Tires: The number one practical car mod recommended by the pros. (Zell on Unsplash)
Tires: The number one practical car mod recommended by the pros. (Zell on Unsplash)

What does the phrase “car mod” call to mind? Probably Roush superchargers that push horsepower to unnecessary limits, maybe pickup bed caps that literally have no practical use and definitely the hundreds of bottles of NOS from The Fast and the Furious.

The common denominator with all these supposed “upgrades”? In the hands of your common driver, they’re bound to do more harm than good — whether that means your friends rolling their eyes whenever you crest a hill or mechanical malfunctions that could cause serious bodily harm.

That doesn’t mean you can’t modify your car at all. In fact, you probably should. Every car, whether it’s a new Prius or a 20-year-old station wagon, could always look, perform or feel a little better.

To help, we hit up three automotive professionals to get their recommendations.

Unlike your friendly, neighborhood auto shop, they’re not affiliated with any brands, so you don’t have to worry about them swindling you just because you don’t know the difference between diesel and gasoline.

Tires

“In my humble opinion, tires are always the best modification. Nothing changes the way a car feels and performs more than a good set of tires. It’s also an easy upgrade comparatively. Personally, it’s the first thing I do to any vehicle I get. In short, I do my builds from the tires up. I’ve found that a good source of info is Tire Rack. They have customer reviews and they do their own testing of the tires they sell. It’s a good stepping off point, but the best source of info is someone with a similar vehicle that’s already tried different tires. For everyday vehicles I often choose Michelin. They’re great tires, but pray you never have a warranty issue. They’re not very good at that.”

 EricTheCarGuy, creator of the 1.2 million-subscriber YouTube channel

Spark Plugs and Air Filters

“While the traditional tune-up has gone the way of the flip-phone, your vehicle eventually will need certain wear-and-tear items replaced. Rather than shop for the least expensive ones, consider upgrading your choices for spark plugs and air filters, neither of which will break the bank. Spark plugs with platinum or iridium tips will last longer, be less likely to foul, and may improve both gas mileage and power. And that cheap paper air filter which you can buy in any big box store might not be worth the box it’s shipped in. Consider an upgrade to a cotton-based, washable, reusable air filter that can last 50K to 100K miles and improve air flow to the engine. Spark plugs are not as easy to replace for the DIYer as they used to be, but anyone can replace an air filter in about five minutes.”

— Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD.com

Seat Covers

“You stopped noticing because you see it every day, but there’s hardly any upholstery remaining on your driver’s seat. Or if you’re lucky enough to be driving a car with some fabric remaining, it’s either so stained that you can’t identify the original color, or every seam long ago gave up its threads. If you presume that seat covers are too expensive, too ill-fitting or too difficult to install, you’d be wrong on all counts. High-quality brand-name covers can be bought starting at $100 per row (both front seats), and can be installed by anyone in less than an hour. The wide choice of fabrics (cotton, nylon, neoprene, vinyl) and colors (solid and multi) provide dozens of custom options. Best of all, modern manufacturing methods guarantee a perfect custom fit. Drive bare-threaded no more, and make your interior snazzier to boot.”

— Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD.com

Car Bras

“Car bras are a great, affordable upgrade for the everyday driver. Car bras protect the front end of your vehicle from the scratches, dings and marks that can result from road hazards like mud, weather and rocks. They can be custom-fit for your specific year, make and model and installed quite easily. Many car bras can be had for $85 to $115 and they often save you money, preserving the value of your vehicle by protecting it from cosmetic damage. Plus, they provide a sleek, cool look for your vehicle’s front end.”

— Jake McKenzie, content manager at Auto Accessories Garage