Car Mods – Do You Leave Your Vehicle Bone Stock?

Close up of air filter on a vehicle with car mods

Feed the Aftermarket Monster, or Leave Your Ride Alone?

Cars are a necessary evil…and I love ’em. Cars continues to fascinate and enthrall me after more than fifty-five baby boomer years. I’ve never been a motorcycle guy, and never will. With every car I have ever owned, except one, I’ve turned to car mods to enhance my enjoyment. That one exception was a terrific leased vehicle that I really couldn’t touch, and for the most part…really didn’t need any changes.

Years ago, when I was more interested in classic cars than I am now, I was always a fan of the resto-mod. I restored a ’69 VW Beetle that was mostly stock, but still had some shiny bits and other car mods in the engine compartment. I also did some nice touches with the dash, and converted it to a manual after ditching the Autostick.

In the US, the automotive aftermarket captured $16 billion in market share through eCommerce in 2020


What Are Car Mods?

The term Car Mods is simply short for car modifications, and encompasses a wide range of products and level of commitment for each car owner. For some, it may be as simple as colored valve caps and a couple of decals. On the other end of the scale it might be the addition of a turbo or super charger and either a lift kit, or lowering kit…depending on the vehicle.

I classify Car Mods into three categories;

  1. Aesthetic
  2. Bolt-On
  3. Performance Upgrade

Some mods can fall under multiple categories. For example a new aggressive sounding muffler and a cool-air intake would be considered bolt-on car mods. That combination can however increase horsepower slightly, as well as have a pleasing aesthetic to it.

However, a radical enough change in this combination could result in the need for the ECU (your car’s onboard computer) having to be reprogrammed, requiring some shop time. Now you are dipping into the Performance Upgrade category.

Pie chart showing liklihood of doing car mods

Why Do Owners Buy Car Mods?

Vehicle owners buy car mods a few reasons. They may wish to personalize their vehicle, or to increase performance in some way. For me it was always a mixture of both. Without a doubt, every car I have every owned, except the one vehicle I leased, I personalized with car mods. Some of those mods also increased performance. I will always personalize my vehicle, and if I can increase some facet of the performance while I’m at it, all the better.

Cultural Pressure or Influence

Sometimes car owners choose, in part, to modify their vehicles just to fit in. I actually think this is a much stonger driving force that most people realize or will admit to. I have not been immune to this logic either.

Perhaps they are part of a 4×4 Facebook Group, Tuner Forum, or a Jeep Club. Just like clothes, automobile stylings come and go. You may not feel you need the “rice burner” muffler made popular by the Fast & Furious movies, but you might be inclined to add one simply to fit it to your group and give you bragging rights.

So much of the online car culture is about sharing your car mods. Look at a user’s profile signature in any vehicle forum and you see a list of vehicles and every mod they’ve ever done to said vehicles. The longer the list, the greater your standing in the hierarchy of car mod echelon.

Aesthetic mods are simple accents or highlights that help the vehicle owner customize their ride to suit their tastes. Some have functional value as well, and make it easier to justify your spend on these items. Here are a few popular aesthetic car mods.

  • Valve caps
  • Steering wheel covers
  • Dashboard accents
  • Reflectors
  • Decals or pinstriping
  • Seat covers
  • Spare tire covers

Bolt-on car mods are generally considered those that you can easily do in your own driveway. This can vary a great deal depending on your wrenching skills. In general, a bolt-on mod should be reversible if you save the factory parts, or at the very least, obtained factory replacement parts again later. Bolt-on mods are often a mix between aesthetic, function, and performance. Let’s look at some popular bolt-on car mods.

  • Cold Air intake
  • Muffler or cat-back exhaust
  • Wheel & Tire combo
  • Body mods (functional or otherwise)
  • Electronic throttle controllers
  • Light engine mods (spark plugs, wires, etc)
  • Audio system upgrades
  • Car alarms / remote start

Performance Upgrades

I’ve included lift kits and lowering kits in my Performance Upgrades category because they are for the most part, performance oriented and outside of the bolt-on comfort zone for most owners. Dumping in crappy spacers (lift) or hacking off a couple of inches of leaf spring (lowering) do not count as performance mods.

For Jeep and 4×4 enthusiasts, lift kits are a common modification. A quality lift kit however will usually take a shop with the skill and equipment to do the job correctly. A good lift kit will improve ride performance, though is also aesthetically pleasing, if that look is your cup of tea.

Pickup truck with lift kit and other modifications

Racing and tuner enthusiasts go the other way, with lowering kits. For the record, I’ve been on both sides of that coin. I’ve lowered a couple of vehicles, whereas now I’m moving my ground clearance in the other direction. I did lower a vehicle in my driveway once, but it took about 8 hours, and then still had to go to the alignment shop. I was glad to say that I had one it, and it looked greate…but never again.

Performance upgrades generally can’t simply be bolted on by someone with the right tools. There are usually other factors to consider, and should be handled by a pro. In addition to lift/lower kits, other performance upgrades that vehicle owners will often consider are;

  • Suspension modifications
  • Turbo charger
  • Supercharger
  • Engine mods (Boring / porting / relieving / stroking)
  • Camshaft swap
  • Differential gear changes
  • Transmission / Clutch upgrades
  • ECU tweaks or swaps


If you love cars like I do, they you’ll love car mods too. I’ve owned and modded a multitude of vehicles and they always looked better when I sold them than they did when I first got them.

Whether you turn to car mods for aesthetics, performance, or just to fit in…personalizing your ride is a big part of vehicle ownership. Not everyone is a fan of course. Some are concerned with factory warranty issues, others simply view the car as a tool and don’t care. Count me on the side of always modding.

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