By on September 23, 2019

jvc kwr930bt car stereo double din

It happens to the best of us. Entranced by bigger tires or more horsepower or louder sound, we gearheads are susceptible to bouts of fiduciary myopia. Plugging a stereo system worth two grand into a knackered old Cavalier? Sure! Paying handsomely for a lift kit even though the old Silverado has rust holes like swiss cheese? Let’s go!

We’re all prone to the odd bit of automotive profligacy. Mine, perhaps surprisingly, involves a Ford Escort and some subwoofers.

In years prior to the likes of Ram pickups and GMC Sierras darkened your author’s driveway, a series of terrible Ford econoboxes passed through these hands. One of them was a then seven-year old 1992 Escort station wagon, resplendent in faded blue and sporting a five-speed manual transmission. I can’t imagine they made very many of them in that powertrain configuration, even in the 90s. Regardless, it was mine. Or at least partly mine. I went halves on the purchase price with my father.

After taking possession of the ignition key with a strange triangular head (remember, this was the height of the Ford/Mazda mashup), I marched down to Future Shop — think Best Buy before that company bought the place — and was sent into immediate sticker shock by the cost of Sony subwoofers and Alpine decks. A hasty trip to the local pawn shop revealed prices that were much more my speed.

Sure, it was a terrible waste of money but I was promptly able to shake the license plate off that little Escort and trigger car alarms in the tight confines of the streets of downtown St. John’s. The wide-open nature of a wagon, instead of having the woofers tucked away in a trunk, ensured that I now ask most people to repeat themselves. Remarkably, nothing ever got ripped off.

How about you? What was your biggest automotive waste of money?

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42 Comments on “QOTD: Overspending Overtures?...”


  • avatar
    ravenuer

    I have an extremely low opinion of drivers with these loud, thumping sound systems.

  • avatar
    Dilrod

    I can’t say that I ever splurged on a big ticket item and stuck in in a clunker, mainly due to a lack of money or the occasional bout of good sense.

    I did put more money into old clunkers then I should have, trying to restore its comfort & performance to an earlier state.

    Lots of little gadgets here and there. Several bottles of Slick 50 come to mind.

  • avatar
    nsk

    My biggest automotive waste of money was trying to turn in a perfectly good, under-warranty E46 M3 coupe into a track car. I had already been doing track days for a few years, but the car’s relative weak spots showed up early. I thought, sure, brake pads, fluid, camber plates, all that makes sense.

    It turned into a gutted rear interior, roll bar, two sets of race seats, three sets of wheels and tires, two completely different suspensions, countless alignments and corner balances, and a multi-piston brake setup. I don’t even want to add up the cost of parts, let alone the cost of labor.

    One idiot mechanic – supposedly a Porsche CGT-certified tech – installed Stoptech ST-40 calipers randomly around the car (the four calipers look the same, but are marked F and R due to internal piston sizes) that completely screwed up the ABS and bias.

    The car was never really fun to drive on the track because I was constantly worrying about what was going to break next, and how I was going to have to tinker with it to make it right. I was lucky to have been able to sell it to another track guy.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    I live in the mid-atlantic region. I probably would not put out for winter wheels and tires again. Winter wipers have a far better bang/buck ratio.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Rims and a K&N air filter for my old first gen Saturn SL SOHC. It had a CD changer and Pioneer deck as well, but I enjoyed that. The rims made the car ride bad and the K&N did nothing to up the 84 horsepower.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I’ve spent way more in audio systems (amps, processors, subwoofers, custom door panels, etc, etc) then my car’s worth multiple times. However I enjoyed the installation process, had a blast jamming to the tunes and won trophies in car audio competitions so it wasn’t a complete waste of money. It was hobby… just a very expensive one.

    However I did once buy a set of wheels for my Civic. That was a complete waste of coin, they didn’t fit correctly and basically ruined the car’s nimble handling. They took up space my apartment for months and had to be sold at a massive loss. Even to this day that decision haunts me because it was purely bling to look cool but was noting much trouble. At least with my sound systems I could jam out while driving to school and work.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I’ve spent too much money on a car that turned out to be a pos.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    I made a number of changes to my first BMW. All were invisible except for the trailer hitch, as I’ve always enjoyed going fast more than looking fast. The one that caused me stress was replacing the ECU chip with one from Dinan or Conforti.

    The ECU consisted of two boards that were joined by a ribbon connector on one side and a huge serial port on the other. After removing the case from behind the glove box and the ECU from the case, you’d pry off the serial connector and spread the two boards. Then you’d pry out the 24 or 28 pin chip from the board and replace it. Most of the steps involved more force than I was comfortable applying to a computer required for my car to run. I recall dreading having my car towed from my driveway because of something I did on my kitchen table. Instead the worst thing that happened was I moved to a state where I couldn’t buy gasoline good enough for my tuned engine to run happily.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Closest I came to this, is when I installed new front pads/rotors and 4 tires; and then traded car a year later.

    Or may be this one… One time my caliper leaked on 14 year old 240SX. I didn’t want to pay $260 for re-manufactured one and junk yards didn’t have one. So, I bought myself a Sentra at the auction. This where story turns from waste to profit. Because month later caliper happened for $20 at u-Pull it. In 2 more months I sold Sentra @ $1,500 profit.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    In the four years I’ve owned it, I’ve now spent a multiple of what my old Legend is worth on maintenance. Cooling system (radiator and a multitude of hoses), timing belt service, the EGR cleaning that Legends need to prevent blown head gaskets, valve cover gaskets, a variety of suspension parts, and new motor and transmission mounts. It also needs new struts and strut mounts but I haven’t done those yet. I like the car enough that it always seems worth it, but it’s a dumb financial decision. The car is 25 years old and at the stage where every rubber part on the car has failed or is going to fail.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      What would you have paid for a reasonably priced car you like as much as the Legend and how does that compare to what you continue to spend on maintaining it?

      Is there a dollar amount that you have decided is too much to maintain an older car?

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Maintenance costs have been spiky but in the range of $1500/year. That plus the original purchase price ($2600) isn’t enough to buy a newer car I like as much. But this isn’t my only car, and I’d feel very differently if it were, based on the downtime alone.

        It’s a fun toy and I keep it around because I can afford to. If I were in worse financial shape it would go, although at 201k miles I wouldn’t get much for it.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Wow, so old Hondas actually require maintenance from time to time!?? (sarcasm)

      I like your approach, spend money keeping a decent car on the road vs dumping it into mods and letting the mechanicals wear out.

      After trying to mod Volvos in stupid ways I gave up on mods myself. It was partly money but more than anything a waste of time.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    The JVC headunit in the lede photo reminds me that everytime I spent money to improve the audio system in my car, I have been left disappointed.

    I have spent decent money on head units, and found them inferior to the factory units. I have spent decent money on respected premium brand name speakers, and found them inferior to a good factory installed units. I have spent decent money on woofers and amps…always disappointed.

    Best Buy, Crutchfield, professionally installed, or if I do it myself…always disappointment.

    I have come to the conclusion that the only way to get a good sound system in a car is to pay for the best available system when I buy a new car.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      My experience is exactly the opposite. Maybe you buy high-end vehicles and factory systems whereas I buy compacts and ho-hum sedans. I installed a JVC headunit a few years ago in a car and was amazingly impressed with the feature set and performance. The biggest issue is ergonomics and the tiny buttons and a non-stock look.

    • 0 avatar
      blppt

      Its because the premium sound systems from the factory are acoustically engineered for that specific vehicle—any aftermarket unit, no matter how expensive, simply cannot be designed for one specific vehicle.

      So yes, while adding a 1000 watt amp and premium aftermarket speakers will improve overall frequency response and balance, often the soundstage/imaging won’t match the stock factory premium system.

      It all depends on the type of music you listen to–if its primarily R&B, rap, etc., you generally don’t need to worry about things like soundstage as much.

      All that being said, some factory sound systems (cough cough BOSE cough cough) color the source sound with DSPs so much that pretty much any good aftermarket system might be an improvement.

      • 0 avatar
        bunkie

        There are few things in the automotive world that are a poorer value than up-optioned car audio systems. Very few have what I would consider to be top-line drivers. Most are engineered to a price point that is a very minor fraction of the cost.

        Worse, the integration of both phone and noise cancellation into systems as well as weirdly-sized speakers in strange places makes any attempt at DIY upgrades next to impossible which means you either settle for the standard system or you pay the manufacturer just to get a modest improvement

        Ironically, the cheaper the car, the better chance of a good result. In my Tacoma, I added a modest amp, a set of Focal component speakers and a liberal application of Dynamat and had one of the best-sounding car systems I’ve ever heard. All in, about $550. 1950s big band music (think Nelson Riddle Orchestra) sounded fantastic.

    • 0 avatar
      Boff

      ^This, plus often car speakers have low impedance values matched to underpowered factory amps…most aftermarket speakers are 4 ohms and don’t perform suboptimally with 2 ohm factory systems.

    • 0 avatar
      Flush Valve

      Bought that same model JVC headunit last year for my old daily pickup truck, with the trim and harness kit… Was a fun project and it was miles ahead of the stock unit while using the junky stock speakers. Perfect for the stripped down trim featuring the regular cab, 4 cylinder, crank windows, manual locks, and a disappointing factory HU with CD.

      The disappointment came when the truck had an avalanche of issues coming up, and going that route before with the car before that, it was better to let go. I put the HU back in the box before trading the old truck in. Picked up a new truck in March. Sold off the HU.

      On another car, I actually enjoyed the stock system. 1999 Jeep WJ Limited with that fancy stereo package (Infinity with Mitsu-OEM HU). EQ sliders are where it’s at, though the midrange-tweeters on the dash weren’t long for this world. The CD changer died for no reason, but who needs those when cassette adapters exist?

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I think it depends on how well the original system was done. blppt is exactly right that you can’t build a system from aftermarket components that is as carefully tuned to the vehicle as a higher-end stock system. But not every stock system is designed to that standard.

      I’ve had dramatic improvements every time I’ve replaced the speakers in a non-branded OEM system, but the results from that process are usually no better than the branded OEM systems. In a car environment I’ve never wanted to have earth-shattering power or home-stereo-like sound quality. The better branded OEM systems are “good enough” that it would be too expensive for my taste to try to improve significantly on them.

      Of all the branded systems I’ve owned, I’d say only the Mark Levinson system in the Lexus LS 460 was comparable with a decent home audio system. Several (ML in LX 570, JBL in Toyota Highlander, Sony in Ford C-Max, JBL in Ford Taurus) have been perfectly satisfactory for car use but not up to home standards. The car is a crap listening environment anyway, so no big deal.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Then again piggybacking an aftermarket amp and subs for the lows, and use the factory setup strictly for the highs and mids, which most can do an exceptional job with, especially when you tune-out the lows. Add-on amps and subs can easily outclass any factory upgrades.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Bought a ’97 Ranger for $1700 that was kind of rough around the edges, bit of a rattly suspension, noisy exhaust, cracked windshield, in-op parking brake, in-op AC, leaky fuel filler hose (dumped gas on the ground near full) , but the body didn’t look rusty and it only had 126k miles and ran and drove fine and was exactly what I needed to do a number of summer home improvement and gardening projects. When I saw how cheap parts were for it I kind of went nuts and bought a bunch of odds and ends: timing belt kit, shocks, plugs and wires, just a whole bunch of maintenance stuff that I knew it could benefit from. Then I found the rust: the lower part of the radiator core support by the body mounts was literally rusted off. There was my source of clunking that I could never locate in the front end. Bought a new core support to weld in, also realized how rusty my spring hangers and shock mounts were, bought some of them too. Decided to farm the labor out to my brother in PA, I wanted to bring a motorcycle back from him anyways. Dropped it off and came up with a list of to-dos. Labor estimate quickly ran into the $1k mark where I cut it off. No core support replacement, no timing belt. Spring hangers, parking brake, front shocks and brakes. He found a few thin spots in the frame too. Got the truck back, spent some time polishing the paint up with a cheap random orbital polisher, took the cracked pinstripe off, got a cheap new windshield put in, grabbed some mint replacement bumpers and a spare tire from the junkyard (mine was missing). Threw a can of freon in the system and it actually was holding. Finally listed the truck, the polished up exterior got a lot of attention, sold quickly for my $2500 asking price. All in, I was in the hole $1000 on that one, plus my time spent messing around with it.

    To contrast, the following spring (after a successful flipping of a Honda Pilot with a $3500 profit), I bought another Ranger. I knew what I was doing this time. 1994 XLT, in purple (medium aubergine or something like that), long bed reg cab 5spd Lima. Some more dents in the sheetmetal, but rock solid frame underneath, just surface rust. 106k miles, drove great, much tighter and less tired feeling than the ’97. Only thing wrong was a very bald rear tire (no spare again), and in-op AC again. $2000 paid, drove it all summer with nothing but some brake pad hardware to stop the pads from rattling, scooped up a spare set of OE alloy wheels and raised white letter tires for $100, bought $50 worth of factory color matched spray paint and touch up to clean up some of the scrapes on the bed edge and tailgate. Recharged the A/C, blew ice cold again and held fine the whole summer. Listed and sold for $2200, although it took much longer this time. Purple+dents on a mechanically sound truck is a harder sell than a polished up turd.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    At least with the stereo stuff, they can travel with you from car to car. The Alpine CD in-dash cost me too much in ’88 and rode in several cars and trucks until it died about 10 years old.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      I’ve had a couple of head units that were in more than one of my cars over the years.

    • 0 avatar
      jh26036

      That brings back some memories. I had a Panasonic CD player that the whole display was bright blue, loved it, spent time in a Jeep Cherokee (from 1999 to 2008). The Jeep got totaled, lived in my basement for a few years, dusted it off around 2013 when my friend needed something to replace his AM/FM only unit. The vehicle caught on fire a few years later and died there. RIP.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Timely topic. I’ve got an ’07 3 series wagon that I still daily drive, and my struggle is how much money do I spend maintaining it. Not from a mechanical perspective but the vanity stuff. I want a new shift boot with matching emergency brake boot with some nice off color stitching, new shift knob, M3 front seats as my seat leather is looking tired, swap the radio with it’s fried pixels in for a refurb and I want to wrap the interior wood trim with some cool 3M metallic or carbon fiber wrap. Most of these aren’t expensive, but they’re time consuming.

    It’s tough to know how much is too much.

  • avatar
    Boff

    One time I spent big (-ish) money on a Ford Racing tune for my 2012 Mustang GT. It did improve low-end torque which helped pickup in the too-tall 6th gear, and I enjoyed the fake lopey idle which always spiced up trips to the drive-thru. But I had to uninstall the tune when I traded in the car a few months later, leaving me with a worthless SD card and a nice Ford Racing branded scan tool.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Waste? Not sure if I would say that, but my father did…In the early 80’s I installed a Nakamichi TD700 head unit in my Fury. A $750 expenditure back then. Of course, you needed to add a pair of amps, ADS speakers, subs, and a separate crossover. I did all the install myself but the total for such sonic pleasure was about $2,250 excluding wiring and the like. That’s what, about $5,800 today. The amps still live on in one of my cars, and the ADS speakers are in still another. A lot of money, yeas, but well worth it.

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    My biggest waste of money was trying to update a Mercedes-Benz C32 AMG with suitable aftermarket parts to address the MB chassis and drivetrain shortcomings relative to BMW. I spent thousands of dollars and sometimes became the unpaid/unwitting R&D staff of the aftermarket shop. For example, my car had the second-ever Quaife limited slip diff installed in the W203 chassis in the US, with the associated teething pains.

    So, after having a some fun trying and a LOT of money thrown at companies with names like names like RENNtech, Kleemann, etc., I was still never able to make that Mercedes-Benz accelerate, handle or turn like a BMW. I was a fool for trying – that was not the car’s mission. I sold it for a loss and then proceeded to do something more traditional: a 24V E36 engine and E46 M3 6-speed swap into a 1991 E30 chassis. Yes, that was actually a better application of funds!

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    The usual head units – getting a CD player and then eventually MP3 USB players (yay!) that went on three vehicles before I started buying cars that had ’em stock.

    I’ve never done the whole replace all of the speakers and/or added an amplifier.

    I recently I started modding my 2014 3.7L V6 Mustang: replaced the 2.73 gears with 3.55s. I also did an ECU tune where I have to run 93 Octane instead of 87. Also an aFe drop-in filter. But now I’m at the point where any other mods (upper/lower intake, exhaust) will cost a bit of money and anything beyond that – supercharging/turbo/nitrous plus the suspension mods to handle the power – and I might as well buy another car! I’m already having traction issues with the 235 tires and the 3.55 gears.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Second: In the year 2000 I bought a ’86 Monte Carlo SS with the original drivetrain except for long tube headers. It was a rust-free Tennessee car. I proceeded to replace the seats, the interior door panels, the t-top seals, the engine (305 to 355), the transmission (built with a 2500 stall), and a few other odds and ends. It was a mean sounding car by the time I was done.

    And – with Michigan winters – it sat. And sat. And then I eventually moved to a better house but with a smaller garage. With no storage space I sold the MCSS – pretty much for what I bought it for. The new owner just got some extra parts – for free!

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    I over spent a lot on an old 1984 Nissan 720 pickup 4×4 I purchased 3 years ago.
    Back then I wanted a pickup truck and only had a $5K budget ao it seemed easy to get the rust free (California vehicle) Nissan for $1600. Being one of those rare Custom Cabs with tubular steel bumpers and fiberglass-made extended cab with rear bench seat also helped bump my desire for the truck.
    The adventure started when I re painted the whole truck in black (it was baywatch yellow), re upholstered the front vynil seats, repaired the A/C, added LED fog lights, some BFG A/Ts, a Kenwood headunit with 4 speakers, alarm, et cetera. The list became endless just because I wanted the truck to look pristine all the time. On top of that I had to rebuilt the engine, clutch and replace the fuel pump within the first year of ownership.
    2 years later the carb, fuel pump (again) and the synchros had to be overhauled. It had finally become a financial burden to me so I got rid of the thing for $3500 just 4 months after the last repair. To this day I still think that was the meanest looking peace of intermittent working crap I have ever owned.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Back in college, probably spent somewhere north of $2500 (all in) for a built stereo system and a set of nice five-star rims for my 1985 Dodge Lancer ES. Man, did I love that car. Yes, the stereo likely ended up being worth more than the car, but it sounded completely awesome. Youth (and money) is wasted on the young…

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I’m sure I drop more $ into keeping my oldies than they’ll ever be worth, only one has a non stock sound system, it’s nice , plays CD’s and the speakers sound good too, the previous owner did that and I just left it .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    not really a waste, per se. ive been keeping my scion “stock” by upgrading the stereo with newer scion models and the required adapter wire harnesses. i just figure its less likely to be stolen that way.

  • avatar
    WhatsMyNextCar

    I spent money to swap my 1994 Grand Am SE taillights in favor of the Grand Am GT’s smoked lens taillights. I also bought GTS headlight covers, which made the headlights much less effective at night. Combined, it was $500-ish in 1996. I traded the car a few months later.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    The only audio upgrade I’ve ever done was swapping a CD player Ford factory radio into my CVPI, that cost only $12. Good music doesnt need fancy audio systems.

    Plus, I don’t want anyone breaking into my car.

  • avatar
    newenthusiast

    I’m probably going to get criticized for this from those of you who seem to hate all season tires, but when I lived in Delaware and had the Q7, I had good all seasons, but still put on real winter tires. It was such a beast in the foul cold weather (and it helps that most od Delaware is flat). So my all seasons were really 3 season tires.

    But that wasn’t the waste of money, since it was the family car and road trip vehicle. No, the waste of money was on the UHP winter tires (plus the -1 size on rims I needed to buy, plus installation fees, etc) that my wife’s 135 needed. She was a convert after seeing how they helped the Q7. She demanded the best winter tires we could afford……and promptly drove my Q7 to work every day there was snow or ice or rain in the winter. And since school was usually cancelled (my kids took the bus anyway), I was always home with the kids and the 135 stayed in the garage.

    I think those winter tires had a total of 1500 miles on them when we moved to a place where we didn’t need them (now in Hawaii). And all those miles where on dry days where a good all seasons would have sufficed in the winter. $1500 for all 4 (plus installtion) and barely used.

    I think in that situation, all seasons for that car year round was probably the better bet.


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