Matt Farah from The Drive and The Smoking Tire podcast and YouTube Channel is no stranger to automotive enthusiasts all over the world. He’s been in the scene for a long time and has a lot to say about cars and the culture surrounding it. So when he lists five ways you can ruin your car, you listen and you listen well.
Recalling his over 400 ‘One Take’ episodes on The Smoking Tire as a point of reference, he’s well aware that sometimes the worst thing to have ever happened to a car may just be the owner themselves. Taking modifications too far or at times not far enough are some of the ways people ruin their cars:
1. Imbalanced Modifications:
It’s a car with too much additional horsepower, and not enough brakes, suspension, and tire to back it up… Adding forced induction to pretty much any car that came without it really means you need to upgrade your brakes to haul down that extra speed, your tires to harness the brakes and the added power on acceleration, and probably your suspension to deal with the increase in cornering speeds… An imbalance can occur the other way as well. In our recent Tuner Shootout, the HPA Motorsports Golf R32 arrived with what HPA owner Marcel Horn referred to as “NASCAR Spec Brake Pad Material.” I have no idea what that means in scientific terms, but I can tell you the brakes felt weird as fuck on the road, with no initial bite, followed by a centimeter of pedal travel, and then your sunglasses hit the windshield and you felt about to vomit on the steering wheel. Our resident hot shoe Leh Keen agreed, and felt the R32 would have been both faster and more predictable with less brake pad.
Farah is totally right here. We are so infatuated with horsepower and torque numbers that we easily forget that all of that power must be harnessed and distributed properly via a proper drivetrain, suspension, and tires. We also forget that, for the money, a tire upgrade is the one of the best mods you can make to quickly shave off lap times.
2. Turning A Reliable Car Into An Unreliable Car
Cars clearly have design limits from the factory, and modification-hungry people will continue to push those limits, and even over-step them. Let’s look at the example of the Ford Fiesta ST, which comes from the factory with an advertised 197 HP and 202 torque at the crank. I dyno tested my Fiesta ST at 189 WHP and 229 wheel TQ when it was stock, and over the course of a year, modified it to 248 WHP and 320 wheel TQ using a few bolt-on parts from COBB Tuning (Full Disclosure: I did not pay for these parts). The car, during my tenure, was perfectly reliable, as it has been with its new owners in Ohio, who now have over 30,000 miles on the car. But I recently drove a modified Fiesta ST with a bigger turbo making 300 Wheel HP, 50 more than mine, who was on his third transmission in a year. Was the car fast? Sure. But for how long? A car is only as reliable as its weakest component, and, as this example shows, engineered bits are often quite reliable inside their tolerance zone. Once that tolerance is pushed—either by heat, horsepower, rotational force or G-force—you reach the fail point quickly.
Correct again, Farah. As an engineer, I am a big proponent of OEM because those parts have been rigorously designed and tested, for the typical use case of the car. Theoretically, those parts should not fail within those design parameters, as it would be in the company’s best interest to keep up reliability numbers. So when tuners and modders begin replacing components for the goal of higher performance, the vehicle’s operating level becomes closer and closer to that limit where parts may just break prematurely.
3. Sacrificing The Driving Experience For Style
You should be realistic about what your actual needs are for your car before you start modifying. For instance, if you have a modern car and are using it for street driving, leave the fucking street belts in. I’ve now installed racing harnesses on two different street cars: my Corvette and my Mustang. And while, yes, the combination of racing seats and harnesses did improve my lap times a bit in the Corvette, and yes, they do look pretty cool, the headache of using either of those cars simply as cars is often not worth it. Same goes for removing interior panels like rear seats, carpeting, sound dampening, and headliner. With rare exception, the weight savings from stripping out your street car is negligible. I’ve now removed large percentages of interior from two cars in my life, and you know what? I’ve made the cars worse, both times…
But the biggest Style over Substance offender is obviously suspension. Look, even I can admit that nearly every car looks just a bit better sitting a bit lower than it came. There’s a reason manufacturer concept cars have chopped rooflines, low ride heights, and big rims—it looks aggressive. But unlike those concept cars, which sport “getting photographed” as their only true design feature, you actually have to drive your car. And if you’re remotely serious about driving, your car should not, under any circumstances, rub. Rub is when you hit a bump, and the tire on your lowered car rubs on the inside of the wheel well, because you’ve removed all the travel and the clearance. In a worst-case scenario, you ignore the rubbing, or you tell people like me, “don’t worry, it’s supposed to do that,” and when I look at your tire I can see that the wheel well is slicing right through it. Sooner or later, you’re going to tear that tire wide open and you’ll have a blowout, a scraped rim, a crashed car, and a poo-filled interior.
Guilty as charged. I once dreamed about modifying my 1999 Clover Green Pearl Honda Civic EX to don yellow fender add-ons, racing seat-belts, lowering springs, big upgraded wheels, intake and exhaust, and graphics… everywhere… But that disaster was saved by the absence of cash and other looming priorities, such as growing up. Adding style most often will result in a performance hit or a big spike in ride discomfort. You think that fat exhaust looks awesome? Just wait until you have a 200 mile road trip.
4. Not Knowing When To Stop
If your car is so heavily modified that your next move is pulling out a fully functional engine and installing stronger internals, you should probably just stop before you do that. I’m not against stronger internals per se, but there is a time and a place. Rebuilding an engine is either very time consuming or very expensive, but most likely it’s both.
Before you get deep into the aftermarket on your BMW M4, you should realize you’re about to tune yourself into Porsche Turbo territory. There are two real sweet spots for tuning—one is a depreciated, late-model car like the E92 BMW 335i, Infiniti G35, Focus ST, Subaru WRX, or something like that. You could pick one up for $15,000-$20,000 and for another $10,000, be as quick as a brand new 335i—a $50,000 car. So there is some value to that level of tuning…
You should always start with the best car you can afford from the factory. There is no substitute for factory development, so if you want to go faster, consider starting with a better car before modifying your cheaper car into that price bracket anyway.
Massive yes here. I’m usually dumb founded to hear how someone has spent upwards of 10K-20K on their car to make it their own. Much respect to those who are dedicated to their cars to make it unique, but I can’t help to think that they could have had something much better had they invested all of that cash into something with more power and reliability.
5. Not Modifying The Driver
Having some humility with your own driving ability, recognizing where to improve, and practicing at the track with instruction; that’s the driver mod. If you truly are faster than your own car, then you should have no problem addressing the parts of your car which are ripe for modification. But I dare you: go to a track day and let an instructor run 5 laps in your car. If you’re not faster than the instructor, it’s not the car that requires modification: it’s the driver.
This is probably the most important point. The component that deserves the most modification is the driver, and this can be done cheaply or very expensively through lots and lots of training. So much time can be shaved off just by knowing where the braking, entry, apex, and exit points of a turn. It’s also important to remember that while those carbon fiber components just lightened the load, it won’t help very much if you’re carrying some extra mass around your belly. Hit the gym!
Check out The Drive article below for more from Matt Farah and his ‘One Take’ outings.
(Source: The Drive)