We, as Jalops, all love to modify our cars. But long tube headers and a set of pizza cutters for the front wheels aren’t exactly cheap, and they’re well out of the reach of most everyday enthusiasts. So, for the sake of everyone on a budget, we asked you yesterday for the best bang-for-your-buck car mods to make a new (or new-to-you) car truly yours. You turned in a ton of answers, all of which are worth reading, but we picked the top ten to get your next budget build started.
Good Floor Mats
Hate to say it cause the owner is a political douche, but if you live anywhere other than Southern California, WeatherTech mats are the best thing you can buy for your car once you get it home from the dealership.
No one likes a messy interior. High-quality floor mats, built specifically for your vehicle, help keep your carpet in nice shape during the seasons of snow, salt, sand, or mud. Even if you are in Southern California, they won’t be a bad investment.
A New Head Unit
Tires is/are obviously the #1 choice.
Number 2 would be a good stereo, at least in the old days. Now car mfrs are making sure you can’t upgrade your factory stereo because they integrate too many things into it.
Moreover, they can put it all into a cheap touchscreen instead of pricy knobs and buttons, and then “upsell” it as a tech feature. The end result is you get tired of your factory stereo after three years and buy a new car to get your stereo upgrade. Win-win for the car mfr. Lose-lose for the consumer.
We can’t all own cars with an exhaust good enough to never need a radio. Sometimes, you just need to bump K/DA at obscene volumes and let the bass reverberate through your chest, instantly killing any and all bad vibes present. But if your head unit doesn’t play nice with your phone, you aren’t out of luck — just swap it out.
A Short Shift Kit
Most modern cable actuated manual transmissions can have a short shift adapter and metal bushings installed onto the shift plate for like $100 and an hour. This was the single best mod for my Fiesta ST.
Otherwise it’s wheels and tires but everyone is going to say that.
A short shifter may not make your car faster, but it will almost definitely make it feel better. Even on cars with a longitudinal engine and transmission layout, with no real linkage to speak of, a good short shift kit can make the act of rowing your own gears feel better than it ever has.
Add Five Horsepower Fast
One might think stickers would slow a car down, by adding weight and impacting the finely-tuned aerodynamics of your 2003 Toyota Echo. Contrary to popular belief, however, stickers are a useful performance mod. By distracting your opponents with a good sticker, you can make sure they never pass you — making your Echo the fastest thing on the track.
Mod the driver. Get yourself some proper driving lessons. Whether it’s defensive driving, performance driving, professional driving, modifying your skills will do more for your driving experience.
Why mod a car when you can mod a driver? Getting practice behind the wheel, particularly in whatever form of driving you’re looking to do, will serve you better than anything else. Find a drift event, an HPDE, a rally school, or even just a big dune to send it off of — and, if you pick the last one, send us the video.
Refresh The Suspension
Fresh Suspension Bits
New springs and struts may be expensive, but older cars can massively benefit from upgrades to tired, worn-out bushings. There are so many malleable rubber bits in your suspension, and so many of them are probably ancient and aching. Moving to fresh bushings, or even a polyurethane upgrade, will make your car feel like new again.
Discount Weight Reduction
Going drag racing? Store the spare tire in the garage till you get back.
Result: at least 2/10th of a sec lower ET.
The simplest way to reduce your car’s weight for a track day is to just have less stuff in it. I know, it seems like highly advanced physics or even magic, but the core concept is simple: Things have weight. Fewer things, less weight. Best of all, it’s a totally free mod — no better deal than that.
Really depends on if that “bang for the buck” is for show or for go...
Tires is definitely the right answer for track times...
Burble tune is the right answer for car shows based on my experiences lol
We all love it when our engines snap, crackle, and pop. The trend is so prevalent now that many modern performance cars offer a factory burble tune, like the much-lauded exhaust on the Hyundai Veloster N.
Stiff Sway Bars
For around town, I’ve always liked the stiffer sway bars. I’ve found they can help diminish understeer and increase chances of oversteer when going hard. Usually cheaper than wheels and/or tires and easy to install in around an hour.
Does anyone really like body roll? Sway bars are much cheaper than a full coilover suspension but still allow you to tuns the balance between front and rear roll and grip. If you want more understeer, more oversteer, or just a more balanced chassis, sway bars can find you that — for just a few hundred bucks, usually.
A DIY Tuner
Tires can make a huge difference, but if you’re just using the car for commuting and aren’t doing any auto-cross or track driving, the OEM tires are probably fine.
My vote is for an ECU tuner on a forced induction car. When I had my Mazdaspeed6, the Cobb AccessPort was the single best modification that made the biggest difference to my daily enjoyment of the car. The basic stage1/93 octane map for an otherwise unmodified vehicle made a big difference, and then they had off-the-shelf maps as you modified your car to unlock its true potential, plus you can get it custom tuned based on your specific set up and goals. You can also check and clear trouble codes, data log the engine to diagnose problems, live monitor sensors and detune to safely run on lower octane gas.
You may not be able to make your own tunes without a lot of software and a dyno, but applying pre-made tunes to your car’s ECU is generally pretty easy. Something like a Cobb Accessport or OpenFlash tablet, that can save downloaded tunes and re-flash the car as often as you like, can allow you to change your power, fuel economy, or even throttle and transmission response on the fly.