I’m a pretty easygoing guy, and I’m generally not one to lecture on wrong versus right, especially when it comes to issues of style. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and nothing says that louder than the car you drive, how you treat it and how you customize it. There are a few sins I can’t forgive, because everytime I see them it’s like nails across a chalkboard inside my head. Please, people, for the love of God, don’t do any of the following to your car.
Cheap Tires On High End Sports Cars
Nothing says “I’m a poser who really wanted a Camry, but my wife insisted on this damn Corvette Z06” more than no-name tires on a late model sports car. If you’ve got the coin to drop on a ‘Vette, or a Porsche, or anything aimed at above average acceleration, braking and handling, don’t cheap out on tires. Buy name brand tires from a reputable manufacturer like Bridgestone, Yokohama, BF Goodrich, Goodyear, Pirelli, et cetera. Cheap tires not only limit the car’s performance; they positively identify you as someone who bought the car only to look cool. They’re a clear indication that you know nothing about driving and rarely exceed the speed limit.
Here’s one automotive fashion statement that I was glad to see die an early death. Why would you possibly want to double the weight of a car’s wheels? Do you like increased stopping distances, slower acceleration and worse handling? Do you like driving a car whose wheels feel perpetually out of balance? Maybe if I was smoking chronic and sucking down a few 40s (or some gin & juice) I’d get it. Since I actually like driving, it just escapes me.
Regular Gas In ‘Premium Only’ Cars
There’s a reason, and a good one, that your manufacturer tells you what level of gasoline to use. Yes, you CAN use regular gasoline in a car designed for premium, but why would you want to? It reduces performance (since engine timing must be retarded to compensate for reduced octane levels), reduces MPG and risks engine damage if your knock sensor isn’t working. I want all the performance I can get out of a motor, and you can’t get that by reducing octane below what the manufacturer recommends. Don’t buy the car unless you can afford the gasoline it’s supposed to use; we’re only talking about fifty cents more per tankful, people.
Ignoring Oil Changes
Regular oil changes (at 3,000 mile or six month intervals) are the best way to ensure your motor lasts a long, long time. I’ve seen motors in new cars put a connecting rod through the block, because the owner didn’t know they still had to change the oil. This is basic stuff, people – if you can turn a wrench, you can change your own oil in an hour or less. Not comfortable doing it yourself? Take your car to a reputable garage instead of a “quick lube” place. There’s a reason that those guys are the cheapest in town.
Portholes, Fake Badges, And Other Farkles
Portholes were cool on vintage Buicks, just like STi badges are cool on real STis, Type R badges are cool on real Integra Type Rs, and BMW M badges are cool on real M series cars. If your car didn’t come with it from the factory, don’t add it.
On the other hand, I’m all for shaving badges and making your Dinan supercharged and nitrous injected M3 look like a simple 328i. Q ships (Google it if you don’t know the meaning) are inherently cool; poseur cars are not.
Steering Wheel Covers
Not to brag, but I’m a pretty confident guy. It takes quite a bit to get me rattled, and I’m pretty comfortable in my ability to deal with whatever fate has in store for me. Still, few things send chills up my spine and trigger my flight reflex quicker than a leopard skin or fleece steering wheel cover. Beware, folks, because it says the driver is unpredictable and is far more concerned with applying lip gloss, drinking their mochachino and eating their triple bacon cheeseburger than they are with driving. Like a springbok who spots a lion on the African plain, a steering wheel cover is your signal to get the hell out of Dodge, and do it quickly.
Rear Wings On FWD Cars
Mike already covered this, so I’ll keep it short: don’t do it. Less traction over your drive wheels, at high speed, in a corner is never a good thing. Trust me on this.
Bad Body Kits
Well designed body kits cost good money. They’re made to fit specific years, makes and models and offer tangible benefits such as increased downforce. Generally speaking, you won’t find them on eBay for $100.
If you opt for a cheap body kit, chances are good it was designed to fit more than one make, model or year. Chances are even better that all the Bondo your local auto parts store has in stock still won’t make it fit properly, or look good. Or eliminate that annoying whistle you get at any speed above 30 mph.
Put the money you would have wasted on a body kit into something that increases your car’s performance, like tires and wheels, stiffer springs, thicker sway bars, better struts or intake / exhaust parts. None of these require Bondo, and all of them make your car go faster (something a cheap body kit won’t do).
Grapefruit Launcher Exhausts
I’m not slamming aftermarket exhausts, as long as they produce tangible benefits without creating too much noise. Somewhere along the line, however, low buck tuners got the idea that “bigger is always better” and started producing exhausts with ridiculous diameters and obnoxious, bleating tones. There is a science behind creating horsepower, and an unrestricted exhaust will create top end power at the expense of low end and midrange power. This is fine for use on a racetrack, but not so good for use on the street.
Also, ask yourself this: If the exhaust pipe diameter is an inch and a quarter from the manifold through the (stock) catalyst and into your new exhaust with a six inch diameter tip, how much of a gain are you really going to see?
I don’t know why this trend, like vinyl roofs, refuses to die a quiet death. Nothing says “cheesy” quite as loudly or effectively as a gold emblem on a car. It screams, “I want you to notice that I’m driving a Cadillac / Camry / Geo Metro that’s DIFFERENT. Just like everybody elses.”
One of these days I’m going to start a campaign to rid the world of gold emblems once and for all. Under cover of night, our shock troops will set out with rolls of dental floss (to shave the emblems), cans of silver spray paint and bottles of contact cement to re-affix the properly colored emblems. I’m counting on an army of volunteers, because we have so much tackiness and so little time.