Skid Marks

Modding is a crime


That’s what the Land Transportation Office, under Francis Ray Almora, Director for Law Enforcement in the agency will have us all believe in and be charged with. Because we love to modify, upgrade and personalize our cars.

Many have voiced out freedom of speech/expression and the like, so I won’t get into that. Instead, let me focus on three simple things.

1.) Joint Administrative Order 2014-01 Section 2 (a) & (d) states ‘Unauthorized Motor Vehicle Modification’ and Motor Vehicle Operating without or with defective, improper/unauthorized accessories, devices, equipment and parts. These include bells, horns, sirens, EWD, grill/s, jalousies, brakes (foot and hand-brake), brake-lights, headlights, interior lights, signal lights, tail lights, mirrors, mufflers, metallic tires, spare tire, speedometer, windshield, wipers or any other accessory, device or part that is manifestly prejudicial to road safety. Where does it define what constitutes an accessory being prejudicial to road safety? Is a steel bumper prejudicial to road safety? Then we might as well ban all armored vehicles, trucks and buses because last time I checked, these caused far more accidents on the road than modified 4×4’s.

The problem with JAO 2014-01 is that it is a half-baked administrative order, which although had good intentions, wasn’t thoroughly thought through. The issues being contested are very technical in nature. Thus, the public deserves nothing more than very clear and concise technical standards and guidelines to follow, rather than the arbitrary opinion of a law-enforcement agent. Arbitrary enforcement of this administrative order, without clear and concise technical guidelines leaves much room for corruption and confusion. A perfect example? There is also a ruling that prohibits changing wheel size. Why?

Most avid 4×4 enthusiasts measure not just the wheel size, or tire size, but the overall wheel/tire diameter. As an example, my Toyota FJ Cruiser’s OEM overall wheel diameter is 31.5 inches, on a 17-inch tire with 265/70R17 tires on a 17X7 wheel size. I changed my wheels with still the same 17-inch diameter, but with a 9-inch width, 2-inches wider than stock. And I installed 295/70R17 hybrid mud-terrain tires that are completely street legal in the USA, Australia and other developed countries. So now my wheel/tire overall diameter is now at 33.4 inches, almost two inches bigger than stock. Am I fine? Or am I breaking the ‘spirit’ of the law because my overall tire and wheel size is bigger? How about the Toyota FJ Cruisers sold by dealerships with dealer-option 20-inch wheels that still retain the same overall diameter of 31.5-33 inches? My wheel size is still stock, but my overall tire/wheel diameter is bigger than these FJ Cruisers, despite running a larger wheel size. Confusing isn’t it? And the law isn’t very clear on it. Most enthusiasts will follow the law, if the law was clear, concise, easily understood and fair to everyone. Right now it isn’t.

2.) There are so many other vehicles that ply our roads that have absolutely ZERO engineering and safety standards and fail to comply with environmental laws on smoke belching /emissions regulations. Why are these vehicles not being apprehended by the LTO?

The answer is simple. You pick your fruits from the lowest branches. The SUV/4×4 community is the most prominent and visible of car enthusiasts at the moment. It’s easy to spot these rigs, thanks to their colorful bodywork, chunky wheels and tires, aggressive steel bumpers, and lifted stance. And the perception is that owners of these vehicles have money. Hence, it is easy to identify them, and the government knows if they fine these people, they actually have money to pay the penalties, as opposed to a death-trap PUV driver/operator, or an ancient, lumbering, 40+ year-old commercial multi-axle truck which are deadlier, are smoke belchers and polluters with absolutely ZERO safety standards. There have been a number of horrible accidents of old trucks losing their brakes coming down Tikling area in Antipolo/Taytay and the deaths were ghastly indeed. If LTO had stricter implementation of the aforementioned Administrative Order and impounded these unsafe vehicles, I seriously feel these accidents could have been avoided.

Many 4×4/SUV/pick-up enthusiasts who modify their rigs, on the other hand, can be seen doing many CSR, outreach programs and mercy missions to poor, far-flung communities which the government has almost forgotten. And these hobbyists are able to reach these places, without causing any accidents, carrying copious amounts of cargo and ultimately, goodwill, because they modified/upgraded their vehicles. Think of the last major flood to hit Luzon. Many off-road enthusiasts were the first responders to reach these areas. Because our government lacked speciality equipment and personnel to react just as quickly. And we want to ban them? Wow.

3.) The aftermarket industry is worth billions, and the figure is growing. A study conducted by a large conglomerate in the Philippines deduced that the industry is roughly 28%-30% of the total automotive industry and the figure slowly grows annually as more and more vehicles get out of warranty while the overall vehicle population grows. Many parts are simply impractical to replace. There is a trend in the global automotive industry to move to bigger, larger wheels and tires because essentially, larger wheels and tires provide better high-speed stability on the highway, and on rough roads. Smaller diameter wheels and tires become more scarce, as technology and safety move to cater to what is more in demand. It becomes difficult, expensive and impractical to replace old, wear and tear parts such as wheels and tires, like for like. The obvious choice would be to get bigger, nicer and crucially more modern wheels and tires. But the government, through the LTO wants to prohibit this? Wow. Let’s not forget the people who work in this industry, the taxes they generate for the national coffers, and investment opportunities for both foreign and local businessmen.

In the end, enthusiasts will comply with the law, precisely because it is the law. However, until the law is made clear, concise, fair and easily understood, the entire SUV/4×4 community and the aftermarket industry will continue to fight and contest this half-baked, unfair and unclear JAO 2014-01. As for the LTO and Director Francis Ray Almora, only dialogue and consultation with technical experts, rather than arbitrary and some say seasonal enforcement (as Christmas is fast approaching), will be the key to resolving this, and any further similar technical issues in the future.

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