There’s a right and wrong way to do almost everything. Tying your shoes. Cooking a recipe. Asking that hot girl on a date. Get things wrong, and you could trip and bust your schnoz, wind up with crappy muffins, or get laughed all the way to permanent residence in Singleville. Population? You.
There’s a wrong way to tune up your ride, too. Whether it’s adding more power, looks, awesomeness, or appeal to the opposite sex, doing car modifications right involves being patient, doing your research, saving money towards quality parts and installation, and not rushing to half-ass some cut-price junk you found on eBay onto your machine.
Here are some Dos and Don’ts to bear in mind, and a little advice, if you’re planning to make some common upgrades to your ride.
Mod: Lighting Upgrades
Check your local by-laws and the Highway Traffic Act before installing non-factory lighting provisions. Ladies love a car with some HID’s, but Officer Dick McJerkpants would love to ticket you if the lights you pick are illegal. Use quality parts from a reputable manufacturer, unless you’re down for frequent bulb replacements, lights that flicker annoyingly, or the possibility of burnt or melted wiring and wiring fires. Check forums for tips on installing the lighting kit you’re thinking of, and some before and after pictures. Some folks even have Youtube videos, outlining how to install lights into the car you might be considering. Use relays wherever possible, and secure all wiring and components safely and securely.
Half-ass a seventeen-dollar xenon lighting kit onto your Rio and expect trouble-free operation. Not only are cheap knock-off kits a pain in the ass to fiddle with and keep re-installing when stuff goes wonky, but many can actually reduce lighting performance thanks to low-quality components. If you need to make wiring connections, don’t just splice and electrical tape—you’ll want to solder, shrink-wrap and tape, for maximum durability of the connection.
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Mod: Great Big Wheels
Skimp on toilet paper, Christmas gifts for your mother-in-law or the beer you bring out when your buddies stop in, not on things bolted to your car. Seek out a high-quality set of wheels from a reputable manufacturer through a local retailer. Why? High quality wheels, as opposed to cheap knock-offs from Taiwan, will last longer, resist having their finish peel off the third time you wash them, and are typically built to standards that contribute to a long life and overall robustness. A quality wheel is also less likely to turn into an octagon when you hit a pothole. Buying locally means you can return the wheels easily, if there are any warranty-related issues.
You might be able to save a few bucks going with a sketchy brand from the internet, but shipping costs, duty, and weeks of being down a wheel or two if you have an issue, not to mention the likelihood of a shorter life from your new rims, dull the appeal of cheaping out.
Buy a $145 set of twenties for your Impala from a seller in a country you can’t pronounce via a poorly-translated ad. You’ll wait ages for your wheels to arrive, and ages more to get replacements if you need to return them. Are these wheels made of high-quality alloy, or melted-down laundry machines? What’s the warranty? What if you hit a pothole and blow a chunk out? Usually, cheap out-of-country wheels aren’t worth the risk—especially when they spontaneously disintegrate after a pothole strike and cause your ride to roundhouse-kick a piece of highway infrastructure.
Mod: Big-Ass Stereo
Your research, tracking down components and installation that are of high quality from reputable sellers. Though the average person can handle the wiring of speakers, head-units and amplifiers in their ride, new vehicles are trickier than ever to take apart when it comes to the interior panels and dashboard bits. Seek the help of a professional installer who has special tools and know-how for removing and replacing interior pieces without breaking any of the tabs that hold things together, or the piece itself. Broken or bent tabs and other mounting provisions can cause parts to dislodge from the car’s cabin, and be a source of annoying rattles, too. Also, do use high-quality wiring and components to make all electrical connections, to reduce your risk of power surges, damage to electronics, or a fire. If you’ll be tackling the job yourself, remember that electrical tape has no place in car audio installation. Use proper connectors and shrink-wrapping to keep water out, and put a breaker or fuse as close to the vehicle’s battery as possible.
Start trying to pop off door panels and dash trim with a flat-head screwdriver. You’ll get Russian-level angry, frustrated, start to break things, invent new swear words, and wind up with a trim piece that looks like two dogs just got finished fighting over it. Don’t hook up just any old amp with any old set of speakers either, or you’ll damage stuff, zap stuff out, and maybe start a fire, which will cause you to invent new swear words, too.
Also, don’t MacGyver the incorrect size of speakers or amp into an area where they won’t fit. Cutting any sort of paneling or brackets is a lousy idea and will ruin your ride’s resale value when it’s time to sell. Don’t splice into any factory wiring harness to try and connect wiring for a new head-unit. Most retailers sell adapter harnesses, and you’ll find they’re highly worth the few bucks in exchange for your sanity and time.
Mod: Exhaust System
Check videos, forums, and with your buds running similar exhaust systems. Balance your desire to share your car’s sound with everyone nearby against local by-laws, and respect for the fact that most motorists don’t appreciate the unrestricted noise of your redlining Dodge Neon as much as you do. Seek out a quality kit which the owner’s community for your ride confirms will fit without any bending, smashing or other modification. Do hire an exhaust shop to install the kit, preferably making nice with the fella working inside by bringing donuts and a coffee. Check local by-laws, owner reviews and the manufacturer website to make sure your new set of pipes is legal, and won’t contravene emissions or noise regulations.
Cheap out on a no-name brand eBay exhaust kit that was fabricated by squirrels and will rust out after the first winter you drive it through. Exhaust systems are made of steel, except the cheap ones, which are made of tin and will turn into metal Swiss cheese after nine minutes in the rain. Don’t attempt to install your own exhaust system either, unless you’re mechanically inclined and very patient. If you’re not, and you try anyways, exhaust installation will quickly turn you into a sniveling baby, a la Justin Bieber in a Miami traffic stop. The exhaust shop, not your buddy’s garage, has the tools, hoist and skill-set to do the job quickly and properly, not over the course of several agonizing hours lying on your back with undercarriage stuff all up in your face.
Lower your car (or raise your truck) using a quality kit that includes parts to adjust camber, caster and toe, thereby compensating for changes in ride height and maintaining the integrity of your ride. Do remember that some lowering kits affect important aspects of wheel alignment, and that others don’t. Translation? Do your homework. Quality brands are numerous when it comes to options in lowering or lifting your ride. Do ensure you get an alignment after the job, to ensure maximum safety and tire life. Finally, remember that lifted trucks often put more strain on axle seals, CV joints and axles—which may reduce the life of all engaged components.
Lower your ride by cutting or clamping or heating up and bending springs or other components, and don’t raise your ride by shoving tennis balls or hockey pucks into the springs. This is typically illegal, as well as redneck, hazardous, and just plain stupid. Partaking in these forms of suspension modification makes you a ghetto-tuner, and endangers your life, and the lives of those you share the road with.
Further, don’t modify your ride’s suspension without ensuring all components are healthy and up to spec—whether they’ll be replaced or not. Lowering a car with a bad tie-rod end, or lifting a truck with blown shocks, is just asking for trouble. Don’t forget that some locales have laws regarding clearance and coverage around your ride’s wheels, which you should bear in mind when moving the vehicle’s body closer to, or further from them. Finally, avoid stance-related modifications where possible, as these can ruin your tires, negatively affect handling and safety, and make your ride look as if it’s been squashed.
Mod: Cutting a Hole in your Hood
Remember that nothing draws the ladies near quite like a hood that’s got a supercharger sticking out of it. Do bear in mind that although cutting a hole in your hood is ill-advised, and that engines don’t really like to get wet, and that cutting a hole in your hood might be illegal, sometimes you’ve just got to find a way to make that top-mounted supercharger fit. Do use a fresh sawzall blade to slice into the sheet-metal, and do remember to wear your safety glasses. Where possible, remove the hood from the car, so you don’t take out a coolant or fuel line in the process.
Drive your car in the rain if it has a supercharger sticking out of a hole in the hood—as it’ll suck up water, which will get into the engine, and engines don’t like that sort of thing.