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Custom cars have been a popular form of self-expression for car enthusiasts for decades. These vehicles have been modified and personalized to create something unique and special that reflects the owner’s taste and style. Simply put, custom cars are a rare oddity and a collectors’ treasure. So, while you might have heard of a hot rod, you may not know what a rat rod is and how it differs from a hot rod.

What is a hot rod?

According to YourDictionary, a hot rod is “An automobile, usually an old one stripped of extraneous parts, adjusted or rebuilt for quick acceleration and great speed.” Hot rods originated in the 1930s in southern California. People would take old cars and strip them down to their bare essentials. They would then add powerful engines and other modifications to make them faster and more powerful. Hot rods are known for their sleek lines, large engines, and open wheels.

What is a rat rod?

Steve Thaemert Jr. of RatRod Magazine documenting the rat rod segment of hot rod models
A profile for RatRod Magazine | David Brewster/Star Tribune via Getty Images

J.D. Power describes rat rods as any unfinished hot rod with a rather shabby or incomplete look. Rat rods are vehicles made on the concept of the classic hot rods but in a more cost-efficient and creative way. Rat rods are also customized cars but have a distinct style and aesthetic that sets them apart from hot rods. Rat rods look rough and unfinished, with rusty exteriors and exposed mechanical parts. They are often made from salvaged parts, and their engines are not always the most powerful. Generally, rat rods are meant to intentionally look like they have been cobbled together from spare parts found in a junkyard.

What’s the difference between a hot rod and a rat rod?

The main difference between hot rods and rat rods is their appearance and the intention behind their design. Hot rods are sleek and polished, while rat rods are rough and unfinished. Hot rods are made to be fast and powerful, while rat rods are meant to look cool and unique. Hot rods are often made with high-performance engines and modern technology, while rat rods are usually made with salvaged parts and old-fashioned mechanics. 

Both hot rods and rat rods are also similar to street rods in that they are all customized cars, but street rods are typically more refined and polished than rat rods. Street rods are built for cruising and showing off, while hot rods and rat rods are built for speed and uniqueness. Additionally, LeLandWest mentions that hot rods and rat rods are based on the classic American body styles of the first half of the 20th century.

What is a rod-type vehicle?

A “rod” type of vehicle is a customized car that has been modified to suit the taste of its owner. While hot rods and rat rods may seem similar at first glance, they have distinct differences that set them apart. Whether you’re a fan of hot rods or rat rods or just appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship that goes into custom car building, there’s no denying that these vehicles are eye-catching.

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