The car modification game can be a frustrating one, more so if you are new to the scene. The industry is full of misinformation and unscrupulous operators waiting to relieve you of your hard-earned cash. Having run a successful performance workshop for the last eight years, it is fair to say that there is not a lot we haven’t seen.
It is disappointing when we see an expensive car that has been modified in all the wrong areas, making it plain horrible to drive on the street and seriously compromising its resale value, despite the apparent thousands spent by the owner. But while it is disappointing, sadly it is not an uncommon occurrence.
We will look at a few of the do’s and don’ts of the modification game in an effort to help you avoid these pitfalls.
Start with a game plan
If you don’t have a good picture of what you want your finished car to be, then there isn’t much chance of achieving it. This is probably the single biggest mistake people make. They get so excited after the purchase of their new car that they just dive into modifying it without thinking things through. That approach works rarely works out well, and more often than not it results in a lot of money being wasted when work needs to be redone later.
Start out by deciding exactly what the finished project will be like. The more detail you put in at this stage, the better your chances of success. It can help to break the project up into smaller areas as well, such as engine, drivetrain, wheels, suspension, body and interior. In each area you can select parts that will achieve your aims while (hopefully) fitting with your budget.
Lastly, work out the timeframe for the project and decide how long each area should require.
If you approach a project in this way, you will have a very good idea of exactly what the time and financial requirements will be. You will be starting with your eyes wide open rather than jumping in blind, and you will have a much higher chance of seeing the project through to completion.
Make sure your aims match your budget
The second common mistake we see is customers who know what they want to achieve but don’t quite have the required budget. While this can be a frustrating situation, it is the time to be completely honest with yourself and how much you can afford to sink into your new project. Getting halfway through and running out of money is at best going to mean your results are seriously compromised, and often these are the projects that end up for sale.
With a solid budget in mind, suitable modifications and parts can be selected that will get the best performance for your dollar. There isn’t much point building a full-house race motor but running out of money for the bolt-on parts to actually make it run.
A popular way of completing larger, more costly projects is to allocate funds to the project over a longer time. This is a great way of getting to your end goal without needing to spend all the money at once.
Do things in the right order
It is easy to get carried away, even when you do have a good plan in place, and jump ahead a bit in the modification process. Maybe you stumbled across that supercharger or cam you wanted at a steal and couldn’t resist. There is nothing wrong with starting to collect the bits and pieces you need for your project as you have some spare cash or when you find a bargain. However, just because you have bought the parts doesn’t necessarily mean you should fit them right away.
Sticking to the game plan will help make sure that at each step of the way you are getting the best bang for your buck, and that the parts are added in the right order to ensure reliability. For example, there is not a lot of point fitting that supercharger if you haven’t fitted larger injectors/carburettor and a fuel pump. Likewise, it’s a waste of time and money fitting a wild cam without the matching valve train components to support it.
Driveability and fuel economy
It is all very well deciding you want to add a supercharger, maybe some nitrous, and make 1000kW, but most people don’t consider what this will mean when they are living with the car every day. If you are building a dedicated track weapon, or even a weekend cruiser that might see the road once a month on a sunny Sunday, you may be prepared to accept some compromises. If the car is going to be your daily driver, these compromises will have you tearing your hair out in fairly short order.
For a daily driver it really is important that the car retains reasonable road manners. Key considerations for a road car include:
- Clutch: should be smooth in operation and not too heavy
- Suspension: should retain good compliance
- Cooling system: ensure the cooling system can support the engine in summer
- Power delivery: focus on low to mid rpm torque
- Economy: make sure your modifications don’t totally destroy fuel economy.
Choose the right workshop
By now you should have a well laid-out plan for achieving your goals and staying within budget. If you aren’t capable of doing the work yourself, the next step is to find a reputable workshop. Unfortunately, the automotive industry doesn’t have a very shiny reputation, with a few dodgy operators tainting things for the rest of us. Luckily, there are some genuinely good workshops out there that can provide quality parts and tuning, will stand behind their work, and won’t require a second mortgage just to get your car booked in.
Word of mouth is still the best advertising for any workshop, so talk to people at the race track, the drags or at car shows where the people who own your type of vehicle go. It won’t take too long to find out who you should consider taking your car to. Not only should you be trying to find a good, honest workshop, it is also worth using one that has a good level of knowledge with your particular make and model. There are always tips and tricks with each type of car, and those who know about them will generally get you a better result and save you time and money.
It’s fair to say we live in a world that is increasingly concerned with being ‘green’, and this is slowly but surely making its presence felt in the legal requirements for modifying cars. While there has been a lot of uproar about exhaust noise laws, they are here to stay. Emissions standards will be the next area that will see a large drive from the government, and this will have a serious impact on what modifications are considered legal, as well as our approach to tuning these cars.
Most serious modifications require certification to confirm that they are safe and will not adversely effect the operation of the car. It would pay to discuss the entire project with a certifier before getting started, to make sure you won’t have any nasty surprises when it comes time to get everything signed off.
A final consideration needs to be made to getting insurance for your car when it is finished. Insurance companies are a pretty uninspiring bunch; they like to have all the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed.
Whatever you do, make sure that every modification is listed in detail. This might save a claim being denied further down the track.
The Final Word
Even with the best laid plans, modifying cars is not always a smooth process. Budget and timeframe overruns are not uncommon, and for those new to the game this can be frustrating. The best advice is to keep smiling, keep in constant contact with your workshop and, if you run into problems, keep a steady supply of coffee handy. Most important of all, though, is to try and enjoy the process!
Words: Andre Simon
This article is from NZV8 issue 59. Click here to check it out.