North Carolina lawmakers passed a bill to impose major restrictions on the “Carolina Squat,” a phenomenon that involves jacking up the front of a truck or SUV while keeping the rear end low, causing the vehicle to look as though it’s “squatting.” It seems that most people hate the Carolina Squat trend, but I feel differently. I’m not sure what I think about this new bill. How about you?
North Carolina’s House Bill 692, “Restrict Certain Vehicle Modifications,” which was passed by the house on May 6 and will now head over to the senate, aims to make illegal trucks like those shown in the video below — trucks whose fronts have been jacked way up off the ground, and whose rear bumpers sit down low.
If I’m interpreting it correctly, the bill restricts a vehicle’s front end lift to three inches if that vehicle has had its rear end lowered by two inches:
A private passenger automobile shall not be modified or altered by (i) elevating the automobile more than 3 inches from the manufacturer’s specified height in the front and (ii) lowering the automobile more than 2 inches from the manufacturer’s specified height in the rear.
A private passenger automobile modified or altered in violation of this subsection shall not be operated upon any highway or public vehicular area without the prior written approval of the Commissioner. Any person operating a private passenger automobile in violation of this subsection shall be guilty of an infraction and punished in accordance with G.S. 20-176.”
This seems like an odd way to word the bill. I’m assuming that those sponsoring it — representatives B. Jones, Bell, Saine, and Hardister — aren’t aiming to simply prevent folks from lifting their vehicles more than three inches, which is why there’s that conjunction “and.” (Hopefully I’m understanding this right, as restricting lift kits to three-inches would be supremely uncool).
Per the bill, it seems that, if I raise my truck’s nose over three inches and have my tail two inches below stock, that’s a problem. But what if I raise my nose five inches and keep my tail at stock ride height? The truck would have the same rake. Would that be okay? I’m assuming the answer is “no.”
Also, why are the front and rear lift limits not a function of wheelbase? A short wheelbase Jeep Wrangler with a three inch lift up front and a two inch lowering kit in the rear would look like it’s climbing a sheer cliff, whereas a Mega Cab, long wheelbase Ram 2500 with that same suspension setup would have a much more subtle rake.
Again, it’s a bit confusing as written.
The Richmond Observer quotes state republican representative Ben Moss, who describes why this bill exists in the first place. It all allegedly comes down to visibility:
Rep. Ben Moss, R-Richmond, who voted for the bill, agrees that squatted trucks have the potential to be dangerous on the roads.
“This is a very narrow bill targeted specifically to those trucks that pose a hazard for other drivers,” Moss said in a statement. “This bill will not affect all modified trucks, but rather only those that are lifted in such a way as to inhibit or impair the vision of the driver of these vehicles, and the vision of other drivers at night, due to the angle created by raising the front markedly more than the rear.”
I have mixed views on the bill, not just because it’s confusing, but also because I’m concerned about whether safety was the entire impetus for its inception. I’ve noticed that many people seem to hate the Carolina Squat solely because of the way it looks. Check out all the bigoted comments on the Change.org petition that aims to outlaw the vehicle modification (Update: I’ve censored some of the comments after a reader told me they felt offended. This just furthers the point that disdain for these trucks is largely not about rational things like safety):
People hate how the vehicles look. In many of these comments, safety is clearly an afterthought, seemingly being used as justification to take the “unsightly” vehicles off the roads. This concerns me.
The Carolina Squat reminds me a bit of the Donk trend; people want to hate it as soon as they see it. I think it’s safe to say that few folks see a jacked up car and say: “I’m really concerned that that driver may not be able to see over the hood.” No, the criticism is usually one of simple disgust, and while I can’t assert with confidence that socioeconomic prejudices are at play with the general sentiments towards Carolina Squat trucks, I will say that anytime we notice scores of people hating something immediately upon learning about it or seeing it, we should all take a step back and try to improve our understanding.
We at Jalopnik did this with Donks — jacked up Cadillacs, Lincolns, and Oldsmobiles with huge flashy rims that many people seem to detest for no real reason. I really don’t understand why Jalopnik had to write “In Defense Of Donks” and “Your Guide To The World’s Most Hated Car Culture: Donks.” I’ve seen quite a few Donks up close while hanging out on Woodward Avenue, and I’ve learned that many of these machines are carefully crafted cruisers with complex hydraulic suspension systems and beautifully-shaped fenders and quarter panels that allow for 26+ inch wheels. The paint jobs are often phenomenal, as are the interiors and engines (I’ve seen completely chromed-out engine bays—including radiator hoses!).
I think if we spent any amount of time trying to understand the Carolina Squat culture — spoke with the scores of owners passionate about their trucks — we’d respect it more, too. Or at the very least, we wouldn’t immediately jump to hate it. After all, these are people who care enough about their cars to modify them; these truck drivers are not apathetic about cars like most people are. Whether we realize it or not, Carolina Squatters are Jalops. (I’ll be reaching out to owners to learn more. If you have modified your vehicles to have an extreme rake, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
I’ll also mention: Since when has anyone given a damn about outward visibility? Modern cars are huge, and have thick pillars that make the interiors downright cavelike. Just look above at the 2019 video taken by Indianapolis-based NBC-affiliated news station WTHR, who conducted a study showing just how limited forward visibility is on modern vehicles SUVs. It’s bad.
Given how much worse visibility has gotten over the years (to be sure, in some cases, cameras have made up for this), it’s just hard for me to believe that all of a sudden North Carolina gives a damn about outward visibility. I’m also curious to know what sort of data North Carolina has related to pedestrian safety/crashes in regards to Carolina Squat trucks; I’m interested in how many modified trucks are out there and whether this phenomenon really poses a major visibility/lighting problem not already in existence due to regularly lifted vehicles; and I’d like to know whether lawmakers considered other measures like requiring front cameras/mirrors to improve visibility or simply posing restrictions on headlight adjustment instead of just limiting suspension heights.
I guess my main concern is the lens through which people view these trucks, and the reason why this bill exists; I know many folks don’t think “I hate that truck because it’s probably hard to see out of and will likely blind me” when they first see these trucks. They see something else, and it’s generally not in an open-minded manner.
That’s the only thing I’m concerned about. Otherwise, I will admit that the confusingly-written bill doesn’t seem unreasonable on the face of it. A five inch delta between front and rear suspension heights seems significant, especially on a vehicle with a smaller wheelbase. So it would still let people in the Carolina Squat scene enjoy their hobby to some extent.
Plus, North Carolina does have light height laws (42 inches is the max), there appears to be a law limiting lift kits to six inches, and the state requires safety inspections, so it’s not like the state doesn’t have a history of safety-based vehicle modification laws. So this doesn’t really seem out of place.
I’m just always a bit concerned when I see vitriol directed towards any misunderstood car subculture, because I think Donks got an unfair shake.
What do you all think?