Nice cars just aren't in the cards
April 18, 2010 2:51 PM   Subscribe

What stuff can I add to a crappy car to make driving more enjoyable?

So I ended up with another old car. My MO is to buy old cars that happen to be in good condition, drive them until the wheels fall off and then repeat the whole process. This time the subject is a mid-nineties Nissan Altima, and though it is rock-solid mechanically, the thing is downright monastic in its amenities. I realize that sacrifices must be made in order to sustain my junker-to-junker automotive lifestyle, but surely there are some inexpensive upgrades that will make those long drives nicer.

What do you think, Hive Mind? I like driving, so let's put a car in my car and pimp my ride.
posted by Willie0248 to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
FM Transmitter for Zune/iPod/Sansa? Assuming the radio works that is.
posted by Hexidecimal at 2:54 PM on April 18, 2010

Air freshener hanging from the mirror?
Good looking woman in passenger seat
Trunk full of ice, keg
that's all I got
posted by HuronBob at 2:58 PM on April 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

If there's a tape deck, the tape adapter for Zune/iPod/Sansa is superior in my mind.
posted by King Bee at 2:58 PM on April 18, 2010

You may want to check this similar question.
posted by piedmont at 3:09 PM on April 18, 2010

What sort of things would a new car have that your old car doesn't?

Comfy seats? AC? Better sound system? Remote start?
posted by Sonic_Molson at 3:11 PM on April 18, 2010

A good stereo system is a smart choice. My old car stereo system is still in active use, 3 cars later. Not sure if this works for newer (or nicer, less generic) cars, but you don't seem to be in that market anyway ...
posted by shownomercy at 3:13 PM on April 18, 2010

Seat covers - removable and adjustable so you can use them in your next car.
floor mats
A new head liner, maybe
Lots of armorall
A patch kit and some paint for the vinyl

I think the appearance does matter to how comfortable you feel, especially the appearance that you see.
posted by Some1 at 3:14 PM on April 18, 2010

A cheap way to snazz up a shitty ride is a leather steering wheel cover.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:17 PM on April 18, 2010

I am not sure if it has cup holders, but in case it doesn't a plastic tray (like for breakfast in bed) with the bottom of a water bottle bolted to it sits in the passenger seat and makes a pretty dandy cup holder. Also the tray part helps keep random things from sliding off into the floor.
posted by anaelith at 3:26 PM on April 18, 2010

dashboard Hula doll
fuzzy dice
nice seat covers
steering wheel cover
pompom trim for the rear window

I would go with a total over-the-top cheese. I did my car in Hello Kitty.

If that is not your thing, go uber-cool.
posted by fifilaru at 3:28 PM on April 18, 2010

Paint it. Listen to audiobooks while you drive or commute. Realize that a car that a car is a tool for travel. Don't let your posessions become you...
posted by candasartan at 3:29 PM on April 18, 2010

I buy new cars and drive them until they die (Hondas, we're talking 20 year intervals), so I know beaters. The thing that has given the most enjoyment/bang for my buck was installing an aftermarket headunit that does bluetooth (yay no more stupid thingy plugging my ear!), satellite radio, and controls and displays my iPhone/iPod on screen. Complete automotive joy for <$250.
posted by jamaro at 3:56 PM on April 18, 2010

Also if it has a tape deck: spend some time in your local thrift store browsing through the cassette section.
posted by ropeladder at 3:59 PM on April 18, 2010

If you like to drive, treat yourself to some good tires (P205/60R15), and maybe some better suspension parts. The right tires can improve handling and ride quality, as well as lowering road noise, and a 14 to 16 year old car will generally be a much better behaved beast with new struts/shocks, to control the wheels properly over rough pavement and during heavy braking. Moreover, getting your chassis happy (with the right tires and suspension) means that less vibration will be passed to the rest of the car, prolonging the useful life of the whole vehicle.
posted by paulsc at 5:49 PM on April 18, 2010

Install an iPad
posted by rglasmann at 5:51 PM on April 18, 2010

If you don't have a cupholder, you can buy aftermarket cupholders that you can stick in-between the seats, or on the floor, etc.
posted by radioamy at 5:57 PM on April 18, 2010

Nth a connection to hook up your iPod or other music source, painlessly. I don't mean 'plug the whosis into the top, then wrap the cable around this knob, and gently ease the whole bitch into the cupholder', I mean 'dock and use the conveniently placed remote so you don't wreck when skipping that song you only secretly love'. For me in my beater VW it was an adapter to get an aux-in to the headunit, and a hacked-up Belkin TuneDok to place the iPod itself right next to the steering wheel. I firmly believe cassette tape adapters are evil.
posted by a halcyon day at 6:17 PM on April 18, 2010

Do much night driving? A new windshield will make an unbelievable difference and only costs about a hundred bucks installed.
posted by buggzzee23 at 7:54 PM on April 18, 2010

My car strategy is the same as your car strategy. I divide improvements into two categories: Transferable Improvements and Substantial Improvements. The Substantial Improvements are hard to commit to ['cause (a) It's a beater, and (b) They're usually thought of as deferrable maintenance], but the two I've found that can make a car seem almost-new-like are:

(1) Improve the tires -- this can seriously improve the ride. [Road noise can go way down, and of course safety and handling improve]

(2) Replace the windshield. Almost no one does this until they're forced to, but after ~15 years, the windshield is usually scarred up from many millions of high-velocity sand impacts, so your windshield is producing a lot of visual noise. It's almost euphoric how much easier and pleasant driving is when you can see clearly..

I know these sound boring ('cause they are), but every time I'm made these improvements.. Wow. (but boy does it suck if the car craps out on you a month later)
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 8:10 PM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

iPod + a stereo with an 1/8" aux in or some sort of wiring kit (or FM broadcaster, like the Griffin iTrip) to play your music, podcasts, audio books, language lessons, and the like. Effectively turns your commute into a trip to the library or an excuse to rock out, depending upon your mood.
posted by wheat at 8:58 PM on April 18, 2010

I happened to get a set of shiny wheels second-hand from a good friend, and I was amazed at how much better my beater looked after replacing the black-painted-steel-with-missing-wheel-covers. If you can spare an extra $300 or so the next time you change your tires, go for a new set of wheels. It makes a huge difference in the appearance. When this beater fails, you might be able to move the wheels to the next one, too. Go cheap on wheels, but don't go cheap on the tires. Better tires and lighter wheels will improve your handling significantly and mileage a little bit.

Get a touch-up pen and cover up any bare spots or rust immediately. There's beater and there's beat, and in my experience rust makes a big step from one to the other.

Everyone else said an aux input for the stereo, which I totally agree with. If you do much highway driving, consider getting a CB. I don't talk much on mine, but just listening to the truckers provides endless entertainment. If you have to buy new, the radios are available for under $50, and nice magnetic mount antenna (Wilson Little Wil) shouldn't be more than $30. Keep an eye out at thrift stores and garage sales, though.

Under the hood, a K&N or similar high-performance air filter will theoretically improve your mileage by 1-2mpg. Consider a short-ram intake or a full CAI kit, which can give you a little more oomph down the on-ramp. Replacing the intake is usually a pretty simple bolt-on. You probably won't be able to squeeze much more performance out of the engine without costly parts and time-consuming tuning. Get a small notebook and a pencil and keep them in the glove box, so you can keep track of oil changes, belt replacements, etc.

Have your suspension checked by a reputable professional. If something is worn out, an inexpensive replacement can go a long way to a nicer ride.

Upgrade the headlights. Replace the windshield wipers with nicer ones. Use Rain-X on your windshield-- It's a pain to apply, but it really works.
posted by leapfrog at 9:58 AM on April 19, 2010

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