ClickCease Legal Guide on Owning Classic or Custom Cars in California | WCTL

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Owning a Classic Car in California

The California Guide to Owning a Classic Car or Custom Automobile

There are over 14 million registered cars in California. Unfortunately, more accidents occur in California than anywhere else in the United States. Therefore, certain regulations, particularly for custom or classic cars, are set in place to keep roads safe. The qualified attorneys at West Coast Trial Lawyers have a thorough understanding of Los Angeles car law and can provide you with information about how you can legally own your custom or classic car.

What Is a “Classic Car”? 

Classic cars have become a favorite among auto enthusiasts because of their high prices and finite availability. Many classic cars are upgraded and fitted with unique features such as custom interiors, high powered engines, and automatic lubrication systems.

Though the exact definition of “classic car” differs by state, the Car Club of America classifies this type of vehicle as a “fine” or “distinctive” automobile assembled between 1915 and 1948. 

California describes a “classic car” as a vehicle that is at least 25 years old. This distinction is made due to the fact that cars built before 1975 are excused from the California Smog Certification Program.

Listed below are a few different classic car types and how they are defined by the state of California:

  • Antiques –  Any vehicle 25 years or older
  • Classics – Cars between 20 – 24 years ol.
  • Collectibles-  Models between 15 -19 years old
  • Exotic Cars – Cars that are under 15 years old, but predicted to increase in value
  • Street Rods – Vehicles made before 1949; most have been mechanically updated.
  • Kit Car / Customs –  Cars made by professional specialists or unique dealers

California Smog Certification Program

As one of the world’s most populated cities, Los Angeles is no stranger to air pollution and smog. Regrettably, Southern California is known to have the highest level of smog in the nation.

In an effort to reduce environmental damage and comply with the Clean Air Act, registered vehicles must abide by smog inspection regulations. However, there are few exceptions to the rule. Vehicles that DO NOT require a smog certification include:

  • Diesel-powered cars made before 1998
  • Cars with a gross vehicle weight of 14,000 pounds
  • Electric cars
  • Natural gas powered vehicles over 14,000 pounds
  • Motorcycles
  • Trailers
  • Gasoline-powered automobiles constructed before 1975
  • Hybrid cars
  • Classic cars

Classic cars built before 1975 are usually constructed with simple emission control systems that have exhaust gas recirculation valves and air pressure sensors. Though each car model is different, typically a classic car will not produce as much carbon pollution as a modern car. Alternatively, certain classic cars can produce other pollutants that can be worse than modern cars.

Can I Drive My Classic Car on California Roads? 

Los Angeles has the longest running and most popular car show in the world. As classic and custom vehicles gain popularity, thousands of car enthusiasts flock each year to the L.A Auto Show to feature their custom models and rare finds.

However, though most antique cars are mobile, they are mainly collectibles and most hobbyists choose to display them rather than drive them on a daily basis. Due to this fact, there are several unique insurance policies that maximize the yearly mileage to 2,500, which is significantly lower than the 13,500 miles driven by the average U.S driver.

Classic Car Insurance Policies

Most car insurance companies offer classic car insurance at a much lower rate than they do for standard auto policies. This is because most classic cars are collectibles and not used for daily travel.

Auto enthusiasts tend to drive more safely when in their custom cars to preserve the vehicle’s condition and value. Combined with the average amount of vehicle coverage, classic cars often receive the following perks:

  1. Roadside Service
  2. Agreed Value Coverage
  3. Spare Parts Coverage
  4. Optional $0 Deductible
  5. Trip Continuation Coverage

Illegal Customizations in California  

In California, you must have a minimum amount of car insurance or face serious consequences. Due to the large amount of creative car alterations, California has created a standard guide to what is allowed:

  • Sound Systems –  Speakers should not be loud enough that you can hear them from 50 feet away.
  • Exhaust systems – Exhaust systems cannot be altered to amplify sound
  • Size – Height should not top 14 feet.
  • Engine –  All engines must be certified and modifications must use certified parts.
  • Lights – Cars can only have two fog lamps and spotlights; only white lamps are approved. Only four lamps can be lit at the same time.
  • Windows –  Front windows are required to be at least 70% see-through while rare windows can be any tint. Windows can not be more reflective than your average or standard window.

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If you or someone you know has been the victim of  an injury or emotional distress from an accident, reach out to our legal team 24 hours a day by calling us at (213) 927-3700 or emailing [email protected].

Read More About Car Accidents 
Our excellent team of car accident attorneys have created several resources for you to read through. Feel free to browse these topics and read the ones you would like to learn about more.


If you have been injured in an accident, you can count on the legal team at West Coast Trial Lawyers to fight for your rights every step of the way. Contact us today to schedule your free case evaluation with a personal injury attorney.
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