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Vehicle & Equipment Requirements

From passenger cars and pickups or large commercial trucks or buses, we answer the most common questions about vehicle equipment here. If you’d like to schedule a vehicle inspection, please visit our VIN webpage.

  • Bumper Requirements

    • Any motor vehicle that was originally equipped with bumpers or any other collision energy absorption or attenuation system, that system shall be maintained in good operational condition, and no person shall remove or disconnect, and no owner shall cause or knowingly permit the removal or disconnection of, any part of that system except temporarily in order to make repairs, replacements, or adjustments. RCW 46.37.513

    • Bumpers must be at least be at least four and one-half inches (4.5”) in vertical height. WAC 204-10-022

    • Bumper mounting requirements are measured from a level surface to the highest point on the bottom of the original bumper.

  • Exhaust

    • It is unlawful to modify the exhaust system of a motor vehicle in a manner which will amplify or increase the noise emitted by the engine of such vehicle above that emitted by the muffler originally.  RCW 46.37.390

    • It unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle on the public roadway that has an amplified exhaust system. RCW 46.37.390

    • Two–wheel converted off–road motorcycles or wheeled all–terrain vehicle exhaust systems may not exceed 86 decibels. RCW 46.09.470 and 09.457

  • Fender Flares

    RCW 46.37.500 and WAC 204-10-022

    • All vehicles, trailers, and semi–trailers must be equipped with fenders, covers, flaps, or splash aprons adequate.

    • For passenger cars, motorcycles, mopeds, trailers, and semi–trailers, all such devices shall be as wide as the tires behind which they are mounted and extend down to at least the center of the axle.

    • For a converted off–road motorcycle, all such devices shall be as wide as the tires behind which they are mounted and extend down at least ½ way to the center of the axle.

    • Are not included in the total maximum width of 8’6″ for motor vehicle.

  • Height Requirements

    Minimum Height – No part of a vehicle may be lower than the lowermost portion of the rim of any wheel in contact with the roadway.  RCW 46.61.680

    Maximum Height – It is unlawful for any vehicle unladen or with load to exceed a height of fourteen feet (14’) above the level surface upon which the vehicle stands. This height limitation does not apply to authorized emergency vehicles or repair equipment of a public utility engaged in reasonably necessary operation. RCW 46.44.020

  • Inspections

    • The Washing State Patrol performs physical inspections on vehicles that have been rebuilt after being destroyed or declared a total loss by an insurance company. They also will perform physical inspections as required on vehicles reported stolen, homemade vehicles, or other vehicles without a proper VIN, when there is a VIN discrepancy, when there is a record dispute, when ownership is in doubt, or other special cases.

    • You will need to bring a completed Washington State Patrol Inspection Request Form provided by a Department of Licensing agent as well as other documents depending on the type of inspection.

    Please visit WSP’s VIN Inspections website review for more inspection information, guides, and locations.

  • Length Limitations

    Front and rear protrusions. RCW 46.44.034

    Front: No load shall extend more than three feet (3’) beyond the front bumper.

    Rear: No load shall extend more than fifteen feet (15’) beyond the center of the last axel of the vehicle.

  • License Plates

    Front license plates are required for all vehicles issued two license plates. (RCW 46.16A.200)

    License plates must:
    •  Be kept clean and to be able to be plainly seen and read at all times. (RCW 46.16A.200)
    • Attached in a horizontal position no more than four feet (4’) from the ground. (RCW 46.16A.200)

    Rear license plates must be illuminated by a white light. (RCW 46.37.050)
    • License plate covers are not permitted.
    • It is unlawful to use any holders, frames, or any materials that in any manner change, alter, or make the vehicle license number plates illegible. (RCW 46.16A.200)
    • Tinted and non-tinted covers can alter the appearance of or the reflectivity of the plate and make it unreadable or reduce the reflectivity.

  • Lighting

    Lighting covers are prohibited WAC 204–21–230
    • No additional lamp, reflective device, or other motor vehicle equipment shall be added which impairs the effectiveness of the lamp standard.
    • The addition of an aftermarket style ornament or other feature such as tinted plastic glass covers, a grille or slotted covers must not be placed in front of the headlamp lens, or in front of any other lighting devices installed on motor vehicles which impair the effectiveness of lighting equipment required under 49 C.F.R. Part 571.108 (FMVSS 108) or chapter 37 RCW.

    Front– A maximum of four of the below listed lamps may be on at one time. RCW 46.37.270

    Head lamps
    • All headlamp bulbs must be white in color as defined by Society of Automotive Engineers and FMVSS 108. FMVSS 108 disallows any color coating on headlights and or headlight bulbs.
    • Must also meet requirements outlined in FMVSS 108 and be marked “DOT” or of ECE regulations. Additionally, they must be marked with a circled uppercase E or boxed lowercase e.
    • Each lamp must be equipped with the type of bulb for which it was designed. Note: A halogen headlight cannot be converted to a high intensity discharge (HID) headlight as replacing a halogen bulb with a HID bulb renders the headlamps performance dangerous and noncompliant with applicable regulations.
    • Lights are required to be turned on from a half hour after sunset, to a half hour before sunrise, and at any other times when persons and vehicles are not clearly discernable at 1000 ft. RCW 46.37.020
    • If installed after 1975, not closer than 12″ from the centerline of the vehicle, but as far apart as practicable. If customized, then no closer than at the time of manufacture. WAC 204–21–040
    • Must be located no more than 54″, nor less than 24″ from the ground to the center of the light. RCW 46.37.040

    Fog Lamps
    • Must be located between 12″ and 30″ off the ground. RCW 46.37.180
    • The inner edge of the lens retaining rings must not be closer than 4″ to the optical center of the front turn signal lamp. WAC 204–21–080
    • Must be white or amber in color. WAC 204–21–080
    • Spot Lamps – Two or less. RCW 46.37.180

    Auxiliary Passing Lamps
    • Must be located between 24″ and 42″ off the ground. RCW 46.37.180 (Shall not be used in lieu of headlamps.)
    • Two or less.  RCW 46.37.180
    • Must be white or amber in color WAC 204–21–100

    Auxiliary Driving Lamps
    • Must be located between 16″ and 42″ off the ground.  RCW 46.37.180 (Shall not be used in lieu of headlamps.  WAC 204–21–090)
    • Two or less. RCW 46.37.180
    • Must be white in color.  WAC 204–21–090

    Spot Lamps
    • Two or less.  RCW 46.37.180
    • Side marker lamps are not required on vehicles under 80″ in width, but if present must be amber to the front, and red to the rear only. RCW 46.37.210 (See RCW 37.100 for vehicles more than over 80″)

    Rear
    • Tail Lamps must be turned on from an hour after sunset, to an hour before sunrise, and at any other times when persons and vehicles are not clearly discernible at 1000 ft. RCW 46.37.020
    • Vehicles must have at least two rear lights, red in color, visible from 1000 ft. RCW 46.37.050
    • All rear lights must be on same level and as widely spaced as possible. RCW 46.37.050
    • On vehicle 40 or more years old, or vehicles titled as a street rod or custom vehicle, they may have a blue or purple insert, not more than one inch in diameter. RCW 46.37.100 and RCW 46.37.5185
    • Taillights must be mounted between 15″ and 72″ off the ground. RCW 46.37.050
    • Rear Reflectors (Two red reflectors are required and must be attached between 15″ and 72″ off the ground. RCW 46.37.200 and WAC 204–10–060
    • Turn Lamps (A total of four, one on each side, front and back, after 1/1/1960. Red, amber or any shade between, red, amber or any shade between, visible from at least 500′ (daylight) . RCW 46.37.200 
    • License lamps must be white in color only, rendering license legible from 50′. RCW 46.37.050

    Other After–Market Lighting Devices
    • After market neon lighting devices may not be used on motor vehicles while they are in motion on public roads. WAC 204–21–230
    • Signs / Message boards may not be lighted, or electronically powered on any motor vehicle while on the public right–of–way. (Some exemptions apply – see WAC 204–21–230 for more details)
    • Flashing lights are prohibited on any vehicle except emergency vehicles authorized under statute. RCW 46.37.190 and WAC 204–21–230

  • Projections

    Wheels
    • No vehicle may be equipped with wheel nuts, hubcaps, or wheel discs extending outside the body of the vehicle when viewed from directly above which: Incorporate winged projections; or constitute a hazard to pedestrians and cyclists. RCW 46.37.369
    • Body, Fender, and Bumpers shall be maintained without protrusions that could be hazardous to pedestrians. Bumpers shall not extend past the original bumper line. RCW 46.37.517

    Safety Appliances
    • Such as flexible fender extensions, mud flaps, splash and spray inhibiting devices, and others may not extend more than 3″ beyond the extreme limits of the body. RCW 46.44.010

    To the Front – Load shall not extend beyond 3′ (Read for exemptions RCW 46.44.034)

    To the Rear – Load shall not extend more than 15′ beyond the center of the last axle. RCW 46.44.034

    Outside Load Limits
    • No passenger type vehicle shall be operated with any of the load extending past the fender line on the left side, nor more than 6″ past the fender line on the right side of the vehicle. RCW 46.44.060

  • Traction Tires

    Washington’s standards for tire chains, studded tires, and their use and approval can be found in Chapter 204-24 WAC.

    What qualifies as a traction tire? Do mud and snow tires?
    Tires labeled as all–season, all–weather, snow tire or studded (must be labeled M+S or with the mountain/snowflake symbol on the sidewall) qualify so long as they meet the standards for traction devices as set in WAC 204–24–040.

    When can I use studded tires?
    Studded tires are approved for use from November 1 to March 31. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) determines additional periods in which they can be used.

    There is nothing in the law that provides for any special permits or exceptions for driving with studded tires – even for out-of-state visitors – outside of the time periods identified by the WSDOT.  No personal exemptions or waivers are issued.

    Studded tires are not allowed on vehicles over 10,000 pounds. For more information see WSDOT’s studded tire page.

    I drive a vehicle with studded tires. When WSDOT requires chains to be put on, do I need them with studded tires?
    Yes. Studded tires are not a substitute for chains.

    I have an all–wheel or four–wheel drive vehicle.  When “Chains Required” signs are posted, do I have to use chains?
    Not necessarily.  All four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicles with a GVWR less than 10,000 pounds are exempt from chain requirements when all wheels are in gear and are equipped with approved traction devices, provided that tire chains for at least one set of drive tires are carried in the vehicle.  WAC 204–24–050

    The following may help to explain the basics to determine when and what types of traction devices are required:
    • All vehicles should use approved traction tires.
    • Approved traction tires must have at least ⅛ inch of tread and be labeled M+S, all season, or have a mountain/snowflake symbol.
    • Oversize loads are prohibited.

    All vehicles must be equipped with traction tires.
    • If you install chains or approved devices, any tire becomes a traction tire.
    • Any vehicle with a gross weight of 10,000 pounds must install chains. This includes large passenger trucks and SUV’s.
    • If your truck and whatever it’s hauling weighs more than 10,000 pounds, you must install chains even if it is equipped with all- or four-wheel drive.

    This means all vehicles must install approved chains or traction devices.

    You do not have to put the chains on if your all-wheel or four- wheel drive vehicle is less than 10,000 lbs. GVWR and all four wheels are in gear and are equipped with approved traction tires engaged and tire chains for at least one set of drive tires are carried in the vehicle..

    Any vehicle with a gross weight of 10,000 pounds must install chains. This includes large passenger trucks and SUV’s.

    In extreme weather conditions, the WSDOT may require every vehicle to install chains, whether you have all wheel drive or not.

    This is why all vehicles must still carry chains or approved traction tires on certain highways or mountain passes from November 1 to April 1.

    The advisory term “chains” encompasses both traditional tire chains and approved alternative traction devices such as snow socks, Polaire Grips, Grip Tex, etc.

    Your vehicle’s manual may state that tire chains cannot be installed on the vehicle due to a clearance issue. You will need to find a suitable alternative traction device that meets the requirements set forth in WAC 204-24-050. We recommend you contact your dealership to ascertain what traction devices will mount on our vehicle tires properly.

    Studded tires DO NOT meet chain requirements. You must still carry chains in winter conditions.

    I can’t use regular cable chains because there’s not enough clearance in the wheel well. What other approved traction devices can I use?
    It is recommended the vehicle consult their owner’s manual to see what the manufacturer suggests be used as a traction device for their vehicle. The following alternative traction devices are certified by their manufacturer as meeting or exceeding chain requirements in accordance with WAC 204-24-035 which are therefore considered approved for use when “Chains Required”signs are posted in Washington State provided that the product meets the requirements for use set forward by the manufacturer (see the Alternative Traction Devices Chart for additional detail):


    (Click to enlarge)

    Where can I find information on the chain requirements for vehicles and combinations over 10,000 pounds GVW?
    The State Patrol’s Commercial Vehicle Division (CVD) has a Chaining Requirements brochure that illustrates chaining 2-4, 5, and 6 or more axles. It is available at all Washington State Patrol offices and weigh stations. For additional information, see the Commercial Vehicle Division.

    You may also call the Washington State Patrol Equipment and Standards Section in Olympia at (360) 596-4017 or send your inquiries via e-mail to equipment@wsp.wa.gov.

  • Window Tinting

    Sunscreening devices are products, permanent, semi–permanent, and temporary, which reduce the adverse effects of the sun.

    Materials not permitted include:
    • Mirror finish products
    • Red, yellow, gold, or black material
    • Brushed or sprayed on material.

    Sunscreening devices and/or recreational products may not be applied to, or suspended between the driver and the windshield, or to the windows to the immediate right and left of the driver. Recreational products may be applied to other windows only if they do not interfere, by their size and/or position with the driver’s ability to see other vehicles, persons, and objects.

    Must have both left and right side–view mirrors if window tinting is applied, allowing a 200′ view to the rear.

    The maximum level of sunscreening material to be applied to any window, except the windshield, shall have a total reflectance of 35% or less, and a light transmittance of 24% or more.

    Exemption – A greater degree of sunscreening may be applied to the windows or top 6″ of the windshield if the individual has written verification from a licensed physician that tint is necessary.

    • There is no form to complete or submit for a window tint exemption. The written verification [from a licensed physician outlining the need for the window tint exemption in the vehicle] must be carried in the vehicle at all times and provided to law enforcement upon request.

    Sunscreening devices are products, permanent, semi–permanent, and temporary, which reduce the adverse effects of the sun.

  • Windshield and Window Obstructions

    No person shall drive any motor vehicle with any sign, poster, or other non–transparent material upon the front windshield, side wings, or side or rear windows of the vehicle that obstructs the driver’s clear view of the highway or intersecting highway. RCW 46.37.410

    No items, except the hood ornament and windshield wipers, identical to those originally installed by a recognized manufacturer, shall project more than 2″ above a line from the top of the steering wheel to the top of the front fenders or hood. WAC 204–10–024