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Hooniverse Asks: What do you always modify?

Alan Cesar August 14, 2017 Hooniverse Asks 53 Comments

We just can’t leave well enough alone. We’re car enthusiasts, so we must adjust, modify, improve and accessorize our cars. Most cars ship from the factory with a broad market in mind, so to stand out, we must make it our own somehow.

Ever since I figured out how to drill and tap a billiard ball, I’ve been using them as shift knobs. Doesn’t matter if it’s a Miata, Escort, WRX or minivan: If it’s got a stickshift, it gets a new knob. My only exception has been my Subaru Justy, which has a 4WD switch built in to the shifter. That big, red button is too cool to replace.

Maybe you live on a dirt road, so you’re a mudflap person. Or you always do springs and shocks. Perhaps you can’t stand factory stereos, so you always throw in a new head unit.

Whatever it is, we want to know: What’s your go-to modification?

Since these are about you, feel free to exclude your spouse’s and kids’ cars when considering your top tweak.

  • Smaglik

    Window tint is first and foremost. Second, given that I tend to buy early 2000 BMW M cars repeatedly, is to ‘modify’ the rear view mirror so it won’t leak fluid, but that’s more of a fix.

    • dukeisduke

      Rearview mirrors leak? Wut?

      • Smaglik

        The seal inside the autodim rear view mirror for the oval mirror that came in E46 m3s and E39 m5s is a known failure point. It gives way, and the fluid causes a bubble inside the mirror. It’s an annoyance if it stays inside. If it leaks out, the caustic fluid damages the console below. So, you fix it right away. $110 from a guy in Texas.

  • Jofes2

    I’ve never really been into the idea of modifying cars. Just like art, I want to experience them as the creators intended. That includes spending time with even the most treble-heavy of factory-installed car radios. Bringing Bluetooth speakers is cheating.

  • New wiper blades, if the geometry allows: 1 or 2 inches wider than OEM.

    • onrails

      The only mod I do is put Aquapel on the windshield. You’ll never need wipers again!

      Ok maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I hardly touch mine anymore. Just a sweep every now and then. Going on 4 years without a re-application.

      • Sjalabais

        This one?
        https://bilpleiekongen.no/produkt/aquapel-glassforsegling/
        It says up to six months, but that would be quite interesting still. Getting 3000mm precipitation a year here, spread over 250 days. Yes, on average.

        • onrails

          That’s the one! I saw the 6 months thing but so far it’s been working great over 4 years. It has lost some of its capability over time but a quick clean off of the window with cleaner and a rag if much road debris/dust has gotten on it usually brings it back.

          Also, like Rain-X (but much longer lasting) you can use the wipers in addition, but it will last much longer if you just let the wind blow it off. I only have to use the wipers if it’s really coming down hard. It also helps (but doesn’t eliminate) with frost in the wintertime.

          Side note… 3000 mm average rainfall a year? Wow! Where are you located?

          • Sjalabais

            I trust this community like few others, so I think I am going to order this and give it a chance. The description says you can even clean the car without doing much harm to this layer…is that true? I usually swamp-wash my car with a shampoo’n’wax-blend. I know, true car lovers cringe by now, but it’s a 15 year old Honda after all. Not using my wipers sounds absolutely unrealistic though, that would be something to get used to…

            I’m close to Bergen, Norway. It’s not a place to go to get a tan…
            https://s4.postimg.org/vt6315yh9/Bergen_Rainy_Days.png

            • onrails

              See my reply below to dukeisduke. It’s good stuff.

      • dukeisduke

        Is that like Rain-X? Or better?

        • onrails

          It works like Rain-X, get up to about 30 mph and the drops just blow off. But won’t wear out like Rain-X does. It does take a fair amount of rubbing out once it’s applied to get the windshield clear again but after that it’s pretty darn good. The one thing it struggles with, like Rain-X is when it stops raining and you’re just getting road spray, not enough to really bead up and blow off. And also the road spray is what does it in for staying useful. The wipers (like with Rain-X) are less effective in this case than normal because things are beading up and not allowing a smooth wipe but it’s, at least for me, VERY worth the tradeoff. But windshield washer fluid and the wipers help take care of that on the road and window cleaner and a good rag at home do the best job at bringing it back to fully effective.

          On our HHR I was going on 4 years before a re-application and it was still doing it’s job when the car left, and the SS with a very fresh coat is reminding me of just how good it is. I have also done the side and back windows. Doesn’t help so much with rain because you don’t get the airflow to blow it off, but works good on the frosty winter mornings to not have to scrape so much off when I have to park outside.

          Careful applying it… it’s strong stuff. Based on the smell I think it’s sort of a cyanoacrylate (super-glue) type solution so they warn you to keep it away from paint and rubber (staying inside the blacked out portion of the windshield does just fine). And when you start worrying that it won’t buff out… keep rubbing. It takes some good pressure to finally go clear, but it will happen.

    • Me too, but primarily to change to PIAA silicone wipers which coat the glass like Rain X as they wipe.

  • Andrew_theS2kBore

    Tires. For cars in my price bracket (i.e. not an ACR Viper) there’s always a better solution than OEM, and handling and braking are almost always improved by going 10-30mm wider in front.
    However, because that’s a boring answer, I’ll add “intakes”, assuming there’s a real cold-air kit to be found. Not for power gains but for that glorious noise under acceleration (and quiet the rest of the time, unlike an exhaust kit).

  • P161911

    For my truck, I added a tonneau cover and a little later a OEM locking tailgate handle. Added a bed mat too. Haven’t done anything to the Volt yet.

  • Kyle

    All but my current car have had their head units replaced by either an OEM+ variant or an aftermarket unit to allow for modern conveniences among its other benefits.

    • wunno sev

      yep. as ugly as they are, modern head units make it easier to take advantage of living in the 21st century. worth it.

      once Android Auto head units drop to a reasonable price, they’ll be a total no-brainer for any car with a double-DIN radio slot.

  • David Peterson

    I usually install Mobil One, a Wix and a reusable air filter, tires that suit my driving, upgraded brake pads and rotors and wiper blades suited to the Pacific Northwest. Lately I have been using regular air filters to test a friends theory that changing every 10k is better. Since I buy used these days, these alterations are usually needed anyway. So really none of this would be a true modification, would they? I have installed true dual exhaust on cars not so equipped.

  • Harry Callahan

    My 2015 Mazda6 has 52,000 miles and I have done absolutely nothing except routine maintenance.

    My wife’s 2011 Mazda CX-9 has an aftermarket trailer hitch, otherwise factory stock.

    My 1968 Mustang resto-mod is, well, lightly modded. Holley 4160 four barrel, headers, Flowmasters, aluminum radiator, Borgeson power steering, 15 x 7 wheels.

    For DD’s I stick with factory config for reliability and warranty maintenance. For “extra” cars in my “fun” fleet, I do enjoy adding some well proven mods—but only if they enhance daily use. I don’t believe in slamming cars, or lifting trucks, because such mods always degrade ride quality and functionality. As I am over 50, I am also uninterested in loud pipes…I have already lost enough hearing…..

  • SoldierofaDifferentStripe

    First, and only external mod to my 1989 F-150 has been tires. Off the assembly line with General Ameriway XT 235-75 / 15’s. Tires were hard as granite. Truck would dance going thru a puddle. Switched to 255-70 touring all seasons at first opportunity. (Original spare still in its’ hangar).The change was remarkable. Have kept that size ever since.

    • dukeisduke

      My ’95 F-150 had Ameriway XTs from the factory, and after that I ran Goodyear Wrangler GS-As (asymmetrical tread) in the 255/70-15 size – truck had the ten-hole (no rivet style) Alcoa alloy wheels. When the GS-A was discontinued, I switched to the Michelin LTX M/S (later LTX M/S2). I generally got 35,000 to 40,000 miles out of tires on that, regardless of brand.

      In 214,000 miles I never had a tire wear issue related to the Twin-I-Beam front suspension, but the Wrangler GS-As were pretty sensitive to balance (had to be rebalanced every 10,000 or so miles), and tended to cup after a while.

  • JayP

    Any mod will be an increase performance and noise.
    Tires, shifter, brakes, suspension.

  • Douche_McGee

    Tint, and a shift knob are usually my 1st mods. And sometimes tires too.

    The mods I’ve never done are shocks and springs.

  • HuntRhymesWith

    I always find and remove the annoying seatbelt buzzer. I also remove the clutch switch that prevents starting.

    • crank_case

      But buzzers are totally part of the JDM experience. You know you’re in a true JDM car when you sit in it, think about putting the key in and it has an existential crisis as its “WUAAARGGH!! OMG, IMACARIMACARIMACARIMACAR!!!! buzzer goes off”

      • HuntRhymesWith

        If I had an AE86 I’d totally leave the high speed buzzer in because DAT JDM LYFE.

  • For cars: tires.
    For bikes: handlebar grips.

    • Sjalabais

      Tires. Definitely tires. Never bought a car without investing into rubber right afterwards. Might reflect the price range I shop in though.

      • crank_case

        I usually swap em shortly after, but it’d be a shame not to give the old ones a good sendoff first…

        Only one exception springs to mind – bought a Ford Fiesta MK4 for €950, fitted with Chinese economy tires, and possibly made of the same compound that Lego uses. The thread on them was perfectly fine and well within legal limits, and despite my best attempts in traffic light GP, b-road relay and handbrake olympics, a modest 75bhp just couldn’t wear the things down over a year. They obviously were not the last word in lateral G, but perfectly safe for the car in question. I had it a year, I don’t think the next, more careless owner changed them either.

        • Sjalabais

          I’ve had an involuntary sendoff once, that was one more than I ever needed. But those Chinese tires…interesting. A couple of years ago I went to buy a 1998 Volvo 940, high-priced machine, on the other side of the country. Got picked up by an owner that claimed to be a true enthusiast. When I got there, I instantly noted the Chinese tires and my heart sank so deep, you could hear it touching the ground down under. There were a lot of other wrongs with the car, mostly minor, but the tl;dr is that I got back to the airport.

    • crank_case

      The tires on my last purchase had perfect thread, but were cracked from age. So yeah.

  • Alff

    No hard and fast mods. Most of my heaps are well used by the time they get to me, so completing the initial punchlist is challenge enough. Shocks, suspension bushings and front end parts are often the order of the day.

    • crank_case

      Same here, mostly older cars, so you’ve enough work to get the fundamental bits right.

      One mod I’d definitely recommend for seldom used weekend cars is a battery cut-off, stops the battery being run down when you go to use it.

      • Alff

        My problem is that I cannot abide having a “weekend” car. I want to put all of them in regular rotation, which means constantly wrenching. Being a “car guy” of modest resources but decent mechanical skills ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

        • crank_case

          The thing about regular rotation is you gotta actually have some driving to do. I don’t actually need a car to get around most days, so I’ve gotta just find time to use it, which can kinda slip away from you due to lots of stupid little things life throws your way from feeling a bit ill, to the usual “crap you gotta sort out” that is life.

          • Alff

            I commute 60 miles each day. In a perfect world, I’d alternate the four vehicles set aside for my use depending on weather and cargo carrying needs. It is not a perfect world.

  • Fred Talmadge

    I have the dealer tint my windows before I even bring it home, so maybe that doesn’t count. The first mod I do is take off the emblems.

  • I_Borgward

    Buzzers, chimes and warning lights for seat belts and keys. I don’t need no stinkin’ prompts to get me to wear my seat belt, practically the first thing I do when I get in. And I detest key-in-ignition noise makers, especially annoying when I’m working on the car.

    Since I always buy used, the next thing I “modify” is schmutz on any touchable surface. Steering wheel, gear shift, switches, all get thoroughly cleaned. Any crud found after that, I’ll know I put it there. You know, because one’s own crud isn’t nearly as gross as someone else’s, right?

  • Alcology

    2015 Ford Fiesta 1.0
    My original intentions were to buy a tune around 20k after I got to know the car. Also at this time get new tires, and hopefully new, lighter, rims. New and different brake pads, and possible brake upgrade if possible. Also, suspension upgrade as well with Ford’s racing package.

    I still haven’t hit 20k.

    Actual upgrades: carbon fiber hood. Completely accidental as well, as a person backed into me at a red light followed, a week later, by a massive chunk of ice falling off my building and crushing my hood to complete garbage.
    Addition of a Wolo horn. Seems like a stupid one, but I really like it.

  • 0A5599

    I’ve added reverse cameras twice now, one of which included replacing the factory cassette player with something that includes a video screen.

    But in between those two, I brought home several other vehicles that require turning your head or using the mirrors to back up, so this isn’t an “always” modification.

  • SlowJoeCrow

    cars get bike racks, motorcycles generally get some luggage and good tires. bicycles get pedals and sometimes saddles and grips.

  • ptschett

    My most modded vehicle was the one I just got rid of, the KLR650. I added a radiator guard, longer shift lever, rear suspension *raising* links, plastic 6.6-gallon gas tank in place of the factory steel ~5.3-gallon tank (rusted out), and the ‘doohickey’ engine balancing chain tensioner quadrant; it also had a fork brace and an FMF Q muffler on it when I bought it. The California emissions might have fallen off at some point in time, too…
    Pickups get a bedliner and tonneau cover. I might put the wheel-to-wheel side steps on the Ram, they’re supposed to improve the drag coefficient.
    Cars don’t get anything specific, just whatever makes sense for their situation. My 1st Challenger got a skip-shift delete; the 2nd one got 3M paint protection film along the rocker panel where the the old one had the worst of its rock chips.

  • Since I tend to buy interesting old beaters that were starting to be neglected by their prior owners, I start by fixing what’s broken.

  • Troggy

    Cars: I get rid of the OEM tyres at the first chance.
    Bikes: Pipes, luggage, heated grips, windscreen (depending on the bike). Bikes are easier to modify with bolt-on or slip-on parts, and I find it’s more necessary to make it fit my riding style and intended purpose.

  • Zentropy

    I honestly figured the comments would be more performance-based. The tint comments are surprisingly 90s.

    • Alan Cesar

      I wonder if the tint people live in the southern US. I live in Florida, so window tint is also among my top mods.

  • dukeisduke

    Can you tap a billiard ball directly, or do you add some kind of insert? Are they durable? What are billiard balls made from, anyway?

    • Alan Cesar

      The first several that I made, I used a cylindrical metal spacer that I bought at a hardware store and glued it into the shift knob. That works really well as long as you use a good epoxy (my #5 ball shown in this post has been working for about 8 years with this method, through Chicago winters and Florida summers) and it gives you a flat surface to tighten a jam nut against the bottom. Using a jam nut lets you set the orientation of the number.

      I have since seen people just drill and tap the ball itself (pretty sure it’s made of some kind of plastic, though antique ones are ivory), and I’ve successfully tried that myself. It’s not as pretty a fit against the jam nut, but it works.

      I documented my original method on my old blog:
      http://www.sentimentalmechanic.com/2010/09/how-to-make-billiard-ball-shift-knob.html

      I suppose I could write an updated version to post here.

      • Scoutdude

        I may have to hit the garage sales and see if I can scounge up an old set of balls and do one for my F250 trans and the transfer case on the F150 I just bought though that one is a slip on so no tapping needed just drill the right size hole and use a little adhesive.

  • dukeisduke

    The only mod I’ve done on my Tacoma (so far) is the “mouse mod”, putting 1/4″ hardware cloth over the inlet for the HVAC system in the cowl. I’ve never seen a mouse around our place, but better safe than sorry.

    • Scoutdude

      I need to put that on my first mod list. I just did that and the intakes on a couple of my vehicles and need to do it to the rest of them. I’ve had a real problem with squirrels packing the filter box with shells. I did/do have problems with mice getting into some of them since we live out in the woods.

  • I’ll generally replace the dynamo with an alternator ASAP.

  • Scoutdude

    It depends on the vehicle. If I just brought home a new CVPI within the hour the dark mode will be turned off, an aftermarket radio fitted and a console between the front seats. Within 48 hrs it will be sporting Mustang wheels, the rear door interior handles and lock will be active and the bolt will be removed from the rear window tracks so that they roll all the way down.

    Now with my most recent purchase, a 02 F150 Supercab 4×4, here is the list of planned mods and repairs that I’ve either done or will be doing shortly. First off was to change the radio, to another factory radio of the same type I had on the shelf since part of the display was out. It then got new shocks and some tie downs that fit in the stake pockets. On the list as I find them at the wrecking yard or on Craigslist is a 2″ receiver type hitch, OE only and some step bars/running boards preferably the OE step bar style, but a decent set of aftermarket units will be nice. Also on the sooner rather than later list are some new tires. Now if I find the right deal on Craigslist who knows what I’ll end up with. I am considering new tires on the stock styled wheels and don’t know which way to go. Snow and Ice is the reason I went 4×4 so I can’t decided on some of the AT tires that carry the snowflake on the Mountain symbol or to go for a set of proper studless winter tires. Either way they will stay on year round I don’t really want to give up the ice performance of a true winter tire but also don’t want to tear them to shreds in the summer on the occasional gravel road in the summer.