Just How Safe Are Aftermarket Upgrades For Your Car?

By Robert Lobitz, Guest Author

Many avid car enthusiasts are interested in pursuing extensive vehicular upgrades for their cars, but are held back by fears that certain aftermarket upgrades may void manufacturers’ warranties, damage internal systems, and more.

Though some aftermarket modifications may result in the aforementioned consequences, particularly warranty voiding through disallowed tinkering with vehicular systems, in many cases those risks are exaggerated. This is especially true as aftermarket upgrading has grown into a phenomenon in its own right thanks to immense pop culture exposure.

As upgrading has proliferated, more and more vehicles are now better enabled to utilize aftermarket parts as manufacturers work to appeal to automobile enthusiasts.

Below, we’ll cover some major aftermarket upgrades, including installation expectations and possible performance results. On top of that, we’ll also cover how installation of these and other aftermarket upgrades can affect your safety while installing them, as well as how they impact your safety once they’ve been installed.

Furthermore, we’ll take note of how upgrades can affect your car itself, including issues such as warranty voiding, braking compensation, and more.

Performance Chips

In most cars built since the early 1980s and onwards, onboard ECUs and other computerized systems have taken over for the manual controls of the past. Performance chips operate as add-ons that connect through the air intake sensor, and they alter systems performance in such a way that horsepower is often increased, and fuel efficiency is improved as well.

It is true that some modifications to the ECU can result in the voiding of the vehicle’s warranty, but for many modern performance chips this isn’t the case. In fact, most recent performance chip designs allow for installation without even requiring an ECU systems reboot, resulting in lowered systems damage risk.

The biggest concern any tuner should have is whether or not the chip will actually provide the results specified.

Some chips claim to offer both efficiency and horsepower improvements, and in reality only minor horsepower gains are recorded. ECU chips will often work better when paired with other performance parts, such as a turbocharger, as the chip will enhance responsiveness to system changes initiated by turbocharger and the chip itself.

Think about this as well: the more new parts you install, the more you’ll have to be attuned to changes in your car’s performance.

Every new component will have an effect on the operation of your vehicle. To ensure both continued optimal performance of your vehicle, as well as your own safety while operating your vehicle, you can’t just assume that one part will have its intended effect and do nothing else.

With a turbo kit installation, you may end up with a faster car, but will your car’s stock brakes be able to effectively slow it down the same way?

Body Kits

Aftermarket body kits are often quite safe to use on vehicles these days. When installing exterior body parts from the kit such as new bumpers, fenders, and more, the greatest safety concern is handling both the stock and replacement components carefully.

Sometimes, particularly on older model-year vehicles, significant cuts may need to be made in the body of the vehicle in order to remove exterior components. You’ll need to watch for sharp, jagged edges when making the cuts.

As for the car’s safety, you’ll need to make sure all replaced parts are secure once installed. A loose bumper that falls off after being installed can get trapped under the car’s tires, resulting in substantial tire damage and perhaps worse to passengers inside the vehicle.

Always follow the directions that come with any body kits ordered, and choose professional installation instead of installing the parts yourself if you’re not experienced with external add-ons.

Other Safety Advice for Aftermarket Upgrades

Basically, you always need to focus on two facets of upgrading: how the upgrade affects your car, and how the upgrade can affect you.

When installing HID bulbs, for instance, you’ll need to make sure the new HID components are properly wired and secured. Cutting into headlight casings, plugging in ballast connectors, and more must be done properly in order to avoid problems down the road (from cut wire damage, loose ballast slippage, and more). In the same vein, installers must watch not to touch the HID bulbs with their hands (always use gloves or other barrier materials), as contact with skin can be personally detrimental, not to mention it can also result in increased risk of bulb shattering.

Balancing personal and vehicular component safety shouldn’t be problematic, so long as you know what voids warranties, what needs to be avoided to reduce personal risk, and what directions should be followed to ensure correct component installation.

Remember when making upgrades not to jeopardize the functionality of vehicular safety features either.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, annual road fatalities have generally numbered between the mid-thirty to mid-forty thousand range since 2005, and those figures are for U.S. deaths only. Many of these deaths end up occurring as a result of unused or misused car safety features, such as seat belts and air bags. So if you’re changing out the stock seats inside your vehicle, for instance, be sure not to mess with the seat belt setup (in fact, for new car seats, you should always ensure that the seat belts adapt to the size and build of the replacements. The stock seat belts, after all, were designed for use with the original car seats).

Similarly, your car’s brake system is another critical safety feature.

Remember earlier when we mentioned how greater car speed would affect your car’s brakes. Were you to install a performance chip, turbocharger, or other speed-boosting upgrade, you’ll want to upgrade your car’s brakes as well. After all, the brakes are built to be able to slow down and stop the vehicle at its manufacturer-intended weight and speed limitations, so by changing any of those attributes, you must adapt the brakes to compensate. Otherwise, your car’s braking responsiveness may be impaired, and you may not be able to reduce speed effectively.

So when committing to installation of aftermarket upgrades, remember: always know what specific results should be expected from the upgrades, read any and all notices regarding effects of installation (particularly whether installation will void the car’s warranty or not), and compensate for any changes made to one attribute of a car’s performance with changes to other facets directly dependent on that attribute.

If you do so, you should be able to safely install the upgrades, and also expect safe use of them after installation.

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