AL AIN // One month after police blamed illegal performance-enhancing car modifications for a crash that killed a 21-year-old man and 16-year-old boy, their sale and installation continues unchecked. The four-wheel-drive was travelling at high speed on June 21, far beyond what it was designed to handle, when the driver lost control for no apparent reason, said Al Ain Police.
The vehicle was going so fast it flipped three times, throwing its passengers clear, before it burst into flames. "The vehicle was illegally equipped with headers, a turbocharger, modified exhausts, and other equipment to increase speed and horsepower," Lt Col Hamad al Balooshi, head of the Al Ain Traffic Police, said. "These illegal items push a vehicle to perform beyond its structural limits and lead to loss of control, crashes and car fires."
Yet the very same modifications cited in that fatal crash are advertised in car magazines, such as Auto Trader, where sellers boast they can as much as double a vehicle's horsepower. Car parts shops promote "power packages": combinations of headers, turbochargers, superchargers, modified exhausts, performance chips and nitrous oxide. At NFS Automotive in Dubai, such performance packages are for sale at prices ranging from Dh14,000 to Dh45,000. One promised to more than double the horsepower of a Mitsubishi Evo-X, from its standard 300 to 650. The enhancement purports to allow the vehicle to reach speeds of 300kph, up from the advertised top speed of 248kph.
Effect-A-Vation of Dubai also offered superchargers, including one option for a Hummer H2 for Dh27,000. And although the H2 has a factory-installed speed limiter that does not allow it to be driven at more than 160kph, Black Tiger Establishment of Abu Dhabi offers performance chips, such as the Flashpaq Superchip for Dh2,500, that reprogramme the vehicle's computer to disengage the speed limiter and shift gears at higher RPMs.
Andrew Thompson, 38, an administrative specialist, was travelling in a Hummer H2 that had been modified with the Flashpaq Superchip on a return trip from Liwa earlier this year. When the driver floored the accelerator the vehicle reached speeds of 195kph on the highway, far beyond what the heavy vehicle was designed to endure. "The truck started swaying from side to side violently when it reached 190kph," Mr Thompson said. "The driver and I got nervous so he slowed down, but I'm sure that if he had continued at that speed he would have lost control and flipped over. At that speed, a crash would have killed us both."
Lt Mabkhoot al Kirbi of the Abu Dhabi Traffic Police said: "The installation of performance parts in street cars is absolutely illegal Emirates-wide." While the sale of performance parts is legal, they are only to be installed in cars for use on the race track and other specialised places. Once the parts are installed, the car is no longer "street legal" and should only be transported from one place to another by a tow truck. Legally, he said, it cannot be driven even two metres from the shop that installed the parts.
"Yes, many places are selling these parts and have permits to do so," said Lt al Kirbi. "But if we find a car with performance parts installed being used on public streets then the owner will be fined and the car impounded." A sales consultant at NFS Automotive in Dubai, who spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed it was not sale and installation of performance-enhancing parts that was illegal, but their use on public roads. All clients are made to sign a declaration that the boosters would be used only off-road, either in the desert or at the Dubai Autodrome, he said.
Abdul Mutalib Hindi, a salesman from India at Effect-A-Vation, said: "The police are not a problem in general, unless you use the car to speed on a public street. It's definitely best not to use cars with these parts in them there." The UAE rally champion Mohammed Bin Sulayem, vice president of the FIA, the world motorsport governing body, and 14-time Middle East Rally champion, said young men needed to be made aware of the risks involved in illegal street racing.
"Drivers have to understand that a car is a tool, and how you use it has implications," he said. "I encourage our youth to take part in motor sports, but they have to do it responsibly. You cannot just get your car modified and head out onto public streets. The proper place to learn how to drive and to test your car is the race track, where rules and regulations are in place." One young motoring enthusiast, a 27-year-old Al Ain resident who would only give his first name of Saleh, has crashed two of the four vehicles he has owned in the past nine years.
He drives a 2001 Ford Mustang fitted with about Dh9,000 worth of performance-enhancing parts. Some he bought in Dubai, others he ordered from the US and had installed at a friend's shop in Al Ain. When told that the Al Ain Police said these parts were illegal on public roads, he was surprised but said he didn't care. "Look at my car, does it look different than any other Mustang?" he asked. "It doesn't. The police won't know what I have under the hood unless they see me racing. I would get in trouble for that, but not for having the parts."