The Top 10 Illegal Car Mods You Don’t Want to Get Caught With in Ontario

By Maude Gauthier | Published on 03 Jan 2024

The Mercedes-AMG A45 AMG Sportback - a high-performance vehicle with a stylish and modern design

Car enthusiasts understand the thrill of making their vehicles go faster, look cooler or simply stand out from the crowd. However, in the province of Ontario, not all car modifications qualify as legal. In this article, we will delve into the world of illegal car modifications. Take a look at the modifications that could get you into trouble in Ontario.

Illegal Car Mod
Potential Fine
Up to $220
Up to $200,000

Understanding Car Modification Laws in Ontario

Ontario’s car modification laws aim to ensure the safety of both drivers and pedestrians on the roads. The Highway Traffic Act (HTA) governs vehicle regulations in the province, outlining what is considered legit and what is not. According to the HTA, no modification can affect emissions or compliance with safety requirements, unless approved.

Engaging in illegal car modifications in Ontario can have severe repercussions. If caught, you may face fines, jail time, your car’s seizure or increased car insurance premiums. The fines can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, depending on the adaptation and circumstances.

Additionally, if your vehicle is involved in a collision while having unauthorized modifications, your modified car’s insurance may not apply. This insurance complication means that you would bear the financial burden of any damages or injuries resulting from the accident. As a result, these costs could devastate your finances.

1. Engine Modifications – $300 to $20,000

If you want to trick out your delivery vans, think again. Ontario requires all commercial vehicles to have speed-limiting devices. These devices use electronic sensors in fuel-injected cars to communicate with the engine computer. Once the sensors detect a higher-than-normal speed, the computer restricts the air flow and fuel supply to the engine, limiting combustion. 

Even if you wanted to cut loose and not get caught, Ontario has a rule for that too. No driver can install a speed-measuring warning device to warn them of the presence of police radars or lasers. If you get caught with one, you’ll lose it to seizure and face a fine of $100 to $1,000.

Likewise, drivers cannot disconnect oxygen sensors or charcoal canisters to change the dynamics in the engine. Without the sensor, you interrupt the data flow from the sensor, which can lead to higher emissions or nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. 

In short, all original emission-control equipment must stay in place and operate as intended. If not, prepare to pay out fines of $300 to $1,000 or $400 to $20,000 for commercial vehicles. Most information about fines can be found in the HTA.

2. Exhaust System Changes – up to a $220

Modifying the exhaust system to create a louder or more aggressive sound fires up a common desire among car enthusiasts. However, in Ontario, modifications that increase noise levels annoy others and can lead to noise pollution charges.

While a deep, throaty exhaust note may sound appealing, illegal exhaust modifications disrupt the peace and tranquility of residential areas. They also contribute to noise pollution, which can have adverse effects on both human health and the environment.

The HTA explicitly states that cars cannot “make an unreasonable noise…or permit any unreasonable amount of smoke to escape.” Therefore, you cannot install a muffler cut-out, straight exhaust, gutted muffler, Hollywood muffler or by-pass. Breaking this regulation results in a $110 fine for unnecessary noise plus $110 for a loud muffler.

3. Illegal Lighting Modifications – $200 to $20,000

Ontario’s laws clearly outline the requirements for proper lighting on vehicles. Any modifications that alter the factory-installed lighting system, aside from upgrading to approved aftermarket bulbs, are considered illegal. This includes fitting unapproved High-Intensity Discharge bulbs, underbody neon lights, colored or strobe lights. Any lighting that creates confusion or impairs the visibility of other drivers crosses the line.

The regulations apply to turn signals, headlights and even the illuminators around your license plate. After all, proper lighting allows other drivers to see your vehicle and understand your intentions on the road. Illegal lighting modifications can lead to accidents and pose a significant risk to both the driver and other road users. As such, fines range from $200 to $20,000.

Remember, vehicle lighting does not exist to enhance the aesthetics of your car but to ensure visibility and safety. By adhering to the regulations set forth by the HTA, you can contribute to a safer driving environment for everyone.

Window tinting regulations ensure adequate visibility and safety on the roads. In Ontario, vehicles must have a minimum visible light transmission (VLT) of 30 percent for the front side windows and 35 percent for the rear side windows and the rear window. Any tinting beyond these limits can result in $85 to $500 fines. Further, you cannot add aftermarket tint on any vehicle manufactured after January 1, 2017.

While window tinting offers privacy and protection from the sun, strike a balance between personal preference and legal compliance. Excessive window tinting can impair visibility, making it difficult for drivers to see clearly. This gets worse at night or in adverse weather conditions.

By adhering to the legal limits for window tinting, your vehicle remains safe and visible to other drivers. It’s essential to prioritize safety when it comes to modifying your vehicle’s windows.

5. Unauthorized Body Alterations – up to $200,000

Any modifications that alter a vehicle’s structural integrity or body panels beyond the manufacturer specifications won’t fly in Ontario. This includes installing non-compliant body kits. Fines can be as high as $200,000 for a company and $4,000 for individuals, and they are regulated by the Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

If found with one, expect the police to seize your vehicle. However, you can add a tail, fin or spoiler as long as it stays secured and doesn’t block a mirror view.

While it may be tempting to customize the appearance of your vehicle, understand the potential risks associated with unauthorized body alterations. Altering its structural integrity can compromise its ability to withstand impacts and protect occupants in the event of a collision.

Additionally, unauthorized body alterations can negatively affect the vehicle’s handling, stability and overall performance. Always consult with professionals who specialize in automotive engineering to ensure any modifications are within legal limits.

6. Nitrous Oxide Fuel System – up to $2,000

Incorporating a Nitrous Oxide Fuel System might make you feel like you’re in a high-octane scene from The Fast and the Furious. However, in Ontario, this modification stands squarely on the illegal side. Nitrous oxide systems temporarily boost an engine’s horsepower, giving you that extra push of speed and acceleration. 

While this may sound exhilarating, it poses serious risks. Not only does the sudden burst of power impair vehicle control, it can also damage the engine over time.

More critically, a nitrous oxide system can be considered a significant safety hazard. In a collision, a nitrous oxide tank could rupture, leading to a potentially catastrophic explosion. This endangers not only you and your passengers but also anyone else in proximity. 

Even if you manage to avoid an accident, Ontario’s Street Racing Act prohibits a nitrous oxide system installed in your car on a public road.  However, recreational racers can buy it at  performance shops and use it on private property. Breaking the rules will cost up to $2,000 in fines and up to six months in jail.

If you still want one, the system needs to be mounted securely inside special brackets, away from crumple zones. In a hatchback, you must have a blow-by tube routed underneath and keep the bottle’s date of manufacture attached.

7. Lowered or Raised Suspension – up to $4,000

Tweaking the suspension of your car might make you feel like you’re living a verse out of a rap song. You’d cruise with an effortlessly cool lowrider or a jacked-up truck that’s ready to conquer any terrain. However, adjusting the suspension to lower or raise your vehicle can land you in legal trouble in Ontario. It also defies federal motor vehicle standards and you need to order an approved lift kit to avoid penalties of up to $4,000 for individuals.

Beyond giving you those “street cred” vibes, altering the vehicle’s height can seriously compromise its handling, safety and stability. Lowering the car too much can result in reduced clearance, making it difficult to navigate speed bumps or uneven roads. 

On the flip side, raising the suspension can increase the vehicle’s center of gravity, making it more prone to rollovers. Additionally, either modification can cause uneven tire wear, affecting your ability to control the vehicle. This becomes more serious during sudden stops or turns. So, before you get swayed by lyrics glorifying tricked-out cars, remember that the law isn’t a fan of these remixes.

8. Oversized Wheels or Lowrider Tires – up to $1,000

If you like Pimp My Ride, you might think oversized wheels or narrow whitewalls add the perfect finishing touch. Yes, the show made them look cool and desirable. Yet, in Ontario you must have at least 31.5 millimetres of rubber between the wheel rim and the roadway.

Meanwhile, adding oversized wheels that extend beyond the vehicle’s body isn’t just a question of flamboyance. It can significantly affect the vehicle’s handling and performance. The larger wheel circumference can give your speedometer inaccurate readings, thereby increasing your risk of speeding without even realizing it. 

Moreover, these wheels can interfere with normal steering and compromise the effectiveness of built-in safety features, like anti-lock brakes. They also make your car more susceptible to road imperfections, which could lead to control issues or even collisions. 

In short, you might be tempted to turn your car into a showstopper, but tire fines can cost you $1,000. Further, your tires must never come into contact with your car body and must be marked for highway use. 

9. Switching Up Your Windows – $200 to $1,000

In the quest for a lighter vehicle, some drivers may consider replacing the heavy windshield with another type of glass. Think again. The HTA states all vehicles must have safety glass in all doors, windows and windshields. If you swap it out, brace for a fine of $200 to $1,000.  

For a cool look, you could replace two small wipers with one large one. Legally, you just need a system the driver can control to remove moisture from your vehicle’s windshield. You can replace your wipers with a one blade as long as it cleans the windshield so you can see the road.

10. Unreported Paint Job – $0-$85

If you invest in a bold new colour for your ride, you have to tell the Ministry of Transportation. Its rules insist that drivers report if you change this information: a new owner, a lost plate, a status of unfit and the paint colour. 

Naturally, since witnesses often report this element of a car after a collision or a crime, it needs to be current. You don’t pay a fee for this update. Simply bring your ID and original vehicle permit to a ServiceOntario location within six days. Administrative fines for items like this usually equal $85. While you’re in there, you may wish to treat yourself to a custom licence plate.

The Bottom Line

Car modifications can serve as a source of excitement and personalization, but stay within legal and safety limits. Familiarize yourself with the specific car modification laws in Ontario, knowing the car insurance risks associated with illegal modifications. Remember, it’s better to drive responsibly and enjoy your vehicle within legal boundaries. Stay informed, stay safe and, most importantly, keep your car modifications between the lines.

Maude Gauthier is a journalist for Hardbacon. Since completing her Ph.D. in communications at University of Montreal, she has been writing about finance, insurance and credit cards for companies like Fonds FMOQ and Code F. As a responsible user of credit cards, she can spend hours reading the fine print to fully understand their benefits. Because of their simplicity, she developed a preference for cash back cards. After suffering steep increases with her former insurer, she can now proudly say that she saved hundreds of dollars by shopping around for her auto and home insurance. In her free time, she reads novels and enjoys streaming popular shows (and possibly less popular shows, like animal documentaries).