We’re old fogeys when it comes to custom cars — we prefer classy and comfy to extreme and unsightly. Don’t get us wrong, we love driving badass off-road vehicles, or hounding high-performance sports cars on the track. But unfortunately there are plenty of trends circulating in the automotive arena that have never made much sense.
On the bright side, fads tend to come and go rather quickly, so most of the crap you see today will likely fade into non-existence soon enough. At the end of the day tasteful modifications are a subjective matter, and we must all acknowledge the fact that people are going to do dumb things to their cars no matter what others may say. Unfortunately for the rest of us, we have to now look at these vehicles, and hope they don’t crash into us on the interstate.
1. Rolling coal
This has to be one of the most American things we’ve ever seen outside of bacon-wrapped, deep-fried Twinkies on a pretzel stick. Commonly referred to as “rolling coal,” this polluting paradigm is a way in which diesel enthusiasts can boost both power and efficiency via a series of tech and mechanical modifications, with the side effect being a large plume of soot-rich exhaust.
The L.A. Times did a writeup on this subject a while back in order to touch upon some of the environmental issues associated with this trend, as well as what both the government and lawmakers are doing in order to stop it. While rolling coal remains legal in most of America, quite a few states are now working on making this blatant form of air pollution illegal, with states like Indiana issuing fines that top-out at around $5,000 a ticket.
2. Rusted rides
Once considered a staple of the “rat rod” community, the purposeful rusting of a car’s exterior has leeched its way into other areas of mainstream car culture in recent years, as import fans continue to get hooked on rust at an alarming rate. This is one of those modifications that just boggles the mind, with perfectly good paint jobs getting destroyed every year.
There are some guys out there who are able to artistically remove paint, and encourage clever rusting techniques before sealing everything up properly so that the cancer doesn’t spread. But let’s be honest with one another for a moment: There’s no point to this mod other than making a car look like it has been sitting in a corn field for a millennia, as kids purposefully rust everything from hoods to an entire chassis in order to stand out. We’re assuming nothing says “I’m hardcore” quite like a tetanus shot every week or two.
3. Stuffed animals everywhere
While the Japanese supposedly started this fad, and have for the most part abandoned it, for some reason Americans have held on to this silly notion for entirely too long. There is nothing beneficial about this mod, if you can even call it that, and the only heartfelt response I have ever seen was from a 3-year-old who broke down in tears because some guy in a Miata had run over Bert and Ernie.
4. Crazy camber and stretched rubber
This is a fad that is not only ridiculous-looking but also dangerous if your suspension setup is not done properly and then maintained regularly. Adjusting a car’s alignment geometry to the point where the wheels sit at an ad-hoc angle usually means that the car is extremely low to the pavement and that the only amount of compound touching the asphalt is a thin strip of inner tire sipe. Force a tire onto a wheel that is considerably wider in order to give it a “stretched” look, and you’ll have even less surface area to work with. Combine the two together, and voila … traction and stability issues galore.
So be careful when driving behind cars with excessively cambered wheels/suspension and stretched tires — they are prone to bottoming out over bumps, have very little tire protection against potholes and road debris, and run a high risk of ripping their oil pans open. These cars also typically tend to have the stopping power of a fat walrus on a slip-and-slide, so be sure to give these nincompoops plenty of extra space under slippery conditions.
5. Fake portholes
This next fad has been around for decades, with Buick remaining the most recognized automaker to continually utilize factory-placed portholes. These adhesive-attached pieces of plastic serve no purpose whatsoever besides making a vehicle look tacky, and anyone who knows a thing about cars will immediately recognize that these fake vents don’t do crap for airflow. Once attached to a car, these pointless pieces of plastic do little more than make a silly statement about one’s modification preferences and are supposedly a bitch to clean properly. Almost everyone we spoke with agreed that adding a bunch of cheap chromed-out plastic to an automobile in order to “improve” its overall aesthetics is a foolhardy endeavor and should never be allowed.
6. Ridiculous wraps, plasti dip, and rattle can paint jobs
For those of you who are unfamiliar with plasti dip, it’s basically a pigmented spray-on adhesive that can be easily peeled off and then reapplied as necessary. Everything from wheels to entire cars have received this “homemade upgrade” in recent years, but rarely with commendable results. The same goes for wrapping a car in vinyl instead of painting it, which also is fairly commonplace, as it considerably saves both time and money, and the replacement of a damaged piece of vinyl is far cheaper and easier to tend to than a series of paint corrections.
But leave it to the aftermarket community to take a perfectly good idea and turn it into something grotesque. While “flat” and “matte” colors still continue to be overplayed, it’s the bubbling vinyl wraps and florescent-colored plasti dip spray jobs that make us cringe. Take the poor Honda Civic seen here for instance: Against better judgement, the coupe’s lower lip has been wrapped in leopard print vinyl, areas of the interior have been sprayed in plasti dip, and as for the rattle can camo paint job, well … let’s just say that we’ve seen a lot better and seen a lot worse.
7. Truck nuts
Nothing says “I’m a man” quite like a massive pair of nadgers dangling from the rear-end of a vehicle. Available in a multitude of different shapes, colors, textures, and materials, this modification isn’t just stupid, but lewd and potentially dangerous as well. You hear that? Your cojones are a threat, hombre. Dangers lie within the fact that many of these gaudy gonads run the risk of experiencing spontaneous castration while driving, and those that are metal in nature have the ability to inflict some serious damage to any vehicles or person behind them.
8. Sticker bombing
Much like vinyl wrapping, this mod started off as a bright idea and spiraled out of control once it hit mainstream car culture. What began as just a few decals and sponsor stickers here and there has turned into an utterly offensive overload of “sticker-bombed” vehicles, with the import scene playing chief offender. Setting oneself apart from the crowd is a noble cause, but when the end result makes a clean car look completely kaput, it becomes a bit counter intuitive. Sure, a quality paint job is pretty damn expensive, but slapping stickers everywhere should never be the solution, as it only makes a vehicle look like an over-sized Trapper Keeper on wheels.
9. Pristine off-road machines with LED lightbars
According to most hardcore off-road enthusiasts we’ve spoken to in recent years, the customized, squeaky clean 4×4 craze is a bizarre and completely pointless waste of aftermarket resources, that is good for little more than a laugh over pints at happy hour. For as outstanding as the all-new Ford Raptor is, a large portion of the people who are waiting in line for one will likely keep it as spotless as possible out of fear of scratching, chipping, scuffing, or muddying-up their precious 4×4 pickup.
This animalistic F-150 was never engineered with the goal of having extra wide anodized aftermarket wheels slapped on it alongside an obnoxiously bright LED kit, allowing drivers to see the lines on the road better as they exit Baskin Robbins. Ford spent billions of dollars on making this machine the most capable desert-prepped race truck imaginable, and not utilizing it to its full potential, or even worse, modifying it to the point where it is deemed useless, is a complete disgrace to what the vehicle stands for.
10. Stick figure family portrait window decals
Our final bizarre car trend that needs to bite the bullet is none other than the family stick figure decal, which never will win our vote for being cute or pleasant to look upon. To date, no one we’ve spoken with has been able to legitimize what anyone would gain from preaching to the world that they have two unappreciative kids, a wife who hasn’t left them yet, and a dog with gum disease.
While there have been some humorous tweaks to this suburbanite sensation, with Stig, zombie apocalypse, and Star Wars reiterations immediately coming to mind, this fad still belongs on this cheat sheet. Oh, and please don’t put the names of your offspring on your car for the world to see. All the creeps in the Big Lots parking lot don’t need to know the names of your children, where they go to school, or what band camp they attend.