Throw Out That Vehicle Code Book!
Gearhead’s Guide to U.S. Public Policies

Using mobile-friendly interactive U.S. maps, quickly look up any state’s unique vehicle-related requirements and proposed bills.

By Colby Martin

No one wants to run afoul of the law. Every state and the federal government have rules governing automobiles. Some policies are similar between jurisdictions, but most vary from place to place. Keeping tabs on current requirements once meant accessing a given state's book of vehicle codes. For most, that is a less than desirable solution. The same goes for navigating complex government websites. There must be a better way to understand one's rights.

As the industry's organized legislative force, the SEMA Action Network (SAN) breaks down the automotive laws on the books for curious enthusiasts. In fact, the SAN was formed in 1997 just as the world was discovering the Internet's emerging possibilities. Over time, a slew of useful tools has been added to the SAN's online hub and is available at no charge at www.SEMAsan.com. The mobile-friendly platform has been completely overhauled in recent years and is fully searchable. It has never been easier for enthusiasts to locate specific statutes and participate in the political process further.

To begin, let's dive into the basics:

The Rules Are the Rules

With limited exceptions, the nation's automotive-related public policies are found at the state level rather than federal. However, laws governing vehicles often vary between states just like other types of laws. Understanding how to title and register specialty cars and trucks in each state, meet emissions standards or fight unfair inoperable vehicle storage rules at the local level can prove challenging.

What Are the Rules?

Among the most popular features on the SAN website are the comprehensive lists of topic-based statutes organized alphabetically by state. To clarify any confusion, looking up each state's unique requirements has been simplified by SEMA staff. A fully interactive map of the United States is prominently featured on each page for quick reference anywhere. The following online resources are posted live and updated as frequently as possible. Of course, the information is subject to change. Please consult the statutes and regulations directly to ensure the accuracy of the information.

  • Titling & Registration (SEMAsan.com/tagandtitle): To register and title a vehicle in any state is a daunting effort. When the unique laws and regulations governing specialty vehicles are factored in, the process can be a nightmare. SEMA sought to reduce the confusion in 2010 by creating the Tag & Title Toolbox. Individual entries for each state include full registration and titling provisions, inspection criteria and other requirements, as well as exemptions. Being that uniform terms for "specialty" vehicles are not shared across the jurisdictions, a simple glossary of definitions is included at the top of each state's document. This one-stop shop also includes key administrative forms used by each motor vehicle department.
  • Emissions (SEMAsan.com/emissions): Vehicle emissions inspections are a necessary task for much of the country. We all understand that our planet needs clean air to survive. Strides in technology have greatly improved air quality in many places, and staying current with changing rules can pose a challenge. Many jurisdictions handle this issue differently, so the SAN has made it easy to look up each state's emissions requirements online.
  • Exhaust Noise (SEMAsan.com/noise): Motor vehicle exhaust noise continues finding itself in the crosshairs of state capitols. This resource identifies the states that have adopted measurable exhaust noise limits, the states that prohibit "excessive or unusual noise," and the states that ban all modifications that lead to noise increases above the levels created by the factory-installed exhaust system.
  • License Plates (SEMAsan.com/licenseplates): After tracking and influencing license plate legislation nationwide, SEMA fulfilled the need for a comprehensive resource on this topic. Designed as a quick reference guide, the compilation includes the number of plates required as well as specialty-designated plates available in each state. Those looking to purchase or apply for a specialty plate are advised to check with their local DMV for guidance and paperwork.
  • Altered-Height Vehicles (SEMAsan.com/alteredheight): Thinking about lifting or dropping a ride? Make sure the finished job is done within the legal confines. Before tackling that next project, look up the state laws impacting altered-height vehicles for any limitations. The laws include those addressing maximum allowable bumper and frame heights, headlamp and taillamp heights, tire and wheel sizes and other equipment restrictions. The material has been updated for 2023 and is posted live on the website.
  • Motorsports Racing Trailers (SEMAsan.com/motorsportstrailers): Towing-related statutes from coast to coast are posted to help the motorsports community continue hauling lawfully. Enforcement action often comes down to perceived "commercial" activity or a trailer's overall size. Designed to inform before a citation is given, this online resource clarifies rig requirements for each state. This guide assists in keeping competitors away from the wrong side of the law on the highway throughout the racing season.
  • Warranty Issues (SEMAsan.com/warranty): Performance and appearance upgrades on newer vehicles can be challenging when it comes to vehicle warranties. For those modifying later-model cars and trucks, the online Warranty Guide can clear up many questions about the topic. Posted materials are intended to help where a vehicle warranty claim is denied in circumstances involving a specialty product.


Can I Follow Rules Being Considered?

With thousands of bills proposed each legislative session, SEMA staff reviews, tracks and responds to hundreds of legislative initiatives that may affect the community. Some bills will not advance past introduction; others will go on to become the laws of tomorrow. Stay in tune with current state activity by viewing bills the SAN is actively watching. Remaining up to date on matters in one's state is just a few clicks away at SEMAsan.com/legislation.

Once legislation is eligible for consideration by elected officials, outreach from enthusiasts is needed. Legislative Action Alert messages targeted by state are sent to resident SAN contacts when a bill is moving through a state's legislature. Easy-to-follow guidance on contacting lawmakers helps immediately influence proposals. For the latest status on this year's efforts, check out the complete list at SEMAsan.com/alerts.

Can the Rules Be Improved?

In its fight to protect the automotive community from unfair laws, the SAN has long battled familiar issues in multiple places. Existing vehicle-related policies and classifications are often well behind the times. In certain jurisdictions, outdated and convoluted registration rules create confusion among motorists as well as those charged with applying the laws at the ground level.

Over time, the SAN has crafted unique solutions to combat common difficulties nationwide. Early on, a SEMA-model street-rod/custom-vehicle bill was developed to simplify matters regarding modified vintage and reproduction vehicles for government officials. With enactment of this template into law in several states demonstrating widespread success, the SAN had proof that positive, proactive legislation could serve to create new opportunities for the growth of our community. As a result, additional model legislation was designed specifically to create reasonable and practical solutions for other specific issues, including the following:

  • Exhaust noise
  • Street rod/custom vehicle
  • Inoperable project vehicle
  • Former military surplus vehicle
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Warranty denial


The next time actions threaten one of the subjects mentioned above, don't make enemies—take the opportunity to build bridges with lawmakers. Working together with a fair approach in hand will make arriving at an automotive-friendly outcome much more likely. Find each of the SEMA-model templates posted at SEMAsan.com/modelbills.

Can I Help Sway the Rules?

The greatest tool at each citizen's disposal is his or her right to vote. Voting gives you a voice in government, allowing you to choose leaders and shape the future of the country and our industry. Use the voting tool to register to vote and learn the deadlines for where you live at SEMAsan.com/SEMAvotes. Before you cast your ballot, find out if your state and federal representatives are affiliated with the automotive-friendly, SEMA-supported caucuses at SEMAsan.com/statecaucus and SEMAsan.com/federalcaucus. You can locate your elected officials on the website under the "Legislators" tab. Take part in our democracy and make your voice heard in every election.

Fortunately, we can impact how we are governed through the power of our vote. Holding lawmakers accountable by relaying our thoughts on issues affecting us as voters is crucial to protecting our freedoms. Most importantly, each of us must seek to unite our diverse community and successfully lobby decisionmakers with a unified purpose—thereby raising our collective automotive voice as a grassroots force across the nation.

Individuals of all ages can learn the basics of advocacy at the grassroots level. Whether starting from scratch or seeking the next level, the SAN has a simple means to assist your participation in the political process. The SAN's latest online enhancement is a digital lobbying guide complete with animated video shorts. This series of quick and simple tips breaks down common misconceptions about influencing public policy. Empowering enthusiasts with the necessary tools can ease doubts about the system. Boost involvement with our cause at SEMAsan.com/lobby.

How Do I Impact Future Rules?

Now more than ever, it is important to keep up with legislative trends in Washington, D.C., and the rest of the U.S. After all, proposals in one jurisdiction are often considered by others. Want to keep tabs on your state? Subscribe for breaking updates from the SAN without cost or commitment at SEMAsan.com/join. Of course, there is no fee, SPAM or "catch" to sign up. Ask your friends and family to follow suit.