Modification of Cars, Motorcycles, Etc: Is It Legal in Singapore?
Many people generally associate vehicle modification with flashy, colourful, and loud cars or motorcycles that have been “zhng-ed” (colloquial term for “modify”) to enhance vehicle performance and appearance. However, vehicle modification is more commonplace than one might think. Less obvious examples like adding an in-vehicle information and communication system to your car’s centre console or installing tinted films on your car windows also count as making modifications to your vehicle.
Therefore, it is important to be aware of the rules and regulations surrounding vehicle modifications in Singapore, so that you do not unknowingly run afoul of these regulations and end up suffering a penalty because of it.
For the purposes of this article, the term ‘vehicles’ encompass the entire range of transportation equipment, from cars, motorcycles, and lorries to even bicycles and their power-assisted variants. The rules pertaining to the modification of Power-Assisted Bicycles (PABs) will be further elaborated on in a separate section below.
This article will cover:
- When it is legal to modify vehicles in Singapore;
- How to obtain approval for modifications (if applicable);
- Tips on modifying your vehicle legally in Singapore;
- The penalties for illegal vehicle modification in Singapore;
- What happens to the illegally modified vehicles; and
- The rules and regulations pertaining specifically to modification of Power-Assisted Bicycles.
Is It Legal to Modify Vehicles in Singapore?
Modifying your vehicle refers to changing any system or part of your vehicle such that it differs from the factory default specifications by the manufacturer. Such changes can include replacing, adding, or removing your vehicle’s components.
In Singapore, vehicle modification is regulated to safeguard the interests of all road users, as well as to prevent potential safety and environmental hazards. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) classifies vehicle modifications into three categories:
- Modifications that are illegal
- Modifications that do not require the LTA’s approval
- Modifications that require the LTA’s approval
1. Vehicle modifications that are illegal
Certain modifications are illegal. This is because these modifications compromise the safety of the vehicle’s occupants as well as other road users or can be a nuisance to the public.
Some examples of modifications that are illegal are:
- Installation of air horns;
- Installation of crash bars;
- Installation of decorative lamps (e.g. undercarriage neon lights); and
- Removal of motorcycle chain guards.
The addition of crash bars or decorative lamps are illegal because they negatively affect other road users. Crash bars are usually made of hard metal tubings installed at the front of the vehicle, and can therefore increase the severity of injuries caused to pedestrians in the event of an accident. Decorative lamps can be distracting and disorienting for other road users which can increase the risk of accidents on the road. Lastly, air horns can be a nuisance to others, as they are generally extremely loud and ear-piercing.
The full list of illegal modifications can be found here.
2. Vehicle modifications that do not require the LTA’s approval
At the other end, there are certain modifications that you can make without the LTA’s approval. Such modifications include:
- Replacing your vehicle’s tyres;
- Installing tinted film or tinted glass;
- Installing sunshades and curtains; and
- Adding foot pegs to your motorcycle.
While you do not need the LTA’s approval to make such modifications, you should still be aware of the specific requirements that apply to each type of modification. For example, when replacing your vehicle’s tyres, the following requirements must be met:
- You must only use pneumatic tyres of the width, profile and diameter recommended by the manufacturer;
- The tyres must not protrude from the vehicle body laterally;
- The overall rolling radius of the wheels and tyres should remain unchanged; and
- Off-road tyres are not allowed for normal road-use.
Another popular modification that vehicle owners frequently make is to install tinted films or tinted glass on their vehicle’s windscreens and windows. You can make this modification without the LTA’s approval, subject to the following specific requirements:
- The tinted film must be non-reflective, or the tinted glass must comply with international standards for safety glasses (whichever is applicable);
- The front windscreen and two front side windows must allow at least 70% of light to pass through;
- The rear windscreen and two rear side windows must allow at least 25% of light to pass through; and
- The front windscreen must not obstruct the signal between the in-vehicle Unit (IU) and the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) gantry.
The full list of modifications that can be made without the LTA’s approval can be found here, as well as the specific requirements for each type of modification. You should review this list carefully if you are considering making these modifications to your vehicle.
If you are unsure whether your modification complies with the above requirements, you can send your vehicle for testing at any of the LTA-Authorised Inspection Centres.
3. Vehicle modifications that require the LTA’s approval
Lastly, there is an intermediate category of modifications that are allowed, but only if you obtain the LTA’s approval first. This is because these modifications have the potential to also compromise the safety of road users or pose a nuisance to the public if the LTA’s guidelines are not strictly complied with. The approval process ensures that the LTA has oversight of the intended modifications. Examples of such modifications are:
- Addition of hoods or canopies on open-deck goods vehicles;
- Addition of sunroofs; and
- Replacing of your vehicle’s engine.
The full list of modifications that can only be made with the LTA’s approval can be found here.
How to Obtain Approval For Vehicle Modifications
In order to obtain approval for vehicle modifications, you should send in a request via the Contact Form on the LTA website.
When applying for the LTA’s approval, you may also have to submit some specific documents that relate to the modification you are intending to make for the LTA’s evaluation. The list of modifications and the corresponding documents that are required can be found here. For example, if you are replacing your vehicle’s current engine with a new or reconditioned engine, you need to submit the following documents:
- Invoice from the replacement engine’s supplier; and
- Certification from the vehicle manufacturer or a local sales agent stating that the replacement engine is the same type as the original.
You can proceed to make the modifications after obtaining the LTA’s approval. However, do note that for certain modifications, e.g., sunroof installations and engine replacements, you will have to send your vehicle, complete with the modifications, for an inspection at an LTA-Authorised Inspection Centre.
Tips on Legally Modifying Your Vehicle in Singapore
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when you are modifying your vehicle, regardless of whether the modifications you are making require the LTA’s approval, are:
- All modifications must be installed by a qualified personnel according to the vehicle and product manufacturer’s recommendations. While there is no clear definition of “qualified personnel”, it would generally include motor workshops that provide vehicle modification services and with staff specially trained to carry out vehicle modifications, as opposed to a layman who just has an interest in vehicle modification.
- After the modifications have been made, you should make a declaration to your motor insurer, since the modifications may have an effect on your insurance coverage. In the event that you do not update your insurer and you are involved in a motor accident, your claims may be denied. If you would like to err on the side of caution, you can also check with your motor insurer prior to making any modifications.
Penalties For Illegal Vehicle Modification in Singapore
Penalties for those who own or use illegally modified vehicles
If you modify your vehicle illegally (i.e. making a modification that is not allowed, or making a modification requiring the LTA’s approval without obtaining the LTA’s approval) and/or drive an illegally modified vehicle, you may be liable to a maximum fine of $5,000 or imprisonment of up to 3 months or both. Additionally, the court may order that your vehicle be impounded for a maximum period of 3 months.
For a second or subsequent conviction, the penalties are doubled to a maximum fine of $10,000 or to imprisonment of up to 6 months or to both. Repeat offenders may also have to go through an enhanced vehicle inspection regime. Vehicle owners who are found to have illegally modified their exhaust systems or engines for second or subsequent times will be subjected to more frequent mandatory vehicle inspections of every 3 or 6 months, instead of the usual every 1 or 2 years.
Failure to comply with the enhanced vehicle inspection regime entails a separate offence, for which the vehicle owner may be liable to an additional maximum fine of $1,000 or imprisonment of up to 3 months or to both for a first offence. For a second or subsequent conviction, the penalties are doubled to a maximum fine of $2,000 or to imprisonment of up to 6 months or to both.
Penalties for those who perform illegal modifications
Motor workshops or individuals that perform the illegal modifications may be liable to a maximum fine of $5,000, imprisonment of up to 3 months or both. Repeat offenders will face double these penalties. For example, in one reported case, the owner of a motor workshop was charged with three counts of performing illegal vehicle modifications for replacing the exhaust systems of two cars with unapproved systems on three occasions.
What Happens to the Illegally Modified Vehicles?
Consequences for permanent modifications
Illegally modified vehicles with permanent modifications may have their registration cancelled. Examples of such permanent modifications would include vehicles found to have tampered engines or exhaust systems.
If a vehicle’s registration is cancelled, the vehicle must be destroyed or removed from Singapore within a month of the date of cancellation or any other period that the Registrar of Vehicles approves, unless the LTA approves the re-registration of the vehicle during that period.
Consequences for reversible modifications
On the other hand, if the modification can be easily reversed easily, e.g. by tearing off the tinted film applied on car windows or removing the foot pegs installed on motorcycles, the vehicle may not have to be de-registered.
Rules and Regulations Applicable to Modification of PABs
Power-Assisted Bicycles, or PABs, are bicycles equipped with an electric motor and can be powered by pedalling, the electric motor, or both. They have to meet certain technical requirements in order to be registered. For example:
- The construction of the PAB must be similar to that of an ordinary bicycle;
- The maximum continuous power output of the PAB must not exceed 250 watts; and
- The motor power can only kick in when the rider is pedalling and must be progressively reduced and finally cut off as the PAB reaches 25km/h or sooner if the cyclist stops pedalling.
LTA requires all PABs that are sealed and registered from 1 July 2021 to comply with the EN15194:2017 standard. The revised EN15194 certification requires stringent tests on the mechanical strength of the PAB batteries, risks of short circuits and overcharging.
Due to the strict testing and compliance requirements, it is illegal to make modifications to PABs after they have been tested to the required certified safety standards, as that would render the original testing and certification void. Such illegal modifications generally encompass modifications of the mechanical or electrical components of the PABs, and include:
- Modifications to the batteries;
- Modifications to the motor;
- Modifications to the PAB frame and handlebars;
- Installation of electrical accessories like light strips that draw power from the PAB’s electric system; or
- Installation of throttles to power the PAB without pedalling.
For modifying your PAB illegally, you may be liable to a maximum fine of $20,000 or imprisonment of up to 24 months or both. Repeat offenders may be liable to a maximum fine of $40,000 or imprisonment of up to 48 months or both. The maximum fine is doubled where a first offence or a repeat offence is committed by non-individuals.
However, this does not mean that you cannot add any character to your PAB. You can contact the PAB manufacturers to enquire if your proposed modifications and add-ons are legal in Singapore. As long as these modifications are made before, and are included, in the testing phase for the safety standards testing and certification process, you can legally own and use the modified PABs once they are successfully registered.
Before making any modifications to your vehicle, you should check the LTA’s guidelines for modifications that are allowed, or whether approval is needed to make certain modifications. If you are renting a vehicle or buying a second-hand vehicle, you should also check the vehicle carefully for illegal modifications, as it is an offence to use an illegally modified vehicle even if you did not make the modifications. If you do come across an illegal modification, you should make a report with the LTA.
If you have been caught for making illegal modifications to your vehicle or using an illegally modified vehicle, you may wish to consult a criminal defence lawyer for legal advice. The lawyer will be able to provide you with more detailed guidance on the next steps if you are convicted of committing an offence, including what will happen to you, your vehicle and, any defences you may have.
You may get in touch with experienced criminal defence lawyers in Singapore here.
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