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Can You Make a Tank Street Legal in the US?

Published by Tamar Hela.

Can You Make a Tank Street Legal in the US?

Picture this, you drop your kids off at school and then make a stop at Walmart on your way home - in your latest family vehicle - the trusty military tank! With their immense size and military history, these armored vehicles are extremely interesting and could be an ideal option for you. It may seem like something you would only see in an action movie. While you may be able to drive these on private property - the question remains: Can you make a tank street legal in the United States?

Making an armored vehicle, like a tank, into a street-legal vehicle in the United States is complicated but it can be done whether you are ex-military or the average person. But first, you have to navigate a multitude of federal, state, and local regulations. These regulations make sure that any vehicle driven on public roads is safe to use and won't be a hazard to other road users or pedestrians. Keep reading to find out the key considerations and steps you would need to follow to make a tank street legal in the US.


Is It Legal?

With special licenses in place, battle tank ownership by the average person is legal in the United States. But owning a tank to drive on private land and making that tank street-legal are two entirely different things. Whether you are modifying a historic vehicle or a modern tank to make a street-legal tank you are required to follow multiple federal, state, and local regulations.

Federal Regulations

At the federal level, commercial vehicles are primarily regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA is the federal body in charge of safety requirements for commercial motor vehicles. Being military vehicles, however, tanks don’t come under the categories typically managed by the FMCSA. So who would need to regulate the safety considerations?

Typically, a tank would be classified as a motor vehicle by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and therefore must meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) to be driven on public roads.

These standards include a variety of different safety requirements. To be considered road safe, tanks must be fitted with necessary safety equipment they may not have in their original condition. This includes:

  1. Brake systems: Tanks must have a functional brake system.
  2. Lights and Indicators: Tanks must be fitted with working and standard headlights, tail lights, indicators for turn signals, and brake lights. These lights must be up to FMVSS standards so that you are visible to other drivers and can communicate your maneuvers to them.
  3. Mirrors: So that you have a clear view of drivers behind you, rear-view mirrors must be installed in the tank.
  4. Seat Belts: Seat belts are mandatory for all vehicles and must be fitted to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers.

In addition to the safety requirements from the FMVSS, the tank also needs to comply with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions standards. This could mean you need to make changes to the engine before it can be a street-legal tank.

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State Regulations

Now you have addressed any federal requirements for your tank, you must make sure state regulations are being followed. The laws around motor vehicles may be different depending on which state you are in. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has specific rules regarding vehicle modifications and safety requirements for each state.

You must obtain a title and registration for the tank from the DMV and the vehicle must pass a safety inspection. These inspection checks are similar to federal requirements including:

  • Complying with lighting and mirror regulations
  • Ensuring brakes and steering systems are functional
  • Roadworthy tires in place

Local Regulations

After following the federal and state requirements, you should now have a road legal tank - but don’t forget there could be local regulations that might get you in trouble if not followed. Be aware of local noise ordinances, restrictions on the size and weight of vehicles, and limits on the type of roads that can accommodate such heavy vehicles in your local area before taking to the public roads in your tank.

Getting Your Tank Ready for the Road

Looking beyond the regulatory compliance other practical challenges must be looked at before a tank can be driven on public roads.

Although a legal tank could be just a motor vehicle like any other, these overweight vehicles are not designed for use on conventional roads, require special skills to drive, and can be tricky to maneuver in urban areas.


Essential Modifications and Considerations

To transition a tank from a militarized vehicle to a street-legal one the following modifications would be required.

  1. Safety Features: As required by federal and state regulations any tank must be fitted with the safety features of a motor vehicle explored in the previous section. Lights (headlights, brake lights, tail lights, indicator lights), seat belts, mirrors, and brakes should all be up to code.
  2. Tires: A tank’s tracks are perfect for off-road driving, but they can cause damage to standard roads. Converting the tracks to rubber or fitting tires should prevent road damage.
  3. Decommissioned Weapons: You must deactivate any weapons fitted in the tank as they can cause mass destruction. This is a vital step since these military-grade weapons are not legal on public roads. Typically the main gun, or other individual weapons, like machine guns would be removed before this ex-military vehicle is driven on roads.
  4. Emissions and Noise Control: Being emission-heavy, typically a tank would need modifications to meet state emissions standards. This is crucial to avoid excess environmental impact. Tanks are also LOUD - so noise-dampening modifications may be required to meet state and local laws.

In addition to making modifications to the tank - you should also consider the following steps before taking your tank on public roads:

  1. Driver training: Operating a tank on public streets can be daunting due to its size, weight, and limited maneuverability. Therefore, as a private tank owner, you may need training to drive this ex-military vehicle
  2. Registration and Licensing: The tank must be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and fitted with a license plate, and the owner must have a special driving license. To drive a tank you often require a special endorsement on a commercial driver’s license (CDL), especially when the vehicle exceeds certain weight thresholds.
  3. Insurance: As with any other motor vehicle, a street-legal tank requires insurance. Given the nature of the vehicle, you may need liability cover or additional cover for property damage and personal injury.
  4. Shipping: Before your tank is road-legal, you will require transport for your tank. You will need to make sure you can transportheavy loads safely to your home or where modifications are taking place. Shipping services are available for military vehicles and overweight vehicles, but transit time and average costs could depend on vehicle sizes and customs requirements

Street-Legal Tanks - Will We See More in the Future?

While it is challenging, it is not impossible for those with the will, dedication, and necessary resources to do what it takes to navigate the regulations and transform a real tank to meet all necessary safety and operational standards.

Street-legal tanks have been made possible in the United States, with enthusiasts and collectors navigating the many hurdles required for a road-safe tank.

These tanks could be used in military reenactments, historical parades, or exhibitions. But perhaps with advances in technology, the legal tank industry could see a boom, and modifying tanks to be safe for use on public roads could see drivers in tanks becoming more common.

Final Thoughts About Making a Tank Street-Legal

Although it is a formidable task to convert this extraordinary vehicle into a street-legal vehicle, with careful planning, an understanding of federal, state, and local regulations, major modifications, a special driving license, and the necessary funds - you could do it!

For further information on converting a tank to a street-legal vehicle, you can refer to the FMCSA guidelines on vehicle safety standards and the specific requirements of your state’s DMV.

Check out the FMCSA website and state-specific guidelines from your local DMV office.

Are you a military personnel? Whether you are looking to ship a tank, your Land Rover, or just your family car - you can find out how much it costs to ship a car or other road vehicle for the military. A-1 Auto Transport has the answer with great prices and military discounts for you!

A-1 Auto Transport prioritizes safety and reliability when transporting your vehicle - whatever the size. Get a free quote today and start planning your shipping.

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Tamar Hela is one of our featured writers at A-1 Auto Transport, researching everything from AI auto shipments out of China to what paperwork is required to move long distance. We can safely say she's become well versed in all things shipping and logistics while making the information easy to digest and understandable. 

Tamar has been a copywriter for over 16 years and was trained in the 7-Figure Copywriting Accelerator course through American Writers & Artists, Inc. (AWAI). She's also an incredibly seasoned copyeditor, having previously been the Chief Editor and Publishing Director for Cosby Media Productions, based in Atlanta, Georgia. 

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