Dune Buggy: 3 Laws to Make it Street Legal

A dune buggy driving on a dirt track.
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So you're thinking of making your dune buggy legal or thinking of buying or making a dune buggy. The first thing you need to understand is that the department of motor vehicles' main goal is to keep vehicle operators safe, and secondly, to keep the environment safe. With that in mind, creating a street legal dune buggy is completely logical. Keep in mind that every county in every state might vary a bit and registering a street legal dune buggy is a lot different than registering one for recreation. In this article we'll touch on the general rules that apply in most areas.

1. Emissions

Most places require at least an evaporative emissions system for current vehicles. Basically, you have two options: you can remove the VIN tag from the vehicle that you are using the motor from and register it as that type of vehicle or you can register it as a self-assembled vehicle. The precautions here are that, when registering the VIN tag of another vehicle, you will have to meet that vehicle's emissions standards.

This is why most street legal dune buggy enthusiasts choose to use older VWs as their source. Obviously the state emissions laws vary greatly from state to state and it actually does matter whether your county is considered to be a rural or urban area. For a complete list of emissions regulations and standards you would need to contact your local DMV.

2. Safety

As the number one priority, safety is taken very seriously by the department of transportation. For this reason, there are several requirements when operating a street legal motorized vehicle. First, let's assume you have a working dune buggy with a working engine, brakes, seats, frame, etc. From this starting point, you'll need just a few more items to be out on the road.

A windshield, while not required everywhere, is required in most states. It is the viewpoint of the department of transportation that it wouldn't be completely safe to drive down the road with the possibility of random objects or insects hitting you in the face.

Working headlights, taillights, and turn signals are another requirement. Even if you only plan to drive your vehicle in the daytime, it's required by law. Luckily, installing these lights is one of the simplest tasks you'll ever tackle.

Last but not least, seat belts are required for every passenger. The seat belts must be equipped with a shoulder strap or a five-point harness. There are no exceptions to this rule. The DMV is very strict on seat belt laws and with good reason; failing to wear a seat belt could cost you your life.

3. Registration and Licensing

dune buggy

Once you've met all of the standard safety and emissions requirements for your specific dune buggy, it's just a matter of insuring your buggy and filling out the proper paperwork. All paperwork can be obtained at your local DMV, or through their website. If there is an applicable VIN for this vehicle, it will need to be included. If you are registering this vehicle as a self-assembled vehicle, more than likely you will have to provide receipts for all of your major component purchases and a special unique identifier will be assigned to your vehicle. After the actual registration process, licensing the vehicle is as simple as any other vehicle.

Street Legal Dune Buggy FAQ

Can dune buggies go on the highway?

Dune buggies fall into a legal gray area where they are not always clearly in one category of vehicle or another, so many states have special classifications for dune buggies and similar vehicles. In some states, dune buggies that meet specific criteria may be street legal for all streets, including highways.

Other states have regulations in place where dune buggies cannot be driven on public roads at all, and still other states may allow dune buggies to be driven on residential roads but not on highways. In some places, dune buggies are classified as off-highway vehicles.

Is a dune buggy considered an ATV?

An ATV, all-terrain vehicle, is considered to be a different type of vehicle than a dune buggy. Dune buggies, also known as beach buggies, are their own vehicle classification.

Dune buggies can go offroad onto sand dunes, as they are usually made for beach and desert areas. However, they do not usually have quite the same versatility as ATVs.

How many miles per gallon does a dune buggy get?

Dune buggies are not standardized vehicles. They are often created as DIY vehicles, so it is not possible to say precisely how many miles per gallon dune buggies get because this number varies widely based on the type of engine used to power the dune buggy.

On average, dune buggies are very lightweight and essentially topless vehicles with rear-mounted engines. The engines in dune buggies are typically smaller, though the size of the engine is entirely up to the person who owns the dune buggy.

The miles per gallon you can expect to get from a dune buggy depends entirely on the type of engine used to power it. Dune buggies can be made with hybrid or electric engines as well.

The first versions of dune buggies appeared in the 1950s as cars that had been self-modified by their owners to be optimized for the beach. The first vehicle to cash in on the trend was the Meyers Manx, marketed as the "original" dune buggy when it was released in 1964.

The Manx 2.0 EV, the first dune buggy released by the company after a 50-year hiatus, has an electric engine that gets up to 300 miles of range. The company's Manxter 2+2, released around the same time, is a fiberglass dune buggy kit designed to fit onto a VW chassis.

The Volkswagen 2019 final edition Beetle gets about 30 miles per gallon. The VW Beetle is a classic foundation for dune buggies and the original Manx was designed for the VW Beetle.

What is the best car to build a dune buggy?

The Volkswagen Beetle was one of the earliest cars used to create dune buggies and remains one of the most popular and most-seen vehicles to use as a start for a dune buggy. The simple engineering and lightweight frame make the VW perfect for this modified vehicle.

However, just about any small vehicle can be used as a dune buggy, including many small SUVs. Today, it is common for many different makes and models of vehicles to be modified as dune buggies.

What engines do dune buggies use?

If you're creative enough, you can use all sorts of different engines to make a dune buggy, including hybrid and electric vehicles. Many engines are popular choices for dune buggies, including diesel-powered engines.

VW Beetles are a classic and popular choice for dune buggy engines. VW Beetles have 1100cc to 1600cc engines.