It’s your car and you can trick it out any way you like. But when it comes to optional auto accessories, just because you can add one doesn’t mean you should. Some cool car products add value, boost performance, come in handy or just look awesome. Many others, however, don’t. These are the car accessories that waste money, add nothing of value and draw the ire of respectable car enthusiasts everywhere, so you should think twice before adding these items that just aren’t worth it.
Spoilers serve an aerodynamic function by “spoiling” air currents that contribute to drag and turbulence — but only when they’re necessary. When they’re purely cosmetic, they don’t add anything to the car but weight. And when they’re gigantic for no reason, they’re little more than ugly cop magnets that can actually reduce aerodynamics and performance.
Fake Performance Badges
Among the saddest class of drivers are those who feel they can pose their way into a high-performance model just by slapping a decal on a run-of-the-mill make. You might see an AMG badge on what’s clearly an entry-level Mercedes, or a decal designed to trick people into thinking that a vanilla BMW is an M3 hatchback that never actually existed. It’s hard to imagine who, exactly, badge posers think they’re fooling, but don’t be a fool by becoming one of them.
CDs in the Rearview Mirror
Some automotive add-ons can be free and worthless at the same time. An enduring misconception says that hanging a CD or DVD in your rearview mirror will somehow deflect and interrupt police radar, making your car invisible to cops with radar guns. It will not. It’s a long-debunked urban legend — and since law enforcement has been privy to it for years, it will likely only make you stand out even more.
Anything in the Rearview Mirror
Even if you’re not intentionally trying to foil police with an obvious and ineffective disc, it’s a violation in some jurisdictions to hang anything in your rearview mirror because dangling objects can impede your vision. That includes innocuous things such as air fresheners, super-cool fuzzy dice, rosary beads and even handicapped placards, which you’re supposed to remove whenever you’re not parked.
Cupholder Swivel Trays
You can spend $15 on a flimsy contraption that turns your console cup holder into a swivel tray designed to help you eat fast food while driving, but you shouldn’t. First of all, doing 65 mph with an elevated, swiveling mini-dining spread 8 inches from your face is probably a bad idea. Also, many of the top brands get poor reviews on sites like Amazon for being cheaply made, ill-fitting and wobbly. If you use it enough, the chances of you eventually wearing your burger and fries after a sharp turn or a sudden stop are essentially 100%.
Steering Wheel Work Tray
The front seat of a car is simply never going to be an ideal place to bang out some work. Wasting $20 or more on a steering wheel-mounted tray won’t change that. With the many and varied places you can stop to hunch over a laptop, it’s hard to imagine this one-purpose hunk of plastic doing anything but contributing to car clutter for all but a fraction of its life.
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As early as 2015, prosecutors were warning that the popular $69 GForce Performance Chip was a fraudulent gimmick based on false advertising. Nearly half a decade later, so-called performance chips still promise to boost fuel economy, reduce emissions and even add more horsepower to cars. They probably won’t do any those things — but they have been known to turn on check-engine lights and void warranties.
Fuel Line Magnets
Fuel line magnets are among the many devices that claim to increase fuel economy, extend a car’s miles per gallon and save drivers money by using science to somehow enhance molecules found in gasoline — in this case by creating a magnetic field. Fuel line magnets have been around since the 1980s and, despite wild claims by manufacturers, a number of studies have shown that the devices do nothing to improve fuel efficiency.
Fuel ionizers are another line of alleged fuel-saving products that have proven to be a hoax. By attaching one to the fuel line between the injector and the fuel pump, they’re marketed as creating an “ionic field” that does sciencey stuff to gas on a molecular level to make it burn more thoroughly. The truth is, modern fuel injection systems spray a very fine mist of fuel into the combustion chamber, virtually none of which is wasted — with or without ionization.
Intake Vortex Devices
Like so many other fuel-efficiency products that make empty promises, intake vortex devices rely on drivers’ misunderstanding of how modern engines work. The promise that cars can benefit from add-ons like intake vortex devices — which attempt to alter the amount of airflow into the combustion chamber — ignores the fact that today’s cars already rely on complex computers to continuously adjust airflow to match fuel intake, and vice versa.
This class of fuel-efficiency gimmickry is based on the idea that hydrogen is a more powerful fuel than gasoline. Even if that theory holds some element of truth, it’s simply not practical for cars. Hydrogen generators claim to create hydrogen by separating it from oxygen found in your car’s water supply and redirecting it to your fuel supply. One problem is that the kind of electrolysis devices used for this only produce the tiniest amounts of hydrogen. In order to do so, they place enormous strain on your alternator, which they use to bleed power from your vehicle’s electrical system.
Fuel Vapor Injectors
Like the other so-called fuel-enhancing devices, the concept of fuel vapor injectors doesn’t pass muster with people who understand how engines work. By adding this fuel-vaporizing device, the best you can hope for is performance identical to that which you would have achieved if you had let your factory-installed fuel-injection system do the heavy lifting. At worst, a fuel vapor injector can degrade performance by forcing your engine to run “rich” with too much fuel and not enough air. When it comes to so-called fuel enhancers, ask yourself this: Why wouldn’t manufacturers simply add these devices in the factory if real fuel savings could be achieved by including a part that only costs a few bucks?
Racing Engine Simulators
If you want to pretend you’re driving a race car, any arcade in America can accommodate that fantasy for just a few quarters. That’s a much better outcome than dropping $40 on a sound simulator, many of which get poor reviews because they’re cheaply made and wind up offering only a distraction. In the case of ultra-quiet electric engines, adding sound can bolster safety. But driving a Camry modified with a contraption that plays the prerecorded sound of a Shelby engine is unnecessary. It’s also an energy hog, and — just as with fake performance badges — kind of sad.
Whistle tips are metal fittings welded into your exhaust pipe. By forcing the exhaust through a constricted pathway, they make an otherwise normal car obnoxiously loud for no reason. California outlawed them (justifiably) shortly after they emerged in the early 2000s, and other places followed suit. Even if they’re not illegal where you live, they’re magnets for traffic stops, and you might get a citation for violating a local noise ordinance.
Traditional car antennas are slowly being phased out. But as long as the remaining ones are around, auto knick-knack manufacturers will make and sell things you can stick on top of them. From macho-looking bullets to emoji-esque smiley faces, antenna toppers come in all shapes and forms — often for less than $10. That doesn’t mean you should buy one, though. None of them do anything to boost your car’s performance but they could damage your antenna and degrade your radio reception.
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Anyone who has ever received a shock from opening their car door knows that the discharge of built-up static electricity can be both annoying and jarring. But it almost certainly can’t be prevented by installing rubber straps embedded with conductive materials that dangle from the undercarriage and make contact with the ground. Anti-static straps promise to remove static electricity by grounding the vehicle, but what they mainly deliver is a foreign object dragging on the road every time you drive.
Vanity Shift Knobs
From the classic $20 eight-ball to a hand grenade for $85, you can dress up your shift knob with just about anything — including a crushed can of PBR or a hunk of “Jurassic Park” mosquito amber. But the truth is, vanity shift knobs rarely add character unless you’re dealing with a meticulously restored classic car. Most of these knobs are dated and juvenile — and they can inhibit proper shifting.
Imitation Chrome Spinning Rims
Genuine chrome spinning rims are not for everybody. They’re loud and flashy, but undeniably awesome, even if you would never want them on your own car. Plastic imitation knock-offs, however, are never awesome, always ugly and rarely spin correctly. They’re much cheaper than real spinners, which can easily cost hundreds of dollars per wheel, but they’re still not worth spending money on. In this case, nothing is better.
Car bras are meant to make the front end of a vehicle look sleek and aggressive while also protecting it from scratches, dings and exploding bugs. No matter your opinion on their aesthetic appeal (though they’re ugly), they’re simply not practical. They collect water, grime, dust and dirt, all of which can act as an abrasive on the vulnerable paint hidden beneath this unnecessary, unsightly accessory.
Vertically opening Lambo doors are among the coolest features any car could possibly have — provided that the car is an actual Lamborghini. When you spend $2,000 for a wing-door conversion kit to add vertical doors to your Honda Civic, however, you are over-accessorizing. You’re also wasting money that could have gone to a down payment for a better ride — and probably making your car less safe in case of an accident.
Neon lights on the undercarriage give your car a spaceship-y feel by creating the illusion that it’s floating on soft colored light. They also give police in much of the country a reason to pull you over and issue you a ticket. Underglow laws vary considerably from state to state and municipality to municipality, but chances are some version of these lights is illegal no matter where you are. Neon underglow is designed to attract attention. It often does — but it’s the wrong kind of attention.
Like underglow, neon wheel lights are designed to be eye-catching. Also like underglow, the eyes they’re most likely to catch belong to police officers. Laws governing neon wheel lights vary considerably depending on the state, making it nearly impossible to be within regulation everywhere you go. In some places, wheel lights are illegal in any form.
Hood ornaments were once common and classy, but today they’re dated, superfluous and (thankfully) rare. Hood ornaments originated from the days when ugly radiator caps jutted out through the hood. Classic ornaments like the Jaguar installed by the manufacturer, or vanity ornaments like skulls or eagles, went a long way toward disguising an eyesore. Today, however, they look out of place and tacky on the streamlined hoods of modern cars.
Rain-Sensing Windshield Wipers
Although they seem like a good idea and are likely to improve dramatically over the next few years, most rain-sensing wipers aren’t quite up to the task just yet. Their sensors can turn the wipers on even when there’s no rain. They can also speed up or slow down more than drivers might prefer and can make complacent drivers forget to switch on their headlights when their wipers come on.
Fake Hood Scoops
Fake hood scoops might be sadder and less authentic than fake performance badges and engine sound simulators — and that’s saying a lot. Hood scoops offer extra air intake for turbocharged and supercharged engines. When you bolt or stick a dummy scoop onto your hood for no reason other than that it looks cool, it never actually looks cool.
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Photos are for illustrative purposes only. As a result, some of the images may not reflect the products listed in this article.
About the Author
Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street’s investment community in New York City.