Why modified cars get such a bad rep in S’pore

Stereotype of modified vehicles still remain in Singapore
Stereotype of modified vehicles still remain in Singapore


Is "zng-ing" (modifying) your car in Singapore necessarily a bad thing?

In mid-November, the Parliament passed amendments to the Road Traffic Act which made for stiffer penalties against vehicles that are illegally modified.

This enhanced penalty means the court can impound illegally-modified vehicles for up to three months and repeat offenders might even have to serve a jail term.

Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo was quoted saying that “the government is also taking a calibrated approach in enhancing the penalties”.

The message behind these actions, she said, is that “illegal modifications are not acceptable, especially in cases where there are blatant violations or when offenders blatantly break the law”.

This rubs salt into the wounds of car enthusiasts, who have been trying in vain to have the definition of illegally modified vehicles corrected.

Basically, in Singapore, any vehicle modifications must meet the requirements of the Land Transport Authority (LTA). Without certificates of approval from the LTA, they would be deemed illegal, even if they come with international certification. Certificates of approval from the LTA must be obtained for every batch of the same product and not just for the product itself.

Some car enthusiasts I spoke to feel that the root cause of all the issues behind "illegal" vehicle modifications is the stereotype of these vehicle owners.

For example, when there is a modified car – say, with added accessories or kitted out with decals and stickers – involved in an accident with a stock car, the public are quick to pin the blame on the modified car without first finding out who caused the accident.

Krado Low, 27, editor of REV magazine, a monthly publication about aftermarket parts and accessories for cars, believes that the blind hatred that many people have for anything modified stems from movies, video games, sensationalising by mainstream media, online forums and misinformed word-of-mouth.

"Hollywood movies like 'Fast and Furious' portrays the most grotesquely twisted insight into the world of car enthusiasts”, he said.

Biggest culprit: mass media

But he believes the biggest culprit behind the negative portrayal of modified car owners and vehicles are news agencies.

“I find that the mass media in Singapore tend to sensationalise news about modified vehicles. It’s a disgusting bias used by the mass media to overhype a story in hopes of increasing viewership without consideration to the accuracy of the facts and in some cases, omit facts. For example, they smear car enthusiasts by picking selected quotes just to spice up the story,” Low added.

Lester Cheng, 22, who drives a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, has been modifying his car since he first got his licence and first car. Influenced by his father, he takes the effort to research each part before he installs it into the car.

Feeling very misunderstood, Cheng feels that the society at large “does not understand the culture, the scene, and the rationale behind doing modifications to vehicles”.

“They simply feel that it is dangerous and not safe for the road which is totally not true. For car enthusiasts, I believe each and every one of us knows our modifications well, and what should or should not be done. No one would be in the right frame of mind to be putting themselves in a car that will put their own lives at risk,” he said.

Cheng compares modifying of a vehicle to ladies putting on make-up. Like how girls beautify themselves to feel good and confident, guys beautify their cars to feel good too.

Brendan Mok, 24, a car enthusiast who has written in to appeal to the authorities, agreed that society has “a misguided impression of modified car owners” but feels that “the ongoing stereotype of modified car owners as hooligan street racers was first brought about by car owners themselves”.

He went on to explain how street racing in the past used to be an underground event held at deserted areas around the island. However, the rise of social media has put paid to these so-called "underground" races.

“The LTA's part in this whole thing is a bit nondescript, since they are nothing more than an overarching authority that takes care of the technical aspect of cars on the road. But because of the more acute awareness (and subsequent complaints) from the public, in addition to the ongoing complaints about noise levels at night, they have no choice but to step up enforcement of said "illegal" modifications in a bid to curtail the illegal street racing action that goes on. The media has also been a catalyst in this entire process,” Mok said.

Negative impression

It is why Mok finds it unsurprising that the public has a distorted, negative impression of modified car owners.

There is no denying that there will always be road bullies, hooligans and young drivers eager to impress. But he said the fault should not be put on the car then, as some of these people also drive completely stock cars.

The LTA did respond to one of Mok’s letters on Facebook that it is really not the car, but the behaviour of the driver that must be faulted.

Why then are the penalties imposed on modified cars getting harsher?

“We should be looking out for behaviour, which means that a progressive measure of punishment has to be developed and meted out for drivers who exhibit unsafe driving behaviour," said Mok. "We can even consider forcibly de-registering and scrapping the cars of street racers on the spot. A man with a fork can be dangerous if his intention is to kill. Punish the intention, not the tool.”

Charles Yeo, who has lived Australia for four years and is back in Singapore now, feels that the LTA should allow modifications that come with international certification.

The LTA’s “ridiculous regulations”, as he calls it, has led him to start feeling regret for coming back to Singapore where he is unable to express his passion for cars.

Essentially the real problem that car enthusiasts are trying to put forth is punish the drivers, not the car.

“There's a huge gulf between a person’s perception of their ability and the reality behind the wheel. There are a number of law-breakers happy to take risks on the road, although I don't necessarily think it's only the ones with the modified vehicles making these bad decisions, it's just that by their very nature, these modified vehicles play a more visible role on the road and hence draw more attention,” said David Hardman, team director of Dilango Lamborghini Racing Team who has personally taught over 2,000 performance driving courses around the globe.

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Passionate about cars and motorsports, Cheryl Tay is a familiar face in prominent local, regional as well as international automotive titles. More of her at www.cheryl-tay.com.