There are rules around what you can and can’t do when it comes to changing the appearance of your car.

  • You can change the colour of your car, but you should let authorities know
  • If you make your car too shiny or dazzling to other road users, you may be fined
  • Obscene or inappropriate imagery may also get you in strife

In recent years, the improvements in ‘wrap’ technology has led to an increase in people using that stick-on colour-change option instead of the traditional repainting of the car.

Wraps can be clever for new cars in a few ways. For example, if you want a specific colour but it has a longer wait time or isn’t available from the factory, you could buy a more readily available colour (white, for example) and do a colour wrap over the top of it.

Wrapping also ensures that your paint is undamaged, meaning better potential resale value. No stone chips and potentially fewer scuffs… it makes a lot of sense. Wraps – often considered temporary signage – also cost a fraction of a full respray, and you can print different designs, motifs and signage, making them super practical for businesses.

So, what are the regulations around changing the colour of your car, even if it is simply a temporary change using a wrap? Here’s a rundown of what you need to know.

The Australian Transport Council has a nationwide rule on modifying the colour of your car. It falls under the NCOP, or National Code of Practice for Light Vehicle Construction and Modification.

In section 3.14, that document states that “markings, paintings, sign writing, stripes, (prism pattern) film on bodywork that do not reflect excessive light” do not need any form of certification to be permitted.

If you have a specific design in mind or a certain colour that tickles your fancy, you’re best to consult the business you engaged when arranging the wrap or paint job, and it’s also worth speaking with your state or territory roads authority. It’s not hard to pick up the phone and check before you spend thousands of dollars altering your car.

For instance, you might want a chrome wrap. But as you’d expect, something like that could be highly reflective and may cause other road users to be blinded by the finish. As such, those types of wraps are not considered legal as they may dazzle other road users, which is a fineable offence in most jurisdictions.

If you are planning to modify the look of your vehicle with a new hue, then you should advise the roads authority applicable to your location. You probably already know that your registration details list important stuff like make, model, year and colour, and these details can be vital for emergency services to identify a vehicle, for whatever reason. If you were to avoid telling the authorities about the colour change, police may pull you over. 

You’ve probably seen some of those cars around the suburbs that have the ‘multicolour’ look, due to having had damaged panels replaced. That’s legal – you can’t get in trouble for having white fenders and a blue bonnet – so long as the paperwork states what the base colour is supposed to be. It also means you should, legally, be okay to have the harlequin look like those amazing VWs in the 1990s, so long as you can prove there’s one colour under the panels, and it matches your documentation.

Colour changing paint – the ‘flip’ colours also hip in the ‘90s – is legal. But for registration purposes, you will need to list the primary colour. So if it looks red in the light but black when it’s shaded, you’d arguably be better off listing it as red. 

Same goes with signage on business vehicles – ensure that the paperwork shows the ‘predominant’ colour. Typically, it’ll be the colour under the bonnet, in the door jambs or under any carpets or plastics inside the vehicle. 

State by state across the country, the rules are largely the same. If you paint your car, you need to let your roads authority know about the colour adjustment for your registration paperwork.

New South Wales will need you to fill in a Change of Records form, and you may need to have your vehicle assessed to see the paperwork matches what is recorded. 

In Victoria, you need to advise VicRoads, where you can simply call and you don’t need to fill in any paperwork, and nor is an inspection required. You also don’t need to advise them for a wrap, only for a painted colour change.

Queensland makes it clear that reflective finishes including wraps are not legal – but you should advise Qld Transport and Motoring of any colour change.

South Australia will need you to fill out the MR7 Application to Alter Vehicle or Trailer Details form.

Service Tasmania has information on changing the colour of your vehicle, and advises that “if you modify a vehicle in a way that changes its performance or makes it non-compliant with Australian Design Rules, you may need to have your vehicle inspected”. However, it is most likely you will not need an inspection for changing the colour of your car, as it is considered a minor mod. 

Western Australia’s department of transport needs you to fill in a Change of Vehicle Details form to ensure that the data matches up between their side and your ride. 

Northern Territory doesn’t make it clear whether a paint change or wrap is a simple ‘fill in a form’ job, or whether you need an inspection. The territory’s transport department states that for light vehicles (up to 4.5t GVM): “The MVR inspectors will assess your vehicle in line with the National Code of Practice for Light Vehicle Construction and Modification, which applies to both the modification of production vehicles and individually constructed vehicles (ICV).

And finally, changing the colour of your vehicle in the ACT will require you to get in touch with Access Canberra to update the records for your vehicle. 

Not intended as legal advice. Check with the relevant roads authority in your state or territory.

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Matt Campbell
Matt Campbell is a Senior Contributor at CarExpert.
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