Modified vehicle owners feel “victimised”

Written by Cheryl Tay on . Posted in Cheryl Tay Blog | Blog Post of Cheryl Tay

Over the last few months, reports in the papers have claimed the rise of illegal vehicle modifications in Singapore, leading to the authorities proposing for stiffer penalties to clamp down on illegal modifications.

This issue has further deepened the stigma of modified car owners as ‘Ah Beng’ with a bad boy racer image and raised feelings of injustice in the community. A Facebook page called “Stop Criminalising Car & Bike Enthusiasts” has even been started and has over 1,000 members to date. Started in August on the same date as one of the reports, a moderator of the page KK said, “We started the page because we felt that we’re unfairly judged and slammed by mainstream media who had very little or no knowledge of the community. We are tired of being the convenient scapegoats.”

Misconception of modified vehicle owners

Car modification is a general term used to describe the improvements made to performance or appearance of a car. Like how people decorate their houses, some drivers treat cars as an extension of personalities and spend time building their car in appreciation of its engineering, not because they want to race on the streets like that of Hollywood movies.

Ben Wong, editor of local automotive website The Right Wrong, who drives a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX said, “People tend to assume that modified cars mean ‘Ah Beng’ drivers who speed and zig zag through traffic recklessly. The thing is, these reckless drivers can be drivers of supercars, luxury cars, vans, lorries or buses. The drivers control these vehicles. If modifying a car’s performance means you are going to drive more recklessly because of more power, then what about the people who pay almost a million dollars buying a performance car straight from the factory. Are those people going to be driving recklessly too because they have more power?”

In a latest report two days ago, figures from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) show that the average number of cases per month has increased to 920 for this year, compared to 611 last year and 146 in 2008. According to this report, LTA did admit that they stepped up their enforcement, hence the spike in cases.

There are many reasons that lead to this alleged rise in illegal vehicle modifications, but it may not be because there are more drivers engaging in the scene.

Jackson Toh, editor of local car magazine Wheels Asia, who drives a Subaru Impreza WRX said, “I highly doubt there is a rise, instead the reason can be attributed to LTA officers being increasingly active on our roads. A few of my close buddies who have rather flashy cars have been fined more than three times within a month each. Hence, catching the same number of people repeatedly does not equate to a rise in illegal car modifications.”

Or as Wong puts it: “Simple analogy, if you use a bigger net, you’re bound to catch more fish. Of course there has been a rise.”

After speaking with car workshop owners and other related automotive aftermarket businesses; there is reason to believe that there is actually an overall decrease in car owners with vehicle modifications.

Automotive aftermarket businesses on the decline

One workshop owner I spoke to said that the automotive aftermarket business has been on the decline the last few years due to the lack of new performance car models, hence the drop in interest for vehicle modifications. For example, Honda stopped its production of the S2000, Mitsubishi ended its Lancer Evolution series after the 10th edition and only recently did the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 spring onboard in a bid to try and revive the scene.

In fact, many workshops have already ceased operations due to the drop in business and the step up in LTA enforcement duties are sending more businesses under threat and also forcing drivers to give up their passion. The lack of a race track in Singapore and the possible implementation of stricter penalties will only serve to drive the automotive aftermarket scene into the dungeons.

What surprised me was that the interviewees quoted in the reports were neither modified car owners nor anyone in the aftermarket automotive business. It was even more alarming when there was a statement from an LTA spokesperson about how an exhaust modification can affect steering and braking performance, hence compromising safety. The last I checked, that is not mechanically or technically correct.

What is illegal and what is not?

In the Singapore context, any vehicle modifications must meet the requirements of the LTA. Without certificates of approval from the LTA, they would be deemed illegal.

For example, there are performance parts that are certified by TUV (Technischer Überwachungs-Verein, English: Technical Inspection Association), an organisation that performs tests for automobiles, and JASMA, a Japanese aftermarket part certification body, but if they are not submitted to LTA for approval for use on local roads, they are then defined illegal in the local context.

Some workshops and drivers I spoke to said it is a hassle to go through all the red tape required to get the approval from LTA, and it also involves a hefty sum of money. Hence many end up driving on the roads without the LTA approval and hence are deemed illegal.

Illegal = Unsafe?

Because it is deemed illegal by LTA, there is the assumption that the vehicle modifications are unsafe.

How should safety of vehicle modifications be defined then?

Brendan Mok, editor of local performance car magazine 9tro said, “I define illegal car modifications as low quality botched-up jobs improperly installed on cars that pose a real threat to safety. Other wear and tear parts such as bald tyres, worn brake pads and leaking radiators should also be deemed illegal. Inappropriate mods such as snow and mud tyres also should be illegal. Extreme modifications like nitrous oxide and ball-jointed suspension bushings should go too.”

Another workshop owner I spoke to who also declined to be named, said, “The issue about safety here should not be about the modification parts, but about who executes the modifications. If they are installed properly, then safety would not be compromised and in fact would be increased as these parts have been developed by big names in the industry worldwide for the vehicle to be safe. However, some might go for cheap and inferior imitation products that might cause the cars to break down.”

Toh added, “Stuff such as brake kits, coilovers and strut bars actually aid in keeping the car planted at all times. It is not the modifications that compromise safety, but the driver and the mindset behind the wheel.”

High performance stock cars vs. modified sports cars

In another report published in August, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Gan Thiam Poh wrote to Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew and said that “such vehicles were not only noisy but could also pose a danger to other road users if modified incorrectly” and that “the authorities should do more to control “potential troublemakers”. He even asked for a consideration of the “prohibiting the sales of motor vehicle parts and accessories that may enable motorists to modify their motor vehicles to produce noise beyond prescribed or acceptable levels in Singapore.”

In that same report, it was also said that modified vehicles “will be used beyond its normal operating intention” and “endangers lives”.

To an average reader with no knowledge or interest in vehicles, he might be led to believe that modified vehicles are noisy, dangerous and nothing but trouble. Thus, it is this stereotype that might have caused feedback from residents to the LTA about excessive noise possibly generated by illegal exhaust modifications that causes public nuisance. While this may be the efforts of some modified vehicle owners, it can also be the result of high performance, high powered stock supercars.

Calvin Wan, a certified performance tuner who drives a Volkswagen Scirocco 2.0 TSI said, “Cars do not make excessive noise on their own. It is always the driver and will always be the driver. Instead of clamping down on the modifications, action should be taken against errant motorists who rev their engines, thereby resulting in noise pollution. LTA has always associated increase in exhaust noise to illegal modifications made to the exhaust system of vehicles. What about high-powered supercars and Harley Davidson motorcycles that come stock from the factory with ‘loud’ exhaust systems that are just as capable of making excessive noise?”

Call for transparency

While the LTA is still reviewing the proposed changes for stiffer and harsher penalties to reduce these allegedly ‘illegal’ modified vehicles, some modified car owners have voiced out their opinions publicly, in hope that it will reach the authorities.

The moderators of Stop Criminalising Car & Bike Enthusiasts have emailed Minister Lui and his team and are waiting to hear from him.

Having written two notes (first note here; second note here) in Facebook addressed to LTA in response to the reports, Mok “urges the LTA to consult with people that have more contextual knowledge about performance cars and modifications before they make statements as such”.

He added, “It is a falicious generalisation to say that all vehicle modifications compromise safety – it’s like saying anyone with a gun is a murderer. It’s always not what’s in the car, but how it is driven that causes accidents and compromises safety. I hope to see the LTA engage us, people in the industry that know how cars and their upgrades work. I hope to redefine the standards for a legal or illegal upgrade so that we may not give day to day like criminals, because we are not.”

Wong feels that the LTA can engage “a panel of judges comprising of members of the public, VICOM engineers, enthusiasts and workshop owners to work out an approved limit, then have these approved upon inspection by VICOM engineers for proper installation”.

As for Toh, he hopes that “the LTA could concentrate more efforts on motorists that really do pose a serious danger on the roads, such as tipper trucks and lorries clearly overloaded or exceeding their speed limits, instead of discriminating against modified vehicles”.

Here is the full panel discussion with more comprehensive answers:

Panelists -
• JACKSON TOH, 32, editor of Wheels Asia, Subaru Impreza WRX, 9 years in the scene
• BEN WONG, 26, editor of TheRightWrong.net, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, 8 years in the scene
• CALVIN WAN, 31, certified high performance tuner, Volkswagen Scirocco, 2 years in the scene
• BRENDAN MOK, 24, editor of 9tro magazine, Honda S2000, 5 years in the scene
• KK, moderator of Stop Criminalising Car & Bike Enthusiasts

Q: The LTA has reported a rise in illegal vehicle modifications recently and are reviewing harsher penalties in a bid to clamp down on this rise. Do you think there has been a rise or otherwise Why?

Jackson: I highly doubt there is a rise, instead the reason can be attributed to LTA officers being increasingly active on our roads. The LTA officers now even work nearly 24 hours as I have friends who were booked by them as late as 3-4am in the morning. As such, a few of my close buddies who have rather flashy cars have been fined more than 3 times within a month each. Hence, catching the same number of people repeatedly does not equate to a rise in illegal car modifications.

Ben: LTA has recently increased their manpower in patrolling the streets. Two to three years back you might only see an LTA officer once in a while, but these days you spot them almost daily. They have been more aggressive in catching vehicles with modifications. Simple analogy, if you use a bigger net, you’re bound to catch more fish. Of course there has been a rise.

Calvin: Don’t think there is a rise, more of an increase in enforcement action.

Brendan: Yes, of course I agree that there has been a rise in clampdowns – there are increased patrols by LTA officers on bikes and joint operations at night specifically targeting illegally-modified cars.

KK: With that many more LTA enforcers and the recent witch hunts, I don’t see why there won’t be a “rise” in terms of numbers.

Q: It was also said that vehicle modifications compromise safety. Do you agree? Why or why not?

Jackson: I won’t rule out totally that vehicle modifications compromise safety as I have seen drivers and garages that retrofit various parts onto their cars that won’t meant to be only to have the electronics or in some cases the engine blow up in their faces. But then again, these are few and far between and usually apply to those who are driving non-performance vehicles.

On the other hand, for those driving actual performance cars with aftermarket support from big names in the industry, parts that were developed and made specifically for the vehicle tend to be extremely safe, not only do they not compromise safety, but most of these modifications actually increase the vehicle’s safety levels. Stuff such as brake kits, coilovers and strut bars actually aid in keeping the car planted at all times. Again, it is not modifications that compromise safety, it’s the driver and his/her mindset when they get behind the wheel that affects the safety aspect of a vehicle.

Put a lousy driver in a standard car and his is definitely likely to get into an accident, put a car enthusiast into his favourite ride and most probably he will be driving so carefully to keep his ride safe and sound.

Ben: The thing is, the LTA’s list of approved modifications that does not compromise safety is very subjective. The exact same exhaust on the exact same car – one with the LTA cert of approval and one without, the one without the cert will be deemed as “illegally modified”. Since LTA has approved that model, surely using the exact same thing shouldn’t be deemed as dangerous right?

My example when I wanted to get my Tomei exhaust system approved: It comprises of three parts, the exhaust manifold, turbo outlet and downpipe. I wanted to use the STOCK (from manufacturer) exhaust manifold with the approved turbo outlet and downpipe so I brought it to the inspection centre. The officer told me immediately if I want to get inspected like that, he will just fail me immediately. Does this mean my approved manifold and STOCK downpipe is dangerous and illegal or too loud? NO. It is simply because I was allowed no flexibility and anything that does not follow what is supposed to be (eg. the full set of three items instead of two ALTHOUGH it makes no difference at all which part is used) is deemed as illegal regardless of emissions or volume.

So anything deemed illegal is said to compromise safety, but as from this example, you can see that whether or not it is “approved” or “illegal” is just separated by just a piece of paper.

Calvin: This is a flawed statement and a common misconception. I disagree. It is always the driver and not the car or the associated modifications done to the car. In fact, I would say that most people who modify their cars have more road-worthy cars than the regular car user. They are more inclined to change wear and tear parts ahead of the scheduled intervals (brake pads, tires, wheel alignment, etc).

Brendan: On this point, I urge the LTA to consult with people that have more contextual knowledge about performance cars and modifications before they make statements as such. It is a falicious generalisation to say that all vehicle modifications compromise safety – it’s like saying anyone with a gun is a murderer. It’s always not what’s in the car, but how it is driven that causes accidents and compromises safety.

KK: Quite on the contrary really. Most mods are performed to improve vehicle safety and handling. The global aftermarket parts and accessories industry is backed by extensive amount of funds pumped into continuous research, development and testing of race technologies that are designed to improve vehicle handling and performance.

Q: Do you think there is a misconception about vehicle modifications?

Jackson: Thus far I’ve been observing that the media at large has been painting drivers who modify their cars in a very negative light. To the average man/woman who come across such articles in the papers, it looks something like this: Modified car = Driven by bad people = Illegal racing = Dangerous = BAD

But this is barely even scraping the surface of our once vibrant car tuning culture. Did any of the reporters, journalists, MPs even delve into the scene to really analyse it, study it and most importantly understand the drivers and their need to modify their cars? The answer is no.

Instead, they are quickly labelled as undesirable problem makers, with comments being passed off as the actual fact without even proper research done. Hence with this mindset, the authorities and society as a whole become further disengaged from the world of car enthusiasts. Viewing them as criminals, and at the same time, driving the scene further underground will lead them to never to gain public acceptance.

Ben: Yes I certainly think so. People tend to assume that modified cars mean ‘Ah Beng’ drivers who speed and zig zag through traffic recklessly. The thing is, the drivers who do reckless things can be of super cars, luxury cars, vans, lorries and buses. The drivers control these vehicles. If modifying a car’s performance means you are going to drive more recklessly because of more power, then what about the people who pay almost a million dollars buying a performance car straight from the factory. Are those people going to be driving recklessly too because they have more power?

End of the day it is the driver behind the wheel can controls it. You may have a 1000-horsepower car but if the driver chooses to only drive at 60km/h all the time whenever it is on public roads, it still doesn’t pose a danger to the public, so why should owners be punished for what their car can do? Instead punish the drivers who commit those acts of reckless driving and endangering other road users. Impose harsher penalties on those!

Brendan: I believe that there is a huge misconception with car modifications. The public at large seem to believe that a loud exhaust means that the car will fly! While certain modifications like nitrous oxide or ball-join suspension setups can be too extreme for road use, I believe that exhaust upgrades and turbochargers are not always unsafe when installed correctly and used responsibly.

KK: Definitely! All thanks to popular Hollywood stereotypes. I’d like to think that most of us are really car geeks. Most car and bike enthusiasts love their cars and bikes too much to trash them on the roads, so the saying that we endanger public and road safety is definitely unfounded. Most quality mods (even if they are cosmetic) are very costly, so we definitely wouldn’t want any vehicle or anyone near our cars much less crash them.

Q: What or how do performance modifications help a car? You may list specific mods and their uses.

Jackson: I will only touch a little on what is legal –

Larger/Lightweight Rims = lessen the load on the engine, better performance, saves fuel
Larger Tyres = better grip, stability
Suspension/Coilovers/Dampers = stability at high speeds, better cornering
Aerokits/Spoilers/Diffusers = aid in aerodynamics, downforce to keep car planted on the road, stability
Big Brake Kits = increased braking performance, stops the car faster
ECU/Engine Tuning = increased performance, optimises fuel efficiency
Air-Intake Kits = improved engine response, helps engine breathe better
Aftermarket Exhausts = improved performance, increases the flow rate of exhaust gases
Bucket Seats = better lateral support and good driving posture

Ben: Performance modifications help the car in many ways, such as improving throttle response and providing slightly better power. The most common performance modification is exhausts, hence the reason why so many people are getting caught.

Exhausts manifolds for example create a better flow of gases out from the engine to spool a turbo car, giving better throttle response providing a more enjoyable drive. Exhaust mufflers improve the flow of exhausts gases that restrict a car’s performance. In order to create more power, you need more air and more fuel. When they combust they obviously produce more exhaust gases. Ranging from car to car, having more power does not necessarily mean louder exhausts too. There are many exhausts deemed “illegal” by LTA because there are no certificates issued to it, even though it may pass all emissions and volume tests.

It is not just all about the performance for everyone though; the same reason why people buy Ferraris and Lamborghinis. They love the sound, they love the looks and not everyone uses the performance of the super car. Some just prefer a drive where they can listen to the sound of their cars.

Calvin: Big brake kits/performance tyres – Even without power-enhancing modifications done to the car, upgrading a car’s stock braking system has aides in better braking performance. That being said, reliable and proven aftermarket parts should be chosen over inferior or un-proven and un-tested ones as it would deem the modification counterproductive.

Brendan: Exhaust upgrades – standard exhaust systems use a high number of catalytic converters and small diameters to restrict airflow for emissions compliance. Upgraded exhausts simply entail larger diameters or more free-flowing setups to reduce the bottleneck that the air goes through coming out of the engine, hence the louder sound

Turbochargers – a bigger turbo upgrade yields substantial power gain, and yes, I believe that some turbos are way too powerful for use on the street. However, it still does not justify an outright ban on all turbo upgrades, because new technology allows faster and more efficient boost response, sometimes improving fuel economy while increasing power marginally. Once again, the argument “It’s not what’s in the car, it’s how you use it” comes into play.

Q: Safety issues aside, one of the reasons for the increased checks by LTA is the increase of complaints from residents about excessive noise from cars. What are your thoughts on that?

Jackson: Again, not all owners of modified vehicles have extremely loud exhausts, and not all of them would like to announce to the entire neighbourhood of their impending arrival especially late at night. Many times I, myself have been irritated by the loud blaring of whiny Malaysian motorbikes with their hollowed out exhausts in the middle of the night. That is absolutely frustrating, but I don’t see the authorities doing anything at the customs about these bikes. Instead, cars with slightly bassier exhaust notes are being fined. I’m not condoning that everyone should go switch to any aftermarket exhaust system though. But for those who are passionate about cars, hearing a legally approved bassy exhaust note is something very, very pleasing.

As for myself, whenever I come back home, driving through my neighbourhood, I would always be mindful not to rev my vehicle unnecessarily for fear of disturbing my neighbours. To me its basic courtesy, true I may love the bassy sound emitted from my car but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to like it as well. So as drivers, we have to be mindful of our surroundings, especially when it’s late at night. Ditto to those that purposely rev their cars in the middle of the night when they come home, these drivers are the ones that ought to be dealt with. However, for those driving exotic cars, I guess residents just have to be tolerant.

Ben: I think that there are black sheep regardless of where or who or what they drive. Lamborghini and Ferrari owners rev in the middle of the neighbourhood and still wake everyone up because those cars are loud straight from the factory. Harley Davidson bikes too. The people that own these vehicles should be considerate that they know their car is louder than normal, so they should try to drive slowly on their way home to avoid waking up the entire neighbourhood. Lorries who rev their engines are very loud too. They have a choice whether or not to cause disturbance by waking everyone up. These are black sheep and if caught, I agree these people should be punished more severely, not because of their cars but because of their actions. The general population of enthusiasts should not be punished for the sins of the few.

Calvin: Cars do not make excessive noise on their own. Like I have said, it is always the driver, and will always be the driver. Instead of clamping down on the modifications, action should be taken against errant motorists who rev their engines, thereby resulting in noise pollution. LTA has always associated increase in exhaust noise to illegal modifications made to the exhaust system of vehicles. However, high-powered supercars and Harley Davidson motorcycles come stock from the factory with “loud” exhaust systems. An irresponsible driver of these supercars or Harley Davidson motorcycles is just as capable to making excessive noise. So where is the standard?

Brendan: I believe that there is a better way to reach a happy compromise with members of the public and enthusiasts – simply start a panel of jurors with all parties with vested interests in the use of our roads, from public transport users to residents with houses beside roads and members of the car industry as well as the enthusiasts. Agree on a sound level that all can be happy with and everyone benefits.

KK: I agree that there might be a small handful of enthusiasts who may have taken their little car projects a little too loud for most layman’s comfort, but I bet there won’t be any complaints if it’s a Ferrari parked at the deck… ;P

Q: What do you think will happen when LTA implements stricter penalties?

Jackson: A quick check with the garages and workshops and the general premise is clear, the aftermarket modifications industry is already on the decline. Many have already closed their doors due to a lack of business which again is attributed to the sharp spike in LTA enforcement duties and many people giving up their hobby/passion. Those workshops that are still operating see their customers dwindling, or clients that only want to do minor stuff which will not break the law.

Those smaller workshops will definitely feel the heat, as it is, the industry has been on a downturn, market trends and a lack of a proper race track in Singapore has hit the garages pretty badly. The implementation of stricter penalties will probably purge the smaller businesses leaving only the big boys to pick up the scraps. The modified car scene might either cease to exist overnight, or go deeper underground, being more secretive and less prominent. If the government is keen on having a flourishing motorsports scene on our little island, killing the passion of the very people that would probably support grassroots level motorsports is definitely not the way to go.

The rich who car easily afford the fines would continue their hobby of course, but what happens to those caught in between, where I presume a bulk of car enthusiasts are at? Unable to pay the fines, they either convert their cars back to stock or change cars, isn’t this the same as limiting a person’s creativity? If LTA is going to be clamping down on the workshops as well, I shudder to think the day where Singapore only has car servicing and accessory workshops, the people working in the industry will lose their jobs not to mention many business owners will have their rice bowls taken forcibly from them.

Ben: With the increased stepping up of LTA enforcement, many owners are already unwilling to make changes to their car. Businesses are already getting affected by these increase enforcement patrols. Further enforcing stricter penalties will only make things worse. The people who can afford two to three cars to drive daily will have no problem with carrying on these modifications because they will never have to worry about getting caught. But most people who only have one car to drive daily are already not doing much to their cars and these people comprise of the majority.

Businesses will be affected for sure, perhaps not to the extent of closing down but definitely affected. The fact that cars in Singapore are so expensive and LTA is so strict already hinders the ability of local businesses to engineer cars to a level that their true capabilities can be.

Just take a look at the Nemo Racing Evo from Australia. You will see that the level of engineering in the car is of a completely different standard and yet I know that Singapore is capable of such degrees of engineering. The thing is there is no motivation for the locals to develop their skills in this aspect because even if they did, a lot of it wouldn’t be LTA-approved and they will not be able to make any money to further develop their skills. Thus Singapore is mostly limited to simply importing parts from other countries, evern Malaysia, where they have companies developing parts for their own cars.

Brendan: By enforcing stricter penalties the LTA is simply pouring buckets of ice into a pot of boiling water. It will boil over. The industry will die, the people will be unhappy.

KK: Most definitely. The industry is mainly made up of SMEs facing what is possibly one of the worst economic downturns to come, inflating cost of business (levies, rentals, utilities etc). The stricter penalties if meted out on current regulatory framework and definition of “legal / illegal” modifications, I think it’s just going to drive the scene into the ground or further underground, effectively stricter penalties is just an all too easy and naive solution. Do note that there are many other stakeholders who may be adversely affected, such as the car magazines, the car show organisers, motorsports scene etc.

Q: What do you hope to see out of this entire issue?

Jackson: LTA should be more transparent in its statements, LTA should do proper research before making comments, LTA should hold a monthly dialogue session with the automotive industry to gain a better understanding, LTA’s top down approach in conveying information to the public just does not cut it. This whole fiasco started simply because it showed how out of touch our authorities are with the aftermarket industry even though they are supposed to be in-charge and managing it.

I hope there will be an across-the-board standardised approval panel for all vehicles be it cars, lorries, vans, buses, bikes from Singapore or Malaysia, I hope the media get their facts right for once before painting any negative picture about modified vehicles and their owners. Besides typically reporting from one side, perhaps they should do an expose on the plight of car enthusiasts here in Singapore, that way the public might gain a better understanding and not be too quick to judge.

Ben: I hope to see that LTA will come forward and engage the enthusiasts instead of making decisions based on an “LTA spokesperson” who can say things like “exhausts affect braking and steering”. There are so many people from the scene, be it bloggers, magazine editors, workshop owners and genuine enthusiasts.

These people have knowledge to offer to LTA and for LTA to perhaps revise their systems, such as if exhausts are within the legal limit of emissions and sound, they should be allowed on the road. However if people CHOOSE to make their car louder then these limits, then more severe punishments should be given out. Many exhausts now are deemed illegal and are caught for “illegally modifications” not because they are loud, simply because they lack LTA certification. It would be good to have a panel of judges comprising of members of the public, VICOM engineers, enthusiasts, workshop owners etc. to work out an approved limit and anything within those limits will then be approved upon inspection by VICOM engineers for proper installation.

Calvin: I hope to see a revamp in the way modifications are evaluated on their road-worthiness. Taking exhaust systems for instance, whether or not a system is road-worthy should be determined based on measurable metrics such as decibel readings and emissions. Certification from bodies such as TUV and JASMA should also be taken into consideration. There are so many TUV and JASMA certified exhaust systems out there that are not approved for use on local roads simply because it wasn’t submitted to LTA for “approval”, which involves a hefty sum of money. Since they are already certified by huge bodies such as TUV and JASMA, why is there a need for further approval?

Brendan: I hope to see the LTA engage us, people in the industry that know how cars and their upgrades work. I hope to redefine the standards for a legal or illegal upgrade so that we may not give day to day like criminals, because we are not.

KK: An open dialogue with the regulators to derive a win-win situation for the regulators, the industry and the enthusiasts.

Q: Why do owners modify their cars? Why do you modify your car?

Jackson: It’s a passion, hobby and love of the car, or being the envy of friends and peers. It’s the maximising of the car’s capabilities and feeling that adrenalin rush. Nothing beats that feeling of outperforming an expensive car in a vehicle which costs less than half its price and built-up yourself. It’s about feeling the difference in performance whenever something new is added into the car. It’s about making it look as aggressive as possible. I’m a very visual person and my car is a visual and physical extension of myself.

Ben: Why do people buy Ferraris and Lamborghinis? Some people buy cars for it to be a mode of transport, an A to B way of getting around. Not everyone just wants cars to be that. In USA people hand their cars down like family heirlooms to their children. Cars are a part of culture and it is a part of life. When a group of friends get together they share a common interest in cars.

It’s not just about getting around, it’s about the way the car drives, the way it handles the way it sounds and the way it looks, just like why people can spend the money buying a condo but instead spend it to make it disappear over 10 years in a supercar.

You develop a relationship with the car and you have ideals about how it should look and how it should drive for you to enjoy the driving more. People drive supercars because they enjoy all of those. Not everyone enjoys supercars, not everyone dreams of owning supercars. Some prefer a car that they can make changes to their specific liking, a car that can be modified in a sense. That way, you enjoy the car more when you take it to a track or just a way to de-stress on your way home after a long tiring day, instead of going through an emotionless way of transporting yourself home. You know that how this car is able to perform is a result of your hard work of putting time and money into it.

I modify my car because I have ideals of how I would love my car to be, people have dreams of homes, dreams of how they should look, all that is part of what is reflected of you. I like my car to look in this manner and to handle, accelerate and perform in a specific manner that I will enjoy.

Brendan: Like how a person would personalise his home, our cars are an extension of our personality. Some look loud, some seem quietly aggressive. We mod because we love cars and building them, not because we want to race them on the streets – an image wrongly portrayed by Hollywood and various movies. I modify my car for the track, since I don’t have enough money to have both a daily driver and a track car.

KK: I guess to some of us, our car is like the extension of us or even our alter ego, just as clothes and shoes are to some. That explains the rims, body kits, decals etc. Other than that, on a more practical note it’s to improve the handling and driving experience (and comfort) of the car which usually includes window tinting, suspension kits, brake kits, air intake etc.

Q: How do you define ‘illegal vehicle modifications’?

Jackson: Illegal to me is when you use parts/engines from different cars and put them into another vehicle, extremely dark tinting on the lights and windows till the driver’s vision is impaired and car curtains which obscure a car’s blind spot.

Ben: I define illegal modifications as things that are done to a car well beyond its capabilities or causing public nuisance and compromising safety. For example, an exhaust that is too loud that even driving at slow speeds it wakes the entire neighbourhood up; window tinting that is excessively dark you can only see cars if they turned on their headlights at night, not visible number plates that cannot be caught on camera; turbocharging a small car like a Chery QQ which it cannot handle and might fall apart at any time. Already turbocharged cars with an increase in performance, as long as it does not place other members of the public at risk and within sound and emission standards should be fine.

Calvin: Modifications which bring about danger to innocent parties even without the influence of a driver.

Brendan: I define illegal car modifications as low quality botched-up jobs improperly installed on cars that pose a real threat to safety. Other wear and tear parts such as bald tyres, worn brake pads and leaking radiators should also be deemed illegal. Inappropriate mods such as snow and mud tyres also should be illegal. Extreme modifications like nitrous oxide and ball-jointed suspension bushings should go too.

KK: I’d define an illegal modification as one that drastically alters the original engine type or capacity, eg. 1,300cc to 3,000cc or N/A to forced induction.

Q: Have you ever been caught by the authorities for your vehicle modifications?

Jackson: Yes, with my previous car I’ve been fined three times for an illegal exhaust and turbo system, in all I paid S$1,500. With my current car, I’ve been fined once for having a blown rear number plate light, something which I didn’t even noticed till I was stopped and fined S$70 – the bulb cost me only S$2!

Ben: I have been caught by LTA for illegal modifications twice. Once for an illegal exhaust which was a hassle to get myself an LTA approved set and another time for a sticker type number plate. My illegal exhaust was not loud at all. Fact is, it just didn’t have a cert and to find an LTA approved exhaust manifold set is very rare. There are only 50 pieces of it in Singapore and it has been out since the Evo 8 times. Many of them have been scrapped with the car, some exported, some are still being used by cars on the road so it is really hard to find a set. Sticker type number plate was simply because I love the way it looks. It was not an excessively small number plate, just a little bit smaller than the required size by LTA. Granted after the Ferrari incident, I recognise the need for a clear number plate.

Brendan: Yes. I was once stopped by an LTA officer who seemed absolutely clueless as to what he was looking for. My exhaust is illegal but insisted on bringing me back to the inspection station on his accusation that my s2000 was turbocharged. This was after he’d peered into the engine bay to see if there was one. It was a waste of time, which could have been prevented if he’d just had a bit more knowledge about cars and upgrades.

KK: I believe you know the authorities consider windows tinting an illegal modification too. So yes.

Q: Anything you might want to add.

Jackson: This year alone the media has ran a couple of stories all pointing at the rise of illegally modified vehicles and generally stereotyping drivers of such cars as bad eggs and trouble-makers.
The biggest joke is when they interviewed so-called experts who seem to know nuts about the industry. This is highly apparent when they quip terms such as “outside concession very high”, “cars are being used beyond their operational intent” (only to retract the statement and claim that it was in reference to lights) and the latest, “changing of the exhaust could affect steering and braking”.

I mean seriously, do the authorities think they are trying to pull the wool over the eyes of five-year old pre-schoolers? Passing such remarks only reiterates one simple fact – The authorities have not the slightest clue about what they are doing. I sincerely hope before they decide to put up such findings again in future, they should perhaps hire someone with basic knowledge in automobiles before committing to such an embarrassing folly.

As for the LTA enforcement, I hope they would concentrate their efforts on motorists that really do pose a serious danger on our roads instead of discriminating against any modified vehicle. There are tipper trucks and lorries clearly overloaded or exceeding their speed limits and nothing is being done about them, instead the officers are curled up like a caterpillar on the road trying to look up the side skirt of a car to check if there is an illegal exhaust valve installed.

Think about it, how many times do you see a modified vehicle get into an accident versus a standard car or commercial vehicle? I would think that modified cars are but a tiny minority, as drivers of these cars tend to be a lot more careful or have at least some basic defensive driving skills. Do not let a few bad eggs and extremely biased news reports cloud your judgment.

I personally prefer driving and parking in the company of like-minded drivers; at least I know my car won’t get dinged or dented and these drivers will not suddenly swerve or straddle into your lane without signalling or checking their blind spot.

KK: We started the Stop Criminalising Cars & Bikes Enthusiasts Facebook page the same day as the article ‘A need for harsher penalties’ was published in TODAY, 23 August 2012. We felt that we’re unfairly judged and slammed by mainstream media who had very little or no knowledge of the community. We are tired of being the convenient “scapegoats”.

The objective of this page is to consolidate our voice and thoughts, in a hope for an open dialogue with the regulators in a fair discourse of the “issues” and derive a reasonable, transparent and justifiable framework for the regulators, the industry, the enthusiasts and the rest of the stakeholders.

We’ve emailed and posted two appeals from enthusiasts (one of whom is Brendan Mok) on Minister Lui’s Facebook page. We’re hoping to hear something from him and his team soon.

Cheryl Tay

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Singapore’s only female full-time motoring and motorsports photojournalist. Independent automotive consultant and prominent local motorsports personality Cheryl Tay is uniquely passionate about all things cars and motorsports. She also has a strong passion to share her interest and knowledge, hence having a dream to become the ‘Oprah Winfrey of cars and motorsports’ and create a multimedia platform for her sharing. - A female in a male-dominated world, Cheryl Tay is Singapore’s only female full-time motoring journalist and motorsports blogger and she regularly writes for prominent titles in Singapore, Asia and internationally. (See full list of titles that Cheryl Tay writes for here.)

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