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Cheap car mods: the basics of upgrading your car

Upgrading your car can cost a lot, both in terms of the mods themselves and what the changes do to your insurance premium. But it’s possible to inject a bit of personality into your first car without breaking the bank. Here’s our guide to cheap car mods…

Wraps

A full body wrap is a massively expensive option. But you don’t need to wrap the whole thing. A roof wrap is a lot easier and cheaper than wrapping the entire car, but still switches things up nicely. Door mirror wraps are also quite cheap car mods, but pack a visual punch. Prices will vary, but budget on around £75-£100 per mirror.

Window tints

Window tints are another relatively cheap car mod to make your car look cool. It won’t just look cool, it will be cooler, as any tint that blocks UV light will reduce the temperature in the car on a sunny day.

Just be careful to stay legal. The front windscreen must let at least 75% of light through and the front side windows must let 70% of light through. Break the rules and the police could stop you from using the car until the tint is removed.

DAB radio

You can go mad and spend hundreds upgrading your in-car entertainment if you have the budget. But upgrading to a digital radio is a cheap car mod that’s well worth making. If you have a conventional radio head unit (either single or double DIN) rather than one that’s built in and specific to the car, you can just swap it for a more up-to-date DAB radio. Expect to pay upwards of £100 for a single DIN DAB radio, rising to £300 or more for a high-spec double DIN unit.

Another cheap and simple option is a ‘plug-and-play’ adapter. These plug in to the car’s 12v socket, and play DAB through your existing FM radio via the aux-in port. You could pay as little as £30, although higher quality devices with more features will be £80-£100.

Cabin lighting

Interior lighting kits look awesome if done well. With some basic DIY ability you can install an LED cabin lighting kit yourself, transforming the look of the interior at night. Some kits have adapters that simply plug into a 12v socket.

Just don’t use bright interior lights when you are driving, as they’ll make it harder for your eyes to adjust to the darkness outside the car. Save them for when you’ve parked up and there’s an audience to impress.

Uprated headlights

Weak headlights can be a problem with older cars. Upgrading them won’t just make your car look better at night, potentially there’s a safety benefit too.

It gets complicated when you start to throw tints into the mix. It’s a legal requirement for all front-facing lights to glow white or yellow, and rear-facing lights to be red. Bulbs must be Department of Transportation approved.

Other mods to be wary of

We’re concentrating here on cheap car mods, with an eye on staying legal as well as bringing some bling to your car. Some popular mods are more expensive and harder to justify.

An aftermarket exhaust could make your car sound better, but if it’s loud enough to be considered excessively noisy you could be fined £50 and you’ll have to get the exhaust removed. Exhaust kits that do away with the catalytic converter aren’t a smart upgrade for a road car as it will fail its MOT.

Likewise think twice about chipping (tweaking the car’s electronic control unit). This is a simple way to increase the engine’s power, but it will push up your insurance premium. If your car is still covered by the original warranty, any engine trouble won’t be covered if your car has been chipped.

If you want to make mods yourself, that’s great if you know what you are doing. But if in doubt get the help of a professional.

Tell your insurer

Whatever the mod, cheap or expensive, tell your insurer. In fact, the smart move is to contact the insurer first to discuss the changes you have planned. That way you can makes sure you can afford your insurance premium as well as the mods themselves.

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