If you've been on Facebook in the last week, you've probably seen a number of articles and comments about unsafe 4WD's on WA Roads. This stemmed from the Great Southern Police Facebook page posting a couple of different updates stating '35 inch tyres have no place on our road', and that they will Yellow sticker any 4WD vehicle that is not road legal.
As expected, this stirred quite a range of responses, from those who support their cause through to others who just want to hurl abuse from behind their keyboards. 4WD owners are a passionate bunch of people! Yellow stickers are given out every day of the year. However, from time to time they are given a bit more attention, especially targeting a specific type of vehicles, like 4WD's. This is the first time I can recall its really been published and pushed on social media by the police.
The problem goes much deeper than yellow stickers
Leaving the yellow sticker issue aside for a minute, there's an elephant in the room that really needs to be discussed. The whole 4WD accessory and modification industry is flawed, and needs an overhaul. This starts from the laws and standards set right at the top all the way down to 4WD stores that sell lift kits. There are many, many things wrong with the current system in Australia. All of these contribute to 4WD's that are deemed 'unsafe', causing huge frustrations for everyone and in some cases truly terrible financial loss through a lack of understanding.
What's wrong with the system?
I mentioned above that our system is flawed, and here's why:
Lack of consistency
We are used to waiting a while over here in WA for everything. The thing is though, there's zero consistency when it comes to nation wide 4WD modifications. In some states you can lift your vehicle more than others, and fit different tyre sizes. For those travelling interstate, it poses a very interesting situation, and overall just makes owning a legally modified 4WD very challenging. Why can you mount an LED light bar on top of your bull bar in one state, but not another?
This goes even further though, with a lack of consistency in the way things are policed. Some vehicles pass the pits running illegal lift kits, whilst others are pulled up for running tyres that are slightly bigger and still perfectly legal.
Ask a group of people what size lift kit and tyres you are allowed to run on a 4WD in WA, and you'll get all sorts of responses. The average punter has absolutely no idea of what's legal and what's not, and that's where our education system falls majorly short.
4WD gear stores
You can walk into many 4WD stores and ask for a 6 inch lift and 37 inch tyres, and they will happily fit it to your vehicle. Some will refuse (especially some tyre shops), but the fact that you can buy something that's obviously illegal and have it installed is pretty daft to me.
At the very least, lift kits and bigger tyres should come with some sort of warning letting the consumer know what they are doing is not legal. I've met plenty of people who firmly believe they've done the right thing by getting a lift kit correctly installed at a reputable shop, but in reality are way outside the legal boundaries.
The Police only need to have 'reasonable belief' that a vehicle is unsafe to issue a defect notice (yellow sticker). The problem is that there's often a massive gap between their 'reasonable belief' and what's actually the case. I mentioned above its almost impossible to accurately tell whether a 4WD is legal or not unless you have been in the business and had some substantial training; how is it fair that a Police officer who knows very little about the mechanics of a vehicle has the ability to deem it unsafe?
Take the above post on Facebook, where they imply that 35 inch tyres do not belong on our roads. This is misleading; its only partially true. For many 4WD's you cannot run them, but if you have engineering you can, and there are several 4WD's that come out with larger tyres and are perfectly legal to run 35's. A lot of people do know this, and seeing incorrect information shared by those who enforce it is understandably frustrating.
Some Police officers are very well informed, but many are not. You can't blame them for this, but one has to empathise with those that have spent tens of thousands of dollars getting their 4WD legally modified and certified, to have an officer slap a yellow sticker on just because they have 'reasonable belief' that its not legal.
Our 4WD engineering system is ludicrous. You can see an engineer and get a range of modifications signed off. However, if you want to change something (like spring rates) then you've got to go through the whole process again. This is time consuming, and expensive.
Even with an engineers certificate, there's no guarantee you wont end up with a sticker, as the education of the police is no where near the level required to certify whether its safe or not. That's not their fault either; how can you tell what size lift a 4WD has, or if the engineers certificate actually covers the modifications you are running? It's nigh on impossible unless you've been in the business and know what to look for.
Then, lets take two identical 4WD's, running bigger tyres and lift kits. One has engineering, and one doesn't. Realistically, the only difference is a bit of paper. There are plenty of illegal 4WD's out there that are perfectly safe, albeit missing that bit of paper. Some people argue its revenue raising, plain and simple.
I'm certain a lack of maintenance on a 4WD is far more dangerous than a well modified 4WD, but that's not pushed very hard in WA, is it?!
I'll cover this briefly; if you want more detail, check out this post - Is your 4WD legal? In essence, in Western Australia, you are allowed to increase your tyre diameter by up to 50mm from standard. In conjunction with this, you can lift your vehicles roof by up to 50mm. Roof height is just the term used; it doesn't reflect roof racks etc, but simply means you can lift your vehicle up by 50mm by way of suspension lifts, bigger tyres or body lifts in combination.
Remembering that your 4WD only goes up by half of the tyre diameter increase, this limits you to 50mm bigger tyres and a one inch (25mm) lift, or a two inch lift (50mm) and factory tyres. If you want to go beyond this, you need to get engineering certification, which requires a permit from the Department of Transport, a lane change test, an engineer to sign off on the modifications and a certificate stating your vehicle is good to go.
Bearing this in mind, a massive number of 4WD's on the road are not legal. Most slip under the radar, but there are those who don't!
What happens if you drive an illegal 4WD?
There are some very serious ramifications from driving a vehicle that is deemed illegal, or un-roadworthy. These make getting a yellow sticker look insignificant For starters, if your modifications contribute to an accident, your insurance company can deny any claim you make. If you rear end a nice Beamer, and they prove that your bigger tyres contributed to the accident, you could be left with a massive bill to fix both their vehicle, and yours. Use your imagination as to how costly this could be if it were multiple, expensive vehicles!
You are also legally responsible for driving a vehicle that meets the road standards, and if its involved in an accident where someone is hurt or killed, you could be personally held responsible. I recall a case of a man in the Eastern States who rolled his 4WD into a dam and his two children were killed. The modifications on his 4WD were found to have contributed to the accident, and he was put behind bars, on top of having to live with losing the precious lives of his two children.
It's just not worth it.
Are vehicles actually unsafe?
There is a reason the Australian Design Regulations exist. They are there to keep vehicles legal and safe. However, its been proven on many occasions that a vehicle modified intelligently, with quality parts is no less safe than one from the factory. In many cases, they actually handle substantially better.
Fitting Bigger Tyres to your 4WD reduces braking capacity, and lift kits increase centre of gravity. Modify your 4WD without the proper thought and engineering behind it, and yes, your vehicle will be less safe than when they rolled out from the factory floor.
That said, I firmly believe 4WD's with poor maintenance schedules are far more dangerous than one with a 3 inch lift and 33 inch tyres.
Don't blame the Police
I want to stress the importance of laying the blame where its deserved. This is not at the feet of our Police. At the end of the day, they are doing what they are paid, and told to do. The Police don't make the rules, they just enforce them. The fact that they have the ability to yellow sticker your vehicle is a result of things way beyond their control. I've got nothing but respect for the Police - they have a very difficult job and do it well. Don't get angry with what they are doing; its not their fault.
What can you do to reduce your chances of getting a yellow sticker?
I personally believe that the risk is too high to be driving a 4WD around that isn't legal, whether its safe or not. I'd always advise you to stick within the regulations, or get your 4WD engineered.
However, if you choose to ignore this, there are a few things you can do to reduce your chances of being pulled over and stickered.
- Keep your vehicle clean (especially lights and number plates after you've been off road)
- Ensure your rear mud guards are within 300mm from the ground and that they cover the full width of your tyres
- Ensure your tyres don't stick outside of the guards. If they do, fit flares, look at your offset or change your tyre size.
- Make sure your vehicle is proportional; having a 6 inch lift kit and 33 inch tyres makes it very obvious. Massive gaps between the wheel arch and tyres draws attention
- Keep your vehicle looking tidy. Factory rims are a great way to make a vehicle look normal, even if you are running bigger tyres.
- If somethings damaged, fix it!
- Don't drive like an idiot. If you plant it from the lights and leave a smoke trail half a kilometre long behind you, expect to draw attention. Drive sensibly and you'll avoid unwanted attention
What are the most common reasons for a defect on a 4WD?
- Tyres sticking outside of the guards
- Tyre diameter over 50mm increase
- Mud guards not covering tyres, or over 300mm from the ground
- Lift kits over 50mm
- Beadlocked tyres
- Extended shackles on leaf sprung vehicles
- Excessive black smoke
- Wheel spacers
- Bull bars exposing too much front wheel; like the Xrox bars do when on a lifted 4WD.
- Excess number of spotlights
- LED light bars on top of the bull bar, or on the roof
What do you reckon?
These last few weeks have certainly arked up a number of 4WD owners on social media, and in many ways they have a right to be angry. What do you think? Where do you sit? Let me know in the comments below!