What Makes a Car NOT Street Legal? 11 Things to Look For

Posted on: December 24, 2019

What makes a car NOT street legal in Indiana and Illinois?

After a car accident, it can sometimes take months to recover both physically as well as mentally.

But once you are ready to get behind the wheel again and start driving a car after an accident, it’s important that your vehicle be just as prepared as you are.

It is vital that you know how to make your car street legal, so you can use it again without causing additional danger to yourself or others while also avoiding tickets.

What Makes a Car Illegal to Drive?

Unless you want to get in legal trouble, you need to learn what makes a car not street legal. These rules can vary from state to state so before you drive in states like Illinois or Indiana, you need to read the law on driving a damaged car.

Street legal is a term for having a car you can legally drive without any restrictions on the roads. When you start driving a car after an accident, your car may no longer be street legal due to the damage it was caused.

Driving a car with bumper damage, missing mirrors, headlight problems, and structural issues like hood damage is illegal. An accident can also damage safety and operating features you are legally required to have.

To begin driving a wrecked car again, it is essential to do repairs to get it into street legal condition.

Damaged / Bent Car Hood


After an accident, your hood may be bent or damaged from the impact. In most jurisdictions, the hood legally can’t be more than 4 inches higher than the surface of the hood. This means you need to smooth out any bent portions before you start driving.

Bumper & Fender

Is it illegal to drive with a damaged bumper? Depending on the accident, you may need to replace these because driving a car with bumper damage or a missing fender is illegal. Misplaced or broken bumpers, jagged edges, and major damage need to be repaired before you can drive again.


A horn might not seem important, but it is required for all vehicles and must be audible within at least 200 feet. While a police officer won’t visibly be able to recognize whether you have a working horn, you can be charged hundreds of dollars in fines if you are caught without one.

Broken / Shattered Windshield


What makes a car not street legal? Anything which impairs the car’s ability to function properly. A windshield is mandatory as it provides clear visibility and keeps the wind and debris out of your eyes.

In Indiana, your front window should be free from cracks and other things that would inhibit you from clearly seeing any part of the road. Though the state doesn’t have specific laws related to the maximum allowed size for windshield cracks, it is highly recommended to repair even the smallest issue before it becomes a hazard.

In Illinois, police officers are given the discretion to decide whether a crack in your windshield is worthy of a ticket. As with Indiana, there are no specific measurements but the safe bet is to always fix cracks as they appear.

Seat Belts

In both Indiana and Illinois, seat belts are required by law. Every seat must have its own functioning seat belt and should be worn any time the vehicle is in a gear other than “park”.

Functional Brakes

Even if it wasn’t the law, you would want working brakes when you start driving a car after an accident for your own safety and peace of mind. Other than your drum or disc brakes, you are required to have a working parking brake as well.

Working headlights, tail lights, and turn signals

Headlights, Tail Lights & Turn Signals

You need to have functioning headlights, tail lights, stop lights, and turn signals at all times. In Indiana, you can’t have more than two spotlights or fog lights and they can’t illuminate more than 100 feet in front of your vehicle.

In Illinois, all vehicles must have two headlamps with 300 candlepower or less. There must also be two tail lamps for other drivers to see from at least 500 feet away. When driving a car after an accident, getting your lights fixed is a legal requirement, but it is also the safest thing to do for seeing at night and allowing other drivers to recognize your intentions.

Side and Rear-View Mirrors

While mirror style can vary based on the design of your vehicle, Illinois law requires all vehicles to have a rearview mirror and side mirrors which allow them to see at least 200 feet behind their automobile. In Indiana, the law follows the same measurements.

License plate requirements in Indiana & Illinois

License Plate

No matter where you live, you need a license plate when driving a wrecked car or a new vehicle to prove your ownership and registration. In Indiana, a license plate must be on the rear of the vehicle with the text fully visible at least 12 inches off of the ground. Any interim license plates from dealerships or renewals must be displayed on the left side of the rear window.

In Illinois, passenger vehicles must have a plate on the front of the vehicle and another one on the back of the vehicle. Plate frames should provide a clear view of the license plate. Like Indiana, Illinois requires drivers to keep the license plate visible at all times.


The reason you can see a car on the side of the road, even when the engine is off, is thanks to the side and rear reflectors. Often, these reflectors are integrated into your lights or in the same area. To follow the law on driving a damaged car, you need to have side and rear reflectors repaired or replaced is they are damaged.

Vehicle Muffler in Driving Condition

Mufflers, Emission Control Systems, and Exhaust

Along with the aesthetics and body requirements for driving a car after an accident, you also need to pay attention to safety concerns regarding your engine. Emission control systems and your exhaust must meet national standards. Mufflers are also a requirement to prevent noise pollution and follow emission control regulations.

Get the Right Repairs to Start Driving Again

If you plan on driving a car after an accident, it needs to be in proper working order. Our auto body shop can help you get the right repairs to make it legal to drive. Get a free estimate today and see all the ways we can help with your damaged vehicle.

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