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Personalities

Top five ways to customize your car

Published April 11, 2014

Metroland Media for Wheels.ca

Cars are more than just a means of transportation, they are an expression of our personal taste and extension of our personality. We choose a vehicle based on our needs, lifestyle and what we can afford. I imagine some Civic owners would rather drive a BMW M3 but the Honda is more cost effective.

So how do we take a common car like a Honda Civic (for example) and customize it so it stands out with enhanced performance? Below is a list of items that you can easily upgrade on any vehicle and will allow you to customize your car without breaking the bank.

1. Wheels/rims

One of the most dramatic ways to make a huge improvement on the look of a vehicle is to upgrade the factory wheels to larger, bolder, shinier aftermarket “rims.” The rim is technically the outer lip part of the wheel but it is also slang for aftermarket wheels. There are so many rim choices; colours, styles, offset options – the possibilities are “staggering” and can lend to an awesome and/or outrageous custom appearance for an otherwise common car.

When choosing aftermarket rims, check the fitment guide to ensure that the wheel size, bolt pattern and offset are the proper fit for your car. Costs vary and you don’t have to buy new. Check the classifieds and you’ll see lots of rims for sale. Take into consideration the used condition and savings versus the cost of new.

2. Suspension/stance

Once you’ve upgraded to larger rims and (possibly) low profile tires, to further enhance the sporty look, you can opt to lower the vehicle. This can be done two ways. The cost effective option is lowering springs which may work with your OEM shocks. The more costly option is a coilover kit which enables greater drops in ride height. Either will improve the sport handling and likely stiffen the ride. Some coilovers have shock dampening adjustment. Either way, the objective is to reduce the wheel gap which lends to a sporty and aggressive stance.

Depending on how much the car is lowered, the control arms may need to be adjusted to correct the wheel camber so the tires wear evenly. Aftermarket adjustable control arms will be necessary if you significantly lower the car. I suggest getting the suspension work done by an experienced mechanic and having them perform a front-end alignment after.

3. Window tinting

Tinting your vehicle windows is relatively inexpensive and has several benefits beyond good looks. Tint will reduce sun glare for better visibility when driving and help keep your cars’ interior cool. Tint will cut down the suns’ UV rays that age the interior materials. Most people tint their windows for privacy and added security to conceal valuables left inside.

Be aware that Ontario law gives a police officer the discretion to charge a driver if the tint on the drivers’ window is so dark that the view looking inside the vehicle is greatly obstructed. Generally a 35% tint on the front windows is a safe bet. From there, it’s a matter of personal taste if you go darker on the back windows. 20% tint looks good. 5% is “limo black” and very difficult to see out of at night. A good tint job costs around $250 for a sedan and comes with a lifetime warranty.

4. Exhaust

Upgrading the exhaust is a favourite modification of boy racer types. It can easily be done with a cat-back or axle-back bolt-on kit. Starting at a few hundred dollars, you can ditch the wimpy OEM single tail pipe muffler for a hefty and aggressive aftermarket exhaust system. This bad boy will look and sound way better and score more attention as you cruise around the block! The other benefit is an aftermarket exhaust typically adds a few horsepower as a performance enhancement.

There are aftermarket exhaust systems available for most popular sports cars or one can be custom made. Look for an exhaust that appeals to you in terms of look and sound. It will be louder than your OEM muffler and that can be good or bad depending on who’s listening. Too loud or obnoxious, your neighbours and the authorities will not like your shiny new tail pipes.

5. Stereo

Who doesn’t love to cruise with the windows down and stereo cranked on a nice summer day? But for some of us, cranking the stereo supplied by the auto manufacturer leaves us wanting more volume, clarity and bass at upper decibel levels. I’m speaking to the audience that wants to feel the music they’re listening to.

Custom stereo mods is a genre unto itself but it doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars to make a big improvement over the factory system. Consider upgrading the deck first if your factory unit will not support aftermarket components like an amplifier. Installing better or more speakers will improve sound as most entry level vehicles come with just four speakers. Get more out of your system with an amplifier. The ultimate upgrade is subwoofers for deep rich bass.

The sky’s the limit with custom stereo upgrades but for about $500 you can start with a better head unit and speakers then expand from there.

There are so many other areas of a vehicle that can be upgraded and customized but be careful once you start down this path as it can become addictive and your practical car can quickly turn into a money pit. Set an annual budget for upgrades and research the quality of the parts that you’re considering. Join a car forum for your specific vehicle type and learn by talking to others.

I own a 1995 Nissan 300ZX which is my summer pleasure car. The car was totally stock when I bought it used five years ago and since then, I have done all of the above modifications and much more. I have made mistakes and learned from them. For a daily driver vehicle, my advice is to stick with the simple upgrades listed above and not go wild with performance modifications. After all, the car has to be reliable and get you from point A to point B. We just want to look better getting there.

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