If you build an automobile or submarine, what safety requirements are required?

To My Most Dearest Matt:

Let's say that hypothetically I made an automobile. What sort of specifications and safety requirements would I have to meet in order to get it registered in the State of California? Would I be able to name my auto after myself? What about other types of vehicles, like a submarine that I made out of trash cans? Hypothetically speaking, of course....

-- Ryan Corey, Del Mar

Jeepers creepers, Ryan, some government bodies certainly lack imagination, not to mention a sense of whimsy. The Coast Guard was so horrified by the havoc a recreational sub might wreak in local waters, they could hardly spit out an answer. They trust you'll keep your doomsday machine on the drawing board. Once they'd calmed down, they admitted our coast isn't plagued with home-built subs, and they'd have to guess at the official answer, based on existing recreational boating regulations. You'd need the usual state- and federally required safety and navigation equipment (I'll leave the research to you), then you'd just run the big tin can through the usual inspection required of any recreation vessel. But that also means, if you can manage to keep the length under eight feet and you don't have an engine, you can just plop it in the water and take off (pedaling fast, I guess). No registration required. The Coast Guard does suggest that you would be building a Boat of Death and would be sliced in half by a ski boat or a carrier in short order. And no doubt you'd be pulled to the curb by harbor patrols so often, you'd eventually just stick the thing in your backyard and forget the whole idea.

As for the Ryanmobile Mark V Turbo, your patchwork of parts, the DMV knows exactly how to deal with your type. They see guys like you all the time. You'd be registering a "specially constructed vehicle" (per the state Vehicle Code: a vehicle made from a kit or new and/or used parts, not intended for resale and not built by a specially licensed manufacturer or remanufacturer). And the DMV, of course, hopes you have your paperwork in order. The critical piece of junk in your Ryanmobile is the frame, to which is affixed the vehicle identification number. The state needs all the paper that shows where you got the frame, where the person who sold you the frame got the frame, and so on, until it can be traced back to a legally recognized whole vehicle. And once you're ready to roll, Sacramento doesn't care if the fenders are Ford's, the roof a Rambler, the doors a Datsun, and the trunk a Toyota. If the frame's a Chevy, your car's a Chevy. You can put "Ryanmobile" in fancy script on the grill if you like, but the DMV will just ignore you. Naturally, you'll have to meet all the state and federal safety regs and specs...blah, blah, blah. By the way, if you're planning to construct your own frame, you'll throw the bureaucrats into such a paperwork crisis, you may never drive again. I couldn't find anyone who knew how to get an original VIN. Happy motoring.

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