lights themselves will need to adhere to the Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, and so specific bulbs are required for brightness and quality levels. They often need to have at least 22 inches of ground clearance as well. You will also need to fit reflectors for other vehicles to see you, with ones both on the side and the rear of the car.
You Need To Be Seen
The reflectors on the side need to be amber in color, while the ones at the rear need to be red. Your car will also need mirrors too, and the regulations here vary a lot by state. However, a good rule of thumb is at least two mirrors to become road legal, and usually a rear-view mirror will make your driving experience much easier as well.
Steering Wheel & Horn
No More Butterfly Wheels
The next thing to consider is the steering wheel. It is fairly universally accepted that a butterfly style steering wheel is not road legal, and so you will need to opt for a regular round steering wheel instead. This often must also adhere to regulations, usually having at least 13 inches along its outside diameter.
Often Overlooked But Key
Within the steering wheel there also needs to be a horn. This is often overlooked when converting a race car to a street car, but it is a necessity for safety reasons. A fully functioning horn is required in all states, and most will require it to be audible from at least 200ft away. This is so that if you ever need to make another driver aware of your car, you can do so safely.
The Underside Of The Car
In terms of the components underneath the car, there are a lot of things that need to adhere to regulations. First of all, the car needs to have adequate ground clearance. This usually involves altering the suspension and the ride height.The specific minimum and maximum heights will vary by state.
Muffler and Exhaust
The exhaust and muffler system is another area with often very strict regulation in place. Usually this will be more so to control the amount of pollutants that are expelled from the car, but the muffler is also used to reduce the amount of noise that the car produces. Although a car may sound great roaring around the track, there are noise limits when it comes to street cars.
The Bumpers & The Tires
Next up we have the bumpers. These are some of the most important parts of the car in terms of safety, and so there are myriad regulations that need to be adhered to when you are getting your race car ready for the street. They need to be able to protect you and other drivers should you ever get into a crash, and thus there are size and material regulations to adhere to.
Safety Of You & Others
Other aspects of safety around the car include the fenders or mud flaps that go over the tires. These are in place to stop dirt and other debris from being kicked up by your car’s wheels which could potentially cause harm to other drivers. Usually simple mud flaps are enough, but some states will have specific fender requirements as well which you will need to check for yourself.
As for the wheels there will also be certain rules to adhere to for the tires. They will need to have a minimum tread in order to allow for safe driving in all weather conditions, and so racing slicks are just simply not an option. Tread limits vary by state, and so do legal tire compounds and styles, so once again you will need to check with the DOT.
Inside The Car
There are then a few things to consider inside the car, as things like the seats will need to adhere to specific safety standards too. A very important item is the harness/seatbelt. This will need to adhere to the right standards for your location. This is by far one of the most important components you need to get right.
Various Other Essentials
Often overlooked is the presence of an emergency/parking/handbrake. This is an absolute essential component in a road legal car.
There are a few other non-mechanical necessities that need to be considered as well. Your car will need to have a license plate, and this will need to be visible from at least 100ft away. This means you can’t have anything obstructing it, and it will also need to be lit as well. Not only that, but some states will require you to have both a front and a rear plate too.
Aside from the license plate, you will also need to hold a valid driving license as well. Although obvious, this is nonetheless important. You will also need to have the car registered, and you will need to have a valid inspection certificate as well. Insurance is also something you need to consider, but this should all be planned and thought out well before you consider modifying your car.
Finally, there are a few other things that you need to consider when making your race car street legal. These are fairly miscellaneous things, or straightforward components, that nonetheless need to be considered. For example, each state will have its own set of emission laws that will dictate emission levels that your car must adhere to in order to drive in that state.
Other miscellaneous components include air intakes on the hood. These are often a cosmetic addition more so than a functional one, but they can cause obstruction of the driver’s view and inhibit their driving. This means that air intakes usually need to be no more than 4 inches higher than the hood surface itself, so as to minimize any obstruction caused.
Finally, you also need to consider the windows of the car. Most states will have regulations surrounding window tinting, and this is usually in the form of light transmittance. Most states will require between 40-70% light transmittance, and some don’t allow any tinting at all.
Check With The DOT
Finally, you will also need to make sure you have window wipers, which will once again not only prove essential to prevent obstruction to your driving, but also just make it much easier for you to see in the rain and snow. There are countless other minor components that need to be present and standards that need to be adhered to, but these will be state-dependent.
In order to make your race car street legal, you will need to make sure that there are certain hardware components present. These range from things like the tires to the steering wheel, and from the ride height to the levels of emissions the car produces. You will also need various non-mechanical necessities such as a driving license, license plates and insurance.
Each of these components is required to keep both you and other drivers safe on the roads. While safety is key in racing, it is the main priority in road cars, and thus changing a race car to be street legal takes a lot of work. There are a lot of things to consider, but by adhering to state-specific rules and regulations, you can make your race car street legal.