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Many vehicle models get upgrades and new features every four to six years, a time frame that people in the industry calls the ‘model cycle.’ It may be a long time, but technology always brings something new to the table every year or so. When an automobile reaches the end of its model cycle, its successor will be jam-packed with conveniences no one ever thought of back then. 

It stands to reason that owners would need to update their rides after six years, but that’s not the case. Americans are hanging onto their vehicles longer, around 12 years, according to one recent survey. Recent economic downturns, complicated by the pandemic, have forced them to put off buying a new car, at least until things pick up again. (1)

To keep their rides roadworthy, many owners resort to updating parts and accessories. Whether Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) or aftermarket, car parts are less costly than an entire vehicle. 

But are these upgrades worth it? Can upgrading be a better decision than buying a new car? Here’s what the jury has to say:

Setting priorities 

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Car owners love souping up their rides with parts and accessories; that much is certain. A market survey in 2019 found that owners between 16 and 24 years old spent over USD$7 billion fitting their cars with performance parts and accessories. To them, a car is more than just a utility to get them from point to point; it speaks a lot about their personalities. (2)

Some of these upgrades are worth every penny, others not so much. In deciding which is which, you have to ask yourself some hard questions. Are these parts upgrades to be able to drive your old ride past its lifespan? Or are they for making a statement?

If you can’t decide, fall back on the thought of safety. Parts and accessories that are involved in ensuring a worry-free drive are worth the extra investment. For example, as one of the most used components inside your vehicle, worn shift knobs are sure to ruin your ride’s sleek interiors so it will be worth installing new and improved aftermarket shift knobs.

After all, you can’t put a price on a driver or passenger’s life. Here are a few worth considering.

  • Brakes – Cars should be able to stop as fast as they run. Increasing engine performance should warrant upgrading brake kits for better handling and control.
  • Tires – The right set of tires can improve fuel economy and make rides a lot smoother, which can mitigate overall wear and tear.
  • Suspension – Reducing stress on the car due to braking and going over potholes is the suspension’s job, so it’s a critical upgrade. (3)

Engine components come in second. With the right parts installed, older engines can perform just as well as their newer counterparts, if not better. As there isn’t a need to leave anyone in the dust in everyday driving (save for emergencies), not every component needs an upgrade.

  • Fuel injector – New fuel injectors can better distribute fuel into the engine, reducing the likelihood of rough idling, especially among older cars.
  • Spark plugs – These parts have become more reliable for more miles. They began with copper (up to 20,000 miles) and still going strong with platinum (up to 100,000 miles).
  • Air intake – Combustion requires the proper mixture of fuel and air; a combination of air filters and intake systems can give engines a modest boost in horsepower.

(3)

As for parts that improve aesthetics, there isn’t a lot worth prioritizing. For example, a spoiler can be quite the temptation, but how they contribute to a car’s performance is still debatable at best. It can help keep the car stable at high speeds but only at the correct angle. Some carmakers even admit that their stock spoilers are purely aesthetic. (4)

In this case, external body improvements are only reasonable under specific circumstances. Car owners living in places where gun crimes are far too common may find bulletproofing vehicles to be a good investment. But as the armor will add weight considerably, there’s also the need to improve engine performance. 

All about cost-effectiveness

Regardless, your choice of upgrades takes a backseat to the idea of cost-effectiveness. In this regard, it can be quite a gray area. The car community at large is still debating if electric vehicles are more cost-effective than fossil fuel ones—with no end in sight.

Cost-effectiveness involves more than just the price tag for each option; it’s also about the long-term expenditure. Imagine you have the choice to afford a new car worth USD$30,000 or keep your old one that’s three years old and worth half as much today. If the latter requires upgrades that’ll bring the total close to the cost of a new car, buying new is probably the better option.

However, as mentioned earlier, most models receive upgrades and new features every four to six years. You most likely won’t be missing a lot with a mid-cycle refresh, where the model only has several minor updates from its predecessor. Furthermore, distributing the upgrades over a more extended period will make the costs more manageable. 

Some might mention Irv Gordon’s 1966 Volvo P1800, known as the Three-Million-Mile Volvo for its record mileage, as an example of how upgraded cars can last forever. While that story of remarkable dedication can’t be any truer, keeping that car running didn’t come cheap. Apart from routine maintenance, its engine had to be replaced in 2009 since it was losing compression.

This much mileage on a vintage vehicle is only possible through substantial funding and smart spending. Forcing yourself to go down the upgrade option with little to no consideration to cost-effectiveness is an excellent way to regret it later.

Final thoughts

To recap, here’s a quick list of how to decide on the matter.

  • Choose to build a working car over a show car for long-term benefits.
  • Prioritize driving safety over everything else in upgrading the components.
  • Aesthetic improvements should only come under specific circumstances.
  • Determine if the upgrades will be more cost-effective than a new vehicle.

Depending on the kind of answers you arrive with, upgrading vehicle components will be a safe bet. Otherwise, if your budget permits, replace your ride with a brand new one.

 

Sources:

  1. “Average Age of Vehicles on the Road Rises above 12 Years,” https://www.caranddriver.com/news/a33457915/average-age-vehicles-on-road-12-years/
  2. “Report: Young car enthusiasts spend $7.2 billion a year customizing vehicles,” https://apnews.com/article/305f5bcbef3e4ec688df3a5dd3ceba12
  3. “10 Aftermarket Mods Worth Every Dollar (And 10 That Are A Waste Of Money),” https://www.hotcars.com/10-aftermarket-mods-worth-every-dollar-and-10-that-are-a-waste-of-money/
  4. “Do spoilers actually improve a car’s performance?” https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/culture/commuting/do-spoilers-actually-improve-a-cars-performance/article21180268/

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