Maintaining And Modifying Automobiles

Description of Act
Revised Spring 2008—-Onstad

Maintaining and modifying one’s car is a wide-ranging activity that covers everything from the simple, such as checking your tire pressure, to the complex, like fabricating engine mounts and frame-modification or stuffing that really big domestic V8 in your tiny Honda Civic. It is not just a hobby; many areas on your car require weekly attention to keep it running safely and efficiently. Every automobile operator should be aware of the basic maintenance procedures, and at least where to have the car serviced when the need arises. These basic procedures, among many others, include changing engine oil, checking tire pressure and tread depth, checking fluid levels, changing windshield wiper blades, and keeping belts in good condition.
Modifying an automobile, on the other hand, is more of a hobby than maintenance is. Many teenagers like to put louder than normal mufflers on their cars as well as putting on generic, Altezza-style tail lamps. Some people like to replace cost-cutting factory features on their favorite vehicle with aftermarket components which improve both performance and appearance. Many people have swapped out the stock radio in our cars for a better sounding CD player.
These activities take place in various shops around town, our own garages, or perhaps, in line with the romantic image, under the shade of a tree on the street. It involves a wide variety of equipment, from complex cylinder wall honing tools to a simple tire pressure gauge. The knowledge required for these activities is quite plentiful. The car’s instruction manual includes a basic description of maintenance procedures, and do-it-yourself manuals for every make and model are easy to purchase. Many high schools also offer mechanics courses for teenagers interested in mechanic careers. In addition, the Internet has many forums, groups, and websites available for amateur mechanics seeking information.
The over-arching purpose of maintaining and modifying a car is enjoyment and convenience. The modifier enjoys seeing his sweat and blood bloom in a unique and enjoyable creation. The average person rests easy with the fact that their car will start up every morning whether it is minus 20 degrees or a sweltering 105, as well as the fact that they can drive at high speeds on the highway without worrying about possible failure of critical systems.

Description of Juridic Controls

There are many laws controlling both the maintenance and modification of automobiles. While the law doesn’t necessarily differentiate the two, some laws apply more to one area than the other. In Montana, most laws pertaining to these activities are contained in the Montana Code Annotated. The easiest place to find the Montana Code Annotated is online at Montana’s State Legislation website. One over-arching law is located at Title 61, Chapter 9, Part 1, Section 9 of the code. It states that it is a misdemeanor to operate or allow someone to operate a vehicle in a manner which might endanger a person. The Montana Code Annotated, specifically Title 61, contains many additional rules and regulations regarding the mechanical aspects of automobiles. These laws have to be kept in mind when maintaining or modifying a car.
One major area that juridics control is the use of lights on the car. In Montana, headlights are required to be illuminated a half-hour before sunset and a half-hour after sunrise. There also needs to be no less than two separate headlamps. The rear of the car needs to have two functioning tail lights and an illuminated license plate, as well as two illuminated stop lamps that activate on use of the foot brake. Law in Montana also dictates the color, visibility, and height requirements on the lights on vehicles, as well as the use of high beams.
An obvious area of safety covered by Montana law is the braking system on vehicles. The Code states that all cars are required to have brakes that allow them to control the movement up to and including stopping the car under all load conditions and grade conditions of the road. In addition, parking brakes need to adequately hold the vehicle despite leakage, or the absence of energy. Brakes need to be maintained so each side of the vehicle has equal breaking power and to maintain minimum levels of braking performance. Hydraulic fluid also needs to conform to the Society of Automotive Engineer’s specifications.
Many other items are also included in Montana law, such as the maximum decibel rating of mufflers, horns, mirrors, use of windshield, restrictions on tire chains, and the installation of seatbelts. The law also specifies the requirements of the use of window tint, obstructions to the windshield, use of bumpers, and requirements of the type of refrigerant used in air conditioning. The law does allow for some exceptions to these laws, mainly for older vehicles or non-car vehicles such as motorcycles and animal-driven vehicles.
Penalties for not following these laws often include requiring that the operator place his car in proper condition with the proper equipment. The first conviction of a misdemeanor allows for a fine between $10 and $100. The second increases the range to $25 to $200. The third and all subsequent convictions cause the range to be increased to $50 to $500. Seatbelt violations are not to exceed $100, and fender and mud flap violations are to be between $10 and $25.

Burdensome of Juridic Load

The burden of these laws on the automobile enthusiast is not near as great as it might be in other areas of life. In fact, many of these laws affect how a car is designed and manufactured. It would take an individual a great deal of effort (removal of a mirror, modification of a safety restraint system) to break these laws. A lot of these laws are for the benefit of the individual person, such as headlight visibility and seatbelts. It would be against an individual’s best interest to break these laws.
When it comes to just maintaining a vehicle, these juridic controls are not at all burdensome. One could argue that the goal of maintaining a vehicle is to provide for the greatest durability and safety in driving the vehicle. For the average person who performs the maintenance on their own car, these laws represent the bare minimum in keeping their vehicle safe to themselves and other people. Since the automobile enthusiast’s goal is to keep their ride safe and long-lasting, they most certainly would want to go above and beyond these minimum requirements. For example, laws such as the ones pertaining to brakes prevent someone from using sub-par brake fluid or inadequate replacement brake parts on their car.
When it comes to modifying your car, these juridic laws become much more evident and bothersome. The person who modifies their car either knowingly or unknowingly sacrifices either safety or longevity in the pursuit of a faster and/or better looking car. These controls may not be in the front of someone's mind while they’re working or buying components for their car, but they certainly jump to the front of their mind when they’re pulled over by a police officer.
The state of Montana, for better or for worse, is a very “generous” state when it comes to modifying your car. We have no inspection laws to speak of when it comes to registration: no smog tests, no safety tests, nothing at all. While it might be against the law to modify your emission system, car enthusiasts in Montana would think little when it comes to replacing their exhaust system or capping off an exhaust gas recirculation valve. This especially becomes noticeable when you talk to a car enthusiast in California where stringent smog tests restrict the types of modifications that can be preformed.

Escaping Juridic Controls

The seemingly easiest way to avoid these controls would be to simply stop driving an automobile. Taking a bus or walking around town would free you of having to worry about the legality of the various components of your automobile. To most people though, this isn’t a very practical option.
Passing off maintenance to a mechanic might not entirely free a person. The motorist is still ultimately responsible for the car regardless of whether they know it is in line with law or not. An incompetent mechanic might adjust the headlights wrong so the low beams shine bright into a passing motorist’s eyes, for example. Despite this, taking your car to a respected and responsible mechanic might be the best option for the average person looking to escape these juridic controls.
For the automobile modifier, there is a less-known option that almost entirely frees them from government-based juridic laws. Using your vehicle solely on a race track prevents you from being responsible for juridic safety laws. Indeed, many of these laws become either irrelevant or do not apply at all for cars used on race tracks. The lack of headlights, incredibly loud mufflers, and leaded gas are all acceptable on the race track, and in some cases, even encouraged. It is interesting to note, though, that using your car on a race track subjects you to a different set of juridic controls established by the owners of the race track. These safety laws can in fact be much more restrictive than juridic controls for public roadway use (use of helmets, 5-point harness systems, roll cages, etc.).

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