Think Before Modifying Your Car

The automotive subculture has always been a strong one in America. From young boys with posters of Italian supercars on their bedroom walls to teenagers desperately explaining to their stranded dates that their alternators were fine this morning to old men patiently adjusting their prized automobiles in the garage on the weekend, Americans of all stripes have a powerful attachment to the automotive industry. This is a very good thing.

When it stops being a good thing is when we take it upon ourselves to improve upon what legions of well-paid engineers have spent years working on.

That’s right, I’m talking about aftermarket modifications.

The thought process that repeatedly leads people to actually pay for abominations like the new Brabus B63S-700 6X6 (which, coincidentally, has the stupidest name in automotive history) is absolutely impenetrable.

To be clear, I’m not condemning those who purchase cars in rough shape and essentially rebuild them using a variety of parts. No, this article is a hefty rebuke to those who feel the need to place massive rear spoilers on Chrysler PT Cruisers and body kits on ancient Honda Civics, and to those who feel the need to shell out massive sums for companies to do awful things like wrap their brand new Fisker Karma in Chrome. Not that anyone would do that…

Yesterday, I saw a fellow driving a Mitsubishi Outlander that had tried to black out the Mitsubishi badge with what appeared to be Crayola marker and had sloppily glued what appeared to be a bad forgery of the Academy Award to the hood where a Rolls Royce would typically display its classic winged lady.

While this is admittedly an extreme example, I urge all readers to think more carefully about modifications to their cars. The examples that I have discussed so far are purely aesthetic. While they’re wildly offensive and rob you of things like your aerodynamics and dignity, they don’t make your car outwardly dangerous.

However, this can happen when you decide to fundamentally alter the mechanical components of what you’re driving. If you’re a professionally licensed mechanic, ignore this and go crazy. If you aren’t, take heed. A friend of mine once decided his Saturn Ion was underpowered. As it was a Saturn Ion, he was obviously correct. He then decided that installing an aftermarket turbocharger, tweaking small components in the engine, and installing a new shifter could correct this.

After he finished these “improvements” he took it on a test drive. He made it four and a half blocks and the car caught fire.

I don’t recall the exact details of the car’s autopsy, but I’m fairly certain it had something to do with the transmission seizing and the turbocharger eating itself. At the end of the day, the car was resurrected, but it took an unfortunate amount of time and money.

When it comes to mechanical tweaks, leave it to the professionals. When it comes to aesthetic improvements, accept that you never went to art school and are wrong. Then walk away.