The Best Ways To Breathe New Life Into An Older Car

Cars and trucks, like all machines, suffer from wear and tear. That wear and tear can lead to a loss in performance, and if you’re the type of person that holds onto a vehicle for a long time, your ride can also start to look tired.

But if you’re attached to your car, and don’t want to get rid of it, there are plenty of ways to make it function, look and perform like new. Whether you’re rockin’ a vintage BMW or a late model Chevrolet, here are clever ways you can update the look and feel of your older car.

New Wheels

new wheels modern car upgrades
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Wheels make the car. If your car or truck is still rolling on the original factory wheels, a great way to modernize the look and performance is to upgrade to a new set. Sometimes, just a simple update to a newer version of the factory wheels can make a huge difference.

If you want to dramatically change the look of your car or truck there are countless aftermarket companies making wheels for you. Choosing a style and brand is deeply personal and can depend on the look you’re after, but will completely transform your car.

New Tires

new tires modern car upgrade
Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images

On a good day, the only thing on your car that comes in contact with the road are your tires. Most people don’t think a whole lot about them, but they are the primary part that determines the performance, handling and capabilities of your vehicle. A newer, more modern tire can improve acceleration, cornering ability and shorten braking distances.

A simple swap to a better set of performance rubber can revitalize the handling of your car. There are a lot of tire categories, so before purchasing you should prioritize your driving requirements.

Bigger And Better Brakes

new brakes modern car upgrades
Photo by Oliver Berg/picture alliance via Getty Images
Photo by Oliver Berg/picture alliance via Getty Images

A vehicles’ standard brakes are designed to work in a variety of conditions, consistently over several years of use. They are generally adequate for everyday driving, commuting and running errands, but if you’ve ever been in a “panic braking” situation, you’ll know that there’s usually a lot of room for improvement.

If your car has a lot of “Go,” it’s a good idea to upgrade with more “Woah.” A good set of bigger performance brakes will reduce stopping distances and be more resistant to fading and heat soak.

Heads-Up Display

heads up display modern car upgrade
Photo by Garmin
Photo by Garmin

Lots of high-end modern cars utilize heads-up displays. The technology projects important information like speed, navigation, and warnings directly onto the windshield in front of the driver. It helps reduces distracted driving by keeping the information in front of the driver’s line of sight.

Aftermarket systems can now be adapted to just about every car and tie into your smartphone or the car itself, via the OBDII port, giving you important info without having to look down at your phone or other devices. It’s a cool way to add some high-tech features and functionality to your older car.

Better Breathing Intake and Exhaust

car intake modern auto upgrades
Photo by: MyLoupe/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo by: MyLoupe/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Bring your older car back to life with some extra horsepower. One of the most popular upgrades is an intake system and an exhaust system. Allowing more air into the engine and allowing the exhaust gases to escape faster, with less restriction, is a good way to up the power on your car.

But, when thinking about adding parts that increase your power, it’s important to think of the engine and the car as a whole system. Most engine modifications work best when paired with others, affecting the whole engine, not just one part of it.

Remote Start

remote start modern auto upgrade
Photo by Remotely Started MN/YouTube
Photo by Remotely Started MN/YouTube

If you live in an area that sees snow, ice and cold winters, you’ll understand the pain of getting into a near-frozen car first thing in the morning. Adding a remote start function will get your car or truck warmed-up before you climb inside.

A simple press of the button, from inside the comfort of your home will start your car and get it going. Some of the more sophisticated systems can operate door locks, trunk, car alarm and other functions from a single remote control the size of your car’s key.

Performance Suspension

performance suspension modern car upgrades
Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Your car or truck is supported by the suspension. Its design and function is to optimize the contact of your tires and the road, provide a comfortable ride and it determines your car’s steering and handling characteristics. Over time, components wear out and reduce the performance of your vehicle.

If your older vehicle feels tired in the handling department, a great upgrade to modern components or performance components can give your ride a completely different feel. Start with springs and shocks, and if you’re feeling sporty, a set of larger anti-roll bars can improve things further.

Suspension Bushings

suspension bushings modern car upgrades
Photo by Angelo Merendino for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Photo by Angelo Merendino for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Most cars and trucks have their suspension components connected to the body via rubber bushings. The stock rubber is a compromise between comfort and performance and will require replacement as they wear out.

Rubber bushings are generally soft and allow for some deflection of the suspension pieces. Upgrading to performance suspension bushings, like polyurethane or delrin will eliminate the “slop” built into the stock bushings and contribute to handling that will feel crisper, more direct and more responsive to your actions. Harder bushings will increase noise, vibration, and harshness, but if used in the correct locations can benefit the handling of your car immensely.

Stereo And Speaker Upgrade

car stereo modern car upgrades
Photo by Keith Tsuji/Getty Images
Photo by Keith Tsuji/Getty Images

There is simple no excuse for a limp and tired sound system in your car, and it doesn’t matter if you listen to Journey or Jeezy, a played-out stereo will make your car feel instantly dated. If your ride still rocks a cassette player and stock speakers, a conversion to 21st century tech will make it sound like a brand new car.

A head unit with Apple Car Play and/or Android Auto will allow you to stream music, podcasts and even make hands-free calls, and when paired to a set of good aftermarket speakers will completely transform your experience inside your car.

Touch Screen With Navigation

touchscreen navigation modern car upgrades
Photo by Sergei FadeichevTASS via Getty Images
Photo by Sergei FadeichevTASS via Getty Images

If you want to take your stereo upgrade one step further, consider leveling-up with a touchscreen display with navigation and streaming. A modern aftermarket touchscreen stereo head unit can offer a lot of the features of the infotainment displays found in new cars.

It’s possible to get a unit that has navigation, a CD and DVD player that will stream to your passenger’s devices, Apple Car Play, and Android Auto with hands-free texting and calling. It’s the best of everything without having to shell out for a new car. It’s also a great way to make your car look much more modern inside.

Headlight Upgrade

car headlights modern auto upgrades
Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Nothing dates a car quite like dim headlights. Those old halogen bulbs and their warm, dull light not only look past their prime but are far less effective at night compared to modern alternatives like LED and HID.

If the clear headlight assembly on your car suffers from discoloration, condensation or yellowing, that should be the first step in the upgrade. That discoloration will dramatically decrease the effectiveness of the headlight bulb and really makes a car look worn out. Beyond the headlight assembly, the bulbs you use can have a big impact on your night driving, consider an LED or HID retrofit.

Engine ECU Tuning

engine tuning modern car upgrade
Photo by Cobb Tuning
Photo by Cobb Tuning

Another popular way to increase power and modernize the performance of your car is to have the engine control unit (ECU) tuned. This works by changing the ignition timing, air/fuel ratio, rev limiters and if your car has a turbocharger, by increasing the boost pressure.

ECU tuning is most effective on turbocharged cars, but naturally-aspirated vehicles can see horsepower gains as well. ECU tuning, on its own, is less effective than if paired with other modifications like intake and exhaust systems. It’s also important to make sure your car is running at its best, as adding a tune can amplify existing problems.

Modern Electronic Safety Features

blind spot detection modern car uprgade
Photo by Gosher
Photo by Gosher

New cars typically come equipped with a wide array of safety features. From back-up cameras to lane-departure systems, they’re are packed to make your driving experience safer. But you don’t have to miss out on this tech if you drive an older car. Many systems, like blind spot detection, are available to install on any car or truck.

The system uses small detectors that are mounted on the car and transmit a signal to a light-up icon alerting you to vehicles near you that you can’t see. Modern safety in a cool old car is always a good idea.

Back-Up Camera

back up camera modern auto upgrade
Photo by Esky
Photo by Esky

One of the most helpful features of new car safety technology is the backup camera. Even if you’re a parking prodigy, a backup camera is handy for seeing hidden objects, lining up your truck with a trailer and getting into those tight street parking spots.

Just because your car may pre-date the tech, doesn’t mean you can add it now. They’re available in a wide variety of systems that can link to an aftermarket touchscreen stereo, your smartphone, rear view mirror or with a stand-alone display. Super handy and super functional, especially if you own a large older car or truck.

Tire Pressure Monitoring

tire pressure monitoring modern auto upgrade
Photo by Sergei BobylevTASS via Getty Images
Photo by Sergei BobylevTASS via Getty Images

Tires that are over inflated or under inflated can have a big impact on the handling, fuel economy and safety of your car. An under-inflated tire, for example, will cause the car to “pull” to one side and will decrease your fuel economy.

If your older car or truck handles sluggishly and seems less efficient, check the air pressure and then get yourself a tire pressure monitoring system. Most systems have a wireless display that read each tire’s pressure, helping you spot a potential flat and keeping your ride rolling right.

USB and Wireless Charging Ports

wireless charging modern auto upgrade
Photo by Nillkin
Photo by Nillkin

In the age of smartphones, we expect that new cars will have charging ports, USB adapters and the means to link our phones to the car’s infotainment system. It’s one of the big features that most new car buyers look for. If your older car is lacking in this department, there are a huge variety of products that will allow you to charge, sync, mount, and link all your devices.

Wireless charging pads are pretty handy and don’t require that you plug your phone into a mile of charger cord hanging from your dash. Multi-port adapters are available as well to accommodate an entire family.

Wireless On-Board Diagnostics

wireless diagnostics modern auto upgrade
Photo by Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance via Getty Images
Photo by Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance via Getty Images

Cars, trucks, and SUVs all wear out and will occasionally break down. One of the most frustrating problems to have in an older car is a mysterious “Check Engine” warning light appear while you’re driving. All cars and trucks built from 1996 will have onboard diagnostics, known as OBDII. This is a system within the car’s computer than alerts you to a problem.

The fault is stored in the car’s computer as a code which specifies where the problem occurred. You can get ahead of the game with a wireless OBDII scanner. It connects to your car’s port, transmits problems, faults and vehicle information directly to an app on your phone and gives you the ability to diagnose, repair and reset the warning lights. Cool, right!

In Car WiFi

in car wifi modern auto upgrase
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Don’t drive and surf on your phone, that’s just asking for problems, and is illegal in much of the U.S. However, if you carpool to work, take road trips or have a family with tons of tech gear, a great way to bring your older car in line with modern luxury cars is to install WiFi.

If your phone isn’t capable of offering a mobile hot spot, there are a number of portable WiFi hot spots that are designed for vehicle installation and use. They’ll have packages similar to cellular data plans and can connect an entire car’s worth of devices to the internet.

Custom Wrap

custom wraps modern auto update
Photo by Midcoast-Cutoms
Photo by Midcoast-Cutoms

There’s nothing quite like faded, chipped and scratched paint to make a car look older than it is. If your car has that problem and looks like it was left out in the sun for a thousand years, a custom wrap might be the solution.

Typically cheaper than having a car repainted, a vinyl wrap is applied over your cars existing paint, without harming it, and can be removed at any time. It’s a great way to add some personality to your car, update the look, and make it stand out.

Upgraded Seats

car seats modern auto upgrade
Photo by Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images
Photo by Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images

Your car’s seats take a lot of abuse, and over time will wear out, crack or rip and become less comfortable. The foam inside will degrade and what was once a comfortable place to be, will just become a big pain.

Updating or upgrading your seats will not only improve the look of your car’s interior, but it will also make driving it more enjoyable. Switching to factory sport seats or going for a racing inspired seat will also dramatically change the driving experience. Just because you drive an older car doesn’t mean you have to be uncomfortable.