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What Is the Limit of Road-Legal Sports Cars?

By November 12, 2019 No Comments

It’s every car lover’s dream — bringing home a supercar with sleek lines, top-of-the-line technology and the most horsepower that money can buy. Supercars are getting more expensive and more powerful every year. Bugatti recently announced a $10 million Centodieci for the brand’s 110th anniversary, capable of generating 1,600 horsepower with its 8.0L W16 engine — and that’s just one example of these hyper-powerful supercars!

What’s the limit for these marvels of automotive engineering when it comes to street legality? Can you even drive most of these supercars to the grocery store? Let’s take a look at the limit of road-legal sports cars. Which models can you use as a daily driver, and which ones are strictly for track or Autoban use?

Defining “Road-Legal” and the Supercar Limits

First, what does it means for a sports car, or any car, to be road-legal? The definition changes from state to state, but in general, being road-legal means that your vehicle has all the equipment necessary to operate safely on roads in your area, including but not limited to:

  • A horn that’s audible at a minimum of 200 feet
  • A hood
  • A windshield and windshield wipers
  • Mirrors
  • A circular steering wheel
  • Brakes, including a parking brake
  • Tires
  • Mufflers and exhaust/emissions systems
  • Headlights, tail lights, stop lights, turn signals and any other DOT-required safety lights
  • A license plate or two since some states require plates on both front and rear bumpers
  • Reflectors
  • Bumpers

On the other side of the coin, your car can’t ride too low or too high at the hands of lifting or lowering kits, and it can’t be equipped with anything that allows you to evade law enforcement.

The requirements might sound complicated, but most cars that you purchase from a dealership will meet all of these criteria. Sports cars, especially ones imported from overseas, might not. What else might keep a sports car from being considered street-legal?

car-shows-2017-goodwood-festival-of-speedA Limit on Noise

If you’ve got a supercar with a massive engine, you’ll expect to hear it roar as you put the accelerator through the floor, but you might be in trouble with local law enforcement if it’s too loud.

Most states — other than Alaska and Georgia — will require you to have a muffler that keeps engine noise below a certain level. Others will require you to keep your vehicle below a certain decibel level during operation. Ohio, for example, ruled that passenger cars can’t be louder than 79 decibels when traveling more than 35 mph. The Dodge Challenger Hellcat tops out at 105 decibels when accelerating.

If your sports car is too loud, you might find yourself leaving it in the garage in favor of a quieter daily driver.

Emissions Standards

Depending on where you live, noisy engines aren’t the only thing that might make your sports car illegal to drive on the streets. In states that have emissions standards, you’ll be required to meet those standards in order for your vehicle to be street-legal.

Some states don’t have any emissions requirements, while others, like California, are extremely strict. In the stricter states, you’ll have to pass emissions testing to renew your registration every year.

Pay close attention to the emissions of your sports car to ensure that you are meeting state standards and able to register and drive the vehicle. Emissions standards have kept some companies from bringing their supercars to the United States. Porsche stopped trying to bring the 959 to the States after it failed emissions standards, even though insiders said it could be modified to meet those standards if necessary.

No Limits on Speed or Horsepower

While noise and emissions might cause a problem, the horsepower and speed your vehicle is capable of generating won’t determine whether or not it’s road-legal. There are no upper limits on top speed or horsepower, at least when it comes to vehicle specs.

How fast can supercars go? You’ll run into things like speed limits that will prevent you from driving your vehicle’s top speed, so you can bring home a Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300+ — you just can’t drive it at its top speed of 304 miles per hour.

There are plenty of street-legal options available if you want to drive your expensive sports car to the grocery store, and plenty more if you’re just looking for a track model or something to store in your garage as part of your collection.

Looking Forward

Are all supercars street-legal? No. If you’re worried about the legality of your sports car, pay close attention to things like decibel level and emissions. Don’t worry as much about things like top speed and horsepower. You might not be able to drive your supercar at top speeds on city streets, but that doesn’t make them any less awesome or any less road-legal. If you’re going to spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on a sports car, make sure it’s road-legal first!

Scott Huntington

Author Scott Huntington

Scott Huntington is an Automotive YouTuber and writer who loves cars, sports, and business. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington or email [email protected].

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