Car modifications are an expression of uniqueness. It’s your way of essentially projecting your personality onto your car, and with that in mind it’s fair to say that anything’s fair game. Your ride, your rules.
You should always mod your car according to your own taste and to make yourself happy, rather than in the hope of pleasing others on the showground or to harvest Insta likes. Each to their own, your car is an extension of yourself.
That said, a line has to be drawn somewhere. There are some people out there who frankly haven’t a clue, and so we’ve had to draw up this list of worst car modifications in order to stem the madness. When it comes to modifying there are technically no wrong answers, sure, but… well, take a look through the following modding sins and you’ll see what we mean. This stuff isn’t right.
Please, just make it stop. Pop-and-bang maps, crackle maps, popcorn maps, call them what you will… when they first appeared in the scene a few years back, they were quite entertaining. An interesting novelty. See, cars that make loud noises are generally considered cool, and a few pops and crackles on the overrun can be a very pleasing thing if you’re watching a race car or rally car blasting past. But that’s the point – the aggressive nature of a race engine is what naturally causes these noises to happen, it’s a side-effect of a hardcore performance setup. If you’ve taken your regular car to the local mappers so it can be plugged into a computer and programmed to go BANG BANG BANG every time you lift off the throttle, that’s a very different thing.
When pop-and-bang maps were new and interesting, and only found on the odd show car, they were cool. Now that our urban and suburban areas are crammed with throngs of cars going BANG BANG BANG all the time on the daily commute, it’s just a nuisance. We’ve had our fun with it, but now it’s time to stop. It kicks off our list of the worst car modifications, and rightly so!
If you’d like to read more about these maps and how they affect your car, check out our pop and bang map guide.
Back in 1966, something magical happened in the automotive world. The Lamborghini Miura appeared on the scene, and it was like no car the world had ever seen before. There were no supercars before the Miura, the term didn’t even exist – this was the car that started it all.
Its mid-mounted V12 flew in the face of what Enzo Ferrari thought about where an engine should go, and the ingenious layout of the transverse engine with the gearbox in the sump inspired Alec Issigonis in his design of the Mini. And above all else, the Miura was achingly pretty, resplendent in fine and artistic detailing, the crowning glory being the elegant and delicate finned eyelashes above the doe-like headlights.
But your Fiat 500 is not a Lamborghini Miura. Your Fiat 500 is a Fiat 500. And when you glue a set of big plastic eyelashes that you bought from the local auto store onto your headlights, you’re not channelling a line of iconic design back to stylish 1960s Italy. You’re just making your cheap vehicle look silly.
Too much bass
Big audio systems are coming back, there’s no doubt about it. Back in the heyday of extreme modding in the ’90s and ’00s, you couldn’t move on the showground or seafront for incredible audio builds – it was very much the thing to stuff your cabin with custom fiberglass enclosures housing as many speakers, subs and amps as would physically fit in there. (Plus TVs and PlayStations and whatever else you could find in your living room. Lava lamps? Plasma globes? It happened.)
All of this stuff is coming back into fashion, which we’re very pleased about as it’s awesome when it’s done well. But what we’re not so pleased about is the resurgence of crummy ‘installs’ that are all about that bass… and nothing else. We’re talking stock head unit, stock speakers, couple of massive subs in the boot in an unfixed enclosure. There’s no fidelity, no detail, just dumb rasping bass and comical vibration. That’s not good. That’s obnoxious.
Looking for the right advice when it comes to sound? Be sure to check out the best car subwoofers here.
Powered by fairy dust
Stickers and graphics are as old as the automobile itself. The very earliest motor vehicles found themselves being sign written to advertise the businesses they served, and this old-school typography has transcended the generations as something perennially and timelessly cool. Today’s aircooled VW scene is a rich hunting ground for 1950s and ’60s buses with original period signwriting still in place. And of course there’s the whole artful genre of motorsport, whereby sponsor logos were combined with pretty designs and attractive colour schemes to create beautiful and desirable liveries. JPS, Gulf, Martini, Castrol, Jägermeister, the list goes on.
But none of that has anything to do with the revolting ‘Powered by fairy dust’ sticker that fell out of your Christmas cracker. You shouldn’t have stuck that on your car. You should have thrown it in the bin, hence why we’ve had to include it on our list of the worst car modifications.
The wrong badges
Go to any car park, any high street, anywhere cars gather or pass through in number, and you’ll be guaranteed to see a non-M BMW with a spurious M badge glued to it. More often than not it’ll be next to the original badge (say, 320d) which overtly proves it isn’t an M car. And don’t get us started on the people who stick them to X5s. An MX5 is an entirely different type of vehicle.
This doesn’t just apply to BMW owners. We see Type R badges on base-model Civics, RS logos on 3-cylinder Fiestas, AMG emblems on any old diesel Merc. There’s no excuse for it. Stop pretending, it looks desperate, and is certified as one of the worst car modifications.
Chrome or gold wraps
We love a good vinyl wrap. Wrap technology has moved on so much in recent years that you can achieve some really incredible stuff, with a whole world of colors and textures joined by the ability to design an infinite number of custom liveries and patterns and designs.
A bad wrap, however, is not where you want to be. We won’t even bother lampooning the default-option matte/satin black that so many people go for on otherwise standard cars (top tip, though: matte black is what we used to use back in the day to cheaply disguise a car with terrible bodywork). No, the worst offenders are the super-shiny chrome or gold wraps that you occasionally see, usually on expensive cars whose owners should know better. Chrome wraps basically turn your car into a big mirror, so you lose all sense of the car’s shape and design. And gold wraps – you know that really yellowy gold like you’d find on a cheap watch – are just the worst. There is no better way to say ‘I have no taste’.
Looking for inspiration? Be sure to visit our guide to the best car wraps.
There are many ways in which a car can make a statement. A well-chosen spec indicates an owner of taste and discernment. A racy aesthetic suggests an owner with high-octane proclivities. An impeccably detailed machine tells you a lot about the driver’s pride in their ride.
When it comes to rim protectors, however, the statement you’re basically making is ‘I can’t park’. You know what we’re talking about, those plastic hoops you affix to the rims of your wheels to protect them from curb damage. And while logic would dictate that such things should be designed to blend in, perhaps finished in black or grey or silver, they’re actually sold in a whole variety of bright and vivid colors, in order to draw maximum attention to themselves and ensure that everybody knows you’re rubbish at parking.
Sure, fit them if you want, it’s your car. We’re just saying – it’s probably less embarrassing to have curbed wheels than it is to have big bits of plastic telling everyone that curbing is inevitable for you. It rightfully belongs on this list of worst car modifications.
Vents, apertures and assorted orifices are there to do a job. This has been true since the dawn of motoring and it’s something that’s gradually evolved over time into a fusion of form and function. They might be there to draw cool air in, or to allow hot air out, or to direct air in specific ways across the bodywork for aerodynamic purposes. Whichever of these functions they’re there to perform, the constant throughout all of them is air.
Which is why fake vents are so stupid, and one of the worst car modifications you can make. Yes, bonnet vents on some cars look very cool indeed, which is why base model Escort owners always want RS Turbo vents, and everybody in the early 2000s wanted to graft in the bonnet vent from a Sunny GTi-R or a Ferrari F50. But there’s absolutely no excuse for fake stick-on vents. The first thing anybody will do is look closer at it to see if they can see through it, and if they can’t they’ll be casting vicious (and most likely well-deserved) judgments over your sense of taste. Either commit or don’t.
Too many stickers
We’re returning to the subject of stickers here when it comes to the worst car modifications, because such things are a delicate balance. For a lot of people, the temptation is to follow the Oscar Wilde approach, ‘nothing succeeds like excess’, but it’s also worth bearing in mind what Shakespeare had to say about brevity being the soul of wit. Choose carefully and choose well, don’t just stick a hundred stickers on your back window, because no individual one will stand out. Are all of these pithy joke stickers going to be funny after the hundredth reading? Do all of these brands deserve the free advertising you’re giving them? Just choose a select round-up of logos or slogans that actually mean something to you.
Oh, and definitely don’t stick one on that says ‘I’m not drunk, I’m avoiding potholes’. The tacit implication is that you probably are drunk, and no-one wants that, least of all the local constabulary.
Wrong offset wheels
It’s fair to say that fitment has become a bit of a cult thing these days. Gone are the days when you could just Carlos Fandango any old wide wheels on your car. These days it’s probable that the company you’re buying your aftermarket wheels from will be happy to help you with matters relating to widths and offsets and what-have-you to get everything fitting neatly.
You don’t want them too far out, and you certainly don’t want them too far in. But perhaps the worst thing you can do is to pick an offset that’s just slightly wrong… if it’s belligerently wrong then at least you can pretend you did it on purpose, but if the wheels you bought on eBay solely because they had the correct PCD are poking out just a couple of mill beyond the arches in a not-cool way, it’s going to trigger everyone’s fitment radar. Slightly wrong is a really bad type of wrong, which is why it’s one of the worst car modifications.
Why trust our opinion on car modifications?
Fast Car has been covering all things modified cars since the mid-1980s. We’ve featured countless number of cars, reported on modifying trends, covered news, and written in-depth tuning and modifying guides for as long as we can remember. Our collective team is made up of writers from all over the world, including the US, Japan and the UK, all of whom have been passionate about modifying cars since they could legally drive. In that time, we’ve all made mistakes when modifying cars, choosing wrong parts, or in other words, ruining cars… So we’re well placed when it comes to choosing the worst car modifications.