car stereo

The basics of upgrading your car

It’s great to have a car that stands out from the crowd, but unless you can afford something exotic, it’s usually a question of modifying your very ordinary supermini. There are loads of things you can do to make your car more individual, but some can mean a failed MOT, a hefty fine and points on your licence – or even a crash…

How can I upgrade my car?

Window tints

Excessively tinted windows can make it harder to spot potential hazards, especially at night. The police use a handheld light sensor to measure how much light gets through your windows. If under the minimum reading of 70%, you could get a £30 fine or three points. You may also get a vehicle defect correction order to get the tints removed.


Playing your stereo at ear-bleeding levels may be the ultimate attention grabber as you cruise down your local high street, but choose the timing of your audio assault carefully, or you could end up facing a fine – and tinnitus. Annoy the feds and they’ll give you at least a warning, possibly a £60 fixed penalty ticket, and even a summons for excessive noise.

Your start point is to choose a head unit; that’s the dash-mounted box with the buttons on it. The heart of any ICE installation, you can get a decently powerful head unit for £100 or so; double that for something that’s ipod-ready. If your car has front speakers only, it’s worth adding a pair in the rear; 50 notes secures something reasonable, but £100 buys something significantly better.

If you’ve got a bigger budget, you can add amplifiers, component speakers and all sorts of add-ons such as filters and crossovers, subwoofers and gaming systems. However, this all adds weight, increases the chances of your car getting nicked or broken into – and you’re also more likely to get nicked by the feds. Drive around with the bass booming and you could be stopped and fined or even have your car seized for anti-social behaviour.

Even if you keep it simple, be wary before you start hacking about your car’s wiring because you could end up starting a fire or suffering from electrical glitches. If in doubt, choose your kit but get it installed by the professionals. Also, don’t forget to tell your insurer that you’ve been toying with your car; if it’s nicked and you’ve forgotten to tell them, they could refuse to pay out if it comes to light that you’d modified it.


Number plates

Modify these at your peril. Any deviation from the traditional DVLA-specified dimensions, including fonts, spacing and colours, will definitely get you pulled. The penalty is a £60 fine and a form being sent to the DVLA to warn them of a misrepresented number plate – which could result in the registration becoming void.

Body kits

Cunningly crafting a new custom front bumper can make your ride stand out from the crowd. As long as it doesn’t obscure the driver’s vision and isn’t a danger to pedestrians (no sharp protruding edges) you’ll be fine…

Lowered suspension

Lowering your car’s suspension can improve its handling and make it look much cooler. If it all works fine, you’re OK, but if the police reckon you’ve gone too far and there are road-worthiness issues, expect a verbal warning and a vehicle rectification order. Your car could even be towed away to be fixed.

Bigger wheels

Having your wheels protruding from the bodywork can give your motor a sportier look, but in the eyes of the law you’ll be driving a vehicle in a dangerous condition. That could mean three points and a £60 fixed penalty fine.

Coloured headlight bulbs

Fitting aftermarket headlights or bulbs can transform the look of your car. But the law says you can show only white or yellow lights to the front, and yellow lights to the side. Many aftermarket headlight kits have bulbs with a blue tint, which is illegal – you could be fined £60 as a result.

In-car TV/DVD

If you have any moving image in sight when driving – excluding sat navs – you’re breaking the law. There’s nothing to stop you watching a screen when parked, but having it on when driving means a £60 fine plus the potential for other offences to be taken in to consideration.

De-cat pipes

Emission-reducing catalytic converters (cats) are part of your car’s exhaust system but can reduce your car’s power. By removing the cat you can release more power, but don’t expect your car to pass its next MOT…

Loud exhaust

If your exhaust is loud enough to set off car alarms at 50 paces, you could end up with more than just a ringing in your ears. Just like if you’re playing music at too high a volume, you could face a fine if your exhaust if overly loud. It would be a fixed penalty £60 fine for causing unnecessary noise, and failing to maintain the silencer.

Remember to tell your insurer about any changes you’ve made to your car…