Modifying cars can be one of the most satisfying things you can do in your garage. Until someone has successfully made a machine better using just some tools, their hands and some know-how – they’ll never quite understand what keeps sending us back under the leaky old bucket of a car to get covered in yet another type of fluid that is supposed to stay inside the engine.
Some modifications take much more skill than others, and while it is important to push yourself so that you learn – it’s also important to understand that the second you take your machine onto a public road, a whole lot of responsibility falls on your shoulders to make sure not just you, but everyone else on the road is safe.
Now this article isn’t some kind of preachy lets all wear stack hats, tinfoil and live in bubbles type article, it is an attempt to shed some light on two very obvious types of car people that I’ve come across recently, and why you should try to avoid being either type, so that YOUR car gets fast and stays that way.
The first type of car person shouldn’t really qualify as a car person at all, but we all know at least one. They can usually tell you about 3 important facts about their car. Fact 1: you put petrol in it (but they don’t know which side the filler cap is on) Fact 2: The right pedal makes it go faster and Fact 3: Gutters are meant to be felt not seen.
This particular kind of car person also struggles to understand that things on cars wear out, and usually seem quite surprised when they are told things need to be replaced. “Brake pads?.. Is that the squealing noise when I try and stop?”
You’re handed an instruction manual with all sorts of things that you buy in this life time, granted, many of us never read them, but many of the things you buy (a washing machine, a fridge, a blender) don’t go hurtling down the road at 100km an hour.. (unless they’ve fallen off the delivery truck that is.)
So why then, is car maintenance not given as much weight as logging 7000 hours of “Seat Time” when obtaining a license? I’ve spoken to P platers who have admitted to breaking down and crying because their car wouldn’t start courtesy of a flat battery. When I quizzed them about it I found out It was parked on a hill, with nothing in front of it... and... it was a manual. Enough said.
So how does this come back to stack hats and tin foil? Cars are complex machines that have come a LONG way since their invention. While any mass marketed car has never required a completely concise and complete knowledge of
the entire cars inner workings, I think 2 hours with just about any person would be enough to explain the basics of how it works, that it needs to be maintained and that if you don’t gain some kind of understanding, you might not hurt yourself, but you’ll definitely hurt your wallet. Perhaps an L plater could cut 20 hours off their drive time with 2 hours of RTFM. (reading the f#*$(ng manual!)
This brings me to the second and far more dangerous type of car person. These are the people with enough knowledge to be dangerous and not enough sense to ask someone if their work is in fact, dangerous. I came across one such car person recently while inspecting their roof racks. We all know how popular they have become lately. Local hardware stores have almost as much to answer for as these particular kind of people because they are supplying the equipment.
If I buy a whole bunch of parts, accessories – whatever and install them INSIDE my car, then the only person that will end up with a giant fluffy dice buried in my eye socket is... me, for a long time this has been the status quo. Cover the inside of your car with all the best, brightest, loudest things you could find – send yourself deaf and be on your merry way.
Not so anymore.. Now the desire to have hella-mad ‘roof racks’ outweighs the desire to not kill people.
Of course we all learn. I was never instructed on how to properly secure things to utes. Never owned a ute, never moved stuff in one before. I’d “secured” a sheet of lightweight MDF to the top of a ute to drive it one street away. I tied it down as best I could, pulled on it to check it felt secure and then jumped in the car.
The ute was loaded down with a fair bit of equipment so I took it slow out of the driveway. As I turned to drive up the laneway I then heard the unmistakable sound of a motorbike horn blaring out from behind me. I looked back and my stomach sank as I saw my tightly secured MDF flat on the road and a very angry motorcyclist stopped just behind it, waving madly at me. I never worried about asking a ‘dumb question’ from that day on. And I learned how to tie knots properly.
Which brings me back to old mate roof racks. He’d made his own roof rack cross bars, which he’d bolted into the factory rails using an assortment of bunnings bolts and washers. The cross bars were light aluminium. On top of this, he’d made his own roof rack basket type system. It was almost as long as the car, at least 2 meters long, and made from aluminium angle and that mesh you see on the front doors of houses (see our Zombie build video for examples)
This in itself is not an engineering bungle, because while it probably wouldn’t support much more weight than that of the kids tricycle he’d placed carefully alongside an empty case of beer, it seemed likely to stay in one piece at high speeds. The engineering bungle was way worse, and it involved one of the most handy pieces of garage and engineering equipment known to man.
That’s right, this 30+ kilo giant angular square of aluminum and mesh was being held to this engineer’s roof rack... with... Cable ties. 4 cable ties no more than 6mm wide, holding this entire 3x2m structure to the car.
The gravity of the situation didn’t really sink in until later on. I kicked myself for not saying something about it, for telling the engineer my MDF story and how I could have very well decapitated a motorcyclist and would only have had myself to blame.. but I didn’t. I just dismissed it as yet another ‘trend’.
Trendy is no excuse for dangerous.
So while I could rant for days about people who take no interest in their cars, don’t care for them and then get upset when they break, that pales in comparison about how passionate I am about making sure the mods that I do myself, and mods that other people do – aren’t likely to damage other innocent people in a bad way.
Putting a POD filter on your car is not likely to make it randomly crash through a kindergarten, but some real common sense needs to be applied right at the moment when you’re about to put your latest bright idea into action. I considered my MDF experience a warning shot, and I triple check tie downs on everything these days, and I always stop to think about the impact my ‘mods’ could have on the people around me. Try and do the same, as we can all be trendy (and safe) together.
Want more mad articles? Check out the Mighty Car Mods Magazine here.