Restricting your UTV riding skills to the confines of off-road adventuring starts to get tiring for most side-by-side users. While everything is fun and exciting out there in the wilderness, not driving your vehicle on any city street or highway soon becomes frustrating and expensive. For every off-road ride, you want to immerse yourself in, you need to prep your trailer, strap your SxS on, and worry about two vehicles until you reach your destination. Wouldn’t it be easier to make your UTV street legal and go on about your business? Of course, UTVs and ATVs are not street-legal as they go out of their factories’ doors, but you could enjoy such freedom with some certified modifications. But things are not as laidback as they seem, and today we will tackle street legality, aftermarket parts, and accessories, and kits you should consider.
Learn the Law Inside-Out
Being able to drive your UTV from your garage directly to your favorite off-road U.S. destination takes some legal preparation. You have to understand federal, state, and even community laws to make sure you get the right parts and accessories to upgrade the vehicle.
The issue is that “street-legal” in the case of side-by-side vehicles differ from state to state. In some cases, your county or community sets and enforces rules you need to follow. In some states, it is simply impossible to make your UTV street legal. Others show more leniency and provide you with a list of aftermarket parts to install. Utah, Arizona, Washington, and Michigan are some states that grant you side-by-side vehicle licensing under specific circumstances.
For instance, to ride a UTV on the road in Washington state, you need two tail lamps, two mirrors, a windshield, spark arrester, and muffling device, among others. In Arizona, your vehicle has to present a couple of reasonable mods: no more than two headlights, brake lights, a lighted license plate, a horn kit, and so on.
Those who did not yet go through all the motions of making their UTVs street legal can start by checking their state’s laws and calling their local DMV for information and support. When you call your DMV, make sure you ask them about the following issues:
- Do you need to have a motorcycle endorsement besides your valid driver’s license?
- If you make your UTV street legal, will you face driving restrictions dictated by speed-limited highways or highly populated areas?
What’s In the Box?
If you are privileged to live in a state providing UTV licensing for street use, the next step is to take the official list of mods and aftermarket parts you need to add to your vehicle and start shopping. The tricky part with aftermarket accessories is that you need to get DOT-approved and OEM ones.
For instance, when you do your homework looking for the right add-ons, make sure you get Polaris accessories and not replacements or “universally fitting” parts. For one, you risk not getting your license. What is worse is that you could invalidate your manufacturer’s warranty. The same applies to any UTV you ride. DOT certifications and OEM parts are your primary concern. Luckily, you will find many pro aftermarket parts’ sellers to help you with everything you want.
The street-legal kits’ requirements differ from state to state, but here are (in broad strokes) the basic parts you need to get your license:
- Independent turn signal kits;
- Side mirrors and rear-view mirror;
- A horn kit (120+ dB. in most states);
- Headlights and taillights (in some states, the taillights should be visible at least 500 feet to the rear);
- Red reflectors if not part of the taillights;
- Brake lights;
- Windshield (or suitable eye protection, depending on the governing laws of your state/county/community);
- Seat belts (or safety harnesses);
- DOT-approved tires;
- Lighted license plate.
Two considerations are important here. One, most sports UTVs come with plenty of these accessories, so you don’t have to put aside a large budget to come closer to your licensing dream. Second, you will find ready-made street-legal kits with all the necessary components from pro sellers. However, no matter how companies advertise their products, all the parts you install need to be law compliant.
Tips to Convert Your UTV into a Street-Legal Vehicle
Most of the time, it is painless to install extra parts on your UTV. You don’t need special tools or skills, but it is all for the best if you have them. However, installing a horn kit and rear turn signals, for instance, requires beginners’ attention. So here are some ideas for those who take matters into their own hands.
1. Install an independent turn signals kit instead of relying on your OEM lights for rear turn signals
It would be preferable because electronic feedback into your UTV might cause issues to the ECU, which is very expensive to replace.
Moreover, tapping into your existing OEM wiring and lights might invalidate your warranty, and, above all, you want two rear stop lights to activate when you use turn signals (just as it goes with your car), not just one.
In some states, turn signals are not mandatory. You could signal by hand and keep on driving. We don’t recommend it. Most traffic participants do not even know what hand signals are. Moreover, riding a UTV in the streets solicits you the same amount of attention, concentration, skills, reflexes, and decision-making abilities as cars do. The last thing you think about on the road as a seasoned car driver or biker is to wave your hands.
2. Get a loud, DOT approved horn kit
Most states will require you to add a horn audible to at least 200 feet. Others mandate a certain number of decibels (over 120). UTV riders recommend getting a DOT-approved 120-Volt horn kit, complete with all the parts, wiring, and diagrams. Just make sure the kit does not tap into the manufacturer’s wiring or voids the warranty.
The installation of horn kits on UTVs should not involve any cutting or splicing. It might require drilling a 3/16th inch hole into the frame to mount the horn if you cannot use an existing hole. Moreover, a 1/2″ inch hole drilled in the dash to mount the horn button should be more than enough. Most horn kits are plug-and-play, so you should finish the job in half an hour if you have some tools and basic skills.
3. Pay attention to the license plate mount and light
If you get approval to convert your leisure vehicle into a street-legal one, the authorities will want you to display a license plate properly and securely. Usually, plates go to the rear of your UTV. In case you bought or built a roll cage for your OHV, you may be in luck, as some roll cages feature welded tabs so you can bolt up a license plate frame with no problems.
You should get an LED lighted license plate kit in lack of a roll cage, complete with mounting hardware, connectors, full wiring, wire ties, and instructions manual. In some states, you will have to get a 7″ x 4″ license plate with a bracket. In others, you have the freedom to adapt the plate to the restrictions of your UTV’s rear. Nevertheless, the plate needs illumination during the night or in low light conditions, so you and everybody else stay safe.
Speaking of lights, most turn signal kits also feature a small LED white light meant to illuminate your license plate. If you can stay within the boundaries of the law without spending too much money on kits, a LED light strip should do the trick.
What Else Should You Expect when Making Your UTV Street-Legal?
In some states, before you can ride into the sunset from your driveway, you still need to prove to the authorities you are worthy. Sometimes, lifting Thor’s hammer seems easier. Joke aside, here is what you should expect:
- Your upgraded UTV will most likely have to pass a state’s inspection and, possibly, an emissions’ test;
- You will need proper insurance if you intend to drive on state-maintained highways or city streets, which you will most of the time;
- The safety of your passengers is a crucial factor, so you should consider changing the factory-issued seats (which are the stuff of nightmares for many riders) with comfortable ones featuring approved seat belts or 4-point harnesses.
Remember that both UTVs and ATVs are off-road vehicles not built for public roads or highways. The risks associated with highway collisions range anywhere from serious to fatal. Most side-by-side manufacturers will loudly warn you that modifying your vehicle might affect its handling, stability, or warranty, among others. You should take all these warnings to heart before beginning your journey to convert your UTV.
Nevertheless, if you want to taste what it is like having a street-legal UTV, take a trip to Arizona. Sooner rather than later, at night, you will see a rider at the traffic stop in a stunning Polaris or Can-Am, waiting to make a turn and grab some pizza for the family. Now that is a beautiful sight and something to consider if you are an on-road and off-road buff!