Aftermarket Vehicle Modifications are More Common Than Expected, Increasing the Chances of Auto Accidents in New Jersey
For some automobile enthusiasts, customizing and enhancing their vehicles is an art, science, and point of great pride. Basically, an aftermarket vehicle modification includes any alteration that is made to a vehicle after it leaves the manufacturer. These alterations, also known as aftermarket vehicle modifications, allow owners to personalize their vehicles, bringing personal satisfaction, bragging rights, and, sometimes, enhanced vehicle performance. However, aftermarket vehicle modifications can also expose owners to legal risks and significant complications with auto insurance and liability in the event of an accident.
Prevalent Alterations Made to Vehicles From Their Original Versions in NJ
Aftermarket vehicle modifications can range from minor aesthetic changes to major alterations to the vehicle’s engine or other components. A common alteration is upgrading the vehicle’s supercharger or turbocharger, which can make a vehicle accelerate faster with increased horsepower. However, the potential problem with these changes is that they can overwhelm the vehicle’s safety controls, impacting traction, stability, and the anti-lock brake mechanism. It can further compromise all of the vehicle’s systems by putting too much pressure on it.
Another popular method of boosting a vehicle’s performance is to upgrade its engine by changing the torque or power output. However, making changes to such a critical component of the vehicle can have a significant impact on the vehicle’s overall safety and handling by putting a strain on the brake system and suspension. It can also have a negative impact on the vehicle’s balance, stability, traction, and weight distribution.
Making modifications to a vehicle’s suspension system, particularly to achieve the look of a “low-rider,” is another common yet potentially dangerous vehicle modification. To achieve a certain aesthetic appearance, vehicle owners may alter their vehicle’s suspension so that the body of the vehicle is lower and closer to the tires in the back and higher or further from the tires in the front. However, altering the suspension can make for a very unsmooth and bumpy ride. In fact, the ride may be so bumpy that other components of the vehicle are damaged from the vehicle powerfully and quickly rising and falling.
In addition to these types of aftermarket vehicle modifications, other common alterations include custom exhaust systems, enhanced brake systems, and lighting upgrades.
Unauthorized Alterations Based on New Jersey Law
Due to the potential dangers aftermarket vehicle modifications create, there are several types of modifications that are illegal in New Jersey. These include changes to the vehicle’s exhaust system that violate the state’s emission standards and/or violate exhaust noise standards, lighting alterations that do not comply with state regulations, excessively dark-tinted windows, and suspension modifications.
Failing to abide by NJ’s rules and regulations on vehicle modifications will likely result in the vehicle failing inspection and could also result in fines to the vehicle owner. The most severe penalties could include loss of driving privileges.
The Likelihood of Being in a Car Accident Increases Due to Aftermarket Alterations
Certain aftermarket modifications can significantly increase a motorist’s odds of causing an accident or suffering increased damages or injuries from an accident that they are involved in. A vehicle is engineered like one big ecosystem, with changes to one system impacting other systems and components. Modifications can negatively affect the delicate balance of this ecosystem by compromising the vehicle’s stability, balance, and overall handling. These alterations can compromise a motorist’s ability to make sudden stops, reduce their control over the vehicle, and make evasive maneuvers difficult to perform effectively.
Determining Fault in Accidents Brought on by Aftermarket Modifications
All drivers have a legal duty to operate and maintain their vehicles as reasonably prudent driver. Aftermarket vehicle modifications that compromise the safe operation of the vehicle likely constitute a deviation from this standard of care, especially when they expressly violate New Jersey rules and regulations.
Therefore, engaging in aftermarket vehicle modification can create liability for the owner of the modified vehicle if their vehicle is responsible for causing the accident due to the results of the modifications or the driver’s conduct. However, even if another driver is responsible for causing an accident, if the modifications to a vehicle involved in an accident caused them not to be able to avoid the accident through braking problems or by not being able to engage in defensive driving maneuvers, the owner of the modified vehicle could be contributorily negligent in causing the accident.
New Jersey law follows the principle of modified comparative negligence, which means that in the case of a driver who contributed to the accident by having a modified vehicle, the owner of the modified vehicle could still recover full damages from the other driver at fault, but only if the other driver was 60% responsible for causing the accident. If the other driver was less than 60% responsible for causing the accident, but the driver of the modified vehicle was not 60% or more responsible for the accident, then the parties would be responsible for their portion of contribution to the accident.
What Kinds of Losses Are Compensable when Aftermarket Vehicle Modifications Cause an Accident in NJ?
If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by a vehicle that was modified aftermarket, then you may be able to recover damages for your injuries and related expenses from the driver or owner of the modified vehicle. Damages that you may be able to collect as an injured plaintiff through settlement or court judgment include reimbursement of medical bills, prescription costs, physical therapy bills, lost wages from time off of work, and pain and suffering.
In order to recover these damages, you must be able to establish that the driver of an aftermarket modified vehicle was negligent in causing the accident that resulted in your injuries. You may be able to establish through facts regarding the driver’s conduct or how the vehicle’s safety and ability to operate safely on the roads was compromised as a result of the owner’s actions in modifying the vehicle. In this case, the plaintiff may be the driver or the owner of the vehicle who negligently modified the vehicle even if they were not driving the vehicle at the time of the accident.
Personalized Assistance to Seek Compensation After an Accident Caused By Aftermarket Vehicle Modifications in Hamilton NJ
Prevailing in a personal injury claim against the driver and/or owner of an aftermarket modified vehicle is not the most simplistic of personal injury cases involving a motor vehicle accident. These cases typically require the testimony of an expert witness who is very knowledgeable about motor vehicles and can specifically speak to the issue of how the vehicle modification created a dangerous condition that led to the accident.
Our accomplished team of personal injury lawyers at Cohen & Riechelson can assemble all of your case’s pieces, gathering necessary evidence and coordinating any expert witnesses needed to meet your burden of proof as a plaintiff. We assist with personal injury claims involving after-market vehicle modifications across Mercer, Burlington, and Middlesex County, including Lawrence, Lambertville, Ewing, Titusville, Princeton, Trenton, New Brunswick, and Woodbridge. Contact us for a free consultation regarding your potential claim today at (609) 528-2596 or complete our online contact form.