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The 'Carolina Squat' is now illegal on North Carolina's roads

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, seen here on Thursday, signed a law that took effect this week that bans "squatted" trucks and SUVs, which have an unusually high front end and a low rear end.
Logan Cyrus
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, seen here on Thursday, signed a law that took effect this week that bans "squatted" trucks and SUVs, which have an unusually high front end and a low rear end.

They're certainly eye-catching, but they're also dangerous: That's the verdict on the "Carolina Squat," a modification to vehicles that raises their front while keeping their rear end low to the ground.

Police in North Carolina are now on the lookout for any squatted cars or trucks, which this week became illegal to drive in the state.

"The Carolina Squat is generally known as a truck or SUV with a lift on the front axle and a non-lifted or lowered rear," Meredith Radford reported for member station Public Radio East.

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The unusually rakish look is now forbidden, after a new law signed by Gov. Roy Cooper in August took effect this week.

Owners of squatted trucks have been scrambling to adjust to the new law. One solution is to modify the vehicles again so they stand rather than squat — using a large air bag to make them level.

"They're asking for a bag that goes in the rear of the suspension that they can air down, so if they go to a truck show, they can still squat," Blake Peffley, who sells truck modifications in Jacksonville, N.C., told local TV station WCTI.

An online petition highlighted the risks of squatting

The law was passed after an online petition to outlaw the Carolina Squat in North Carolina drew tens of thousands of signatures last year, with supporters noting the challenges it poses to other drivers.

"These trucks blind people with their headlights pointed to the sky," the petition stated. Critics also say the sharply raised bumper reduces visibility and poses a dangerous threat if the squatted truck hits another vehicle, such as a standard passenger car.

A rival petition to keep the Carolina Squat legal drew less support, as backers essentially said that the custom look is "sexy."

Over the border in South Carolina, lawmakers are looking to outlaw squatted pickup trucks — which are not covered by the state's existing law against lifting a vehicle's body high above its wheels.

A bill that has been filed could be taken up when the legislature returns in January. The South Carolina measure would limit the height differential to 5 inches. Violators would be punished by a fine ranging from $25 to $50.

The look has been popular on Instagram and YouTube, as well as in other states, where it's sometimes called the "Cali Lean" or the "Tennessee Tilt."

It started as a racing strategy, a customizer says

As for why the squat look got started in the first place, a truck customizer in Myrtle Beach, S.C., told TV news station WPDE that it began as a way to shift a truck's weight away from the engine.

"What they did was they'd usually do it on a two-wheel drive — they'd drop the rear end down a little more, so if you were drag racing or something like that, it would kind of shift the weight a little bit," Curtis Owens of Farm Boy Kustoms told WPDE.

In addition to safety issues, operating a truck at a steep angle could harm its engine and transmission because it forces oil away from where it's needed, Owens said.

Another origin story says the lean comes from Baja racing in California, where trucks are heavily customized to endure harsh conditions and irregular terrain — and to survive jumps.

"It actually stems from the Baja trucks and prerunners, which naturally sit higher in the front than in the rear," Dustin Korth of Custom Offsets said in a video about the trend. "This gives them the clearance and suspension travel so that the rear of the truck lands before the front when you launch it off of a jump."

In recent years, Korth added, people who aren't likely to go racing across sand dunes have embraced the tilted look as a new way to set their trucks apart.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.