A Guide to Car Modifications
So, you want to get started in car modifications? By now you’ve probably trawled Instagram, Reddit, YouTube and Google trying to find clear answers on where you should start, and what you should (or shouldn’t) do.
Here at Keith Michaels, we’ve been insuring modified cars, from performance to JDM, for over 30 years, so we’d like to think we know a thing or two about car modifications. As fellow car enthusiasts ourselves, we love modified cars, both the ones we’ve worked on and our customers’.
In the following guide we’ll cover:
- What you need to modify a car
- The best mods to start with
- Being sensible and secure with your car once you’ve modified it
Please remember this is general, and not car specific advice. Some of the solutions we’ve suggested here might not work for you, but this should give you a start, and a good general approach to modifying your car.
Modified Car Insurance from Keith Michaels
If you’re finding it hard to get a decent quote for your modified car, look no further than Keith Michaels. We have 30 years’ experience arranging competitive modified car insurance for modified vehicles.
What You Need to Modify a Car
When it comes to modifying a car, it’s important that you have not just a car and parts, but plans, end goals and budgets.
If you just want to one and done your car mods, such as wheels, paint etc, then this guide may not be for you,
but for those who want to go all out, we’ve got the information you need.
So, what do you need to modify a car?
- A car.
Shocker. You’ll need a car that you want to turn into something, don’t just get a car because it was all that was available. We’ve written on 10 cars that are great to modify including Subaru Imprezas, Mazda MX5s and VW Lupos.
You’ll need normal tools like screwdrivers, but also car specific things like any locking wheel nut removal tool, torque wrenches etc.
- A plan.
Without a plan for what you want to do with your car, you could be wasting time on certain mods. You need to plan, as best you can, what you want to do with your car, and the next steps you want to take.
This is whether you want your mods to be for appearance or for performance (or both!)
- A budget.
This is more so your partner/parent/responsible adult in your life doesn’t go “why have you spent £4k on some new wheels?”, but also helps to make sure that you’re not losing too much money on mods that are going to ramp up your insurance cost and reduce your resale value.
1. Cars to Modify
Whether you’re about to buy a car to modify or have already got one ready to go, you need to make sure that it’s up to date on its MOT and give it a service. This makes sure that there’s no underlying problems before you add extraneous detail to it. For example, there could be a problem with the exhaust system, or with brake pads that need replacing, which then gives you a solid stepping-stone to start modification from.
As well as getting your car serviced, you should also do the basics, like replacing your oil, topping up the engine coolant etc. Basically, make sure that it’s at optimal working condition before you do anything, or you won’t be able to truly see the difference in performance or appearance. Also, if you start modifying with a broken car, you’ll be wasting money and time by adding in a performance air filter if your air intake itself is broken!
If you’re planning on DIYing your modification, you’ll need a space to store your car and tools to work on it with.
Don’t go out and buy a huge toolkit, get some essentials like an electric torque wrench, an adjustable screwdriver, a big bottle of DW40 (or similar) and an Allan key. If you haven’t got any of these, get some basics, and then buy as you go. No one needs a mechanic’s toolbox for small bits of work.
3. A Plan
You can’t really get a plan, but you will need to make one. If you’re unsure of what you want to do, then start by going to modified car shows and speaking to current owners, especially those of the car, or similar makes, that you have. They’ll be able to tell you what they did first, and why, as well as offer good advice on the best parts to get.
In your plan, think about your goals, your budget as well as timescale. No one wants to have a car sitting in their garage for six months and not doing anything. Your plan should help you commit to the project.
In modification, there’s two obvious goals: appearance and performance. For one to shine, there may be some loss to the other.
It’s best to set early on what your priority is, as this will enable you to plan what you want to do. For example, a car that you want to visually look a certain way will need to prioritise body kits and then move onto performance pieces to work around it and vice versa.
Also, think about how you want to use your modified car. Is the overall goal for it to be a show car, or do you want it to be a daily driver with some added pizzazz?
Set a budget for your mod project, or you’ll end up spending money unnecessarily. By budgeting, you also prevent yourself from making purchases that may detract from the overall end goal of your vehicle.
Whether this a monthly maximum spend or an overall project limit, this will ensure you look for maximum value out of every part you add, as well as not spending more than you’d need to.
What Modifications Are the Best to Start With?
When it comes to modifying your car, we all need to start somewhere. While it may be tempting to rip the car back to basics, let’s not. Start simple, hone your skills, and then go from there.
Here’s three modifications to start with that can help your car’s performance and provide an instant visual boost as well.
Wheels and Tyres
Two simple modifications are wheels and tyres. In part, you can mostly DIY these as well.
You’ll notice an immediate difference in performance, speed, braking etc when using a performance set of tyres. Where more of the modification element comes in here is the wheels, as you can increase the size, change to alloys, or design of the wheel, all which count as a modification, as they detract from the stock parts.
When choosing wheels, think about the width and overall diameter. If your wheel arch is already quite full, then a bigger wheel might not be the best idea. Most wheel arches, however, have plenty of room, and there’s always room for improvement.
With tyres, your focus should be surface area, as the more contact with the road, the better handling you’ll have. You can choose a wider wheel than you currently have, which will allow plenty of space for uprated brakes etc.
When it comes to wheels and tyres, there are some parts you can do yourself, like changing the entire wheel if it already comes with the tyre on. However, if you need to fit tyres to new wheels, going to a specialist tyre shop or a garage is the best idea. They’ll have machines that make the job so much quicker, balance the tyres for you and won’t cause damage to your shiny alloys.
Remember not to:
- Get wheels that are far too big for the wheel arch
- Forget to check the size of your tyre before you buy
Improving your suspension is both aesthetic and performance related. Performance suspension will lower the body roll, and who doesn’t love the look of a dropped car?
When choosing your performance suspension, check the existing type of suspension you have, and how much you want to change. There’s four ways you can change your suspension: coil overs, lowered springs, angle grinding the existing springs or removing them entirely. However, coil overs or lowered springs are the two best (and safest) options. You can either keep the factory shocks if they’re in good condition, or if you’re set on replacing them, then do, but it might cost you more than it’s worth at the minute.
You can install new suspension yourself, but you’ll need to check the type of suspension you have, as there might be expensive kit you need to purchase in order to compress the springs etc. If unsure, take it to a garage, who will be able to help.
Air filters are the easiest thing you can replace. Most people will need to replace the air filters at some point, as leaves, dead bugs and other debris can get it clogged up. However, there is some debate, as while they’re a simple change, the effect on performance isn’t necessarily that great.
The main benefit for changing an air filter is the noise, as you’ll get some of that glorious intake noise we all know and love. Changing your intake isn’t necessarily the best thing you can do, and it may well end up being a bad decision in terms of performance. If you pull in hot air by installing the wrong air filter, or add in a worse one without realising, it could be an error.
If you’re just changing your air filter, it’s a simple swap in and swap out change, and one that you can do in minutes, and should probably do regularly.
What Should You Replace vs Reuse When Modifying Cars?
When starting out, keep anything that’s in good shape. There’s no point stripping a car of everything if you’ve got road legal parts in good condition. Only change what you need to, or what you don’t like the look of.
It’s best to start small and see how the changes affect the handling or aesthetic for you. If you make too many changes, you won’t notice the difference between the two, and it won’t be worth it.
Looking After Your Modifications
Once you’ve done all this work to your car, you need to protect it. As well as getting regular MOTs and services, it may be worth keeping your car indoors, whether in a garage of your own or at a specialist car storage facility. Obviously, if you’re modifying your daily driver, then this doesn’t apply.
The second thing you should do is get modified car insurance. High street insurers will often charge you through the roof as soon as you even utter the word modified, which is why speaking to a specialist car insurance company like Keith Michaels is the best idea. A specialist car insurance company will charge you fairly for the modifications you make and are always on hand to speak to about any new changes you’ve made, including whether it will incur any extra cost. Specialist insurers are car lovers themselves, so you know you’re speaking to a like-minded person when you pick up the phone.