The wonderful thing about cars is that they can act as blank canvasses for their owners’ imagination to run wild. Car tuning is probably the most lucrative offshoot of the automobile industry, raking in millions of dollars each year.
If you’re new to the idea of modifying your car, you might be surprised to learn that some common enhancements can land you on the wrong side of the law, leading to you wasting a ton of cash if you’re not careful. A prime example of illegal modifications is the oft-touted Nitrous Oxide System, or NOS. Popularized by pretty much every street racing movie under the sun, NOS is a cheap way to add some extra ‘oomph’ to your car’s power. While it is legal to drive a car that has a NOS system installed, the system needs to be disabled for the car to be considered road-worthy. In short, you’re better off not sinking money into something you’ll end up being fined for if you actually use it. Another example of illegal modifications are underbody neon lights, which legislators claim can be a distraction to other road-users and have therefore banned the use of supplementary lights outright.
So, if some of the most popular enhancements are actually considered illegal, and therefore not worth the hassle of investing in if you want a car that you can still drive on the streets, what can a petrolhead invest in? Thankfully, there still are quite a few modifications that are still legal for street cars.
- Tires: A good set of high-performance tires will help every single aspect of your car’s performance, from accelerating to braking to cornering. If you live in an area where you have a prolonged winter, it’s completely reasonable to have two sets of tires and wheels: one for the summer and one for the winter, each with rubber compounds optimized to their respective temperature ranges. Seriously, tires are that important, and you can get away with changing them up as often as you like.
- Racing Seats: While traditional racing harnesses are not legal for street use since emergency response teams are unfamiliar with how they work, which can affect their ability to get you out of the car in the event of a crash, investing in a sports seat can actually be a very savvy move. They can be much more comfortable and supportive than your car’s stock seat and can even help improve your driving position. Just make sure you can use your factory seatbelt and that installation won’t disable any of your car’s airbags.
- Limited Slip Differentials: Investing in quality LSD will increase your car’s handling both on- and off-road, making it a sound investment consideration.
- Brake pads and stainless-steel brake lines: Getting a set of brake pads made for the type of driving you do, however, will impact the feel of your brakes quite a bit. While you’re in there, change your car’s rubber brake lines, which can flex and make the pedal seem numb under hard braking. By using a stainless-steel set, the rigidity of the walls means you’ll see a marked improvement in the way your brakes communicate with your foot.
- A quick-ratio steering rack: This won’t work with every car, but it’s worth doing your homework to see if another version of your car (i.e., a Mustang Cobra if you have a Mustang GT) came with a quick-ratio steering rack, aka, one that turns your wheels faster as you move the steering wheel. Or sometimes there’s a company that makes one for your specific car. If you can do it, this will positively transform the way you drive and really make your car feel much sportier.
- Replacements for the worn-out rubber pieces in your suspension: Your car has a bunch of “bushings” — i.e., little rubber pieces designed to absorb noise, vibration, and harshness in the suspension. They’re soft, and they wear out over time, allowing key parts to move more than they should. That’s bad, and you definitely feel it even if you don’t realize it. Especially if your car is older, replace worn bushings with fresh, performance-oriented versions and your car will feel factory-fresh… at least in terms of driving.
- An adjustable anti-roll bar: If you have no idea what an anti-roll bar (aka sway bar) is, just know that it connects both sides of your car’s suspension and helps prevent body lean during cornering, meaning you keep the car’s weight more evenly distributed among your tires. The main thing to keep in mind here is that if you have an adjustable bar, you can tinker with its settings until you’re happy with how your car feels. A worthy investment if you want to feel like Colin McRae when you take a corner, but still want to be as safe as possible.
- A decent pair of shock absorbers: Shock absorbers, by the very act of absorbing the shocks that come from driving over bumps, etc., help keep your tires planted firmly on the pavement. They also help control the natural up and down motion that springs are wont to do after they’ve been compressed, thereby making your car feel much more stable. Combine good shocks — there’s no need to go with fancy, adjustable versions unless you honestly know what you’re doing — with a stiffer and lower set of springs, and you’ll start to see a sort of multiplier effect of all the good geometry you’ve been working towards.
As we near the second decade of the 21st century, car tuning looks set to continue to flourish. After all, cars are not going anywhere and as long as there are cars, there will be enthusiasts who love them and will continue tweaking them to perfection. We hope this article has given newcomers a good starting place for their journey. Let us know in the comments section if you have any advice to share!