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Avoiding the dangers and pitfalls of modifying your car

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September 27, 2021
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Car modifications come in all shapes and sizes but there remains a worrying trend that poor decisions are making the practice dangerous for some.

About 20,000 car modifications are declared a month while many more are hidden to try and avoid supposed insurance increases – a move that can lead to a driver’s cover being invalidated if they have to make a claim.

However, it’s not the only way people try to cut costs and the consequences can be equally as damaging and expensive.

A love-heart exhaust is a sign of a modification

There are many alternative or exhaust extensions that can be fitted: PICTURE: UNSPLASH/CRAIG MCGONIGLE

TorqueCars website founder Waynne Smith talks modifications

One person who knows about the risks associated with taking shortcuts when it comes to modifying cars is Waynne Smith.

He founded TorqueCars just over 20 years ago because he was disappointed by the modifications he had fitted to his car. He felt the claims made by performance part makers were often exaggerated and some made his car worse to drive or caused it to break down.

He set out to document his experience so others could learn from his mistakes. The website has turned into a large, international community where many like-minded individuals from the mod scene come together to swap tips, ideas and offer support.

What common problems do those who mod their cars experience?

Waynne insists it’s essential to make sure all modifications are done correctly and safely. 

Most of the problems his website users report fall into one of three categories:

  • Cutting corners with cheap parts 
  • Fitting inappropriate parts
  • Poor installation of parts

He explains more in his own words below.

An arty view of modified wheels on a BMW

Modded wheels sitting proudly on a BMW. PICTURE: PIXABAY/dclementsCreative

Cutting corners with cheap parts is not a wise idea for modded cars

The old mantra, ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ is certainly true when it comes to modifying cars. Often reconditioned parts have just been cleaned, especially with turbochargers, so it’s nice and shiny because all of the carbon and oil has been cleaned off. Sadly it will only be a matter of time before it fails again because a customer is essentially buying a used unit with many miles on it, albeit a very clean one.

Part construction methods and materials are often another cause for concern. The metals and processes used to make many cheap parts are inferior and will break under the slightest amount of stress. In some cases these defective parts, particularly around those involved in braking, suspension and steering could potentially cause a serious accident. The best-case scenario is usually a breakdown and an expensive repair.

Then there are parts out there designed for lower spec cars, which will cause issues on a high-performance car. A typical case in point here is fitting cheaper tyres with a lower speed load rating than the manufacturer suggests. 

I’ve had someone tell me they never drive at 150mph so why do they need tyres rated for those speeds? I took the time to explain to this person that it’s about load ratings and this takes into account the stress the torque puts on the tyres at any speed. The last thing anyone wants is a tyre blowing out under heavy braking or acceleration, so it would make sense to at least meet, or, if your car has been modified for better performance, exceed the manufacturer tyre ratings.

A drift car at a custom show

A drift car at a custom show. Picture: UNSPLASH/MOHAMMAD DANISH

Fitting inappropriate motorsport parts to your daily car isn’t a wise idea

There are many high-performance parts that work well on motorsport cars. But we need to bear in mind these operate on smooth track surfaces and under very
high-stress conditions. It might not seem logical, but these parts often cause problems when they are fitted to cars used on the roads. 

One example we’ve been given was that of race specification brakes, particularly the pads. These are designed to operate at extremely high temperatures, as you would experience on a track when the brakes are used heavily. In fact, a road pad will often overheat and degrade if used on a track. So how can high-performance brake pads be an issue on a road car?

On the road, these same brakes will be cold most of the time. Essentially this means they are outside of their normal operating range, never quite getting up to the temperatures they were designed to be effective in. The end result is that it dramatically reduces the braking effectiveness and lengthens the stopping distances.

Brake pads should therefore be selected for the usage that your car will experience. Thankfully there is a wide range of pads out there, so it shouldn’t be hard to find a good fast road pad that works well on the road and on the track.

For track days I recommend having the car set up for the track. A set of tyres and swapping out the brake pads for race spec pads, as well as an interim oil change to ensure the car is operating at peak efficiency under the stresses of the track, is my suggestion.

The inside of a car engine

Tinkering under the bonnet of your car can cause big problems. PICTURE: PIXABAY/SI PLATT

Poor installation of performance parts will affect how your modified car operates

There are obvious issues with car body modifications that have not been securely fitted, which can present a serious danger to other road users should they become detached. Some less obvious performance parts are frequently installed incorrectly or with dangerous compromises.

The growing trend of dropping the car’s suspension really low and fitting really hard springs could be another serious problem. This can adversely affect the handling of the car. 

In such a set-up the tyres, which should be in contact with the road, will skip over bumps and undulations. If the suspension is not set up correctly it can lead to dramatic oversteer or understeer and loss of grip and traction at inopportune moments. 

In some cases of poor suspension installation, particularly where the tyres rub on the bodywork, you will frequently see tyres splitting when they are stressed. Many of these installation issues boil down to rushing the work, cutting corners or attempting DIY mods without the correct tools.

Mounting pipes and cables through the bulkhead and drilling holes and feeding cables will always cut through the cable or pipe thanks to the vibrations. A little more time and money spent on proper installation will remove the risk of wear. There are also loose wires and pipes in and around the engine bay which will eventually rub through causing issues.

A modified BMW parked in front of a wall

A modified BMW sits proudly in front of a factory in an arty scene. Picture: PIXABAY/dclementsCreative

Looking for modified car insurance?

Waynne has explained that every time a corner is cut you’ll find a hidden cost that nearly always outweighs the original saving.

And when it comes to money, you don’t need to worry about hiding your mods from Adrian Flux because in many circumstances, declaring your modifications can make a massive reduction to your insurance premium

Learn more about the savings you can make with modified car insurance cover.

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