7 Cheap Ways to Customize Your Car

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Yo’ dawg. Heard you like affordable upgrades to your ride that aren’t obnoxious.

Okay, let’s be honest. Even Xzibit is well aware that Pimp My Ride has long since been put through the proverbial crusher. You need to abandon your dreams of 300-lb subwoofers and back-seat hot tubs, but not all is lost! You can still give your car a little something special to make it stand out from the crowd. Customizing your car doesn’t have to break the bank. Done right, any one of these affordable modifications is highly likely to fool your friends into thinking you employed the services of a professional auto-salon. And nearly every one of these can be done at home with just a few simple tools.

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Give Your Ride a Nose Job The age-old practice of removing factory insignias and nomenclature has come to be known as “nosing” in the hotrod community (not the same as ricers). Technically it’s not free, but for the low-low price of adhesive remover, dental floss and the power to run your hairdryer, you can transform your daily driver into a custom one-off. Factory insignias and nomenclature don’t look like much at first glance, but you will be shocked at how much different your car looks once they’re removed. If you're the lucky owner of a car that doesn’t use glued-on insignias, you’ll need to devise a way to fill in a few mounting holes. Either way, there’s no shortage of handy guides available.

A Wheel of a Different Kind No single part of your car receives more crucial input than your steering wheel, and the feedback you receive through the wheel is an important part of the the driving experience, too. Your steering wheel tells you what your front wheels are doing, what the texture of the road you’re driving on is like and just how much traction your car has at any given time. This is important information to have. If you’re using a worn out plastic factory wheel sheathed in a rubber wheel cover to hide its ugliness, there’s probably a large amount of information you’re not getting.

You can also select a smaller or larger wheel diameter to speed up or slow down your car’s steering. Upgrade to a new wheel in wood, leather or microfiber and your interior won’t just look better, you’ll be more in-tune with the road.

Get a Grip Tires are the only part of your car that connects it to the ground. While some people are more obsessed with the wheels they surround than the actual rubber, your money will go much further in terms of performance gained if you stick with a factory or near-factory tire size and upgrade to some quality rubber. In addition to enhancing grip and road feel, a more aggressive tread pattern or slightly larger tire can give your car some real visual presence. Just make sure your purchase fits your driving needs and the wheels you have: many popular tire websites include sizing calculators to help with this. Also check the wear rating so that you'll know how long they will last.

Apply Window Tint Tinted windows aren’t completely outlawed anywhere, the way removing your front license plate is, but you’ll want to do your homework and find out what the tint laws for your state allow you to install. Once you know how to keep things legal, the application of some tasteful tint will keep the glare out of your eyes, afford you some privacy and make your friends wonder just what it is that sets your car apart from the rest. Installing tint film requires some finesse and a few specialized tools, so you might want to leave this one to the professionals.

Get a Tuner or ECU Reflash Did you know that many cars are capable of making more horsepower right from the factory? Manufacturers often choose not to maximize engine output, particularly on older, turbocharged cars and diesel trucks. You can unlock extra power at the touch of a button using a tuner, or by giving your car’s ECU a reflash. These upgrades work by changing the programming of the computer that controls the mixture of air and fuel that is burned in the engine. Many tuners allow you to revert to stock settings any time you want, so you can control the way your car drives based on what you’re doing.

End the Overbite Warning: (Not legal in all states). Check to see whether a front license plate is required in your state before you proceed. This very affordable modification only requires a screwdriver or a power drill with a Philips-head bit. Many modern sports and performance cars are equipped from the factory with aggressive front air dams designed to channel air into the engine bay, providing a cooler intake charge for more horsepower. Thanks to the boys in blue, these cars receive the automotive equivalent of a gag. Unburden your car of its front plate and you will not only enhance its good looks, you’ll help your engine run stronger, lower your engine compartment temperatures and enhance aerodynamics.

Install a Set of Sport Pedals This modification might do more for those with manual transmissions. Even if you don’t shift your own, the feel of a larger, more grippy pedal underfoot will give you more precise throttle control and enhance your connection to your car. The dividends are extra for stick-shift users because all that added feedback can be enjoyed through the clutch, as well as your upgraded accelerator and brake pedals. You’ll feel more confident matching revs to downshift thanks to increased surface area. If you’re interested in learning to heel-and-toe downshift but your car’s pedals are not well placed, this one is a must!

By sticking to these seven simple mods, you’ll avoid joining the ranks of the ricers and you can take pride in your ride knowing the work was done yourself. Keep chipping away and you might be surprised — it won’t be long until you’ve created something truly unique and nothing like the stocker you started out with.

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