"Friends Don't Let Friends Modify Cars"

Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
That's the title of a recent article in Inside Line, written by Edmunds' own Jack Lanier.

The gist of the article was that the author has seen so many failures, break-downs and disasters with modified cars, to say nothing of degraded rather than upgraded performance, that he suggests, at the end of the article, the following:

"My best advice is this: if you don't like your car and want to make it better, buy something else".

What's your opinion of this point of view about major tuning & modification of stock cars?


  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    Here's the link to the entire article:

    "Friends Don't Let Friends Modify Cars"

  • driftracerdriftracer Member Posts: 2,448
    many folks attempt modifications, even well-intentioned, well-budgeted mods, but don't understand why a certain spring rate doesn't work with a certain shock/strut, or why that Mustang 90 mm MAF won't work with stock injectors.

    It's not for lack of trying, it's just that folks tend to trust their buddies a little too much, and their buddies are passing on 10 year old info that was faulty to begin with....and you see the potential for problems.

    I applaud Edmunds for opening a group of topics like this - we can put out heads together and give people the straight scoop before they spend the money and make the changes...

    After you've spent crazy money and spent all weekend making changes isn't the time to find out that you should have done things differently.
  • jimvetajimveta Member Posts: 96
    I defintely agree with the point of urging caution and looking through the hype, but I strongly disagree with the conclusion. In fact, the whole thing reads like .. well, a classic pundit editorial.

    Perhaps he needs a chance in a well-built/tuned car instead. Just like there are lots of badly tuned or aftermarket built vehicles out there, there are lots of good ones as well. But the problem is that most of what goes on in the aftermarket don't make it into mainstream news. Very rarely do they--or a single individual--invite journalists to test drive their cars or have big press releases. Most of the time, the journalists in the aftermarket rags have to go out looking for them.

    Although I don't have any first hand experience with the following, two examples (out of much more) of exemplary work are:
    - Mark Stielow's (who's a GM engineer by day) cars has been prominently feature in Popular Hotrodding and other GM specific magazines, and even earning him a place in BFG's magazine ads.
    - Jay Leno's cars built by his own Big Dog shop in Burbank, CA. A recent one that was displayed at SEMA and which got the attention of GM as well as used aftermarket GMPP parts is his sleeper-of-a-Toronado. Looks exactly like a Toronado right down to the tires, but sports a modified C5 chassis, rear transaxle, and 1070 hp and similarly torque (Mark Stielow's recent 64 Malibu also makes 1000+ hp with just 10 psi, btw)

    I know that simply throwing out numbers does not a reliable car make, but one would assume these have to be as they are used a daily drivers by their builders, not to mentioned the fact that some have been worked on for years.

    In fact, if anything, doesn't Edmunds' own feature article of the 690 hp SVT/Ford Racing-aftermarket parts Mustang at http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/Features/articleId=104572
    contradict such statements as "if you don't like your car and want to make it better, buy something else"?

    The only time I would agree with that statement is IF the features you want are already available. i.e. don't buy a car with a lower output base engine then modify it later to produce more power when you could've had the optional higher output engine instead. (caveat being unless there's a huge price difference)
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    The problem is that most modified cars are "one-offs" and therefore need all the bugs shaken out. Depending on your budget, patience and skill, this could take a month, a year, or eternity.

    So I think the article is valid if it presumes that any freshly built tuner car is subject to problems. If Jay Leno has been de-bugging his car for a year, sure, it's going to run a lot better after 12 months than it did the day they first built it.
  • driftracerdriftracer Member Posts: 2,448
    is to stick with a known, common vehicle - Honda Civic, for example. The cars are available, the aftermarket support AND tech support is HUGE, and most simple mods are easily done and fairly expensive.

    It's cheaper in the long run, and much less stressful, to build on a common platform, than to be a total adventurer so you can have the world's only Northstar-powered 1996 Neon...

    Bear in mind, I'm talking about average guys and girls modifying their street cars/daily drivers, and not building one-offs with Jay Leno's budget.
  • john500john500 Member Posts: 409
    I think the basis of the advice is very good. With the average US citizen saving 2 % of after tax income, most can not afford to spend money on frivolous things and possibly invalidate the vehicle warranty. Additionally, the tuner market appeals to "individuality". Most individuality consists of simply buying an after-market part and putting it in or on your car. There's no individuality in that other than the individual Ben Franklins going to the aftermarket manufacturers.

    Conversely, I have done quite a few modifications on cars in the past. Changing the car can be quite fun and rewarding. So I guess my opinion boils down to, if you can afford it and you are not an addict to speed or alterations, have fun.
  • kurtamaxxguykurtamaxxguy Member Posts: 677
    The only way I would let any modifications be done to my vehicle is either by a factory trained tech using factory-recomended upgrades, or (less likely) by a thoroughly reputable aftermarket provider whose products have been evaluated by reputable industry publications.

    And aren't most of the "upgrades" in the bling-bling catagory anyway?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    Sure, some are automotive "jewelry" like most of the spoilers and wings. But I think most of the problem is that the car owners don't map out an integrated plan.

    When you bolt something onto a car for one purpose, it affects any number of other things, sometimes not in a good way. You want stiffer springs, fine, you got 'em, and your car is lower and stiffer and feels good on the straight and smooth--- but then you hit a bump and pogo-stick across the road or you break your stock shocks in half. You didn't want that.
  • driftracerdriftracer Member Posts: 2,448
    There's a WHOLE big difference in the things you could do to modify a Chevrolet Malibu Maxx and say, a Subaru WRX.

    The Malibu is limited to "bling-bling", and for the record, I won't ever be referring to anything like that in any of my posts in here...

    From mild to wild, you can take a stock WRX or WRX STi and make crazy power - same with many import and domestic vehicles, like my Ion Redline - several aftermarket companies are begging for owners to lend them their vehicles so they can trial fit intake and exhaust systems, and run computer programs.

    I'm afraid, and no offense meant, but when you have a very efficient (to begin with) grocery-getter, rental car fleet type vehicle, about the only things out there are floor mats, door edge guards, and fuzzy dice.

    Chevrolet has done an incredible job of wringing power out of the car while maintaining fuel economy - that mid size car market is a pretty hostile and competitive marketplace - there's little or no room for improvement on "efficiency" and very little power upgrade potential, short of a roots-type supercharger.
  • carlisimocarlisimo Member Posts: 1,280
    I don't want a car that looks like the next guy's. I could end up spending 10% of my waking life in it... you bet I'm going to make it my own.
    I don't think there'll ever be a perfect car for anyone that cares enough to notice details. Also, I won't be able to afford a great car when I buy one, but a year or two later I'll have the means for more... so I can make my car be like the more expensive one I could've bought then.

    Yeah, big wheels can mean slower acceleration - if they have a greater rotational inertia. They don't always. But they do give you more grip, and some of us like that.

    In any case, lots of people know that lowering springs need shocks designed for those spring rates, that overly large exhaust pipes are bad unless you're turbo'd, and that air intakes are only good for a couple of hp, up high in the rev range.
    We have a ton of easy-to-get information from reputable magazines (well, some of them) and online forums where people share what's worked and what hasn't, for specific cars.

    And while I haven't done it, I'd get brake upgrades if I could afford it. I drive up and downhill a lot, and I've experienced brake fade before. Soon I'll get new pads and fluid probably, but I weren't a student I might upgrade the front brakes from the base Sentra's to an SE-R's.

    Then there are examples like a WRX wagon given the STi treatment, and a 3-series wagon turned into an M3. I like that.
  • lilengineerboylilengineerboy Member Posts: 4,116
    :) It depends on the car and the mods. Putting sway bars on a Corolla does a lot to make it not feel like a Vanagon in a crosswind. That relates to carlisimo's point of updating and backdating between trim levels. If you get the high end Corolla it comes with sway bars. At some point, it is cheaper to buy the higher trim level then modify the lesser car to match its performance (changing the driveline from a 90s Eclipse to a 90s Eclipse Turbo AWD). Even then, due to availability, sometimes thats the only way to go (SR20DET in a 240SX so the US can have a Silvia...).
    These are still in what I consider the envelope of stock though, the modifications are largely factory parts.
    Even with aftermarket parts, there is an envelope of modification, usually I find an intake, an exhaust, and a chip calibrated to work with those modifications seems to have very little effect on the car or any of its systems reliability. I also generally change the brake pads to something that doesn't fade on a track day. I think a plus-one or plus-zero fitment on the tires or wheels helps alot. The track tires are 225/50 while the street tires are 205/60. Given all of these things, I would still consider this car to be stock. These minor modifications shaved time from my lap times, and I still get the same gas mileage (unless I am running the R compound tires, which i wouldn't do).
    Cars have gotten so bland and so designed for the least common multiple, personalization is pretty easy. Going from those 205/65 15s to 225/50 17s will wake up the handling, and the incremental increase in wheel weight is low when going with a lightweight alloy. Adding a sway bar may get rid of some of the engineered in understeer and make the car actually fun to drive. Slamming the thing to the ground though is detrimental, especially on cars like the classic SE-Rs that had limited suspension travel from the start.
    Once you start to make really dramatic modifications to a car, you are essentially creating a new car. Fieros being used as kit cars are really no longer Fieros, and no one would say a Lotus is a Toyota even though it has a Toyota motor (or an Isuzu one). Additionally, sloppy, poorly planed or engineered changes by a tuner doesn't mean an idea isn't sound, just poorly executed.
    Today's cars offer a great deal of performance, but they are designed to appeal to too many different people. A series of well proven, well designed, and well implemented upgrades or modifications take a car from something that is okay to drive to something that is actually enjoyable or fun to drive.
  • denali856denali856 Member Posts: 118
    This is a newly interesting topic since I just got my first car for which there's a sizable 'tuning community' (a Mazda 6). I think that, just like most things, there's a right way and a wrong way to go about it. For example, I think that many things people do are just stupid at best (e.g., a big whale-tail bolt-on spoiler on an '04 Elantra with a top speed of *maybe* 100) or in some cases can actually dangerous/deleterious to the car's safety/performance (e.g., improper rim/tire fitments, 'smoked' headlight lens covers--is there *anything* more stupid than INTENTIONALLY DARKENING YOUR HEADLIGHTS?)

    Then there are poorly thought-out things, e.g., putting some sort of forced induction on a vehicle to tremendously increase engine output without beefing up the rest of the driveline and suspension to handle it.

    But on the other hand, there ARE mods that have been extensively tried out by the aftermarket/modding community and which have tremendous positive benefit for a vehicle. For example, on my Mazda 6 (s sedan/5-speed AT), there's a known tendency for the transmission to run a bit hotter than it should, so a lot of owners add in-line transmission coolers. There's also a CAI/MAF map customizer package that's relatively easy to install, has apparently very good support from the manufacturer, has apparently solved the problem with engine faults being generated due to the way CAIs alter the fuel/air ratios, and now has several hundred installs in the field over the last couple of years with no apparent problems.

    In short, I guess I'd say that there will always be experimentalists, and there will thus always be failed experiments; and, too, there will always be the thoughtless and the stupid, so there will always be people doing mods to their cars that make no sense whatsoever. But in this day and age, there are so many people modding cars, and so much shared information, that for many cars there's a huge number of mods one can do with great confidence that he will be enhancing his vehicle's performance.
  • badtoybadtoy Member Posts: 343
    I've never owned a car I didn't modify in some way, even it was only wheels and tires. Drift's advice about sticking to common, reliable platforms is right on, and that's what I've done over the years (with the exception of a couple Alfas and a Lotus).

    For those who don't like to modify, I say enjoy your car and be well -- but some of us just get bored seeing ourselves coming down the road, and most of us like something to go a little better, stop a little better and handle a little better. Moderation is always key, at least for a daily driver. But for a Sunday ride, the sky's the limit. Just think what hotrod shows would be like without any hotrods! (Or SEMA, or Hot Import Nights, or the local drive-through).

    Passion about cars is what drives these forums, and most of what comes straight out of the factory ain't passionate. Even Mercedes has AMG....
  • only1harryonly1harry NYMember Posts: 1,140
    should be:

    "Friends should advise friends how to properly mod their cars".

    I personally think it's time for this thread to be transferred to the infamous archives! ;)
    '99 Integra GSR
    '06 Civic LX coupe
    '11 BMW 335i coupe xDrive
    '13 Honda Accord sedan (wife's car)
  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,454
    Well, yeah, but then we'd have to get Jack Lanier to rewrite his story (linked in post #2 here).

    Steve, Host
  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,454
    "1. I have made a mistake. I will sell the car to another enthusiast, preferably in another state, far away.

    Little Ferrari Lost (Inside Line)

    Steve, Host
  • mcmotorsmcmotors Member Posts: 1
    I could not agree more. Working my way through college (Mechanical Engineering degree) I improved my share of cars. With today's technology and the use of computers, they are next to impossible to improve. Most of the "hot rod" tricked I used are all incorporated in the average production car.
  • only1harryonly1harry NYMember Posts: 1,140
    Next to impossible? What kind of cars are we talking about? You mean impossible NOT to improve.
    Many of the new cars are in desperate need of a larger exhaust, better header, free-flow CAT, etc. You 'll see considerable power gains with just those simple bolt-ons as well as a cold air intake and such. The reason the new manufacturers are conservative with those is because they want to get good gas mileage and have the car be relatively quiet. A bigger exhaust and better header would make the car louder (and reduce sales). A cold air intake alone makes the car much louder at WOT. My car gained 12.4hp at the wheels with only a cold air intake and 7.5lb-ft of torque. I had it dynoed before & after at the same shop (the same day). Then 2yrs later the header added another 5.8whp. There is also a plethora of aftermarket electronics and computer programs out there to load new fuel maps and other things to your computer to gain horsepower. This of course affects your gas mileage which is why it's not done by the manufacturer. There is ALWAYS mods to be done to improve the power of your car, unless you are talking about F1 or something that cost $1.3M to make. I bet even those can be modified even more but the rules don't allow it.
    My friend had his '04 S2000 ECU reprogrammed and got 13hp out of it. He also installed the same 2.5" exhaust I have on my Integra (but made for his car), and got 11.8hp at the wheels with it. Subaru WRX and STI easily get 30whp with an intake, header & exhaust (or I/H/E as we call them).

    Aftermarket parts companies make hundreds of millions $$ year after year. Do you think it's all because none of their parts improve performance?
    '99 Integra GSR
    '06 Civic LX coupe
    '11 BMW 335i coupe xDrive
    '13 Honda Accord sedan (wife's car)
  • Karen_SKaren_S Member Posts: 5,092
    A national news magazine is looking to interview college students who has “pimped” out his/her ride Have you tricked out your car with big rims, outrageous stereos, wild paint jobs, spoilers, ground effects, neon lights, nitrous, the works . Please send an e-mail to [email protected] no later than Friday, June 9, 2006 by 5:00 PM PT/8:00 PM ET containing your daytime contact information and the make and model of the car you’ve “pimped” out.

    Chintan Talati
  • mr_twomr_two Member Posts: 1
    research and there are mods that do help on any car. if he motor is weak, swap it (if the platform allows). example, you own a 97 cavalier. the motor won't make a whole lot of power reliably, but the motor mounts and tranny are the same as a cobalt (may or may not be, but that's why you research). save and when the motor needs replaced, put the cobalt motor in (with ecu, etc..). it all depends on what you know, how much money you have, and whether the car is worth putting money into it.

    also, some stock parts are made for luxury and noise reduction. meaning you can eliminate some things and add others because they wanted to please everyone with their car.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    I'll agree, if it's a new car that's still under warranty.

    But often these are project cars, bought used or inherited, and much can be learned from a little tinkering.

    I wouldn't go overboard, but it can be a positive/learning experience for those mechanically inclined and interested.
  • xaetaxaeta Member Posts: 8
    if you didn't like your car then buy a new one. If you can't afford a new one, modify your current one as you see fit (interior or exterior).

    People only get into accidents because they are accidents. Sure there are quite a lot that would involve modified cars, but that shouldn't be a reason to stop you from modifying your car as you see fit.

    What ever happened to personalization, customization, and making it truly your own? Is it wrong to be different?
  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Wanting to make it your own isn't the problem.

    It's the quality of some of these aftermarket parts that just isn't up to par. Quite often you'll see "For Show/Off Road Use Only" right on the package, yet you just know these people aren't taking those items off the car when they drive on public roads.

    Things like poor taillights could be a safety hazard. In fact I believe many of them were recalled for that reason. Too-dark tint means you can't see when you're parking. Or oversized wheels with a weight the suspension isn't meant to handle.

    Those things are wrong, yet they're common.
  • xaetaxaeta Member Posts: 8
    Well that's just a factor that you can't change. It's there personal choice to use such parts OUTSIDE of the autoshows, and they know the risks when installing and USING such parts.

    What is the point in raising a fuss and a complaint over something as trivial as human will to do as they please?

    I'm not tryin' to oust you or anything, I'm just saying that those individuals know the consequences for their actions yet still have the impulse to have a fast affordable car.
  • paisanpaisan Member Posts: 21,181
    My favorite is the show parts that people think are "go-fast" parts. Having spent a lot of time on the racetrack, it's amazing how far your money goes for training, which gives you the most edge of any "modification" that you can buy!

  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Well, the short answer is that driving is a privilege, not a right. Enforcing basic safety laws will hopefully keep those "off road use only" parts off of public roads.
  • eldainoeldaino Member Posts: 1,618
    i think most people who put anything aftermarket onto their car, especially with regards to looks, have no idea about the consequences.
  • super_tsuper_t Member Posts: 1
    And that goes both ways. There are a lot of aftermarket parts that shouldn't have made it to production. Things like the "tornado" fuel saver and stick-on Buick-style porthole vents. And when it comes to brake rotors, you get what you pay for. But there's a sucker born every minute, and it's lucrative to prey on them. Having said that...
    To make blanket statements about modifying cars is a misnomer and exhibits an equal level of ignorance. Many parts are labeled "for off-road use only" because the company doesn't employ a fleet of lawyers to flock to their rescue when some [non-permissible content removed] wrecks himself on the road and tries to blame the aftermarket parts. That, or they are "illegal" in states such as California where pretty much nothing short of changing your oil is permitted. This label certainly doesn't indicate that the parts are unfit for daily use. Think about it, performance parts are meant to stand up to hours of track driving, hundreds of 1/4 mile passes, etc. Do you really think the daily commute is too much for them to handle?

    Many people are disillusioned about what they buy. The author of this article hit it dead on the nose... if you spend a few grand on something, of course you're going to think it helped the car. Anybody with half a brain knows the proof is in the pudding though. Run laps with an electronic timer before and after a suspension upgrade to evaluate its worth. Run some 1/4 mile passes before and after an engine upgrade to determine how much faster you are. **gasp** Fork over a few bills and get some dyno time. There is always room for improvement. You just have to distinguish improvement from change.
  • okko1okko1 Member Posts: 327
    see my comment at increasing/horse power and torque/mpg
    and my blog on a current performance up date on a gm product that has no effect on mpg or warranty.
  • shortyflowshortyflow Member Posts: 5
    Could not be more true for engine tuning. For other effects though it is different. Speakers, t.v.'s ,rims, tint, paint, all this can be done by a logical person. One must just know the limits of what they can do.
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