Customizing your vehicle’s lighting is a simple way to make a statement—but is it also a simple method to get your vehicle impounded? Not if you’re aware of the regulations governing automotive illumination and take precautions to avoid breaking them!
Many motorists replace their factory headlights and taillights, while a select number install unique undercarriage illumination. However, if you don’t check your local regulations and choose responsible, high-quality products, these enhancements can land you in trouble.
We’ll show you how to learn more about automobile lighting rules in North America so you may modify your ride and confidently drive it across the United States or Canada. We hope you find what we have to say to be instructive.
Different Laws for Different Types of Car Lighting
Unfortunately, there is no official document dedicated solely to car lighting in either Canada or the United States—if there was, you wouldn’t be looking here! However, you should be aware of different federal and state (or provincial) rules before purchasing and installing aftermarket lights on your sports car, luxury SUV, or any other vehicle.
To make matters even more complicated, separate laws and rules frequently apply to different types of vehicle illumination. We’ve taken a closer look at each of these areas to help clarify things.
Laws for Car Headlights
Most of the restrictions regarding OEM headlights in the USA have to do with purchasing and installing LEDs. Currently, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards regulations stipulate that any lights providing your vehicle’s main forward illumination must be sealed-beam, HID, or replaceable halogen bulbs in factory-fitted housing.
Laws for Car Tail Lights
Tail light laws in the USA tend to be a lot less restrictive than those governing headlights. In fact, LED brake lights aren’t illegal—even though they might temporarily blind drivers who are following you. However, you’re going to want to avoid certain colors, since most states require any lights visible from the back of the vehicle to be exclusively red or amber.
Laws for Car Underlights
This is where things tend to get more complicated. Car underlights are flat-out illegal in several states, including:
Other states permit car underlighting, but only in certain areas. These include:
- Maine (only legal at shows or exhibitions)
- Mississippi (only legal when not on public roads)
- New Jersey (only legal when not driving)
- Utah (only legal when on private property or off-road)
- Vermont (only legal when on private property or off-road)
- Virginia (only legal when on private property or off-road)
- Washington (only legal on private property)
While aftermarket lighting (including underlighting) is legal in other states, that doesn’t mean it’s unrestricted. There are still some pointers you should follow to avoid trouble with the authorities (even if you’re on your private property in one of the states above). For example:
- Avoid using red, blue, or flashing lights (red tail lights are an exception)
- Make sure red is the only light visible from the rear of your vehicle
- Make sure your license plate is always white
- To stay safe, make sure the only lights visible from the front of your car are white or amber