• Vehicles sporting over-the-top modifications are more likely to be pulled over by traffic officials.
• SA's car culture boasts various states of custom modification.
• A few 'invisible' performance upgrades could go unnoticed.
• For more stories, visit Wheels24.
Petrolheads in South Africa's car culture often feel targeted by law enforcement because of the aftermarket modifications done to their vehicles.
Bigger wheels, a drop in suspension, and straight-piped exhaust systems are bound to attract attention from law enforcement officers in a routine traffic check - some get a stern warning or fine, while those not so lucky have their license discs removed.
What the eye can't see
If a vehicle, no matter the make, model or year, does not abide by the rules of the road or is caught speeding, pretty soon the only thing the driver will see is unmarked Lexus IS' or Golf GTI's with flashing blue lights.
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The mistake that many people make in search of more speed is to fit a bigger and better flowing exhaust coupled with an aftermarket air induction system. Law enforcement officers usually have a vast motoring knowledge and will know if you had an engine swap, for example. They will then look at the car's license disc to corroborate suspicions - there is nothing illegal about fitting a new engine, it just all depends if you followed the proper procedures.
Even the lowering of suspension has caused broad debate in the stance community about the acceptable ride height because a lowered vehicle is deemed unsafe in the eyes of the law. Yet, cars that sit lower to the ground or have a lower centre of gravity hold the road much better than their raised counterparts. A good example of this is proof in the characteristics of a track car.
Aesthetic fitment like very dark window tint, blacked-out taillights or under-car lighting will no doubt land you in hot water.
Despite everything, if you're dead-set on customising your vehicle, there are a few ways in which to slip under the radar.
1. Engine Software upgrade
An engine that has been upgraded with software would be calibrated and tuned from a laptop. Everything from ignition timing, fuel delivery and boost settings are tweaked to create better performance.
Depending on the software tuning method, some applications have hand-held switches that give the driver ease of convenience to switch between engine maps available. The majority of German hot hatches opt for this state of tune as it immediately frees up power without having to do bolt-on modifications.
2. Cylinder head porting
The only way to check if this tuning had taken place is to remove and inspect the cylinder head or have a mechanic take a look. There is a near-zero percent chance that anyone will be able to tell it has been done to an engine by physically looking at it.
Engines produce power by increased airflow into the combustion chamber where the air-fuel ratio mixture takes place and expels the fumes through the exhaust as quickly as possible - more air in means more power out.
Porting allows for the intake and exhaust passages in the cylinder head to be made bigger to allow better airflow. Although it won't warrant massive gains in power, it is one of the fundamental ways to improve performance without making the car sound or look suspicious.
3. OEM turbo replacement
The quickest way to see more gains in power is to replace the factory turbocharger with a bigger item.
VW Golf 5 GTI owners often replace the stock K03 item with that of a bigger K04 as the conversion is relatively a bolt-on process with no need to make extra adjustments in and around the engine bay. It also helps that the turbo positioning remains the same and doesn't look out of place.
4. Coat it in black
It might not be a performance addition, but spraying certain items to match the surrounding area will give the impression of factory stock components upon first viewing.
Components like intercoolers and air intake pipes can be coated in black (depending on the car's bumper and design) to look unsuspecting to the naked eye.