4wd Modifications, what is legal?

Having been a motor mechanic for 32 years now, I have seen many people modify vehicles and of course, I have done my fair share too. Back when I was younger modifying vehicles were a lot simpler, there was much less regulation and so long as the vehicle presented as being safe no one really cared too much.

But as life has become more complicated and we look to place blame on someone when something goes wrong, vehicle modification has become somewhat of a minefield. Even when doing research for this topic, it wasn’t a simple process to find the right answers.

The powers that be essentially don’t want anyone to modify a standard vehicle due to litigation and safety concerns. Who has modified it? What was modified? How do you know it hasn’t made the vehicle unsafe?

These are the common questions asked now when this topic is raised. As a consumer, it is nothing short of frustrating and this is where people fall into the trap of spending money only to find out they just made their vehicle illegal.

So, you ask, why would anyone want to modify a vehicle?

In my experience I have found that absolutely every vehicle is a compromise, manufacturers need to build a vehicle that will appeal to a large audience, this way they have a better chance of selling more of them. However, this means that it may not live up to everyone’s expectations.

Living in Australia means we are blessed with the great outdoors, it has always been part of the Australian way of life to explore this great and vast Nation with many locations only accessible with a competent 4wd vehicle. Sadly, as far as standard off the shelf vehicles go, they just don’t cut the mustard and generally requires making the vehicle more robust or customised to carry more gear. Each time we do this we add weight, this then impacts the Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) that is the maximum allowable weight that the vehicle has been designed to carry.

Exceed this weight and the manufacturer can’t assure you that it will be safe or won’t break. That’s fair enough as everything has a limitation, however in the eyes of the authorities this means the potential for accidents and a loss of life. With the pedestrian council hell-bent on banning modified lifted 4wd’s this has placed added pressures on the sector to sharpen up its act.

The modifications you are allowed have been ratified along with how you can make these sorts of changes. Knowing how bad standard 4wd vehicles handle from the factory, modifications to the suspension and brakes can improve their performance by up to 80%. So, doing the modifications isn’t the problem, it is how we do them and to what extent is the issue.

What has become inherently obvious to us is that you must seek the advice from an expert in this field before making any changes, adding accessories can blow your vehicle’s GVM out before you know it. This leaves you vulnerable if you are involved in an accident as you may have voided your insurance and you could be liable should your crash become a fatality.

Obviously, without proving your modifications are safe, investigators could use that against you in the search to find the at-fault party. Subsequent charges can be laid and next thing you find yourself in a gaol cell wondering what the bloody hell happened.

This isn’t fantasy stuff; it is the reality of making changes to your vehicle that seem otherwise innocent and desirable.

We see plenty of people buying parts from eBay and fitting them to their vehicle, or fitting wheels and tyres that are just not legal all the time. So why waste your money and time when all it takes is to get the right advice in the first instance?

The same also goes for towing, ensure you have the correct set up before you head out on your trip. Knowing your vehicle is compliant and safe will give you peace of mind to enjoy the trip, the great outdoors, and your vehicle.

If you do need to modify your vehicle and make these changes, you may need an engineering certificate to approve your modifications. This isn’t particularly onerous, but it can be a costly exercise. These costs though are way cheaper than the consequences of making your vehicle illegal and trying to get away with it.

Also, if you have a fleet of 4wd vehicles that have been modified where does this leave you from a work health and safety perspective if they pop the GVM? This needs to be considered because even the slightest upgrades can exceed the legal maximum weight and rarely do people check this.

Don’t forget to click on our video where we show you a GVM certification test and hear from an expert engineer regarding vehicle modifications. Stay safe and stay up to date with training and knowledge.

Stewart Nicholls, Managing Director. STC Education

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