No car is perfect. Most are designed to be marketable to large numbers of people, so are never tailored to you in particular. This means that you’re going to want to make some changes, it’s only natural. The problem is that a lot of people make changes to their rides and just end up looking like massive douchebags.
Just in case you’re not sure what you can get away with, we’ve put together this convenient list of 25 Ways to Customize Your Car Without Looking Like a Douchebag.
Caveat: If you’re not actually a track rat or a racer, this will make you look like a poseur or a paranoid freak.
If you spend a good amount of time on track or in assorted motorsport competitions and you don’t want to die, this is a must.
Caveat: If you never drive on a track, the aero “upgrades” you’re looking at don’t actually do anything, or your car is too slow to ever generate downforce, just walk away.
If you’re looking to shave off a few tenths from your lap time and you don’t want to practice, a great way to do so is to upgrade the aerodynamics of your car. You can lower drag (which also helps fuel economy) or generate more downforce for better handling. Just don’t throw a replica of the McLaren MP4-12C GT3’s wing on an old Honda Civic, you’ll just look like an asshat.
Caveat: Don’t get a seat with a five-point harness unless you’re racing.
Let’s say you’ve squeezed some more power out of your whip with some careful engine tuning and it grips like a Lotus in the corners. You’ll be sliding around like a fool if you’re not sitting in some properly supportive sport seats.
Caveat: Only get new ECU software from a reputable tuner, unless you want to destroy your engine.
This is one of the easiest ways to modify your engine. Since cars are computer controlled these days, tweaking the software can add power, increase the redline, improve throttle response, change the torque curve, and destroy your engine (if done poorly). Just know that big software changes will probably require mechanical upgrades as well.
Caveat: Don’t just lower it as far as it will go, forcing you to budget 15 minutes for getting oover your driveway’s curb.
If you really want to change the character of a car, there’s no better way to do it than modifying the suspension. You can turn a cruiser into a track rat or a econobox into a rally car.
Caveat: Form follows function.
Putting some good aftermarket wheels on your car can help reduce the unsprung weight, thus improving the handling. Putting some blinged out 28″ wheels on your car makes you look like a jackass from 1997.
Caveat: Just don’t get some neon pink anodized aluminum pedals or something equally stupid.
Does your car have a tiny stock gas pedal? If it does, you’ll have a hard time being as smooth on it as you’d no doubt like to, and heel-and-toe shifting will be borderline impossible. Replacing those with some proper motorsport-ready pedals will help you control your car much better.
Caveat: Don’t put a monster engine in a front-driven car, or any car that can’t handle it, for that matter.
Yeah, this one is expensive, but can turn a car into something truly unique and really cool. One of our dreams involves a Lotus Elise with that Cosworth 2.3L Duratec that makes 280 hp without forced induction. That would be the shit.
Caveat: Not companies that actually sponsored someone, it needs to be you.
If Falken Tire sponsors you, and your race car has a Falken Tire decal on the side, that’s cool. If you one saw a car with a Falken Tire decal, so you put one on your Astro Van, you’re an idiot.
Caveat: Go easy on the colors, you’re not Willy Wonka.
Changing the look of the outside of your car is cool, but you experience your car from the inside. Get some nice custom leather in there. Just don’t get a horrific blue and yellow color scheme that only Mansory would like.
Caveat: Choose one that sounds good, not loud.
Tons of aftermarket exhausts seem to exist solely for the purposes of making a car louder. This is stupid. You should be able to talk to the woman in the passenger seat, not just scare her off. Pick a performance exhaust that has a reasonable decibel level, sounds good, and adds a few horsepower to your rig.
Caveat: This had better be on an off-roader, that you drive off of roads.
If you’re going off roading without a winch, you must really like dying of thirst in ditches.
Short Throw Shifter
If you haven’t noticed yet, we like car mods that do something. A short throw shifter will help you shift a bit faster, and hopefully trim a tenth off of your lap time.
Caveat: Don’t overdo it. A $2,000 carbon fiber driveshaft in a ’71 Toyota Crown is just a waste of money.
We love the Subaru WRX, but the throttle response does leave a little to be desired. Swapping out some of the moving parts for lighter ones is an easy way to get a better response out of an already great engine, and it can be done incrementally if your wallet is hurting.
That’s not all that can be done to improve your car though, simple and cheap stuff like better air filters can make a noticeable difference as well.
Caveat: We don’t mean fake carbon fiber appliques.
Weight is the enemy. A light car accelerates faster, corners harder, and gets better fuel economy, so replace your roof and hood with lighter ones, and take out those rear seats if you never use them.
Caveat: As long as it wasn’t sold as a sex toy.
Shift knobs are a bit like cufflinks; you can be a bit whimsical with them and it doen’t look idiotic. Just find something you like and slap it on there.
Aftermarket Steering Wheel
Caveat: Please don’t do this unless you have a four or five point harness.
The reason you need to be strapped into your seat like a racer if you want to get a small and sporty aftermarket steering wheel is simple; you won’t have an airbag.
Caveat: This would look really silly on a big cruiser.
Do you want ot know exactly how fast your 0-60 was? Do you want to analyse your brake points? Do you want to know exactly how many Gs you pulled in corner seven? If you answered "yes," you need a data logging system.
Caveat: It says “better” speakers, not “more” or “a gi-fucking-gantic subwoofer.”
You want your tunes to sound good in your car, and your stock sound system probably isn’t cutting it. The trick here is to focus on quality, not volume. Be an audiophile, not a noisy dickwad.
Caveat: None, better brakes are always a good thing.
Brakes are one of the most important things on your car for driving fast. It might seem counter-intuitive, but good brakes mean you can brake later on any given corner, and that means your’re on the throttle longer.
If you want to show off a bit, get some colored calipers.
Caveat: None, just put the best tires you can afford on your car, now.
The tires are the only part of your car that actually interacts with the road. A good set of rubber will make your car accelerate faster, handle better, and brake better. There’s no single upgrade that will do more for you.
Caveat: If it’s not going on a classic American car, you’re doing it wrong.
When a ton of overwrought pinstriping is adorning a Honda Accord or a PT Cruiser, it’s tacky and ugly. But when a little is used to accent something like a ’65 Chevelle SS, it can just bring a little more personality to what is already an awesome car.
Caveat: If it blows your engine because it wasn’t done professionally, you look like an idiot.
Performance is cool, and one of the most cost effective ways to add lots of power to a car’s engine is the addition of a turbocharger or supercharger. Seriously, if your car has a naturally aspirated engine and you want a lot more power out of it, get a turbo installed.
Caveat: If any of the following make an appearance, it’s a no-go: pornographic images, more than three colors, cartoon characters, religious iconography, fake NASCAR sponsors, etc.
A custom spray is one of the best ways to customize your ride. We reccomend you pick an interesting, but not too loud, color and add a stripe or accent in a contrasting color.
Caveat: Don’t be will.i.am
This is not for the feint of heart. There are still coachbuilders out there who will completely restyle your car. You can get an entirely unique body and interior, if you’re willing to pay for it. Just please, get a seasoned designer who has some taste on your team.