Most Popular Car Modifications12 February 2021
We must stipulate from the start, that any changes that you make to your vehicle that alters it from the factory state must be declared to your insurer and lease provider or finance company. The terms of your agreement may prohibit modifications, so it is very important to check first.
Declaration of modifications does not make these changes legal if they fall outside of current legislation in the UK, fitting a decat and straight pipe then telling your insurance does not suddenly make these changes road legal. Equally, you should only modify a vehicle that you own.
Lips, Spilters, Skirts and Spoilers.
Rear hatch and boot spoilers have always been the emphasis of a sporty model or variant and have become more mainstream since the '90s, when Alfa Romeo added adjustable items to its road-going 155, allowing their homologation into racing, with other manufacturers following suit.
Big spoilers have their place and suit certain cars, but we've seen an increase in smaller boot lips and extra lips added to factory spoilers, giving cars that something extra without standing out or looking like you're about to enter a WRC stage.
Lip kits, not the ones full of synthetic fillers that make you pout like a duck-billed platypus, but the ones seen on JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) drift cars and modified streetcars, have slowly worked their way across from the east to be on-trend in Europe, they look great and add a certain aggression to a what would otherwise be a mundane family-car.
The extra addition to the bumpers and sides would give an overall lower look to the vehicle, whilst this trend is massive with retro JDM enthusiasts. The trend for newer models or European brands are more subtle additional front lips, under the factory spoiler, or side skirt extensions, and a modified or extended rear diffuser added to the bumper. These additional items normally come in carbon, or carbon effect, gloss black or textured. They can be fitted without the help of a body shop, at home, with some simple tools and common sense.
ECU Flashing, Remapping and Chip Tuning.
Cars are built to meet a certain criteria, which can be usable in all conditions and around the world within safe workable limits and to fulfil their warranty periods, leaving room for possible special editions and hotter versions.
So, when the ECU (engine control unit) is interrogated, vehicle tuners can bring what's been left on the table to the forefront and give more power to a vehicle. A good tuner will not just up the boost pressure and turn the fuelling up, they'll look at the full engine map (This is the software which tells the injectors when to pulse and the sparkplugs to ignite, depending on conditions and load applied to the engine), curating a vehicle-specific map based on load, driving style and other modifications.
Turbocharged engines see the greatest performance increases, and supercharged units see some increase too; whereas naturally aspirated engines see little gain in power but do benefit from smoother power-curves.
This modification may be unseen, you should still inform your insurance company as failure to do so may invalidate your cover.
Apart from fitting a body kit, changing the suspension is one of the biggest visual changes that can be made to a vehicle, be it lowering or lifting.
From the factory, just like the engine, the vehicle suspension needs a bit of compliance, allowing a smoother ride when bumping up curbs and soaking up the potholes. This flex doesn't allow the suspension to be as sharp as it could be, so by replacing them with polyurethane bushes, they give some compliance whilst sharpen up the handling to give a sportier ride.
Reducing the vehicles ride height to give it a more sporty look can be done by fitting performance springs to factory shock-absorbers or fitting a matched set of shocks and springs. Drops can be subtle as 20mm, just giving the car something extra and shifting up the ride, or more drastic: as much as 60mm, completely reducing the tyre-to-wheel arch gap.
The next stage would be coilover suspension, allowing the user to fully dial in the ride height. Some have an extra adjustment for rebound and bump rate, giving the driver a fully tailored ride.
Beyond this, is a suspension system called Air Ride, where the suspension spring is replaced with an Air Spring. These are rubber bellow type bags that adjust the ride height of the vehicle by altering the air pressure. They've been successfully fitted to vehicles by manufacturers for years; Land Rovers, BMW and Mercedes estates have made use of the technology, allowing occupant entry and self-levelling when heavy loads or trailers are attached. These factory systems have been adapted for aftermarket use, allowing owners to fully slam their rides!
Lifting gives the vehicle more grown clearance, for off-road use or when fitting bigger gripper tyres for off-road use. It's more of an SUV/4x4 type modification and whilst lowering is measured in mm, lifts seem to be in inches, with a 2-inch lift normally the commonplace before further modifications are needed to brake pipes and steering joints, to accommodate more lift.
Brakes, Wheels and Tyres.
Tyres are a simple modification: you ask the tyre shop to swap them for something stickier for summer use or track days, and something grippier for winter driving. Combined with a wheel upgrade and suspension, the right tyre can bring the car alive.
Improving the friction material is another quick and simple modification, a more aggressive pad will bite the disc harder, giving better feel and increased stopping purchase, combined with a grooved or cross-drilled disc (rotor) to allow for increased cooling and brake-dust clearing, reducing brake fade and increased braking ability. Grippier pads generally mean more dust, so you'll be cleaning the wheels more often.
A big brake-kit can be fitted to most models, either going the OEM+ route and using items for more performance models or bigger models in the brand's range, which would require more braking power due to their size, or the aftermarket route. Increasing the size of the calliper and disc might require bigger wheels to fit them inside.
Bigger diameter and wider wheels not only make the car look sportier and better, it can give increased grip levels with the right tyres and a feeling of sure-footedness. Wide wheels with skinny profile tyres can be a complete nightmare in wintery/snowy conditions, so fitting winter tyres to your original wheels is a sensible choice here.
Air Filter and Exhausts.
These protect the engine from ingesting dirt and particles which can damage the internals of the engine. By design, from the factory they're a compromise of protection, performance and longevity, so replacing the air filter with a performance model can free up airflow and some say give increased performance. If anything, they allow the engine to breathe easier and increase throttle response. There are loads of different solutions and technologies on the market, but mounting a cold air intake so low down, which can suck up water, is a sure-fire way to destroy your engine.
Instant results after fitting, aesthetically with a different tailpipe style or noise level, but some do also offer a performance increase, with the addition of a sports catalyst. It's taken a lot of development of the exhaust to fit the vehicle and make it perform as it should, so choosing your replacement from a reputable manufacturer or a custom exhaust are normally a better option than an eBay special.
Quick note on this, legislation states vehicle exhaust emissions must exit the vehicle via a silencer. Removing all the silencers is illegal and an MOT failure. The Catalytic Converter and any resonator boxes are not silencers, so de-catting and straight piping is a no-no. Resonator boxes can be removed, and catalytic converters are needed to pass an MOT.
Lights and Number Plates
Replacing the halogen headlight bulbs with uprated items is a popular modification, increased light output. Further changes to bulbs could be replacing the interior items with LEDs, giving a more modern feel to older cars.
Just replacing the dealer-supplied number plates with some cleaner-looking ones, or 3D and 4D items gives an aesthetic lift.
Coming soon: the law on 3D and 4D plates are changing – something to keep a watchful eye on.
So, we've listed all the most popular modifications, picking and choosing the best for your car could really enhance the drive or looks, but always notify your insurance company of any changes, only conduct modification yourself if you’re trained or confident, conduct safe modifications, torque nuts and bolts to spec, FT isn't good enough!
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