So maybe you don’t drive a Maybach, but you still hold a certain amount of affection for your car and you wouldn’t mind splurging on a little mid-cycle update for your ol’ DD. Unfortunately, the economy has you pinching pennies ’til they scream and there just isn’t room in your budget right now for a trip to JDM. So what’s a cash-strapped tuner to do? Simple: check out my list of 5 easy ways to modify your car on the cheap, and when you’re done, don’t forget to hit up the comment box and explain in detail exactly how utterly ignorant I am of anything even remotely related to the automotive industry.
1. Invest In A Decent Sound System
Does the glove box start to rattle once you hit 45mph? Do those chintzy plastic wheel covers the size of Dixie plates that came stock with the car have a tendency to “clack” against the wheel? Did you install a new driver’s side sun visor the other day and accidentally screw up the wire splicing so that the door ajar alarm won’t shut off even when the vehicle is in constant, continuous motion? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you should consider investing in a good sound system. There’s nothing more soothing than the soulful crooning of Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash, especially when it’s successfully drowning out the sound of a minor mechanical problem that probably won’t develop into a significant safety risk until at least Track 5.
2. Decorate With Bumper Stickers
Your car is in pretty decent condition, except for this one tiny scratch on the bumper. It’s been there since you bought it, but you scored such a great deal on the ride you were able to overlook it for the first few months. It’s really starting to bug you now though, and you want to do something to fix it but you don’t want to shell out $100+ for a new paint job. The solution? A bumper sticker. You’re laughing because that’s so Clampetts-head-to-Beverly it’s ridiculous, but what other options have you got here, Jethro? You could paint it yourself, but it’s a 10 year old car and has spent every single one of those 10 years parked out on the rolling fields of tarmac, soaking up the nice hot sun. Since the paint isn’t as bright as it was 10 years ago, it’s not going to be as bright as the paint that you’ll get out of the touch-up bottle either. So sure, you could paint it yourself, but unless you’ve got the technical expertise (and tools, and money) to do it correctly, it’s just going to wind up looking like your girlfriend tried to fix it with nail polish before you noticed.
Now of course, the bumper sticker solution is all well and good for the rear bumper, but what about the front bumper? Won’t an “FM 99 WROX” look suspiciously out of place on the front fascia? Yes, it will, which is why when attempting to camouflage a blemish on the front of your car, you must be significantly more discriminatory in your sticker selection. If you live or work in an area that requires all vehicles display some type of exterior decal in order to park in a certain area, I would recommend affixing that decal over the scratch. Decal is window-mount only? That’s alright, how about turning your car into a fleet vehicle? Adhesive numbers are easy to pick up at any local auto parts store, and depending on how big the scratch is, your car could be anything from fleet vehicle #1 to fleet vehicle #3255.
3. Join a Club
So you drove past the local high school the other day and you realized that the parking lot was full of the same type of car that you yourself own. When you realized this, you were immediately upset because unlike Totally Tiffany with her parents’ old Volvo wagon, you’re a Volvo enthusiast, you actually want to be driving your ’96 850 T5 R. You want to distinguish yourself from the hordes of high school students that seem in danger of swallowing up the late ’80’s-mid ’90’s Volvo market, but you aren’t ready to make any external modifications to your car yet, you want to get what’s under the hood taken care of first. Well don’t panic, you don’t have to suddenly go out and blow a huge wad (snicker) of cash on some cheap body kit – just join a club. Find a community of like-minded individuals who share the same enthusiasm you do for your particular car model, and make sure they have an official club window decal. The decal is very important as it will immediately set you apart from Jimmy Jailbait in his mom’s beat up 960 Wagon, so as soon as you get your official membership packet and sticker in the mail, affix that bad boy to your rear window. Once you’ve done that, voilà, you are no longer some young urban professional in a beat up car – you’re a young urban professional in a beat up car whose proud of it.
4. Get Your Car Washed
No, I don’t mean give it a quick rinse with your garden hose and the industrial-strength gallon of Brand X auto soap you bought at Costco, I mean have your car professionally detailed. It might seem like an absurd expense to spare on car that is probably only worth about three, maybe four g’s, tops, but it’s worth it. You’d be amazed by the restorative power of a good thorough cleaning, and you’ll probably even discover that those chips you dismissed as inevitable casualties of the Shopping Cart War will be buffed right out. A decent, full-service wash-and-wax will probably run you somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 (excluding the tip), and while that might deplete your allotment of beer money for the next two weeks, you should be able to get a least a few solid months of pristine shine (as well as recover 3-4 years of youth to the exterior paint) with one solid cleaning. Plus, ask any cop which car he’s more inclined to pull over: a dirty ’95 Ford Escort with a sagging headliner and rust spots that just screams “I live in my parents’ basement and sell pot to middle school kids”, or a shiny, well-maintenanced ’95 Ford Escort that appears to belong to a responsible, clean-cut citizen attempting to make the best of his current, less-than-desirable financial situation?
5. Buy An Antenna Topper
You know those little decorations that some people stick on top of their radio antenna? I’m sure you’ve seen one, there’s a federal statute that requires every 5th motorist to display either a Mickey Mouse ears or Wal-Mart Smiley, violation of which is punishable by death. They’re ugly, useless accessories that seem to irritate damn near everybody for no apparent reason, and the only time you’ll ever hear them mentioned with any sort of positive connotation is when someone says something like, “I saw this car with one of those mother [redacted] Disney antenna toppers on the interstate today, I ran it into the concrete guardrail.” So if antenna balls are the scourge of wheeled humanity, why would you want to own one? Because once fellow motorists get a load of the [insert professional football team of your choice here] perched atop your radio antenna, they’ll be so consumed with unadulterated hate they won’t even notice the total fartcan the antenna is actually attached to.