What Is SAE-DOT Approval

If you’ve ever bought or considered buying an aftermarket auto accessory it’s almost guaranteed that you will have seen the phrase SAE/DOT approved. Sounds great but what exactly does it mean? Are SAE/DOT approved products legal for use on your vehicle? Can you get a ticket even if they are? What do SAE and DOT stand for anyway?

The SAE

Let’s start by putting the first things first and figure out just what is meant by the abbreviations “SAE” and “DOT.” SAE stands for the Society of Automotive Engineers and “is a standards development organization for the engineering of powered vehicles of all kinds, including cars, trucks, boats, aircraft, and others.” (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAE_International) It is the largest such organization in the world (with approximately 120,000 members) and enables voluntary consensus on automotive standards. SAE approval has nothing to do with legality and having a part (such as a headlight or performance muffler) with an SAE stamp alone will not protect you from a ticket.

The DOT

The DOT is, obviously, the Department of Transportation. Unlike the SAE, The Federal Department of Transportation is a governmental agency with legislative powers (they can make laws which will result in you getting a ticket when you don’t follow them). In order to legally manufacture and sell automotive accessories for use on public roads a company must have DOT approval and must conspicuously label their products as such. With regard to head and tail lights in particular, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Regulations (FMVSSR for short) contains the following directive:

  • Standard No. 108 - Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment - Passenger Cars, Multipurpose Passenger Vehicles, Trucks, Buses, Trailers, (except pole trailers and trailer converter dollies), and Motorcycles (Effective 1-1-68 for vehicles 2,032 mrn (80 or more inches) in width and Effective 1-1-69 for all other vehicles) This standard specifies requirements for original and replacement lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment. Its purpose is to reduce traffic crashes and deaths and injuries resulting from traffic crashes, by providing adequate illumination of the roadway, and by enhancing the conspicuity of motor vehicles on the public roads so that their presence is perceived and their signals understood, both in daylight and in darkness or other conditions of reduced visibility.

All of which is to say that without meeting these qualifications your Altezza light may not only be unsafe for use but it will surely garner you a ticket from an ornery cop or fail you on inspection. Please note that many sellers will, incorrectly, list their items as being SAE/DOT approved without this actually being the case. Furthermore, many will not even know what SAE or DOT approval is. Before purchasing any aftermarket lighting or performance product it’s important that you ask the manufacturer to provide you with a statement that the product being sold is DOT approved. If they cannot do so at least you know that your purchase will not be street legal (which is fine for most folks) and that it may have been engineered without conforming to the rigorous standards imposed by the SAE.

DOT-SAE Approval Resources

  • The SAE
  • The DOT