From The Telegraph
NASHUA, NH — Some adults decorate their houses to suit their personalities.
Others “pimp out” their cars.
Customizing cars is a hobby that’s been around for years, but these days — with television shows such as “Pimp My Ride” and “Monster Garage,” and movies like “The Fast and The Furious,” the trend is just starting to get noticed.
Just ask Jamie Page, 29, co-owner of Boomer McLoud, a car audio, accessory and performance store on Amherst Street in Nashua, N.H.
“It’s just like buying yourself a nice pair of shoes,” Page said. “You match up your shirt. It’s all about correlation and style and the look.” He ought to know. Page is the owner of a 1999 candy-apple-red Honda Civic that he has “tricked out” to the tune of $100,000.
“I look at is as an adult set of Legos,” said Page, who admittedly does not own a home because of his car. “I’d rather have the car than the house, to tell you the truth. It’s just so much fun. There’s not a single car that can take me out on the streets.” Page bought the Civic five years ago. Customizing it to suit his unique style started with the purchase of a subwoofer — which provides the “boom.” “Creating a concert atmosphere in my car was a requirement,” he said.
Four speakers turned into 29 — “that’s literally all I could fit,” Page said. However, the speakers added a lot of weight. So he started “tricking it out,” or stripping it of the manufacturer’s parts. He changed the motor, which led to an upgraded exhaust (which he needed to “maximize the motor”).
Then came the body kit, upgraded wheels and a list of showy cosmetics.
The only thing that hasn’t been modified is the frame and the steering wheel. It’s all part of a vehicle that he plans to keep — forever.
“I’ve got four years of blood, sweat and tears into it, and a very empty wallet,” he said.
Page is not alone. Customizing one’s vehicle is a trend that’s been around for years, but is gaining ground.
Americans spent $28.9 billion on customizing in 2003, up 7.7 percent from the previous year, according to Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), a trade group that represents custom parts makers.
Within the first 90 days of ownership consumers spend an average of $1,500 to personalize their vehicles, according to SEMA. Page has seen a client spend as much as $75,000 for upgrades.
Peter MacGillivray, SEMA’s vice president of marketing and communications, said the sport-compact scene is populated by first-time drivers who are interested in making their cars unique.
“We’ve got this whole new generation of hot-rodders that are entering the scene and really falling in love with their cars,” MacGillivray said.
People have been modifying and accessorizing their cars every since the first one rolled off the assembly line, MacGillivray said. But he said the popularity really took off after World War II, when servicemen and women came back from the war with more advanced mechanical skills.
“There was a middle class that was buying vehicles at a rate the motor vehicle industry had never seen before,” MacGillivray said.
That sales surge led to the hot-rodding scene, where people souped up their cars and competed with them at racetracks and car shows in the mid- to late 1950s, he said.
Today, most people start with chrome wheels — a basic product that can make even a Ford Focus look special, Page said. These days, people go as far as installing multi-screen DVD theater systems.
Keith Scott, 29, of Gilford, N.H., has four TV screens, a DVD player and a Playstation 2 in his 2002 Ford F150 Super Crew. He paid roughly $30,000 for the truck, and poured $29,000 into it.
Besides changing the engine and exhaust and putting in a custom sound system complete with two 12-inch subwoofers, Scott had the airbags ripped out and replaced with a TV screen. The Playstation was installed where the glove box once sat.
“It becomes an addiction,” Scott said. “You just keep wanting to do more and more.” Even car manufacturers are catching on. SEMA’s MacGillivray said car makers are paying attention to accessories and capitalizing on the market.
Toyota has come out with the Scion, a car that is marketed towards the customization craze. Toyota’s aftermarket division has specific parts just for the Scion.
When the new Ford F150 was introduced last year, there were already more than 100 accessories available for the truck before it hit the showroom floor, MacGillivray said. That’s because the company started working with SEMA about three years ago to provide popular modifications and wanted parts quickly — previously, consumers had to wait four to six months.
Officials from Ford visited SEMA offices last week so it could design wheels, grille treatments, ground effects, wings, and other products for the new Mustang, which is months away from being released, MacGillivray said.
“It’s a fashion business,” he said. “It’s not something that anybody needs, but that everybody wants to have.
“It’s the type of purchase that consumers save up for, feel really excited about. Feel good about it. When you spend money on a new set of wheels, you can’t wait to show them to your friends, show them off.” Personalizing your car to fit your lifestyle is being driven, in large part, by the mainstream media, MacGillivray said. There are now more than 30 television shows, such as “American Hot Rod” and “Overhaulin,'” that cater to car enthusiasts.
“Millions of people watch those shows every night and they see how much fun it is to fix up your car and your truck,” MacGillivray said. “You combine that with what’s going on in the music industry right now — the whole hip-hop scene, a lot of music videos.
“It’s a part of the popular culture right now. It’s fashion. People are defined by what kind of cars they drive, and how they accessorize.”
Not just teens
Tim Boise, owner of Tim’s Speed & Custom, a custom-car shop on Pond Street, said it’s not just the MTV set that is customizing their vehicles.
More than 20 percent of his clientele are younger than 20 years old. The rest are aged 25 to 60.
The older people do it for different reasons, he said. Boise said he replaced an exhaust on a man’s new truck.
“He had to be 70-something years old,” he said. “He couldn’t hear his exhaust.” Others want to enhance the mileage of the vehicle because of the high price of gasoline, Boise said.
“A lot of people in their sport utilities, trucks and cars are coming in trying to buy better air filters and exhaust systems,” he said. “You can change just the muffler alone and pick up as much as 1 to 2 miles per gallon on the highway just by changing it to a higher flow muffler.” Younger drivers are into lowering their cars, upgrading exhaust systems and other cosmetics, Boise said.
It’s a trend that has roots in southern California, and one that Boise doesn’t think is going to survive in New England.
“You can’t have a car lowered two inches off the ground and drive it in the snow,” Boise said. “Kids are coming in with their spoilers torn off, their exhausts smashed, and it’s because they’re so low that they can’t handle, they’re not built for New England.” Boise said he’s actually wary of younger kids who come in and want to modify their vehicles.
“The really young kids who walk in with an attitude, I can already tell I’m not going to help them make their cars faster, because they’re only going to draw attention to me,” he said. “You have to pick and choose who you sell it to.” He warns every kid who wants to change his exhaust to beware because if they get stopped, they’re probably going to get a ticket.
New Hampshire has laws about exhaust systems, bumpers, tinting of windows as well as the kind of lights put on a vehicle.
And if you’re under 18, he’ll tell you to come back with your father.
Modifications aren’t for everyone. Those who buy a new car and think they can customize it need to know that certain modifications may not be covered under warranties.
Kelsey Dillon of Hudson said her 21-year-old son, Gary Wells, had to replace the transmission on his Subaru WRX twice. Subaru told him the warranty didn’t cover the damage because he abused the vehicle.
Wells denies abusing his car, but said he did install a better exhaust, air filter, and air-release valve — all modifications he says have nothing to do with the transmission.
Subaru of America also pointed to Wells’ modifications, which they say enhance the performance. Subaru spokesperson Lisa Fleming said performance modifications such as the ones Wells had actually increase the engine’s horsepower and torque — and the original equipment warranty doesn’t cover that.
Wells’ mother said the car is marketed toward young boys to go fast.
“When you drive it like the sports car they advertise it like, they get into problems,” she said.
So, buyer beware.
“When you’re buying a new vehicle, and you think you can modify it, you need to be aware of the fact that it might not be covered by the warranty,” Dillon said. “He didn’t. I think a lot of other young boys driving sports cars don’t know that.” According to enjoythedrive.com, SEMA’s consumer Web site, warranty coverage can’t be denied because a car has aftermarket parts. It can only be denied if the aftermarket part caused the damage.
“Disputes in this area usually boil down to arguments over facts and technical opinions, rather than arguments over interpretations of the law,” enjoythedrive.com says on its Web site.
SEMA’s MacGillivray said, “Before you install something, you definitely want to check with your local law enforcement folks to make sure that what you’re doing is legal.” Regardless, Page said customization is addictive, and he predicts the popularity peak is yet to come.
“In 20 years, I think you’ll be able to order your car as custom as you want it, right from the factory,” he said.
Copyright 2004 The Telegraph. All Rights Reserved.
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