Number plates are the most popular illegal car modification

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Illegal number plates can be used to dodge number plate recognition cameras (Picture iStock/yevtony)

You’ve given your car a good clean but it still doesn’t quite say enough about you. What about a modification?

Perhaps a fancy new number plate that spells out your name. Or some tinted windows to make it look a bit more ‘gangsta’. Or even some tasty lights that illuminate the road beneath as you drive along.

Of course we’re not against freedom of expression. But there are laws that must be abided by when it comes to car modifications, even if those changes are just cosmetic. New research by Comparethemarket has revealed the most popular modifications that have landed drivers in hot water.

Number plates the most common illegal mod

The comparison website asked every police force in the UK. The 36 that responded said most offences related to number plates. In 2020, there were 13,720 fines handed out to drivers whose number plates broke the law. That made up 56 per cent of all offences.

What’s the penalty?

Currently illegal number plates result in a £100 fine. But the law looks like it’s going to get tougher. There’s a proposal for a new private members’ bill in parliament that would see drivers with dodgy plates getting three points on their licence as well as a fine.

The government is also keen to crack down further on the modification of reg plates and their illegal use. A Home Office spokesman said: “The cloning and defacing of number plates affects road safety and provides cover for criminals. We are working with the police to bear down on these crimes.”

What do we mean by illegal number plates?

These can include letters being shown in illegal fonts and designs. But they might also include unlawful spacing of characters and the inclusion of coloured screws or black tape to make characters look like something different and spell a word.

Another illegal modification is when drivers use a reflective coating on their reg plate. This prevents traffic cameras being able to identify them. And criminals use fake number plates so they can drive without being liable for traffic fines or avoid paying for petrol.

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Messing with the spacing or lettering can make a plate illegal (Picture iStock/jamesjames2541)

Illegal lights are a turn off

According to the police who responded, 5,723 fines (23 per cent of modification offences) were issued to drivers who had illegal lights. The law says that only white lights can be used at the front; red for rear-facing lights (obviously excluding indicators and reversing lights).

Tinted windows are a bit shady

Drivers can tint the rear side and back windows as much as they like. But there are limits when it comes to the windscreen or front side windows. Police can serve drivers who break the law with what’s called a prohibition notice. This demands they fix their car before using it again. There were 4,183 reported window offences last year, 17 per cent of the total.

Loud exhausts can cause a headache

You might want your car to sound like it’s got a throbbing V8 engine beneath the bonnet but the police have different ideas. Last year 3 per cent of the illegal modifications (776 offences) were to exhausts. Drivers whose exhausts are overly noisy can be fined £50 on the spot. As with windows, they might have their car taken off the road until it’s been made to comply with the law.

What’s the impact on insurance?

Even if you modify your car legally, you must tell your insurer. And if you make illegal modifications, your insurer may refuse to cover you if you have to make a claim. According to data from Comparethemarket, modifying a car – even if it’s legal ‑ can increase your premium by around 11 per cent.

If you’re looking for a garage that can make a legal modification to your car, Green Flag could find one for you.

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