Tuning – What is Possible?

Author: Joachim Geiger

Sep 15, 2021 Safety at work

For many car tuners, off-the-shelf car models are just the raw material they use to execute their technological and artistic visions. To do so, the accessories market offers a cornucopia of possibilities with spoilers, chassis, rims, and steering wheels. We asked DEKRA expert Carsten Debler what tuners must consider today.

A seasoned tuner could probably transform even a plain production model into a real eye-catcher. There’s no accounting for taste with such projects, yet they all have one thing in common: Tuning always means making changes to the vehicle. This is where things usually start to get tricky. Sure, there won’t be any objections against a set of wide tires. But what about spacers, flared fenders, or modifications to the chassis? Just because we like it, doesn’t mean it’s permitted. “A vehicle’s operating license expires if a modification potentially endangers road users or changes the exhaust or noise behavior,” explains Carsten Debler, Head of the DEKRA Essen branch. It’s an absolute no-go, for example, to upgrade the standard main headlamp with a darker paint coating or stronger bulbs. This also applies to a big exhaust trim on the original tailpipe that protrudes a hand’s width from beneath the car. Even vehicle wraps must be treated with caution – if applied over a large area, they could reflect sunlight and oncoming headlights, and therefore be classified as dangerous. Particularly risque: The car may no longer be covered by insurance once the operating license expires.
A Tuned Car Is the Ultimate Statement in Technology and Design
A tuner’s best friend are therefore components from the accessories shelf that are approved by the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA). As a rule, these are safety-relevant components for which the legislator requires a clearance certificate. The type approval stamped on the component, for example, indicates that the part has been tested in accordance with EU law and meets the prescribed conditions. The approval can be recognized by the test mark, which consists of a circle with a capital E (ECE test mark) or a lower case e (EEC test mark) and a respective country-specific test number. The general type approval (ABE) is similar. It confirms that a vehicle continues to comply with all regulations after the relevant part has been installed. To ensure verification at all times, the ABE must be carried in the vehicle.
Is the ABE a Free Pass for Creative Tuning?
Yet an ABE isn’t necessarily a free pass for creative tuning. Anyone who has a wheel-tire combination installed in one workshop today, and a sports suspension in another tomorrow, risks the expiration of their operating permit, even though both parts by themselves are approved. “An ABE is generally only valid for installation in a production vehicle. Once a part is installed, the installation of another would no longer relate to the stock condition. In this case it can happen that tuning measures affect each other so negatively that the ABE would expire,” explains DEKRA expert Carsten Debler. Anyone who wants to be on the safe side should therefore find out in advance from DEKRA whether the desired combination is really permissible. If necessary, the expert can then carry out an individual approval of the vehicle, which at best confirms the harmlessness of installations required for a clearance certificate.
Parts Appraisals Involve a Mandatory Appointment with the Expert
Components for which the manufacturer issues a parts certificate are another widespread variant of tuning. This parts certificate describes exactly how the component is installed in the vehicle and which of the manufacturer’s requirements must be observed. Unlike ECE approval and ABE, the installation of a component with a parts certificate inevitably entails an appointment for a modification inspection with an officially recognized test engineer from a monitoring organization. The expert checks the installation’s compliance with regulations and issues a test certificate. A frequent requirement of parts certificates is the recording of installations in the vehicle documents.
The Campaign Vehicle from TUNE IT! SAFE! Is Every Tuner’s Dream
The current reference vehicle of the TUNE IT! SAFE! campaign, launched in 2005 against unauthorized and unsafe tuning, demonstrates what perfect tuning can look like. DEKRA, the German Association of Automobile Tuners (VDAT), and the German Federal Ministry of Transport are involved in this campaign. The BMW 850i xDrive Coupé with its original police look is every tuner’s dream. The V8 biturbo racer’s lavish aerodynamics package relies on carbon for the front spoiler, front side wings, side sills, rear diffuser, and rear spoiler. An additional control unit gives the ex works 530 hp BMW an extra 90 horsepower, while a set of suspension springs lowers the front and rear axles by up to 25 millimeters. Ultra-high performance tires on a weight-optimized lightweight forged rim connect the car to the road. Naturally, the tuned Bavarian meets all requirements in terms of road safety and compliance with regulations.