Car Seat Laws

Is It Legal to Build Your Own Car [With Car Kits]

Johnny Cash gave a generation the idea to build their own car through his song ‘One Piece at a Time.’ Many people do have the skills and desire to build their own vehicle, but can you drive a homemade car on the road?

Homemade or custom-made vehicles do have to meet minimum safety standards. If they do, it is perfectly legal to drive a car you make.

The trickiest part is ensuring that you keep a record and receipts for all the parts that you use. They will be needed to obtain a VIN number, which is needed for both insurance and registration of the new car. 

Failure to address safety requirements can end in an inability to insure the car, sell the car, or meet registration requirements. If you cannot register or insure your car, you will not be able to drive it on public roads.

Luckily, car kits are one easy way to make sure you meet your state’s requirements. Read on to learn about the standards and guidelines that all cars must meet to operate on United States roads. While building a car certainly is not easy, the requirements are fairly clear. 

United States Car Regulations

The United States has a lengthy list of minimum standards an automobile must meet to be road-worthy. The National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) issues the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).

The FMVSS addresses three main topics: crash avoidance, crashworthiness, and post-crash survivability. Not only should the cars be safe for the driver and passengers, they should not pose a hazard to others on the road. 

The complete list of regulations can be found in the US Code of Federal Regulations at 49 CFR Part 571.

NHTSA is not the only agency that creates and regulates rules regarding vehicle safety and performance. The Environmental Protection Agency promulgates emissions and fuel standards.

These standards prevent people from creating cars that jeopardize the safety of others and the environment.

States can also create additional rules for vehicles registered in that state. These rules can be about window tint, noise levels, and exhaust.

Car Kits to Meet Regulatory Requirements

The federal standards are both lengthy and technical. Carefully reading and finding all the right parts to meet the requirements is doable but burdensome.

One of the easiest ways to make sure your car ends up being street legal is by purchasing a kit. The kit saves you the time of sourcing all the parts independently.

Car kits come in a variety of shapes and forms. Factor Five is one popular company with excellent reviews for the finished product. 

Some car kit companies customize their kits to meet the specific rules for your state. Rather than simply buying a one-size-fits all kit, the company will change the components for you. 

The kits replicate hot rods, roadsters, and coupes, so don’t expect to find the average minivan. Reviews indicate that the finished product does cost much less than buying a similar car outright from a dealer.

The most popular kits online are not literally an entire car in a box. You will still have to separately source transmission and engine. 

Ultimately, this project would only be recommended if you take at least some pleasure from mechanic work. The kits vary based on the options selected but are around $20,000. 

If you want to complete the car quickly and with some assistance, Factor Five offers a 3-day workshop. During that time, you build a complete car using one of their kits!

For more replica and original car kits, see the most highly ranked ones at Car Buzz.

Other Options for Building Your Own Car

While some people prefer kits for receiving the needed parts and specific instruction, others want to do it on their own. This is certainly an option, although the same rules and regulations apply to scratch-made cars. 

Many people start with wrecked or dilapidated cars and essentially build out from the frame. From there, decide whether you want an original, one-of-a-kind car or a replica.

As with car kits, replica designs are very popular for home mechanics building their own car. This gives them the opportunity to have a six-figure car for less than $50,000.

Replicas also bring the advantage of having tips, tutorials, and instructions online. This will likely reduce frustration down the road from incompatible parts and design elements. 

What Components Differentiate a Street Legal Car from a Non-Legal Car?

Anybody making a car completely from scratch should carefully read through the FMVSS requirements. This article will highlight a few important components, but the regulation itself has a comprehensive list.

  • Seatbelts must be made and installed to particular specifications.
  • Brake hoses must have specific labels and permanently attached hose end fittings.
  • The car must have multiple mechanisms in place to ensure the car can return to the idle position.

The FMVSS is very specific regarding even some small components. Be sure to read and understand these requirements before constructing the car.

How to Make Your Homemade Car Street Legal

Regardless of whether you make your car from scratch or from a kit, the goal is to make it street legal. To do that, you will have to meet the requirements set by your state’s DMV and your insurance provider.

Comply with Your State’s DMV Requirements

Each state’s Department of Motor Vehicles will establish a process for registering a homemade car or vehicle. This step is important because it is illegal to drive an unregistered vehicle on public roads. 

This process varies in each state. You should research the requirements before you begin making the car. 

It is likely that you will need to provide receipts for many key components to demonstrate certain safety and emissions measures are met. Doing this as you go can save a lot of grief and frustration later on. 

To begin the registration process, you will need to obtain a Vehicle Identification Number for your car. Most states have an affidavit that you must complete to make the request.

This is the part of the process where people must submit receipts or bills of sale to prove that certain parts were used. You may also have to provide photos and have the receipts notarized. 

If you do not have receipts, some states allow you to post a bond. The bond acts as insurance. 

If your car causes injury, death, or damage, the person or people hurt can receive payment from that bond. After you have a VIN, you will be able to work on getting insurance for the car.

Obtain Automobile Insurance

Every state requires some form of car insurance for any car driven on public roads. Insurance types include body liability, property liability, and uninsured motorist coverage.

Your state may require any combination of the above types of insurance before registering a car. Be prepared to submit proof of insurance when you submit your application for registration of the car.

Because a homemade car is not assembled by a professional manufacturer, some insurance companies do not offer coverage. Look for a company that specifically offers kit car insurance.

Keep in mind that insurance will likely be more expensive for a custom-made car. Usually, it is more expensive to replace the parts than for an off-the-assembly-line car.

Don’t Add Some Modifications

Remember that making your own car is not always a way to get exactly what you want. Some car customizations are illegal, depending on the state you are in. 

These modifications may not be addressed in the VIN identification or registration processes. However, when your car is out on the road, you can be stopped by police and fined for them.

Common illegal modifications include:

  • Neon lights
  • Non-round steering wheels
  • Excessive window tinting
  • Modified exhaust systems
  • Excessive lifting

Can I Sell My Self-Made Car?

When you begin the journey to make your own car, know that the vehicle may begin and end with you. In some places, like California, it is illegal to sell a homemade car.

If you alter or restore a car, or remake a junked car, these limitations would not apply.  But, if you build a car from the ground up or from a kit, they do. 

Additionally, if you sell a car that you make, you can then be considered the manufacturer of the car. This subjects you to additional regulations from the government.

In addition to onerous regulations, you open yourself up to liability if something goes wrong with the call. You could be responsible for death, injury, or damage that happens because of the car.

Anyone planning to sell a car that they made should consider obtaining liability insurance. This plan would provide coverage in the event something did malfunction with the car.

Takeaways about Building Your Own Car

If you have the patience and skill, building your own car is a great way to save money and have a unique car. By cutting labor costs and dealer fees, you can end up with a car tens of thousands of dollars less than the sticker price.

Whether you are doing it on your own or using a kit, be sure that your car meets safety regulations as you go. Failure to do so could mean that your car cannot be driven on public roads. 

Welcome to my car seat blog! As a mom of 3, I put together with other hard-working moms a highly informative one-stop car seat resource, full with many reviews and buyer guides. I hope you find it invaluable. Thank you for trusting me & my team! - Keren