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Hooniverse Asks: Should you modify your daily driver?

Jeff Glucker November 10, 2017 Hooniverse Asks 28 Comments

This isn’t my exact car, but it’s close enough for the purposes of this post. That’s because it’s a stock Mazda CX-5, which is the vehicle my wife and I purchased over a year ago to serve as our daily driver machine. My wife does a fair bit of driving for work so a lease was out of the question. I wanted something that wouldn’t sap my soul anytime I was behind the wheel, so our options narrowed further. With kiddo and a pair of dogs figured into the equation, we wound up bringing home a CX-5.

It’s been great for the over 30,000 miles now showing on its odometer. There are no squeaks or rattles. The cloth seats are still wonderfully comfortable. Our mid-grade Touring model has downsized wheels which equals tires with more sidewall, and greater ride comfort as a result.

Lately though, I’ve been having thoughts about the thing. It looks fine as it sits, but what if I just throw some parts at it? I’m not talking about anything major. In fact, right now I’m just considering a wheel and tire upgrade, though I worry about making a change to the ride that will worsen the experience. Especially when its my wife that’s spending most of the time driving the CX-5.

So, dear readers, I ask you… should you modify your daily driver? If so, how far are you willing to take it? I know the answers to this will be all over the place, and no one is really wrong here. Still, I’m curious to see the varied takes on the idea.

  • Dan Mosqueda

    I avoided any mods to my former BMW 135i and have done the same with my current Mk7 GTI. Why? Mostly because I don’t want any warranty issues. I realize there are laws to protect one from by rejected by the manufacturer for claims, but in reality I just don’t want to mess with them. Also, if we’re really honest, for daily use we really don’t need a barnstormer. My GTI can get me in trouble, as is, every day of the week.

  • Depends on the mods, and the warranty status of the car. Ultimately, though, do whatever makes it a better car for what it’s used for.

    I do plan on, whenever it comes time to refresh my Prius’s suspension, to put stiffer shocks in, as it’s a bit underdamped. (Surprisingly, not bad, though.) Otherwise, I’m pretty happy with it the way it is.

    My Golf TDI, I did quite a few engine mods, some of which actually made it worse for daily driving (the EGR delete made the slow warm up even worse), a clutch upgrade that only barely held the torque from the engine mods, added an amateur radio setup, upgraded from 15s to 16s, and went for Koni FSDs (not worth it, they felt barely better than the worn out stock shocks). Had I kept it, I’d have upgraded the shift linkage to the later stock setup (the Mk3 linkage that early Mk4s used was terrible), put in a head unit with Bluetooth, and maybe tried to figure out better suspension than the FSD setup. And, I’d have gone more mild on the engine tune, to be quite honest.

  • Letstakeawalk

    I agree it depends on the mods. Generally speaking, make sure they’re easy to reverse so if you don’t like them, you’re not stuck with them.

    On my wife’s DD (2011 Civic), I installed sound deadening to make it quieter, and better tires for safety in the rain. She also choose to tint the windows for privacy and comfort from the sun. No engine or suspension mods, but definitely made a stock car better for her personal use.

    My DD is a different story – 2011 CR-Z 6MT. Jokes aside, with an upgraded intake, exhaust, and tires, it’s quite a fun little commuter. Also did the sound deadening so it’s whisper quiet. Now it’s almost at 100k, so I’m considering upgrading the suspension and the brakes to replace the older stock bits.

    • Rudy™

      What did you do for sound deadening? Our CR-Vs are not too bad, but I also can’t imagine completely ripping out the entire interior to Dynamat it. I don’t know know if I have the energy for that anymore. It took all of my patience to upgrade the audio in it early this year.

      • Letstakeawalk

        I used a ghetto version of dynamat that isolates vibration without the weight. You still have to pull apart your interior, but Honda makes that a very simple job. Did each of the cars as soon as I got them, while I was still really enthused.

        Frost King foil and foam adhesive duct insulation. Bonus: HVAC also works much more effectively.

        • Rudy™

          Ah, clever! Costs a whole lot less than Dynamat also, and as close as my nearest home improvement store. What’s *not* to like about this? (Well, other than dismantling the interior…)

  • Alff

    Aside from cosmetic modifications, it depends entirely on how sufficient the vehicle is for daily use. My modern(ish) Subaru does everything I want and need it to bone stock. My antique, which also sees daily duty, required ripping and replacing powertrain, brakes and steering to deliver suitable performance and reliability.

  • Harry Callahan

    For daily driver duty, reliability and economy are the primary concerns. As such, any proposed modification should at best improve reliability and economy, or at worst, not detract from same.

    Can any owner modification enhance your CX-5’s factory calibrated and warranted reliability and economy? Unlikely.

  • It should probably have a trailer hitch added, unless the factory recommends against this, in which case it should definitely have a trailer hitch added.

    • SlowJoeCrow

      There is a factory trailer hitch with a 200olb max tow rating. My 2016 CX-5 Sport has the factory 1.25″ receiver and 4 wire harness, although so far all we have used it for is a bike rack.

      • outback_ute

        In Australia the CX5 is rated for an 1800kg braked trailer (~4000lb) or 750kg without brakes (1650lb). Only 150kg towball download though, which indicates that 1800kg towing may be difficult to achieve safely.

        • Rudy™

          The ratings in the US are lower than overseas for liability reasons. For our CR-Vs, the tow ratings are higher in the UK, for instance. And yes, the big issue is braking. It’s one thing to get all of that mass moving; it’s another to stop it safely.

          • outback_ute

            Other countries have “liability reasons” too, note the requirement for trailer brakes to tow the heavier weight plus I dare say there are often things in the small print to get manufacturers off the hook, eg some tow ratings here had a maximum speed of 50 mph in the small print.

            I think overheating type durability issues are usually the first limiting factor on towing assuming that things are set up properly and have good brakes on the trailer. This is related of course to the basic suitability of the car for the task – overload and your gearbox will overheat for example.

            The overall driving environment plays a big part too, eg in most of Australia the highest speed limit is 110km/h, and in the UK or Europe the higher speed limits do not apply when towing.

            My main point though was the 1800kg figure is pretty optimistic!

  • Eric Miller

    Depending on the car at hand, absolutely! Modification can mean all sorts of things, and many of them can make a daily much better!

    I daily a ’94 Miata, top down year ’round, subbing in my 2010 Mazda5 when I need to haul something big, it’s going to rain all day, or I know the snow is likely to be over about 3 inches.

    Over the respective 3 and 7 years I’ve owned them, I’ve modified both to serve my needs and match my preferences.

    I recently rigged some fantastic LED interior and trunk lights for the Miata, and an aftermarket windblocker behind the seats makes top-down driving on cool/cold days much more pleasant. With that and the seat heaters I installed, I’m comfortable top-down to below 30*F

    For the 5, I swapped in MazdaSpeed3 front seats and raised the front of the driver’s seat making the van wildly more comfortable for someone my height to drive. I also added seat heaters to those. A couple of years ago when the rear sway bar bushings wore out, I replaced the whole bar, bushings and (I think?) endlinks with those from the MazdaSpeed3. While it wasn’t a big change, it did help mitigate some of the van’s tendency to understeer.

    I’ve upgraded the stereos in both, and have a spare set of wheels with snow tires for each of them. The snows on the 5 are on 1″ smaller wheels, but have enough sidewall to actually lift the van a tiny bit and make that FWD 5-speed manual mini-van pretty much unstoppable in the snow…. Well, except when I want to stop, and then with snow tires and ABS, it’s very stoppable!

    …So I’m all for modifying a daily driver to make it more of what you want it to be.

    As for YOUR daily driver CX-5, A wheel and tire upgrade could be great, but I wouldn’t plus-size those wheels, and I’d give far more value to the noise characteristics, bad-weather capability, and longevity of my tire options than their outright performance level.

  • Borkwagen

    When I bought my current daily, it already had a tune and exhaust on it, and I added fat sway bars for cornering. If a mod makes the commute more fun without significantly reducing the reliability or comfort of the daily driver, why not?

  • AlexG55

    It came already modified (I’m the sixth owner) with an upgraded stereo including a DAB receiver and Bluetooth, and a performance remap (Saab 9-3 Aero with a Hirsch chip, which was a dealer option that didn’t affect warranty).

    I would definitely consider adding DAB and Bluetooth audio to future cars I own.

  • I always upgrade the wipers to silicone for longevity and because they apply a rain-x like treatment with use. Otherwise, I tend to leave ’em alone.

    I did put a performance cat on the RSX, but mainly because it was cheaper than the OEM style replacements and far cheaper than the actual OEM part. But I put a take off factory cat back exhaust from a clubRSX.com member rather than an aftermarket system.

    There are lots of things I think about mod’ing or upgrading on my dailies, but then I think that I could use the extra money on the T’bird instead. Then I usually don’t.

  • Rover 1

    The always Hooniverse answer.

    Yes, of course, where do we start?

  • Andy White

    It’s important to remember that you’re on a learning curve. Having a daily that’s harsh is a part of the learning experience of everyone into cars, whether that’s a Jeep that won’t stop and turn without plenty of warning because it’s lifted or an autocross oriented car that’s like a paint shaker.
    There’s an underlying unease in this question that I think is a bigger point than the actual question.
    It’s okay to do something stupid to your car that you regret. It’s okay to do it wrong. Just go back and change where you want. That’s what making it yours is about. Maybe you don’t like the ride, the new tire resonance that defeat sound deadening, or maybe you do.
    Life is short. Change the wheels. Change the struts. Play around with it. Enjoy yourself. Learn stuff.

  • Zentropy

    Depends on what you mean by “mod”. If you mean significant engine, transmission, or suspension changes, then I’d only make them on a paid-for vehicle that’s expended its warranty. If you mean minor things like wheels/tires, wings/spoilers, post-catalytic-converter mufflers, etc., then I’d say that’s fair game on any DD.

  • bv911

    I put RX8 rims on my MS3 (half-inch wider, lighter), and the ride improved enough that even my wife noticed! Since I use the stock rims for snow tire duty, I plan on getting some better rubber in the Spring.

    Now that the car’s paid for, I’m plotting and scheming on a Cobb Accessport and a stiffer engine mount. But nothing too crazy, I’ve already got a “toy” to spend too much money on…

  • JayP

    Don’t ruin it.

  • Douche_McGee

    My DD is a FiST. It’s been tuned since about 800 miles (about 28k on it now).

    I plan on replacing it with a NC or ND. The only mods they’ll get is a muffler, and sway bars, as well as sticky summer tires.

  • Scoutdude

    For the wife’s daily driver just say no. Sure step up to a higher performance tire level that works in the conditions you drive, but put them on the stock wheels. Fact is that OE wheels are usually high quality and reasonably light. In the aftermarket you have to step pretty high up the price ladder to match that overall quality. If you do decide that you want to step up the diameter look for take offs on craiglist or ebay.

  • neight428

    I always have the urge to do so, but I keep the project car around to keep myself from screwing up my primary transportation.

  • Rudy™

    To agree with another poster in the comments, keep in mind that it’s your wife’s daily driver, not yours. Keep mods to a minimum to improve safety, convenience or ride comfort. Performance parts have no place on a vehicle like that. Some enthusiasts might see it as a blank slate, but *she* has to live with it day in and day out. The only things I am doing to my better half’s DD is installing new tires, silicone wiper blades, some LED bulb replacements here and there (especially in the rear brake lights), and possibly replace the stock head unit with one that supports Android Auto, like I’ve done in mine. I may also get the nose mask to keep the gravel and other crap from our roads from chipping the hell out of the paint on the hood and front bumper cover.

    Call me strange, but I have never seen aftermarket wheels that I have liked as much as the OEM wheels…on *any* car I’ve owned. Even going back to the mid 80s. Although I have to admit the Ronal “Teddy Bear” wheels were unique. ;o)

    A trailer hitch is helpful for a bike rack, small cargo carriers, lightweight trailers, etc.; I have one on mine, with the 2″ receiver, even though it exceeds my CR-V’s tow rating. It is more flexible that way. I can always reduce it to a 1.25″ receiver; can’t go in the opposite direction safely, if at all.

    See? Something only a wife could love!

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/dff16aff3054d9b0574be08662d927547621c5d92aec5a62fe26f29d9022dced.jpg