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I will be the absolute first to tell you this: It is NOT cheap, by any means, to build a nice car. No matter what you start with, no matter the cost of the mods or how much you can do yourself… It is never, ever cheap to take a car on as a project.

But there’s hope.

Just because an overall car project won’t be cheap doesn’t mean you have to wait to get started on it. If you’ve decided that building a car is important to you, you can start to make an amazing car. However, it’ll take time… The more money you have available, the less time a drastic transformation will take. Of course, the reverse is true… Less money means more time, just a fact of life.

Quality vs. Cost

Just because it’ll take you a while to get a project done doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start. The reason it takes so long? Quality versus cost. Sure, you can take a Civic and modify it to death on an itty bitty high school student budget. But at what cost? Little money, and horrible parts…. Enter the ricer crowd, where you get all the looks with none of the performance.

Ricers have a hard time admitting something: Quality performance parts cost real money. Why spend $400 on an exhaust, when you can get smoked headlights, altezzas, a cold air intake AND an exhaust for $400?! Then you’ll have a REALLY modified Civic, and not just a project in the initial stages of modification.

I’ll tell you why: If you truly value performance, and want to build a car to gain respect from the best of the car community, you’ll suck it up and pay for the good stuff. I’m not saying that every guy who has a Civic needs to outfit it with Mugen and Spoon parts and nothing else, that’s ridiculous. But at least spend some time looking into the horsepower gains of an exhaust before you just settle on whatever is the cheapest.

And, for the love of all cars, please refrain from making your car sound like a weed-whacker.


You look incredibly stupid when all it takes is five minutes of searching on YouTube to avoid confusion with the lawnmowers of the neighborhood when you drive by. (You can also YouTube video clips of exhausts with various header/catalytic converter/intake combinations to avoid making a good sound go bad.)

Take your time.

I know, it’s not fun. Especially when your timetable gets pushed even further back than you thought it would originally stretch. I assure you, though, that it is so worth the time and effort to do it right. When you know you want something good in the end, don’t waste money just to do something new that you’ll end up having to replace later on…

That’s wasting not only your time, but your money. (I’m assuming you’re younger, here, or just rather broke.) Since time is the more plentiful resource in this case, use it to your advantage. Leverage your time, and don’t waste your money.

Maintenance, then mods.

Of all things, NEVER neglect maintenance items in favor of modifications. That ought to go without saying… But I figured it’s better to say it than to ignore it. Pass over if you already knew this, otherwise take it to heart. Your modified car is no good if something goes drastically wrong because you neglected basic maintenance in order to do something “cool.”

No guilt over it either.

But if you’re like me, money is typically in short supply. And even expected maintenance can cost a bundle… Take my Miata’s brakes, for example. The pads were last changed just over two years ago, and are starting to give me the occasional hint of a strained life. Considering we’re hitting up a track next month, I want some good brakes for the event.

Total bite into the budget: $495, shipped, from Tire Rack. Yeah. Ouch.

Needless to say, it pushes back my high-flow catalytic converter and carbon fiber side mirrors a bit. Since I gave myself until the end of the year to do these two things, though, I can’t really be that upset. (It was all even further pushed back thanks to back-to-back autocrosses in the middle of August. That I somehow remembered, but forgot about the money….)

Research isn’t just for school.

Yup, research again…. Because it’s truly useful. More likely than not, someone has already done what you want to do. It’s not a bad thing, either, because what they learned makes it easier on you!

Research will help you avoid the cheap stuff in favor of the best performance for your dollars, and performance usually only comes from quality.

It’s what I do.

So what makes me qualified to preach all of this? Well, it’s how I’ve built my Miata.

Save for the suspension and wheels, which were my present for living without my husband for four months, I’ve paid for all of the work done to the car.

My total income for 2008? Erm, around $13,000.

Granted, I don’t have to pay for a ton of stuff some people do… But if you have just a tiny bit to devote to your car each month, you can at least get started. Maybe you’ll find out it really isn’t for you.

Or, if you’re like me, you’ll gladly sacrifice in other areas to invest in your car. You’ll end up eating, sleeping and breathing cars… And when you can enjoy cars on a tiny budget, just think of what earning more money could entail. ;)

Final note: I’m not advocating poor financial decisions. As a finance major, I felt compelled to say that. However, I’m a firm believer in spending money on things that make you happy. For me, that’s on my car… No matter how tiny my budget.