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(Edwin Tan for The Globe and Mail)
(Edwin Tan for The Globe and Mail)

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Hellaflush: Does this custom car modification pose a safety risk? Add to ...

‘Hellaflush” is a custom car modification movement that is gaining traction in Canada with the urban hip-hop tuner crowd.

However, the safety of these kitted-out cars has also been called into question. And Quebec has banned the practice outright.

The trend involves positioning a car’s tires as close as possible to the fender well, in combination with low offset rims to essentially allow the tires to protrude beyond the frame of the car. But the handling and manoeuvrability of the vehicle is often sacrificed in the process. Quebec is the first province to enforce a ban on the design modification, and other provinces are considering doing the same.

To car-accessory enthusiasts, however, the design modification is nothing more than a fashion statement, one that has grown in popularity since the mid-2000s.

“To me, the aggressive fitment aesthetic simply looks great,” says David Soo, founder, creative director and president of Fitted Toronto, who organizes the annual hellaflush event, via e-mail. “There’s something about wide wheels and a perfectly dialed-in low aggressive drop that completes a car’s look.”

More than 1,200 car enthusiasts from across Canada and the United States gathered last May at the fair grounds in Brampton, Ont., to ogle 100 vehicles modified with aggressively wide wheel offsets. Fitted Toronto is one just one of the many events to capitalize on the growing popularity of the “stanced” modification movement, also referred to by its slang name, hellaflush.

Soo says that the term hellaflush was coined by California-based fashion and automotive-accessory designer Mark Arcenal, who combined the word “hella,” slang for “a lot of,” and “flush,” which represents the flushed look of the fender and body of a car with offset wheels.

Fitted began as a gathering of 75 cars in a restaurant parking lot in Toronto five years ago, and has grown into a daylong festival at the 40,000-square-foot venue in Brampton. Soo plans to host an even bigger event next year in the Greater Toronto Area, with one in Ottawa as well.

But Soo is also concerned for the future of the trend.

Quebec’s Société de l’assurance automobile (SAAQ) was the first to denounce hellaflush, publishing a statement in August that prohibited the modification, but Audrey Chabut, a spokeswoman for the SAAQ, says it was never legal in the first place.

“You can modify your car, you can put on some devices or modify some parts, as long as it stays within the builder’s specification,” she says. “You can’t modify a car and make it unsafe, it [the law] was already there for a long time, but it is always necessary to repeat some information because you have new drivers and new car owners every year, so we had to repeat some information to make sure everybody’s on the same page.”

With Quebec’s ban freshly reinforced, other provinces are studying the issue, too. A spokesperson for British Columbia’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says that the province is “actively looking at the ‘stanced vehicles’ issue, but has not made a determination on a direction for continued use.”

Bob McManus, an Alberta Ministry of Transportation spokesman, says that the province has not specifically banned hellaflush, but adds that “owner modifications [that] deviate substantially from the original equipment manufacturer specifications, like hellaflushing, will not pass an inspection,” and will therefore not be allowed on the road.

Ajay Woozageer, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, says that modifications are considered street legal as long as they adhere to the guidelines outlined in the Ontario Highway Act. “Even if the vehicle’s wheels or suspension systems have been modified, it may be legally operated on Ontario’s roads if a vehicle is legally registered and insured for on-road operation in Ontario, and if it satisfies the requirements of the HTA and associated regulations,” he says.

Soo, however, says there hasn’t been enough research on the issue.

“I can only hope, as a tax-paying citizen and enthusiast who enjoys this culture, that the utmost care and respect is provided before any action is prescribed,” he says. “I have faith that whatever decisions are made will be in the best interests for everyone and their safety.”

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