Car culture puts significant emphasis on wildly custom machines that cost a fortune — like engine transplants, radical paint jobs, chopped and lowered rides with hydraulics. But you can make your car your own without turning it into something that screams, “Look at me!” In fact, some of the most low-profile changes you can make are also the most pragmatic.
Each of the items in this list can be completed for a few hundred dollars or less and adds real functionality to your car. Forget about posers who can’t be happy with a vehicle that functions and drives well. Your happiness is what’s important.
This might be a factory feature of your car, but if it’s not, you probably wish you could play music from your phone every time you jump in. The aftermarket is here to help. By investing about $100 in a head unit and wiring harness and taking a couple of hours to install it — although if you’re not handy, you may have to pay a shop — you can rock out to your tunes no matter how old your ride might be.
Your phone is like an extra part of your car’s infotainment system — particularly if you commute a long distance. A phone cradle or magnetic holder and a car charger make a pretty amazing low-cost duo. Maybe you take these items for granted, but if you haven’t already got them, you can add a whole lot of functionality to your ride for around $25. That’s money well spent.
Okay, these might break our “few hundred dollars” budget. But if you’re looking for a good return for your money in the performance category, it gets no better than tires. The only part of your car that contacts the road makes all the difference in the way it behaves during acceleration, braking and cornering. Replace a set of cracked, worn old tires with new rubber, and you’ll get a smoother ride and better grip. Spring for a set of sticky max-performance summer tires and enjoy a noticeably sportier driving experience.
Remote Garage Opener
A garage door opener is another feature that comes standard on some new cars but will make your life much easier if you haven’t already got it. Whether to save you from stepping out into the cold and rain or just to avoid the hassle of going inside to open the door, this is one handy piece of equipment no car should be without.
For less than you’ll spend on a set of tires, you can re-write your car’s computer brain to unlock more performance. Power gains might differ depending on the vehicle. Turbocharged cars will gain more from a tune than non-boosted ones, but all models can benefit from perks like a removed speed limiter, higher redline and other driveability features. It might be a good idea to combine this with those new tires. Adding a lot of power without the right grip can lead to slippage and uncalled-for burnouts.
You’ll find a plethora of additional ways to improve your car without spending a fortune. Remember that your vehicle is an expression of yourself, even if you only add little things. Sometimes the hassles that come up when adding major customization are more trouble than they’re worth. Stop and recognize how you really use the car, and you might realize that a cell phone holder is actually a better investment than a massive amplified subwoofer box that rattles the trunk. All that amp money can go a long way towards useful upgrades.