Cheap Car Upgrades under $1,000 for Used Cars

Modified Pink Sports CarYou’ve had your car for a while now. Perhaps it’s an older model. You love it (or at least don’t hate it) and you either don’t want to replace it or you can’t afford to buy a car right now. Unfortunately, even the best things in life get worn down by time. We can show you how to make any ride just a little bit sweeter without dropping a lot of cash on a new car. Used cars can feel new again with these cheap car upgrades.

These are our pro tips for cheap car upgrades that can make your used car just a little smoother, a little tighter, and a little cooler—all for under $1,000 for each upgrade. Any of these modifications can make a noticeable difference and can have you feeling like you have a brand new car.

Cheap Car Upgrades under $1,000

Once upon a time, it was a point of pride to say you’d owned a car for fifteen years or more and to do that you had to keep it well maintained. These days it all depends on the car you currently own. If you own a high-end car, maintenance is probably all you need to do to have a nice ride for a long time to come. Of course, most Americans don’t drive top-end cars (in fact, more people drive used cars than top-end cars). So what do you do if you’re stuck with your 1999 Honda Civic or your 2004 Ford Focus? Many commuter cars have limited life spans–particularly used cars that are operated in harsh environments. Your used car feels just like a new car with these cheap car upgrades.

Used Car Performance Upgrades Under $1,000

Used cars and older vehicles that are exposed to salt air or an excess of road salt suffer from undercarriage rust. Undercarriage rust causes all kinds of problems, not the least of which is making your factory muffler and exhaust system extra noisy.

Good news! You can fix that problem and stop drawing all those judgmental looks every time you accelerate with a simple and inexpensive muffler or exhaust upgrade. If you’re happy with your car’s factory performance this is an easy and cheap car upgrade. If you want something more…

Performance Exhaust

Did you know you can eke out some extra horsepower from your car’s engine by improving your exhaust system? It’s not too expensive either. There are plenty of solid performance exhaust options available under $1,000 (as long as you plan on installing it yourself). If you’re looking for a performance boosting exhaust system there are a couple of ways to go:

Tuned Exhaust: You want performance and you want your car to have a more prominent and improved engine sound. These things hum to let everyone know your car is packing a little extra power. The more power your car’s engine has, the more impressive these systems sound.

Silent Exhaust: You can get the same performance boost with virtually no sound. Everyone’s a winner. This is a surprisingly cheap car upgrade if you prefer a quiet ride.

Suspension Upgrades Make Your Car Drive Better

Another problem with older vehicles, economy cars, and used cars is that they tend to ride pretty rough compared to their luxury counterparts. They also have less responsive steering. Both of these issues can be fixed by upgrading your car’s suspension. A new set of shocks and/or struts will keep you from feeling every single bump in the road, improve your car’s acceleration (making fuel use more efficient—think more MPG’s), and can help tighten up your steering.  A suspension upgrade can turn an old, busted, rough riding clunker into something you can enjoy driving for a few more years.

Buy Better Tires

If you’re driving an older car, you likely don’t spend too much on new tires. A lot of Americans actually buy lightly used tires for their older cars. If you want a smoother, quieter ride, then spending a little extra on good tires can make a world of difference in how your car drives and sounds, in addition to making your car safer. If one of the things you dislike about your older car is that there’s a lot of road noise, new tires can help with that. If your car is really noisy, they make special tires that are designed to reduce road noise. When it comes to making your car sound more like a new car and less like a rust bucket full of holes, this is a cheap car upgrade that you can’t pass up.

Get More Horsepower with a Cold Air Intake

Is your car more sluggish than it was when you bought it? Is it slow to accelerate or does it feel like it struggles to keep up with other cars on the highway? Adding a cold air intake can give you a 5-20 horsepower boost for very little cost. It’s also a great DIY job because the part is so easy to install. A cold air intake will help your engine breath better and result in better overall performance and sometimes improved gas mileage. You can learn more about how a cold air intake works at

Add a Stabilizer Bar

A stabilizer or anti-sway bar is a rigid steel bar that attaches to your car’s frame to make the frame more stable and less flexible. It aids in handling and particularly how your car handles in a turn, giving you more control over your car. On economy class cars it can also help reduce vibrating and will give you a more stable feel while driving. The best part is that stabilizer bars are inexpensive and affordable to install. They’re a great addition to economy class cars that tend to “loosen up” over time. Again, this is a cheap car upgrade that delivers truly noticeable results.

Improve Your Car’s Driving Experience

Another way to make used cars and older cars feel like new is to make some changes or updates to its interior. You might be surprised at how many interior upgrades will cost you less than $1000. If your car runs fine and handles fine, then it’s likely that an upgrade in your car’s interior will be the best way to make it feel new again.

Replace Your Car’s Worn-Out Upholstery

Your car is old and it’s been through a lot. Road trips, careless friends, coffee fumbles, sharp keys hanging from belt loops…you name it and your car’s probably suffered it. All that wear can make your car look beat up and ugly inside. The easy way to remedy this is to get your car reupholstered. Depending on the fabrics you choose, you could get your whole interior done for under $1000. If you want to upgrade your upholstery–move from fabric to leather, for example, you might just start with the seats. You can potentially save even more money and increase the luxury of your car’s interior by only reupholstering the seats or replacing the factory seats with aftermarket versions. Aftermarket car seats will fit more snugly and will offer more support than your 10-year-old factory seats. This is one of the top interior upgrades you can make to improve your driving experience, but for a truly new interior, it’s at the top end of our cheap car upgrades list.

Sound Mat Your Car

Again, as used cars get older they get noisier and tend to vibrate more. Some good sound matting and dampening can help reduce both of these issues and make your car more pleasant to ride in. What is sound matting? It’s essentially a sheet of dense material, often some form of rubber or rubber-like matting that is applied to certain areas of your car to act as an insulator to both sound and temperature. Sound matting your car will make a world of difference in an economy car and how much it costs typically depends on how much you use and where you choose to use it. Sound matting is typically applied under a car’s flooring, in the door panels, under the car’s hood, and against the firewall that separates the engine compartment from the cabin. For the quietest ride, apply it to all of these areas. If you want to keep costs down, sound matting your floor will reduce road noise and matting the engine compartment and firewall will reduce engine noise. You can typically get both the matting and the installation done through your local car audio dealer. You’ll definitely notice a difference, which is why it’s one of our favorite cheap car upgrades.

It’s a Whole New Ride

Any of these cheap car upgrades can noticeably improve used cars and, fortunately for you, they are also more affordable than buying a new car. If you’re willing to spend just a little bit more or make these changes over time, your car could be considerably more enjoyable. It could drive better, look better, and feel better overall.

However, sometimes you have to know when to walk away. If you’re shopping for a car on a budget, we can help you there, too.

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