Recently, our good friend, Doug DeMuro, drove a very real and under-accepted point home; modifying your car does not increase its value. But, once we have finally accepted this very reasonable piece of advice, we're left in a no-man's land, frozen in the headlights, afraid to turn a screw for fear that we might as well set fire to a pile of money.
The worst part is that, in almost every case, this proves true. Despite what many burgeoning enthusiasts think, adding very personal touches to your car will almost always drive the value down. And while there are rare occasions where modification will increase the selling price, this is the exception, not the rule. Of course, logic isn't usually a big part of Jalopnik culture, so let's examine how, when and why modifying your car might be a good idea.
First, let's talk about why. There are exactly two reasons to modify your car: financial efficiency and individuality. That's it. Individuality speaks for itself, so let's talk about financial efficiency. Essentially, the attitude here is, "I will build what I can't afford." If we could afford to buy a Ferrari, we wouldn't bother bolting a supercharger onto a Corvette.
Of course, no matter why you do it, you're still risking devaluing your car with every inch you move it away from stock. With that being said, here are the acceptable scenarios for modifying your car:
1. You don't care about money. Let's face it; logic isn't the strong suit of car culture. We're prone to irrational car purchases and even less rational modification ideas. Many of us have taken on wildly risky project cars after convincing ourselves (and usually our significant others) that the cost of a project would be reasonable. As it turns out, "reasonable" is a pretty big gray area.
The bottom line here is that there is no bottom line if you just don't care.
2. You're not going to sell your car. Since I started driving, I've owned 12 cars. I have only sold one of them for a profit. The rest were either passed on to a family member or met their untimely end on the road. The point is that I just don't plan on selling any cars that I own. My goal is to drive them into the ground. I seem to have inherited this from my father, whose 1970 Volkswagen Beetle has a little over 700,000 miles on it.
If you never plan on offering your car up to the market, you'll never have to explain the choices you've made. The choice to buy those $1400 wheels is between you and your God.
3. Your car was a lost cause to begin with. Originality will almost always trump modification in the marketplace, but there's an exception if originality was never an option. When I bought my 1967 BMW 1600, it was basically a rolling shell. There was no interior, the dash was in pieces in the trunk, the original motor was on it's way out, and the outdated suspension was begging for death. So, there was really no where to go but up. I think that it's a safe assumption that the car is worth more with the E30 4 cylinder and upgraded the suspension, wiring, and brakes than it was when it limped off the trailer.
4. You know what you're doing. This is the tricky one. Everyone thinks they know what they are doing. Some actually do know what they are doing, but most of the time you're just going to look like an asshole.
The exception is true competence. If Troy Trepanier builds your Buick or your car was featured on Overhaulin' it's probably worth more now than in stock form. Of course, this usually means that so much money has been dumped into your car that you're bound to see some of it returned.
Now for the how. Here are some basic rules for modifying your car that will hopefully allow you to satisfy both your desire to modify and your desire not to make your car worthless.
- Consult Professionals. If you're looking to upgrade something, do it right. Ask the old guys on your car-specific forum. See what the tried and true upgrades are. Don't take your car to a shop that has never seen your model; seek out the knowledge of the elders.
- Keep the original parts. If you "upgrade" your new Camaro with low profile tires over bigger wheels and new suspension, do yourself a favor and keep the original stuff in a box in your attic. When it comes time to sell the car, you can return it to stock. Then just unload the enthusiast parts to other enthusiasts. Original parts may seem worthless now, but they will be rare and irreplaceable at some point, so you might as well keep them.
- Don't make irreversible modifications. Don't cut holes that you don't need to cut. Try to limit yourself to bolt-on modifications. Don't cut the wiring. No one wants to deal with your mess, so take your time and make sure that you can return your car to stock as much as possible.
- Go with the flow. No matter what you are modifying, a car company likely invested a lot of money into its development. It's unlikely that you are not going to eventually regret major aesthetic modification. So, try to understand what the manufacturer was going for and improve ever so slightly upon that idea. If your car is a base model and an upgraded version exists, look to that for inspiration.
- Don't expect to make money on a modification. This is probably the most important piece of advice that I can give you. Figure out exactly why you want to modify your car and act accordingly, but don't tell yourself the lie that you're making a good investment. Sure, it's possible that a new set of upgraded Bilstein coilovers are going to increase the price of your BMW, but it won't be comparable to what you actually paid for them. If you want to modify your car, go ahead, but don't delude yourself with dreams of raking in the profit because you bought some parts on eBay.
Of course, all of this is just opinion that I've developed in a few decades of car ownership, maintenance and modification. I'm not professional, but then, neither are you, right?