Making a homeade car

Something crossed my mind: Is it possible to make your own mode of transportaion and legally drive it on surface streets? Or does it take a cadre of inspections and goverment frowning to get your creation raodworthy.

To legally drive a car on California highways (and in most states, I imagine), it must be registered. To get registered in California , the car needs to pass a smog test. It also needs to meet certain requirements (headlights, brake lights, etc.). If you’re not selling any, you can probably blow off things like noise standards, federal emissions standards, and the like, because these are obligations apply to manufacturers.

People do it all the time, they’re called kit cars. Nametag’s right about the inspection, though. The car won’t need to have things like air bags (which are too complicated to install properly for even the average car builder), but it will need to pass whatever inspection a manufactured car in that state is required to pass. Note that these not include things like does the car have headlights and do they work, but also the location and types of headlights installed on the car.

Back when I was thinking of building a Lotus Seven, I checked into the Virginia regulations. They were a pain in the ass.

If I remember correctly, Virginia makes a distinction between a kit car and a handmade, but somehow the Lotus kit fell under the more stringent guidelines, whichever they were. Once completed, you must call the DMV, get transferred, hung up on, and sent to the dead-letter voice mail until you find the one person in your region who makes on-site inspections (it took me at least four hours over three days to do this). Then, you have to arrange for an appointment–since you can’t drive on the road under penalty of death or something similar, the inspector must come to you.

Then, you are completely subject to the inspector’s opinion as to whether or not your car is road-safe. It sounded to me like bribery might be involved.

(Keep in mind that this was the result of my own research, done about three years ago, and I’m not going to duplicate it for this post. I probably have some details wrong.)

My plan was this: build the damned car, drive it to the DMV, and raise hell until someone gave me a title for it. I figured if it took me days to figure out what I was supposed to do, there was going to be no way in hell that the DMV would figure it out on their own, and if I started asking penetrating questions, they’d more likely throw me out with what I wanted rather than risk having me come back the following day.

      • In the US, cars have many, many safety regulations they must meet and motorcycles have far less. The “big” car regulations that limit homebuilders are laminated glass windshields front and rear, 5-mp bumpers that either have to be actually tested or overbuilt enough that their engineer thinks they’ll hold, and airbags or active seatbelts–all new vehicles must have one or the other.
  • There’s others, but these are the main limiting ones: custom laminated windshields cost a fortune to produce in low-volumes, you basically have to massively overbuild the frame and bumpers or subject the vehicle to crash-testing, and as of a few months ago, there was no source for add-on airbags or active seatbelts at all: for liability reasons, the companies that make this stuff will only sell you the parts if they have engineered the installation themselves. They won’t just sell you a box of system components.
  • In the US, any vehicle with four or more wheels falls under automobile laws, while any vehicle with three wheels or less is considered a motorcycle. Motorcycles have far fewer regulations: basically: legal lighting, license plates, noise levels/mufflers and that’s it. So you see lots of low-production oddball vehicles in the US with only three wheels, because they don’t have to pass all the regulations that they would if the had four wheels. - DougC

Marge, you can sit there finding fault, or you can knit me some seatbelts.

In the UK and Ireland, it’s not that difficult to register/approve a homebuilt car, but it has to adhere to the usual safety requirements etc. there was a craze in the 80’s for building kit cars based on the 2CV chassis but altering them to have three wheels (don’t ask me why) so there’s some scope in there for art.

As an aside I imported a car to Ireland from the UK a while ago and the guy before me was trying to registed a dumper truck (looks like a jeep with a skip welded to the front) but the department couldn’t find a suitable description for it. After a lot of discussions, they agreed on something like heavy earth moving equipment.

      • I don’t even think that motorcycles have to pass emissions laws (in theUS): there are two-cycle dirtbikes that can be converted to street-legal motorcycles with just an addition of a lighting kit (approved headlight, turn & brake lights) and registration/license plates. - DougC

Vague memory - (In the US) I thought I heard long ago that any mass-produced-for-sale motor vehicle had to have a “road worthiness certificate” of the design (not one issed for each vehicle). I’m not sure if it was Federal- or State-level requirement I was living in New York State at the time. Has any one ever heard of such a thing?