Looking to modify a car? Then look no further, we’ve got you covered with our beginner’s guide to car modifications, and which mods you should focus on.
While we’re convinced that everyone out there is a potential master modifier, there is such a thing as a beginner; and there’s nothing wrong with that. Here in the real world, we don’t burst out of the womb clutching a set of spanners and end up a tuning expert before we can walk; it doesn’t work like that. There’s no shame in being a modifying novice because we’ve all got to start somewhere, right?
So, that’s exactly why we’re here to help with the fundamentals of modifying a car to get you started on the road to modifying glory. Here’s our guide to car modifications.
Why modify a car?
Why do people modify cars? That’s a tough question to answer. There are a number of reasons why someone might modify their vehicle. The obvious answer is to improve the styling and overall performance. But that’s not the only reason why someone might choose to add modify a car. Those who own older cars often use the aftermarket due to the lack of Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) replacement options. Or because what was once deemed safe is no longer considered safe. An example of that would be older vehicles that use drum brakes; upgrading to newer rotor/disc brakes is a drastic improvement in braking performance. Perhaps the car owner just wants more performance, many OEM cars are drastically under-tuned for reliability, after all.
You may also be thinking about car mods to suit a goal, whether that’s building a show car or wanting to experience track days or motorsport. OEM cars are designed to perform a multitude of jobs under a sea of regulations, and as a result, never master one area. There are usually always components that you can improve upon by upgrading individual parts. Especially if we’re considering track cars, which will be plagued by weight, body roll and engine and brake temperatures. That’s where car modifications come in.
However, by upgrading certain elements, you can compromise another area. Coilover suspension is a great example, it performs brilliantly on track, but often on the road it can disrupt the subtle ride quality you once had. So while you have more performance, you have reduced ride quality. Can you have it all? In some cases, yes, but it’s down to which car mods you pursue.
Should you modify your car?
Yes, definitely! Modifying and tuning your car can enhance your driving experience and make your car stand out from the crowd. It also allows enthusiasts to personalize things to create a real connection with their ride.
There are many, many more car modifications you can make, and the beauty of modifying is that you can create whatever you want. We’ve given you a few ideas to get the ball rolling with our list of the best car modifications, but these really are just the tip of the iceberg.
In this article:
- Uprated suspension
- Alloy wheels
- High Performance Tires
- Sound Systems
- Performance Brakes
- Performance Air filter
- Performance Exhaust
- Aero and Styling
- Aftermarket Seats
- Anti-Roll Bars
- Limited-Slip Differential
- Weight Loss
Uprated Car Suspension
We’ve no doubt that you’re eyeing up a fresh set of rims for your first of many car modifications, but hold off for a second, this is more crucial. Besides, you don’t want to fit those wheels and leave your car with huge arch gap, do you? No. The first thing you should be thinking about when looking at modifying a car is the suspension.
Ask yourself if you’re modifying your suspension for looks, for performance, or a bit of both. The answer will help you choose the best setup for your particular requirements.
Fully active suspension (air ride or hydraulics) is the answer for getting the lowest lows. But, when it comes to entry-level mods, a subtle drop in ride height will be the most cost-effective option for better handling. Fitting slightly stiffer lowering springs will be enough to beef up your car by cutting down on body roll and keeping your chassis geometry at its optimum for as long as possible. In fact, in performance terms, that’s exactly what chassis dynamics is all about. A wheel alignment will then dial everything in and provide sharper handling and more stability under harsh braking.
If you’re after more adjustability, make the leap into uprated shock absorbers or even height-adjustable coilovers. The chassis options for most cars are quite literally endless.
Aftermarket Alloy Wheels
We don’t have to tell you that there are loads of alloy wheel manufacturers, and that’s a good thing for individuality. They really can make or break any project. So that’s the next step on our car modifications guide.
There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to alloys, not least all the different types that can cost you anything from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars or pounds. All the finer details we’ve covered in our extensive Guide To Alloy Wheels.
To start you off with the basics though, all cars have a certain stud/bolt pattern; known as Pitch Circle Diameter (PCD). The holes in your wheels have to match the holes, or studs, on your car in order to fit. These PCDs vary between cars, so you may see a 5×112 wheel on a Golf, and 4×108 on a Fiesta. This is the reason why all wheels don’t fit all cars.
There are other considerations for successful fitment, too. Such as the center bore (the hole in the middle) and the offset (the measurement of how much your wheels poke out from under the arches).
There’s also the age-old question of size. If you’re looking for larger diameter, an inch or two over standard will usually fit without arch mods and without upsetting the handling.
The last piece of advice we always give is not to skimp on your tires. Fitting more performance orientated rubber can make a huge difference to your car’s handling, too. These are great car mods and with the right upgrades, you’ll feel the benefit immediately.
As the only point of contact between your car and the road, there is no underestimating the importance of good quality tires. High-performance tires offer significant improvements in both handling and grip for your car compared to regular tires.
Specifically designed to provide better traction and cornering stability, choosing the right tires can really improve your car’s overall performance. By upgrading to high-performance road or track-ready rubber, you can also expect improved braking performance and quicker acceleration times, too.
Plus, performance tires are designed to cope better with the high temperatures and extra loads involved with enthusiastic driving, especially on track. They really should be at the top of your ‘must-do modification’ list.
This is where many start their journey into the car mods and it’s easy to see why; you’d have to be a rather depressed individual not to like music, right? Perhaps that’s why it seems like we’ve been tweaking car stereo systems here at FC since the day that Mozart packed his satchel and went for his first piano lesson.
In reality, all of the components in your standard sound system are upgradeable; everything from the speakers and the wiring to the head unit itself. These items are typically built to a tight budget by the car manufacturers, leaving them wide open for improvement. But, all this said, for all the first timers out there, what we’d recommend most is fitting a subwoofer.
Now, a subwoofer is basically just a big speaker, but what’s most important is that it’s the only type of speaker capable of reproducing the low frequency bass originally recorded on your music. It’s not about being loud enough to shake every window in a 3-mile radius… Well, it can be, but here we’re talking about getting decent sound quality and the ability to reproduce the entire music spectrum. As the vast majority of factory systems don’t come with a subwoofer, that means you’ll be missing a big part of your music.
Fitting a subwoofer, and the amplifier you’ll need to get that cone pumping, may sound daunting but it’s actually a straightforward job. Once you’ve completed that particular task, and you inevitably get the car audio bug, you can learn even more about sound systems in our full Car Speaker Tech Guide.
More stopping power means that you can get back on the gas quicker; that’s how fitting uprated brakes make your car real-world faster. As a result, performance brakes are a key aspect of car mods.
Modern braking systems are a three-part affair comprising of a caliper, a rotor (disc in the UK) and two pads on each corner of your car. When you hit the middle pedal, the caliper squeezes the brake pads against the rotor, creating the friction to slow you down and stop.
The point here is that upgrading any of these components will bag you better performance. From uprated pads constructed with different compounds designed to create more friction; to direct-fit rotors with surface treatments such as grooves and dimples to help dissipate heat during more spirited driving. Check out our full Performance Brake Guide and you’ll see that you can even throw the whole lot in the bin and opt for a BBK, or big brake kit, instead. With larger diameter rotors, bigger calipers and even more hardcore pads, these are the quickest way to the ultimate braking performance… but you’ll need to start saving. Never skimp on safety when it comes to car modifications.
Performance Air Filters
The most basic tuning mod, and arguably the easiest to fit at home, is the humble performance filter. These come in all shapes and sizes and range from direct replacement performance panel filters that fit in your factory airbox, right up to induction kits with cone filters that replace part or all of your standard intake system. What these all have in common though, is their ability to flow much more air than stock. It does that while still filtering out potentially harmful particulates. That’s why it’s always been a tuner’s go to when it comes to car modifications.
More air entering the engine means more burned fuel, creating a bigger bang in the cylinders and more power from the engine. The premise of all car tuning.
The best thing is that performance filters are available for the majority of cars out there and start from just $40. Interested? Of course you are, so have a look at our full guide to the science behind Performance Air Filters.
Bolt-on Performance Car Exhausts
You didn’t think we’d create a guide on car modifications without including the good old exhaust upgrade, did you? Technically speaking, a performance exhaust is a tuning modification designed to flow waste gasses out of your engine more efficiently. It does this while releasing a few extra horsepower and making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. That’s the science, and a lot of what you’ll find in our full-on Performance Exhaust Guide.
All that said though, on a very basic level, fitting a cost-friendly (and planet-friendly) cat back, bolt-on performance exhaust is as much about the look, the sound and the longevity as it is the tuning aspect.
For a start, most performance pipes are stainless steel, or titanium, which typically look far better than standard. These materials don’t rust, and unlike the standard item, will easily outlast the rest of your car.
Second, the larger bore and optimized design will not only give you a little more power, but you’ll get the deep performance grumble you’re bound to be looking for.
The only real complicated bit is that all exhausts are specific to each make, model and engine. This means you’ll need the correct one for your particular car. Order yours, bolt it on and live the dream. It’s one of the best car mods you can make. Be sure to check out who the best car exhaust brands are in 2023.
ECU Remaps and chip tuning
In this digital age, the truth is that a remap is the easiest way to extract more power from your car. Whether you’re running other tuning mods or not, the idea is always to optimize the setup for the conditions where and when you drive. That’s why it makes one of the best car modifications you can make.
Since the invention of fuel injection way back when, an ECU (Electronic Control Unit) controls all modern engines. This little computer module contains the map, otherwise known as the software, that controls engine parameters such as ignition timing, fueling and turbo boost.
Standard maps are set by the car manufacturer to cater for all the environmental conditions that most of us don’t need to worry about. Stuff like high altitude driving and extreme temperatures, along with low quality fuel and a lack of parts for servicing. Basically speaking, cars have to work in the 40DegC desert, as well as up a mountain in -40DegC conditions. So, the standard software is set accordingly.
A remap is a software tweak designed to optimize all these settings for maximum performance (and often better economy) for our relatively mild climate, all while keeping within safe engine parameters.
What’s even better nowadays, is that all cars since the early noughties come with a diagnostic (OBDII) port offering a direct link to the ECU. This is a handy way for a mapping specialist to adjust the software just by plugging in their computer. In some cases – and this all depends on the make and model – you can get up to 40% more power and torque from a remap with no other car mods. No wonder it’s so popular. In fact, it’s something of a no-brainer so check out our full Guide To Remapping.
We realize that the word aero can mean anything from putting on a splitter, to making aerodynamic tweaks that require a doctorate in engineering and an unhealthy obsession with bringing down lap times by a fraction of a second. But the basic idea is to either have significantly more bulbous arches to house wider wheel and tire combos with more grip; or to create loads more downforce to press your car to the floor and get around corners quicker. Except of course, it isn’t really, is it? Not unless you’re going racing, in which case follow our in-depth Aerodynamics Guide.
No, here in the real world most body styling is all about getting those racy looks regardless of the aerodynamics. The reason you see big spoilers and such on front wheel drive cars is less about downforce, and more because it looks so damn good.
The good news is that – for the more subtle items at least – bodywork car mods are easy to find and even easier to fit. Most splitters, spoilers bumpers will simply bolt or stick on, and there’s no reason why they can’t look classy, either. Nowadays, the old skool ‘universal’ jobs – and by that we mean universally guaranteed to fit nothing – have all but been surpassed by reputable manufacturers with well-fitting parts. And, what’s more, there’s a whole world of carbon fiber, Kevlar and posh gloss plastics to choose from, too. These styling changes are great car modifications and can be added for a reasonable price.
Imagine a world where you can get your hands on a big sticker and completely change the color of your car without having to go through the rigors of painting it? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Well, essentially a Vinyl Wrap is just that, a big sticker applied to your car’s exterior.
Legend has it that the ‘full’ wrap derives from the early ‘90s as a quick and easy way of changing the color of Berlin Taxis to the regulation beige. But, for the last couple of decades, it’s been more associated with the world of car mods, which is why we’re discussing it here in our guide to car mods. In fact, there’s no doubt you’ll have a vehicle wrap specialist local to you. Although wrapping is by no means an easy job, it is relatively cheap compared to a full respray.
When it comes to wraps, anything goes. If a straight color swap doesn’t tickle your pickle – even with all the different finishes – printable vinyl is available. The only limit to your creation is your imagination.
Be sure to check out our guide to the best car wrap brands in 2023.
You shouldn’t just focus on the exterior with your car modifications, besides, you spend most of your time inside of it. Swapping seats is perhaps one of the oldest mods of them all. Much like alloy wheels, you can look to fit posher seats from the same model higher up the performance hierarchy, and most of the time they’ll slot in nicely. If you’re looking for something different, the aftermarket is really where it’s at when it comes to making your mark on your interior.
From racecar-derived fixed back buckets to sports recliners that offer plenty of support and a slice of real word comfort, the aftermarket seat manufacturers can support you. Whether this is to freshen up your interior with classy stitching and in-your-face colors; or if it’s to keep you planted in your seat through the corners, the world is your oyster. And, if you’re worried about universal seats fitting your particular car, don’t. Aftermarket subframes make everything a simple, bolt-in DIY install, are also available for just about every common car out there.
For more on seats, and to find the best one for your needs, have a little look at our Guide To Seats.
Improve your car’s handling with the stiffer anti-roll bars (ARB) is a great way to bring all of your car mods together. ARBs work to reduce body roll, sharpen steering response, and improve stability during cornering. By upgrading your suspension with performance-specification anti-roll bars, you can have better control, grip and handling. Many aftermarket upgrades also offer levels of adjustment, allowing you to fine-tune the settings to suit your preferred handling characteristics.
Say goodbye to excessive body sway and hello to tighter, more responsive handling on the road. Upgrade your car’s suspension with anti-roll bars for a noticeable improvement in overall performance.
There’s no point in having loads of power if you can’t use it! Thankfully, there’s a simple way to increase your car’s traction and grip by fitting a limited-slip differential. By upgrading your car’s differential, you can improve cornering and acceleration, ensuring that power is distributed evenly for maximum traction. There are various options to choose from, with the most popular upgrades including ATB (automatic torque biasing) units and plated types. Each type has its own driving characteristics, but whichever one you choose, a limited-slip diff is a great way to achieve better handling, traction and control, giving you more confidence on the road.
Make Your Car Lighter
No, not you. Your car! The fastest way to undo all the hard work of your previous performance upgrades is to ask them to carry around a load of unnecessary bulk. Shedding excess weight will result in better acceleration and handling, allowing for a more responsive and agile driving experience. Additionally, shedding weight also leads to improved braking performance, ensuring better control and safety on the road.
And – here’s the best bit – because you’re not adding anything, this one can often be done for free! Free car mods are the best kind of modifications. Of course, replacing components with lightweight carbon fiber and composite alternatives will cost you. But just removing anything you don’t need such as any back seats, carpets, and even the stereo can save you a considerable amount of weight, and significantly improve performance as a result.