For auto enthusiasts, a car is raw material—something to be tweaked, modified, upgraded, and massaged into an extension of their own performance and aesthetic goals. Each year, about $33 billion is spent on aftermarket accessories alone, the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) estimates, with products ranging from superaggressive camshafts to annoying blue xenon headlights.
Interested in diving into the aftermarket oil puddle? Our first piece of advice: Choose serious, effective accessories—top-quality items that’ll improve the driving experience and swap in better, more durable parts than the duds that came from the factory.
So don’t spend your time and cash on “chrome” plastic wheel covers from Walmart or take your inspiration from raggedy rides with rusted fart-can exhaust tips and homemade rear wings. Instead, use our rundown to figure out how to start, what the level of difficulty will be, and about how much it’ll cost.
You’ll want to start with items that are fairly inexpensive and don’t require a mechanical engineering degree to put in correctly.
“Easy upgrades such as an air intake and performance exhaust can make great improvements in power with a small investment,” says Peter MacGillivray, a VP at SEMA.
■ Motor mount bushings (for quicker throttle response): $35-$50 ■ Front strut tower brace (to stiffen up your ride): $100-$200 ■ Larger antiroll/sway bars (to level out body roll): $100–$350 ■ Wider wheels and tires (to boost handling and look sharp): $100–$1,000 each ■ Cat-back exhaust (to efficiently open up your vehicle’s lungs): $150-$800 ■ Racing seats (to cradle your body in the twists and turns): $200–$1,000 ■ Engine Control Unit tune (to hack and sharpen your car’s brain): $200–$1,500 ■ Cold air intake (to help create a better breathing engine): $250–$350
Next, step up to an area that takes a little more time and expertise to enhance, like suspension and brakes. “As you install performance upgrades like larger wheels and better suspension, you may want to consider adding bigger brakes,” MacGillivray says.
■ Suspension components (to keep your shoes planted on the road): $350–$5,000 ■ Brake kit (to bring your beast to a smooth, safe stop): $500–$5,000
Once your car has the right shoes and stance, with freer-flowing air and exhaust, you’re ready to move up to refinements that should be handled by experts. “These items add value to the vehicle and significantly improve performance,” MacGillivray says.
■ Engine component swaps like cams and turbos (to bump up horsepower): $800–$10,000 ■ High-performance clutch kit (to keep all those horses reined in): $1,000-$2,000
Once you’ve got your ride whipped into shape under the hood and on all four corners, you should put some thought into keeping the outside protected and clean. Along with just looking better, a clean and tidy car can actually give you better gas mileage. MythBusters once explored the difference between a dirty car and a washed one and made a convincing case that slick and shiny can equal about a 10% increase in fuel economy over a filthy ride.But don’t go grabbing some liquid dishwashing soap from under the sink—we know, our dad did it, too—today’s premium paint jobs deserve something less harsh. Go for something designed to protect your paint and existing wax job while still being strong enough to wash away dirt and grime along with splattered bugs and bird poop. One good one: Mothers Waterless Wash & Wax (mothers.com).Once you’ve got your ride nice and sparkling, hit up an easy-to-use wax kit, available at your local auto-parts store. You may not get quite the spectacular results that come from a (pricey) professional shine, but you can get pretty darn close. Try out Meguiar’s DA Power System and Waxing Power Pack (meguiars.com), which features a dual-action polisher you can attach to any household drill and works with a Power Pack (with a foam waxing pad and Ultimate Liquid Wax) to add protection and shine in just half an hour.Land Rover's Finest>>>