As great as it is to bolt a shiny new mail-order part onto your ride, there is something about modifying a car with your own ingenuity and elbow grease that you just don’t get with pre-fabricated parts. Plus, doing some things yourself can leave a LOT more cash in your pocket -which you can spend on expensive modifications that are worth it! My car is littered with DIY modifications, all small things that I either wanted to change, or update. Here are a few details about the two lastest DIY (Do-It-Yourself, if you didn’t know) modifications I’ve subjected my poor VW to. Nothing’s blown up yet, so here are a few tips ‘n tricks to help you with your own little weekend projects.
Total Budget: $11 (Two cans of black spray paint)
Cost of Premade Alternative: $430 (For OEM monochrome Euro Golf GT grille, does not include paint – here)
Tools Needed: Flat & Phillips-head screw driver, Torx T25 bit and driver (for trim removal)
Total time: 1 hour for removal, prep and painting: one day for proper drying time and reinstallation.
Difficult level: 1/5
So, my car had a problem. All the MKV generation Jetta’s (at least the ones that aren’t GLI’s) have this giant, gaudy chrome grille on the front. I’m not sure why; it’s never really “fit in” very well to me. Seeing as how I’m a fan of black trim parts, I figured I’d give this a try. Here’s what it looked like beforehand:
See, isn’t that just goofy? So, the first step was to remove the grills, which is a bit of a pain. The main “shield” grille is held on top with two Torx screws, at the bottom with two phillips screws, and a whole slew of tab-and-slot locks. The bottom grille required some wedging with a mini prybar/straight screwdriver and a mighty tug to pop it out. The passenger’s side lower grille comes out easily, as it’s the cover over the tow hook mounting spot – not so much with the driver’s side, which didn’t really want to come out. It’s all plastic, so when doing this sort of thing – be gentle! You’ll break stuff if you’re not! Here’s what it looks like, stripped of it’s grilles.
Next, clean and prep the surface. This means soapy water, towel dry and let it air dry – you don’t want water under your paint, that never works out. Now is a good time to go over the surfaces you’re painting with a mildly abrasive pad, like a Scotchbright. This provides a better surface for the base coats to bind to. Now that it’s clean and dry, mask off any areas you don’t want to paint – I masked off the VW badge – with masking tape, or electrician’s tape.
Once you’ve cleaned it off after that, get to painting. Be sure to keep your work away from your car to avoid overspray – spray paint travels far! I started with a matte-finish outdoor spray paint for the base coats. Your first coats should be very thin – a quick single swipe over the surface from about 8″ away to distribute it well. Don’t spray heavily, or it won’t sit right and the other coats will look funny.
Give it about 10 minutes between coats to cure a bit, and do two or three more base coats. I then switched to semi-gloss black automotive paint, with thicker swaths on later coats. Let this sit overnight, and your grilles will look like this the next day:
After you’re done with that, reinstall carefully and you’re done! What do you think?
Total Budget:$69 (45° elbow $22, 3″ silicone couplers at $7 x 3, 1 section 2.5″ flexible exhaust tubing, $8, 1 conical air filter, $18)
Cost of Premade Alternative: $299.95 (ABD Racing LAN cold-air intake system, Here)
Tools Needed: Hacksaw, various torx drivers, flat screwdriver, bandclamp tool (if you have one), floor jack & jackstands.
Total Time: about 2 hours
Difficult Level: 2/5
For some unfathomable reason, the US-market Jetta with the 2.5L five-cylinder comes with perhaps the worst intake setup from the factory I’ve ever seen. It’s a veritable maze, with lots of sharp angles, narrow spaces, and way too much distance. It’s clog-tastic. I’d heard that intakes on this particular engine can make up to 15 horsepower at the wheels, so I was interested in getting one – but not interested in paying $300 for one! It’s a filter on a stick – how hard can it be?
So, here’s what your stock engine cover/airbox looks like – it’s a huge hunk of indiscriminate plastic, with no logical purpose for existance. Remove this.
Basically, this diagram will show you how much the stock intake sucks. (haha, atmospheric engine technical joke!)
So, here’s what I did. See that 90″ elbow that runs from the MAF housing to the throttle body, under the upper intake pipe? I pulled that off the throttle body, removed the MAF housing from the end, and cut it in two in between the lines for the PCV (positive crankcase ventilation) and the SAI return line (secondary air injection, part of cold-start emissions equipment.) Having the PCV hooked up properly and running is important for having a stable idle, as well as preventing the ECU from flipping out.
The chopped-up elbow is then mated to the MAF housing with a silicone coupler and band clamps. I later changed this setup, swapping the automotive spring-type clamp on the TB onto the connection between elbow and coupler so it wouldn’t slip off. The MAF housing is then coupled to that 45° elbow with another band clamp (unfortunately red; it’s what I had laying around!). On the other end is another coupler, which hooks up to that classy 2.5″ flexible exhaust tubing. Hey, pipe is pipe – this stuff is easy to shape, cheap ($7 for the whole thing!) and tough.
Closer detail here, the pipe is actually going through a gap in the frame behind the headlight. Not sure why this hole is here, but I’m glad – it gives you the perfect place to pass a pipe through to intake from the inside of the fender.
The filter itself sits at the bottom of the inside of the driver’s side front fender – nice and out of the way. I also cut some of the backing out of the grille that covers this, to get more air in: why not?
Here’s what it looks like, all finished up (sorry it’s so dirty!):
not bad for about 1/6 the cost of a real aftermarket one! I wish the piping from the elbow to the filter was 3″ as the rest of the intake is, but at the price I can’t complain. The sound it makes is simply fantastic, and there is a noticeable gain in power, especially past about 3700rpm – you can tell the car is having an easier time breathing up top.
Added bonus: this modifications makes the car significantly easier to work on. There are so many things uncovered now that used to be hidden by the engine cover, which is a pain to take on and off: sparkplugs and coilpacks, fuel injectors, coolant temperature sensor, power steering resevoir, etc. etc.
So, if you’re feeling the economic pinch now, but still want to do a few things to improve your car, just remember: all it takes is a bit of imagination! I bet you’ll find it just as rewarding as I do.