Tom Lawrence, the vociferous and often controversial director of the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), urged carmakers on Friday to recall any of their company’s vehicles found to be lowered using aftermarket suspension parts.

“If I were a car company CEO, I’d say ‘Put your stock suspension back on or you’re going to the crusher’,” Mr. Lawrence told a group of supporters in Alabama, where he was visiting to show support for the state’s growing auto industry. Appearing to go off-script, he continued “These cars, these Civics and Infinitis, especially…are a blight to our streets and tarnish the reputations of some good carmakers. Wonderful carmakers,” adding “I’d say to these CEOs ‘Recall those rustbuckets’ before the problem becomes a public safety issue.”

For decades, car tuners around the country have used suspension lowering as a way to express their independence and uniqueness in a sea of unmodified, or “stock” cars. Proponents also claim these suspension modification improve handling, although most experts dispute that claim, noting the change is almost entirely cosmetic.

While lowering was once considered the territory of fringe tuners in Coastal California and urban areas, the Stancebro movement brought it into the mainstream in recent years. Lowering a vehicle is no longer considered to be simply a show of support for Stancebros, but is now viewed as a wider protest to the overreach and perceived injustices of the NHTSA – and Director Lawrence specifically.

The issue of lowering had subsided into the background in recent months until Mr. Lawrence’s remarks reignited the discussion.

Over the weekend, a car show in Pittsburgh gained national attention when one truck – a lifted Ford F-150 – was conspicuously shown as the only non-lowered vehicle in attendance. The truck’s owner, wishing to remain anonymous, insisted this was his mistake, as he believed trucks were also invited to attend. “I respect the hell out these other guys, I just drive on a lot of rocky roads and can’t do the same thing as them. We had discussed my coming to the show, but I got confused.”

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Public opinion is widely against lowering, claiming it’s disrespectful to tire treads and creates unnecessary complications with speed bumps. However, supporters insist that they mean no disrespect for tire makers, they simply want to send a message to the NHTSA and state inspection shops that lowered cars should not be treated any differently than stock vehicles.

A spokesman for the Stancebro movement, known only by his Intagram handle LoLyfe69, summarizes the issue succinctly: “For too long, our cars have been unfairly labeled as dangerous and obnoxious, reflecting an unconscious bias in mainstream car culture. Meanwhile, lifted cars on 26” [wheels] run around the city without undue attention from police. I’m just saying that people need to be aware of their Donk Privilege.”