SC bans vehicle modifications; off-road enthusiasts in Kerala cry foul

Off-road vehicle owners in Kerala are crying foul over the clampdown by Kerala Motor Vehicles department over the vehicle modifications following a Supreme Court verdict banning the practice of illegal vehicle modifications in the country.

The Supreme Court, setting aside a verdict by Kerala high court in January, ruled against the illegal vehicle modifications in the country. According to the verdict, no vehicle can be altered to change the original specification made by the manufacturer.

“We are not modifying the four-wheel drive vehicles but enhancing its efficiency. It’s unfair to tag adventure vehicles in the same category as passenger cars. There should be an exception for off-road vehicles,” said Tison George Michael, who is a member of Idukki-based Kerala Adventure Sports Club.

“Off-road vehicles are not meant to be driven on public roads. We are enhancing the efficiency of vehicles by making changes in the vehicle. Seat belts, roll-cages, and even upsizing the tires are done to enhance the performance as well as safety. If we are enhancing the tire size, we are also increasing the braking capacity of the vehicles. So, there’s no question of safety here” argues Tison.

Four-wheel drive vehicles were widely used in the rescue operations in the deluge in Kerala. Members of Kerala Adventure Sports Club have written an open letter to the chief minister of the state to exempt the vehicles from the clampdown.

The motor vehicles department, however, said they are only complying to the SC order. There is no way to give an exception to the off-road vehicles. The SC directive must be followed. If there is any ambiguity in the order the parties must approach the court, said Idukki district RTO R Rajeev.

A blanket ban on vehicle modifications is a huge blow to the thriving automobile engineering and design industry in Kerala feels Shibin Kumar of Pete’s performance and detailing shop in Kochi.

“As of now, 80% of services we render have duly complied with the law. In the wake of the new verdict, we are educating the customers of the possible consequences. But most of them want their vehicles modified. It’s because majority of modifications have helped vehicles lower the emission and enhance the performance of the vehicle without compromising on the safety. It is a huge business in Kerala, I don’t think there should be a blanket ban. What the authorities should do is to frame a law to curb the illegal practices and weed out the dangerous trends. Otherwise, the entire industry will be affected” said Shibin Kumar.