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The business of banning aftermarket modifications

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Don’t Drink And Write

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The raging topic in Philippine motoring these days is the Land Transportation Office’s (LTO) renewed campaign against vehicle modifications. These include aftermarket wheels, tires, body kit, bumpers and LED lights. A rash of apprehensions were reported on social media last week by owners of modified SUVs. A reader even contacted me to say he knew of friends who had been stopped by the authorities before entering the North Luzon Expressway just because their vehicles had roof racks.

AutoIndustriya.com, a local motoring website, interviewed an LTO official whom they quoted as saying: “What is the purpose of these modifications? Off-roading. Therefore, they are not for the highways. You should not drive on national roads because that is dangerous. You modified [the vehicle] for a special purpose, [which is] off-road [driving]. Then why do you bring it to national roads?”

It’s a sweeping approach, apparently. It doesn’t matter if the add-on makes the vehicle perform better in adverse road conditions or bad weather — if it’s not stock, it’s prohibited.

Predictably, passionate members of the 4×4 driving community have been up in arms over this latest development. Obviously, they include owners of shops that sell and install aftermarket products, like Wheel Gallery president and CEO Sam Liuson. “I always use shoes to illustrate wheels and tires,” he wrote on Visor.ph, the motoring website I edit. “Should a mountaineer stick to leather shoes because his school or office requires him to wear them? Should a basketball player shun sneakers because his church bans their use? Do we now tell our soldiers that their boots are not allowed on the pavement?”

It’s understandable why owners of modified — many of them heavily — vehicles are upset. They’ve spent a lot of money to make their cars more powerful, tougher and better-looking.

On the other hand, the LTO is also somewhat justified in wanting to regulate aftermarket modifications. Some of these products that find their way onto private vehicles are ill-advised, if not downright unsafe. You have dazzling blinking lights, humongous bull bars or even extremely dark window tint, for example. I agree that many of these items need to be removed not only from cars but more importantly from the marketplace altogether.

What off-road driving enthusiasts are protesting is the unilateral implementation of the ban that supposedly affects all vehicle modifications. As the guys keep pointing out, most of these aftermarket products are just as good as — or often even better than — OEM (stock) parts. Also, it’s not as if we have excellent road conditions that do not require car owners to toughen up their rides. Many cars sold locally, in fact, have the most spartan of features to make their pricing appealing to a budget-conscious market. If I purchase an entry-level hatchback, why should government regulators stop me from wanting to beef it up so it could cope with Philippine driving conditions (which, according to Waze’s global survey last year, are the worst in the world)?

Here’s another interesting side to this story: On Monday, a car owner shared his car registration receipt on Facebook, showing that he had to pay P30 for changing his vehicle’s wheel size and another P100 for installing a tow hitch that doubles as a bicycle rack. So let me get this straight: The LTO says these modifications are generally unsafe, but then if you pay certain fees, they become safe and road-legal all of a sudden?

That’s not road safety, folks. That’s business — nothing more, nothing less. Now go count the number of exterior accessories you’ve attached to your car, and then prepare to pay for the right to keep them. It is what it is.

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