How to Make a UTV Street Legal?
UTVs or side-by-sides are a hell of a lot of fun. They work twice as hard as a four-wheeler with half the mastery of a dirt bike and make off-roading look like child’s play. However, with all that UTV fun comes restrictions. The main limitation is that UTVs are rarely street legal and are considered off-highway vehicles.
Finding a legal place to drive your UTV is incredibly challenging if you live in a town or city. Finding a suitable place to drive legally may include loading your UTV onto a trailer to transport, so it doesn’t illegally touch roads on the way.
Investing in a tow rig is costly and towing your UTV is a considerable chunk of your time spent not riding.
If you want to be free of the riding restrictions that come with owning a UTV, you’ll need to get your UTV registered as a street-legal vehicle. Read on to learn how to make a UTV street legal.
Why Are UTVs Not Street Legal?
UTV manufacturers need to ensure that their vehicles meet a certain standard before achieving the sticker to indicate the vehicle can be used on highways. UTVs do not meet on-highway emission regulations, so they are not registered as on-highway vehicles.
How Do You Make a UTV Street Legal?
For a street legal UTV, you’ll need to make a few modifications. Conveniently, many of the mods will come in handy on the trails. However, there isn’t a universal list available to meet the requirements. Every state is different, and there may even be some differences between counties and municipalities.
Before you start spending money on converting your UTV, consider checking with your state’s motor vehicle department to determine whether you can legally drive your UTV on city streets or highways. It would also be good to check the rules in the area you want to drive in. Ensure they don’t have any special requirements beyond what the state lists.
If you confirm that your UTV can be registered for highway use, then start modding! Go through this list for some common modifications required for your UTV to be considered legal for highway use.
We’re not used to seeing some vehicles on the highway, and therefore, if spotted, they look odd – and a UTV is one of them. Drivers typically expect and scan the road for common obstacles like cars, trucks, bikes, and pedestrians. UTVs and motorcycles have smaller profiles and typically dimmer lights, often going unnoticed.
The odds are that the factory headlights you have installed on your UTV may not be bright enough for night-time highway drives. For example, some state laws require your headlights to shine at 150 feet on a low beam and 450 feet on a high beam. Installing a brighter headlight like “HID” lights will ensure your vehicle meets state requirements.
Brighter lights will allow you to spot hazards quicker as you see further down darkened roads. And in turn, your headlights will be bright enough to command attention and help prevent accidents.
Bear in mind that colored headlights are illegal in most states, even on street-legal UTVs. The same is true for light bars and other exceptionally bright accessories. These types should be turned off whenever you’re driving on public roads.
Tail Lights and Brake Lights
On a UTV, two rear lights (one on both sides) to operate as tail and brake lights are common. The tail light, sometimes referred to as running lights, will come on and remain lit whenever the vehicle is running. The brake lights are clearer than the taillights and light only when the brakes are applied.
Should you need to install better rear lights, kits are available, but state laws may vary. For example, some state laws require just one brake light on a UTV that must be seen from 300 feet away. And it must have a red reflector so it can be seen if the bulb burns out.
Reverse lights are not a requirement. However, if installed on a street-legal UTV, they must only illuminate white light. LED pod lights for reverse lights are common, and it surely helps with night visibility, especially on a dark trail. Check out the state laws before fitting LED pod lights to your UTV.
Installing turn signals onto your UTV is not as difficult as it may seem. There is no need for running wires and crimp connections these days since many companies offer plug-n-play assemblies.
For example, a “Dux” kit will help legalize your UTV with four bright mini-LED lights (two front and rear). It includes a finished labeled wiring harness with color-coded wires and, just like on a regular vehicle, a turn indicator switch that connects to the steering wheel.
Most kits will also come with fuses and relays for a finished and professional look.
In general, a UTV turn indicator kit is pretty straightforward to install. The power source on the UTV can be used for easier installation and to ensure the signal isn’t left on to drain the battery once you turn off the ignition.
The pricing for UTV turn indicator kits varies. The more expensive kits include extras such as a turn signal relay and switch, a horn and horn button, and a license plate light, which meet the requirements for most states.
The tires are often overlooked when converting a UTV. Most off-road vehicles are not fitted with DOT (Department of Transportation) tires.
You can find out if your tires are highway legal by looking for the DOT code molded into the sidewall. The code will start with the letters DOT, followed by a sequence of letters and numbers. The last four digits tell you when the tire was made.
The availability of DOT-approved UTV tires is growing. Luckily, they are easily found online in various sizes, including aggressive off-road and street-legal tires. DOT tires are much safer and won’t impair your off-road performance.
Motor vehicles using public highways must be fitted with a DOT-approved laminated-glass windshield. Adding a windshield to your UTV is also a good idea for protection against rocks, dirt, twigs, and other debris that may affect your vision when you’re driving on or off-road. Some states accept the use of sunglasses, goggles, or other types of approved eye protection for highway driving.
UTV windshields are available in many designs from half to full coverage, and even the “Polaris Flip” out windshield, which can be adjusted to increase or decrease the airflow.
Eye Protection and Helmet
In some states, requirements include eye protection on any open-cockpit vehicle that isn’t licensed initially as an ordinary road vehicle. Verify whether this requirement applies to your state or the place you’ll be driving in.
Usually, UTVs are not manufactured with mirrors. Consequently, states require a rear-view mirror and at least one on the driver’s side or two side-view mirrors–one for each side to become street legal. Vehicles will only need one mirror to reflect the road 200 feet behind in some states.
Many companies provide various mirror mounts that secure different-sized roll bars to help install them. View mirror availability includes aftermarket mirrors that clamp onto the frame of a UTV as a driver side-view mirror.
And there’s the “Ocelot Universal” side view mirror. These types are designed to work on either side of the UTV. They have a five-inch convexed lens for a wide view angle and reduction in blind spots.
You’ll find that most states’ requirements include a horn. Some states require vehicles using the highways must be equipped with a horn that can be heard from 200 feet away.
If you don’t buy a turn signal kit that typically includes a horn, there are plenty of places you can get the horn separately. Generally, you can find horn kits to plug into your vehicle’s battery or charging system from aftermarket motorcycle parts stores.
Confirm your state’s sound level requirement if you need to add a horn. Adding a horn should be one of the most accessible mods to carry out on your list.
Some states may have the requirement to have reflectors at the back on either side of the vehicle, in addition to well-lit headlights and brake/taillights. Most UTVs will have plastic or sticker reflectors integrated into the rear bodywork or mounted on the frame.
If yours doesn’t have a reflector, adding one is easy. The plastic ones usually have an adhesive backing so that you can stick them anywhere. Alternatively, you could try using reflective tape. Just confirm where on your UTV the reflectors need to go and whether they need to be a particular color.
UTVs generally come with at least one lap belt for the driver and passenger, which meets the minimum law requirement for some states. However, UTVs are very light compared to most vehicles and are prone to roll-over collisions. The openness of a UTV makes a five-point seatbelt a safer option, especially in case of an accident.
License Plate Mount and Light
After registering your UTV, you’ll need an appropriate and secure way to show the license plate. In most states, the law requires that the license plate is mounted on the vehicle’s rear. Some UTVs have tabs soldered to them so you can secure a license plate frame. The container needs to be illuminated from behind, visible on the highway at night or in low light situations.
Many turning signal kits include a small white light to illuminate the plate. Alternatively, there are lots of solutions, including a plain LED strip.
At the time of writing this, many are purchasing full-sized license plates for their UTVs instead of motorcycle plates. Ensure you have the appropriate license plate holder to match your plates.
In general, you’ll need to show you’ve met the requirements precisely regarding the modifications. Therefore, ensure you read over all your state regulations to know exactly where your UTV accessories need to be placed and their specifics.
Other Requirements to Become Street Legal
In addition to making the modifications, here’s are other factors involved in the process for making your UTV street legal:
Your UTV won’t be street legal if it isn’t registered. Once all the modifications are complete, you can kick off the registration process. The documentation required may vary from state to state but are fairly similar.
For an idea of what’s required, here’s what you need to submit to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in North Carolina:
- A signed and certified Modified Utility Vehicle Affidavit, which can be completed at the DMV
- The bill of sale
- The Manufacturer Certificate of Origin (MCO) or vehicle title
- A complete inspection or evidence of one
- Proof of insurance
These documents should be relatively straightforward to obtain. The MCO or vehicle’s title might be the trickiest to get out of all of them. If your vehicle were registered in another state previously, you’d only have a title. Otherwise, you’ll need the MCO. You should have received one whether you bought your UTV new or used.
Most importantly, you need to supply the original or duplicate MCO, not a copy. If you don’t have either, you can contact the dealer you bought it from. If there’s no luck there, you can contact the manufacturer.
Driving your UTV just like a regular car on the street will also need to be insured like one, e.g., liability insurance. Most auto policies will allow you to add a UTV to your policy. Alternatively, you can find a specialty UTV policy if you wish.
In many states, your UTV will be required to pass an inspection before it can be registered. The details of the inspection will vary from state to state.
The process could include a full inspection by a state official, inspected and signed off by an approved shop, or you may just need to provide documented proof (receipts) that the modifications have been carried out.
Some of the checks may include:
- Adequate brake fluid level available
- Operational brake levers
- Good brake pads, hoses, and connections
Engine and Fuel
- Clean air filter
- Driver’s seat belt tight and in good condition
- Spark arrestor
- An operational choke
- An operational throttle
- Fuel line connections and hoses
- Oil level and filter service
- Acceptable steering
- Axles, boot joints, and suspension
- Adequate lubrication
- Front and rear gear case levels
- Tire wear and inflated correctly
- Lights and reflectors in acceptable condition
- Tight wheel lugs
- Winch and cable adequate
- License plate, registration, and decals
If the above checks are good, you should easily pass the UTV inspection.
While it’s acceptable to drive a UTV without a driver’s license in some states, that is not the case when driving on the city, state, county roads, and highways. In addition, a driver’s license is necessary for BLM maintained roadways and Forest Service roads.
How Much Will It Cost to Make Your UTV Street Legal
As you can imagine, the answer to this question will significantly depend on the laws and regulations specific to your state. At the time of writing, you can expect to pay approximately $300-$700. If you need to make modifications, it shouldn’t cost you more than $700. If the state is quite lenient regarding UTV legalities, the cost is more likely to be around the $300 mark.
The price is also dependent on where you get the modifications done and the quality of the parts. If you decide to pay someone to upgrade your UTV, this will add to the overall cost but will probably be a better idea if you are not an experienced mechanic.
Know What Roads You Can Drive On
Unfortunately, even after your UTV is made street legal, you still may not be able to drive legally on some roads. Restrictions are often placed within cities with moderate to high populations or routes with high-speed limits. Always check before you drive.
Making Your UTV Street Legal Is Easy
UTVs and similar vehicles are growing in popularity, and many UTV owners would love to be permitted to drive their UTV on state-maintained highways and roads. Unfortunately, driving from your house to the trail is illegal without towing your UTV. And the cost and time spent making towing arrangements every time you want to drive your vehicle can become a real headache.
Luckily, with a few modifications and submission of original documents to the DMV, most states will allow you to enjoy road freedom from a legal standpoint.
Making your UTV street legal makes sense when you need to drive quite a distance before getting to the place where you can drive it, especially when you don’t have the means to tow it to destinations regularly.
The end-to-end process may take a bit of time, investment, and legwork. But if you have your mind set on driving your UTV on public roads, you can get it registered as a street-legal vehicle via the DMV in no time.