By on September 1, 2010

TTAC Commentator Rehposolihp writes:

I drive a MKV GTI and despite it being a car that always brings a smile to my face when its working…well, just having to make that last qualification doesn’t bode well for me.

Combine that with a warranty on the verge of expiration and I’m fairly sure I should run away now.

The only thing I’ve done to it is popped on a boost gauge, and purchased an ECU flash (which can be locked back into stock), because I wanted to be reminded that I drive a turbocharged car from time to time.  Before I start snapping photos and trying to sell should I replace it back to stock?  I may have possibly broken the poor original vent assembly into tiny little pieces in my clumsy attempt to remove it, but the surrounding bits still look good.  So – is the minor hassle of replacing it back to stock going to net me a profit, or am I over thinking a boost gauge?

Sajeev Answers:

You aren’t over thinking this situation, “shifting” a modified car to a new owner is big money. And it’s a buyer’s market. So return it to stock and sell your mad-tite boy racer parts on a VW forum who might have better luck with them.

But let’s cover the spectrum of modified whips. Big name tuner creations like those of “Rad Rides By Troy” rarely change hands publicly, because they are commissioned like works of fine art from centuries past. I suspect their owners adopt a wait and see approach to selling: once the buyer with the right bankroll shows up, the vehicle is then for sale.  Not a moment sooner. And it’ll sell for something close to the six-figure build cost. More to the point, you don’t understand what I’d do to have The Blowfish in my garage. From what I’ve seen, cars of this caliber (pun intended) are just that NSFW-ing impressive.

A tuner car from a mid-level shop (Lingenfelter, Hennessey, Dinan, etc) is a different story.  Everyone from overcompensating men with an addiction to Ed Hardy clothing, easy credit and spa-perfected girlfriends, to a self-made man who refuses to “tune” in their spare time buys these cars. While I am sure women do buy these things, I’ve yet to meet one. No matter, these cars are more dispensable than anything in Rad Ride’s portfolio. Expect that, after Hennessey finishes stitching his name in the headrests of a Camaro, the “investment” will sell for 20-40% of its original value. While Yenko, Shelby and others show that things change after three decades of marinating, tuner cars have a short shelf life in the meantime.

And if you’re desperate enough to dump a tuned car on the last-chance folks in Carmax, don’t be surprised if your cash offer is thousands less than a stock version.  I coulda sworn I saw a Ford SVT Lightning owner on the verge of tears when he dumped his pulley/tune/exhaust’d ride at the local CarMax. Ouch.

All of which doesn’t especially bode well for you.  So, again, sell your car with stock parts, and let someone else deal with its problems. Here’s to your next car being stock, or on a more robust platform that won’t rob you blind when the boost comes on strong. Or even stronger than strong.

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22 Comments on “Piston Slap: Tuner Talk, Debunked...”

  • avatar

    Two thoughts:

    The “… when it’s working” part of the original message is dead on right for VW. I’ve had 3. Each one was worse than the last. I’d rather buy a used Yugo than a brand new VW. Unless you REALLY enjoy weekend auto repair, it might be a good move to get out of it.

    I also agree completely with Sajeev on the tuner parts. If I look at a used car, and it’s been modified in ANY way from stock … I walk away. I won’t buy it for any price. It’s a hint that this car was probably abused. Perhaps an unfair stereotype, but I’m not wasting my time and money on a ride that’s been flogged near to death by a juvenile delinquent, and then detailed before sale (I’m not implying that about the owner of this car, but I see it all to often). Besides, there are probably a dozen other identical cars out there in pristine shape that have been flawlessly maintained by some anal retentive engineer type. I’ll find one of them. I’m probably not the only one who thinks this way.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m with you and Sajeev concerning the tuner parts; if I see them on a car, I walk away also. The only time I didn’t, I had found a stock looking car that I liked, and without too much research, I bought it from the young man who owned it.

      Bad move on my part.

      I bring the car home and my kid says: That looks like “Little Johnny’s” old ride. In fact, it is… and then goes on to detail all of the hooning she knew about (apparently the kid was semi famous at their high school for his stunts)… Lord knows the stuff I didn’t know about.

      Moral of the story: Even if it looks stock, confirm that it is. Someone else may have gotten the idea to put it all back to stock looking, but that doesn’t account for the internal damage you can’t see, but WILL pay for…

  • avatar

    Having formerly owned a pimped out 1989 Mitsubishi Galant complete with all the stickers/stereo/exhaust/suspension mods, I appreciate the effort to make a ride your own.

    But knowing how I hooned my whip, I would never buy someone else’s tuner car. It’s generally worthwhile to return the car back to stock before you sell it.

    I undid most of my modifications when I sold the car in 2002, and generally discovered how comfortable the car used to be before I tweaked it. Factories don’t generally sell lowered cars with performance intakes for a reason.

    Also consider this: if you want to modify your car or get rid of it before the warranty expires, did you really buy the right car?

    • 0 avatar

      Please tell me it was a VR-4. Back in the day, that car was worth modifying to the point of bankruptcy. (which was likely)

    • 0 avatar

      Pfft, mine was a pure poseur-mobile. 102hp engine good for a 12.6 run. 0-60, not quarter mile.

      But I just finished university and landed my first full time job, so I needed something fairly inexpensive. I bought it because it was the nearest thing to a VR4 rally car. Most of my mods were rally-related.

      It had a beam rear axle, yet it was unflappable in mid-corner bumps. Handling would be similar to a newer Mazda6 or TSX. Definitely enjoyed it at that life stage.

  • avatar

    Definitely remove all traces of modifications before selling this car. It’s not the nature of the mods that is the problems but what it signals to the prospective buyer about the seller and how the car has been driven. Even if you get nothing for the mods – the car will probably sell for more without them.

  • avatar

    Return it to stock and make full disclosure that it was once lightly modified and list what the mods were. Most people who are looking for a car similar to this one would probably be okay with that.

  • avatar

    Leave the boost gauge in the car. It should have been provided by Volkswagen in the first place, and the next owner should be delighted to have it.

  • avatar

    What’s amazing to me is that I see ads all the time of cars for sale that have JUST BEEN MODIFIED! There’s one right now on Craigslist – a 2006 GTO that just had thousands of dollars of engine performance work done, dyno tuned to over 600 hp. Last week. For sale this week. Why? I wouldn’t touch it for any amount.

  • avatar

    OK, having just sold my MKV GTI 2 weeks ago, my advice is such:

    Leave it as is with the boost gage. A boost gage is just that, a gage. It is there to monitor the boost of the turbocharger. My GTI was completely stock save for a second set of wheels w/ snow tires on them. A boost gage was one of the few mods I considered because over or underboosting is a tale-tell sign that something has gone wrong. If I were buying a GTI, and I’m a buy-stock-cars-only kind of guy, the boost gage would not be detrimental, especially if you fed me the line that it was there for monitoring purposes only. It is a legitimate mod by anyone that drives a turbocharged car. It isn’t indicative of an abused car.

    The chip, on the other hand, is less confidence inspiring. Though, there seems to be little issue related to chipping, so I doubt it would scare many people off, especially if the drivability isn’t too adversely affected.

    I sold my MKV GTI 2 weeks ago because my wife and I purchased a 2010 4Runner as our “do everything”, 3rd vehicle. Combining my general irritation of the small things that would continually go wrong with the GTI, the fact that utility had a lot to do with the GTI purchase in the first place*, and my total cost of ownership calc’s not substantially decreasing by keeping the car and dealing with any minor or major repairs, it seemed like a good time to part ways. I was right at the edge of my powertrain warranty, too. With the 4Runner taking most of the “stuff carrying”, I am now free to look at MX-5s, S2000s, and the upcoming Subyota and get a proper sports car that isn’t compromised for winter driving or cargo carrying. So, I parted ways with my GTI with mostly just fond memories.

    * Our other car, at the time, was a MINI Cooper S. I didn’t buy the Mazda MX-5 I wanted because we needed some utility.

    • 0 avatar

      Personally I’m more of a “purely stock” kind of buyer and would prefer a potential used purchase to be of that nature. Short of closely examining how the boost gauge was installed and only if there were no other stock examples on the lot, I’d probably move on.

      My MkV GTI was traded in on my MkV R32 with a coilover suspension kit that was adjustable, so I’m no stranger to doing such a thing (the dealership didn’t say anything, so I suspect they didn’t even realize it), but I’d probably skip over my own car as well.

  • avatar

    Reverse the point of view and see what the answer would be …

    “Dear Sajeev, I’m looking at buying a MkV GTi with an about to expire warranty. It has been re-chipped and a turbo boost gauge clumsily added, do you think it will give me many years of trouble free motoring ?”

    The value of a car is what someone else is willing to pay for it. There’s waaaaaay too many red flags in that description (VW, end-of-warranty, modded, chipped & probably-hooned) to persuade many buyers to part with their money, so you need to remove as many of those flags as possible.

  • avatar

    Funny how those bland, stock, used Camry’s sell briskly and for a good percentage of their original cost.

    Do the tuner juggalos ever wonder why their exciting and daringly modified sporty rides don’t ‘perform’ so well at sale/trade-in time?

    • 0 avatar

      I have always assumed that the majority of these modified cars are either traded within the enthusiast group, totaled or seized by the police. Therefore few of them make it to the normal retail used car market. The one lightly modified and heavily hooned “tuner” vehicle I owned (90 Eclipse Turbo), sold for $700 to some kids that were going to do far worse to it than I ever could.

    • 0 avatar

      I suppose worrying about trade in value is reasonable use of ones time if you drive a soulless, bland and uninspired vehicle like a Camry but those of us that actually enjoy driving don’t buy them in the first place. Great use of sarcasm here, you must be really enlightened.

      HankScorpio was pretty much on the money as far as what happens to these cars after they’ve been heavily modified. They stay in the enthusiast community where the modifications are valued and potential buyers are 10x more informed than the average consumer. Shoddy work is obvious if you know what to look for and, on the other hand, cars built/tuned by respected houses carry a modest premium. You still take a pretty hard hit when modifying a vehicle but selling to the enthusiast community allows you to recover some of the money spent modifying the car instead of moving it through traditional venues and getting less than what a stock vehicle would be worth. My personal and observed experiences suggest you can recover 20-40% of the purchase price of substantial, quality modifications. Certain cars also command a premium in some circles; KBB says a good condition 92 civic hatchback with 200k is worth about $1000 while an enthusiast would readily pay 3-4000 for the same car. Basic supply and demand.

  • avatar

    Detective John Rehposolihp: I heff a Volksvagen.
    Customer: It might be a tuner.
    Detective John Rehposolihp: Eet’s nawt a TOONah!

  • avatar

    My MKV GTI has been very good to me thus far….then again all I did to it was change the radio so I could get hands-free and iPod control.

    I learned many years ago modifying your car makes it “your own” – so much so that no one else wants it.


  • avatar

    I would also walk away from that car with a boost gauge and a chip. My thinking along these lines: If you put those things into the car you did it because you are a little boy racer who beat the hell out of his car and wanted to hang with the Fast and Furious crowd, and there are a bunch of things hidden that I can’t see.

    I’d remove them, buy a new vent trim piece, and pretend they were never there. Sell them online somewhere.

  • avatar

    Making a profit on a tuner car depends on two things…

    One, the medium in which you sell it, and
    Two, the amount of time you’re willing to wait to sell it.

    If the car is in good shape, someone who would have performed your mods would pay a premium for them installed. In the world of modified cars it always pays to buy the car as built as you can get it.

  • avatar
    Richard B

    Here in California, with our smog laws, I’d be really wary of buying a car with a modified engine. On the other hand, if the owner struck me as a conscientious autocrosser and had (properly)installed suspension that I liked, I’d be willing to pay extra. Bouncy cars, ginormous wheels, no way.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve read about the plight of some Californian enthusiasts on some of the Honda boards and I’m super sympathetic, what a raw deal! There are ways around the smog laws but it seems to be an epic PITA.

  • avatar

    Seriously?  The OP is talking about a gauge and a chip!  These are really really mild modifications.  This is hardly a tuner car.  This isn’t a JC Whitney catalog car gone horribly wrong – or some backyard racer who took a dremel to the airbox for some “speed holes”.  In this specific case I’d return the engine software to stock (its probably just a regular handheld device anyway) and leave the guage.  Assuming his Golf doesnt look like the one pictured he’ll be fine.

    On the larger discussion, yes a full blown tuner car (even one done well) is questionable for reliability as a used purchase. All those mods do typically say something about the driver and how the car was used / abused.  Guage and a tune?  Probably OK.  Tints and Rims?  Still, probably OK.  Truck Nutz and Calvin?  Tacky, but still safe. Hacked Air Box, DIY CAI, craptastic exhaust system, dropped cars, etc – I’d personally stay away from.

    That being said a guage and a tune are hardly grounds for this guy losing money on selling his car.  Its a Golf, ppl know there’s gonna be problems anyway.

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