If you own an "upstanding" 4x4, chances are good that The Man will eventually pull you over for a closer look. Some cops are truck enthusiasts, but even they likely haven't studied their state's entire vehicle code. Ignorance is rarely an excuse, and the vehicle owner is ultimately responsible for all modifications.
Most lift-related laws remain the same from our last roundup about 10 years ago. (Newer laws focus mainly on mobile electronics and other fads, such as whistling exhausts and nitrous oxide for street racing.)
Suspension-modification regulations remain a hodgepodge from state to state. The common-sense approach long advocated by the aftermarket is to set maximum bumper or frame heights based on easily determined gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWRs). A number of pro-hobby states have adopted this approach, but at least an equal number either make only partial reference to height and GVWR or rely upon some unique system of measurement and regulation.
A Seattle-based lawyer who has worked with the automakers as well as several aftermarket manufacturers (and whom you might see wheeling around Moab) offers this advice pro bono: "State lift laws are generally concerned with on-road handling, safety, and collision compatibility. Owners bear the ultimate responsibility for modified vehicles. So before you start dreaming about your ultimate rockcrawler, take a step back and finalize whether you are really building an on- and off-road-capable vehicle. Then drill down on what your state's modified vehicle regulations will allow. Source your components from established suppliers, read the instructions and warnings before you begin, and you are likely to wind up with a rig and a hobby you can be proud of."
For this guide we give an overview, then quote applicable parts of some state statutes, referring to the section of the code with that fancy double-S symbol. This illustrates how some sections are fairly clear while others are open to interpretation. Loopholes include language like "unless prior consent is given in writing from the director."
Also, code exceptions are sometimes made for agricultural vehicles (does your stakebed fit your state's definition?), vehicles that are titled as "home-built," parade vehicles, ones in funeral processions, snow-removal equipment, ones over 10,000 pounds GVWR, and even frozen dessert trucks.
Unfortunately, most legislators aren't gearheads. Searching for suspension usually finds sections dealing with driver's license revocation. Also, truck tends to be used for commercial vehicles; a few states specify pickup.
Some requirements are consistent among states. For example, maximum allowable vehicle height is generally 13 feet 6 inches (in case you're thinking about flatbedding your monster truck to the Fall Jamboree), and track width cannot exceed 102 inches. Width requirements sometimes address motorhomes with awnings and plumbing trucks with side-mounted pipe racks-but these sections can also dovetail fender flares and nerf bars. Distances are usually measured from the ground (which some states painstakingly describe as the surface upon which the tires contact) to the lights' centers and to the bottom/lowermost surface of frames and bumpers.
This month we cover the North Atlantic states, top to bottom instead of alphabetically. As we move west in the coming months, we'll have more wide-open space to discuss issues like reciprocity among states.
We encourage all 4x4 owners and especially those who are police officers or attorneys to share their anecdotes about equipment legalities (particularly in New Jersey) by posting their experiences on our forum (forums.4wheeloffroad.com). Maybe we'll add a Lift Laws/Equipment Violations category. (Ongoing legislative updates are available online at LiftLaws.com.)
(Maine Revised Statutes Title 29-A)
Summary: Specifically addresses headlight and frame height; tire size is limited to 2 inches larger than stock.
Mounted not higher than 54 inches nor lower than 22 inches. Snowplows are exempt.
The overall diameter of the properly mounted and inflated tire must be "within 2 inches of the range of sizes recommended by the manufacturer for the model vehicle and the vehicle is in compliance with the frame height requirements provided in section 1920 [below]."
Splash Guards (§1953):
Not required for registered GVWRs of 6,000 pounds or less or on "a motor vehicle equipped with fenders."
|FRAME HEIGHT (§1920):|
|4,500 lb GVWR or less||24 in front, 26 rear|
|4,501-7,500 lb GVWR||27 in front, 29 rear|
|7,501-10,000 lb GVWR||28 in front, 30 rear|
"An original suspension system may not be disconnected. This section does not prohibit the installation of heavy-duty equipment, including shock absorbers and overload springs ..."
Maine State Legislature
(New Hampshire Statutes Title 21, Chapter 266)
Maximum 30-inch bumper height.
Bumper Height (§266:9):
Must be mounted no higher than 30 inches or lower than 16 inches "with tires inflated to manufacturer's maximum air pressure." Exceptions are made with "the prior approval of the director."
New Hampshire General Court
(Vermont Statutes Title 23)
Vermont currently doesn't restrict lifts or bumper/headlight heights.
State of Vermont Legislature
(Laws of New York: VAT, TRA)
New York's vehicle and transportation codes are exhaustive and insufferable. Bumper height is likely limited to 30 inches.
"No person shall operate a motor vehicle designated as a nineteen hundred ninety or newer model year vehicle, which is registered in this state, except a motorcycle or special purpose commercial vehicle registered under schedule F of subdivision seven of section four hundred one of this chapter, which is so constructed that the body has a clearance at the front end of more than thirty inches from the ground when empty, unless the front end of the vehicle is equipped with bumpers or devices serving similar purposes which shall be so constructed and located that (I) some part of the bumpers or devices must be at least sixteen but not more than thirty inches above the ground with the vehicle empty; (II) the maximum distance between the closest points between bumpers or devices, if more than one is used, shall not exceed twenty-four inches; (III) the maximum transverse distance from the widest part of the motor vehicle at the front to the bumper or device shall not exceed eighteen inches; and (IV) the bumpers or devices shall be substantially constructed and firmly attached."
New York State Legislature
(Massachusetts General Law Chapter 90)
Massachusetts has a general lift limit (2 inches) but allows taller lifts for 4x4s, determined by a mathematical formula.
"No person shall alter, modify or change the height of a motor vehicle with an original manufacturer's gross vehicle weight rating of up to and including 10,000 pounds, by elevating or lowering the chassis or body by more than 2 inches above or below the original manufacturer's specified height by use of so-called 'shackle lift kits' for leaf springs or by use of lift kits for coil springs, tires, or any other means or device." However, "The registrar shall establish rules and regulations for such changes in the height of motor vehicles beyond said 2 inches. No motor vehicle that has been so altered, modified or changed beyond the provisions of this section or the rules and regulations established by the registrar shall be operated on any way." Thus:
Alteration of Motor Vehicle Height (§540 CMR 6.00):
"The purpose of 540 CMR 6.00 is to provide rules and regulations for altering the height of four-wheel drive motor vehicles by elevating or lowering the chassis or body more than 2 inches above or below the original manufacturer's height ... 540 CMR 6.00 is adopted by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles ... to regulate alterations to the height of four-wheel drive vehicles with an original manufacturer's gross vehicle weight rating of not over 10,000 ..."
6.04: General Requirements:
"No motor vehicle shall be altered or modified in any way that may cause the vehicle body or chassis to come in contact with the roadway, expose the fuel tank to damage from collision, or cause the tires to come in contact with the body, chassis, or steering components under normal operation. The horizontal plane, front to rear, shall not differ more than 2 inches. ... The wheel track may be increased by the use of tires and rims for a maximum total increase of 4 inches beyond the original manufacturer's specification. The use of spacers to increase the wheel track is prohibited. Fractions shall be excluded in all measurements and final calculations.
6.05 Maximum Combined Mechanical and Tire Lift:
"(1) The maximum mechanical lift for four-wheel drive motor vehicles shall be calculated by multiplying the wheelbase times the wheel track, and dividing the product by a safety factor of 2,200: i.e., 92 inches w/b x 58 inches w/t = 5,336/2,200 = 2 inches (maximum mechanical lift). The outside diameter of the largest tire size available from the original manufacturer as standard or optional equipment for the particular motor vehicle may also be increased up to an amount equal to the maximum mechanical lift calculated. (2) The maximum combined mechanical and tire lift shall be no greater than the sum of the maximum mechanical lift and increased tire size calculated for the particular vehicle. (3) Reconstructed motor vehicles shall be limited to the maximum combined lift allowed for the particular chassis used, in accordance with the applicable provisions of 540 CMR 6.05 (1) and (2), i.e., a vehicle having a 65-inch track, a 105-inch wheelbase, and an original manufacturer's door height of 21 inches is allowed a maximum combined lift of 4 inches above the original manufacturer's door height. Accordingly, the lower edge of the door, door edge line, or floor panel, as stipulated in the general requirements of 540 CMR 6.00, of any unladen body mounted on such chassis may not exceed 25 inches above the level surface upon which the vehicle rests. (4) In doubtful cases, or in any case where the original manufacturer's specified height is not known or available, or where a motor vehicle is assembled without using a particular body and/or chassis (i.e., homemade), the Registrar shall determine the allowable maximum height and may issue a permit authorizing the operation thereof."
General Laws of Massachusetts
(Rhode Island General Laws Title 31)
Lifts limited to 4 inches.
Frame & Body (§31-23-13.1):
"No person shall alter the height of or operate a motor vehicle with an altered height that has an original manufacturer's gross vehicle weight rating of up to and including 10,000 pounds, by elevating or lowering the chassis or body by more than 4 inches from the original manufacturers' specified height by use of so called 'shackle lift kits' for leaf springs or by use of lift kits for coil springs, tires, or any other means or device. The administrator of the division of motor vehicles shall establish rules and regulations for motor vehicle heights including exceptions for vehicles used for farming or forestry. No motor vehicle that has been so altered, modified, or changed beyond the provisions of this section or the rules and regulations established by the administrator of the division of motor vehicles, shall be operated on any highway."
State of Rhode Island General Assembly
(Connecticut Statutes Chapter 246, Title 14; Connecticut DMV Regulations)
4-inch lift limit, no softer- or lighter-than-OE springs, no aftermarket shocks that reach their extended stroke limit.
Mounted height not more than 54 inches nor less than 22 inches.
Mounted height of not more than 72 inches nor less than 15 inches.
Steering Linkage (§14-80b):
"No person shall install or attach to the ball joints or tie rod ends of a motor vehicle any type of bushing, spring, shim or device which results in concealing the degree of play or motion in the ball joints or tie rod ends."
"No suspension system component shall be replaced unless such replacement component meets or exceeds the quality and performance standards established by the vehicle manufacturer and the safe operating characteristics of the vehicle on which such replacement component is installed are not adversely affected by such installation."
"No additional devices shall be installed or equipment substitutions made at any location on any motor vehicle when such installation or addition ... raises the sprung portion of the vehicle in excess of 4 inches above the vehicle's unladen height as established by the vehicle manufacturer ..."
"No suspension springs which have a load carrying capacity or spring rate below that specified by the vehicle manufacturer shall be installed on any vehicle."
Shock Absorber Limitation:
"No shock absorber shall be installed in any manner which will allow it to reach its extreme stroke limitation while the vehicle is being operated."
"No modification of a vehicle suspension system geometry shall result in any reduction of such vehicle's wheel track distance."
FAQ on Vehicle Customization
Motor Vehicles Chapter
(NJPS Title 39; NJAC Title 13, Chapter 20)
Unless you're on the clock (and possibly a New Jersey DMV employee with questions about benefits), reading this code isn't recommended. However, New Jersey is one of the few states that offer stability testing to certify High Rise 4x4s having more than 4 inches of lift. Lifts up to 11 inches are legal under certain circumstances. (Regular safety inspections are required for all street-licensed vehicles.) Internet chatter claims that exemptions are granted to vehicles that are on the books as having 10,000-plus GVWRs.
General Vehicle Inspection Standards (NJAC §13-20-32):
They're extensive; here's a link to the specifics: www.epa.gov/region02/air/sip/13_20-Sub32.pdf
"High-Rise" Vehicles (NJAC §13:20-37.3):
Vehicle lifted more than 4 inches above stock are classified as High Rise and must undergo stability testing at a state facility. Here are some of the inspection/test criteria for an Elevated Vehicle Approval Certificate:
- Steering gear ratios and steering wheel left stop to right stop turns must be within a half-turn of the original manufacturer's specifications.
- Headlights shall be mounted no lower than 22 inches nor more than 54 inches above the ground.
- Taillights shall be mounted no lower than 15 inches nor more than 72 inches above the ground.
- Off-road lights must be covered while operating on public roads.
- License plates must be mounted no less than 12 inches nor more than 48 inches above the ground.
- Brake lines and hoses must be protected from excess heat and vibration. They must be mounted in a manner to prevent chafing, undue wear, stress, or unintentional disconnection.
- Vehicles originally equipped with bumpers must have them securely fastened, no less than 16 inches from the ground to the bottom of the bumper, and shall extend the full width of the vehicle.
- Maximum tire diameter allowed will be either 38 inches or else 6 inches over stock, whichever is less.
- All tires must be the same size. Maximum tire pressure as stated on tire is recommended. Front tires must be at least 60 percent of the thread width of the rear tires.
- Front fenders must extend over the full width of the tire thread. Rear tires that are not covered by the fender or other body parts must be equipped with metal protectors or flexible flaps that prevent dirt, debris and water from being thrown.
- Exposed fuel tanks must be encased. Side-mounted tanks must have a protective bar to prevent rupture.
- Releasing the steering wheel in a sharp turn shall result in an increase in turning radius.
- Spacers to increase track width are prohibited.
- No blocks are allowed on the front suspension.
|MAXIMUM LIFT HEIGHTS:|
|GVWR 4,500 lb & under||7 in above original vehicle height|
|GVWR 4,501-7,500 lb||9 in above original vehicle height|
|GVWR 7,501-10,000 lb||11 in above original vehicle height|
New Jersey Legislature
(Pennsylvania Code Title 67, Pennsylvania Vehicle Code Title 75)
Front blocks aren't allowed. Neither are rear blocks taller than 5 inches. Otherwise, bumper height regulates lift.
|MAXIMUM BUMPER HEIGHTS (§175.80-8):|
|5,000 lb GVWR or less||24 in front, 26 rear|
|5,001-7,000 lb GVWR||27 in front, 29 rear|
|7,001-9,000 lb GVWR||28 in front, 30 rear|
|9,001-11,000 lb GVWR||30 in front, 30 rear|
"Spring shackle kits [that] are more than 2 inches over original equipment; blocks [that] are used on front axle to raise the vehicle; blocks used on rear axle exceed 5 inches over original equipment."
Penn. Title 67
Penn. Vehicle Code www.dmv.state.pa.us/vehicle_code/index.shtml
(Delaware Code Title 21, Delaware DMV Regulations)
Frame and bumper heights determine allowable lifts.
Bumper Height (§4318):
Under 10,000 pounds GVWR, bumper height limit is 30 inches with a maximum bumper/frame vertical distance of 3 inches.
Over 8,000 pounds GVWR requires "suitable metal protectors or substantial flexible flaps behind the rearmost wheels of the vehicle" not more than 8 inches from the road (loaded) or 15 inches unladen.
State of Delaware
(Maryland Code Title 22)
A vehicle can't legally be altered in any way that reduces its bumpers' effectiveness.
|HEIGHTS, FRAME SIDERAILS, OR BUMPERS (§22-105):|
|Class A (passenger)||20 in|
|Class M (multipurpose)||28 in|
|Class E (truck under 10,000 lb GVWR)||28 in|
|Class E (truck with GVWR of 10,000-18,000 lb)||30 in|
Not higher than 54 inches nor lower than 24.
Not higher than 72 inches nor lower than 20.
Michie's Legal Resources
District of Columbia
(D.C. Municipal Regulations Title 18)
The bureaucrats at ground zero of bureaucracy apparently don't have lift laws on their agendas-yet.
Head and Taillamps (§18-704):
Headlamps height between 24 and 54 inches; taillamps mounted between 15 and 72.