You can change the way you look, and that goes for your car too.

I DON’T THINK I’VE ever heard anyone say they enjoy driving exactly the same car as everyone else, but I have heard many people say they want something different. Maybe you can’t afford a unique car, or even a rare one, but what you can do is change your common car’s looks, inside and out. There’s so many options, but here’s a few simple things to do that are cosmetic, not functional:

  • Use a personalised numberplate. They are available in different sizes, colours and styles.
  • Add some stickers. Simple, but effective;
  • Replace the wheels;
  • Replace the tyres;
  • Do both and change profile (same diameter tyre, but more wheel and less tyre…or less wheel and more tyre!);
  • Add a spoiler;
  • Paint or vinyl wrap small components like wingmirrors, doorhandles;
  • Paint the brake callipers;
  • Replace the head or tail lights;
  • Tint the windows;
  • Remove some of the badges;
  • Paint or plasti-dip the badges;
  • Wrap the steering wheel;
  • Re-upholster the seats;
  • Replace the seats;
  • Change the colour of interior trim panels;
  • Replace the radio antenna; and
  • Replace the wheel lugs.

All of those are cheap and easy to do, and mostly don’t count as modifications in the eyes of the law. However, there are laws around darkness of window tint and modifications to safety features such as brakes. Changing wheels and tyres is permitted, but especially if you change wheel or tyre size you’ll need to check your car will be legal. Same deal for suspension lifts or lowers.  Seek advice from qualified mechanics, and/or consult your state road authority’s website; they all have guides to vehicle modification.

Plasti-dipping is a spray-on, peel-off coating of whatever colour you like. Vinyl wrap is putting a sheet of tough, thin plastic wrap around your car.  Here’s my Ranger before and after its wrap:


Wrapping lasts 3-4 years before it discolours, but it does protect the underlying paintwork. If you do it, get a quality job done. Notice that the doorhandles, wingmirrors and trim piece in front of the door have been changed to black, as has the barwork. A bright colour like orange really needs a contrast colour, and little details like that help balance the look.

Where do you get these parts and the expertise? Your local car club, or online gathering of owners. There’s now a Facebook group for pretty much every car, and a web forum. If there isn’t, find the one closest; for example if you own a Subaru Liberty, the WRX people will be welcoming. The Cars and Coffee meets are a great place to get started too.

So what might the results look like? Here’s a Mazda 3 with some tasteful changes:

img_7465 img_7466

Did you notice all the little touches? The constrast-colour numerplate is obvious, but what about the hubcaps and even the valvecaps?

And here are two different looking Velosters:

img_2537 img_2492

Below you see several cars which started off life as near-identical; Toyota 86 GT, GTS and Subaru BRZ. Yet each owner has personalised their car inside and out. You can, too.

Aside from legality, you also need to consider usability. Some modifications make the car harder to use, such as lowered suspension. Then there’s resale; modified cars are typically harder to sell, so keep the original parts so you can return the car to standard when you’re ready to move it on. Often you can sell good-quality parts for a decent price indvidually, making more than the extra you’d get if you sold the car with everything on. That selling of parts if known as a “part-out”.

There’s just one rule. Put your energy into modifications, not nasty critiques of people’s cars. 


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  1. I’m thinking of changing the wheels on my vehicle. I want a full size spare. New wheel from VW over $1300.00. I can buy a full set for that and sell the original wheels. I will come out in front! I will be most careful to ensure that the new wheels are fully compatible. I want to give no excuse for voiding the warranty.

  2. First thing i do when i get a new car is change the wheels! Simmons or advanti usually gave the best styles and sizes. Current are 20×8.5 and 20×10 rear sure looks better than stock 17s!

  3. Hello Josh, no doubt you are right to a degree. I was not thinking of $200.00 wheels from K-mart or whatever. My comment was a little tongue in cheek. However, I do not believe that a set of wheels is worth 15% of the overall price of the vehicle. There are plenty of suppliers who offer quality aftermarket wheels and that is what I am considering.

    1. Yes $1300 is too low for decent wheels…but under $2000 will get you decent set of four. The point is correct though; the prices manufacturers charge for wheels are crazy. If you really want original wheels buying them secondhand is often an option, and especially so if you know how to choose wheels (PCD, offset, load rating) so you can fit wheels from other cars to yours.

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