I take no credit for this write-up as this is some solid advice from OG Artikgrau325is:
Have you ever bought something for your car because it was cheap, and later on found out that you didn't need it...or flat out didn't like it altogether?
How about decided you wanted a GSR swap, collected parts for it, then found out later on that you wanted an LS/VTEC?
I've noticed that a lot of fellas do this, and end up wasting valuable time, money, and effort on their builds. I decided to write up this DIY covering an often overlooked aspect of car projects...planning, record keeping and budget. With this DIY, you can follow the same process that brought my car bone stock from the Acura dealership in 2006, to the completely different car you see today.
1) How do I start out my build?
First things first, I know what it's like to pick up your "new" car, you might sign up online at a forum such as our beloved EJ8Squad, or perhaps it's bigger brother Honda-Tech. You'll see all of these sweet modified versions of your own car, and slowly your hard drive will soon be occupied by pictures of your favorite cars. You'll see wheels you want, suspension you want, you might even make goals and start to form ideas of what you want from your own build.
I remember reading through the EJ8-Squad thread on HT, and I pretty much browsed through all 800 pages in my spare time (I hear it's doubled since then), and I too did these things. Not being a millionaire, I know how scarce it can sometimes be to get money to buy the parts you want for your car, and the first n00b post we usually make is "what should I buy first that would make the biggest difference on my car?"
A common answer? Coilovers/rims/engine swaps.
My answer? An alarm.
There have been far too many threads about people getting their rides stolen in the night, and I'm sick of reading so many "I'm sorry for your loss, hope they find it soon" replies before finding out later on that they didn't even have a security system
I know you're excited, I know those new rims would look sick...but people don't seem to get just how easy it is to break into a Honda. I'm no car thief at all and I could get inside my own car without a key in about 45 seconds. It's your investment. Protect it. Don't halfass it either, too many people go the ebay no-name route and buy some BS $50 alarm that is essentially just a noisemaker. Is that really how much you care about your car?
If someone puts new parts over protecting their ride, I'm sorry to say it but I feel very little sympathy towards them when their ride ends up missing. Too many people have this whole "if they really want it, they'll get it anyways so why does it matter?" attitude towards things, but don't make it easy
for them! Do everything you can to protect your investment, as it can get expensive really quickly. Whether that be garaging it, a great security system, another car to daily drive, etc, be a smart and defensive Honda driver. There's too many fools out there that are too lazy to earn their own keep, and would rather take your hard earned rewards.
Don't stop there, get a clutch lock, steering wheel lock, etc. Anything you can do to add more layers of security to your car.
2. Okay, I have an alarm...can I get those rims* I want now?!
Well, that depends. Safety and mechanical reliability are next on the list. Sure you can get those rims you really want...but they're not going to do you much good when you're stuck on the side of the road...are they?
If your car has service records, go over them and review them carefully, see what major services have been done, and the maintenance habits of the previous owner. If you are in the process of buying the car, take it to a reputable mechanic to get a PPI (Pre-Purchase Inspection), naturally the last thing you want to do is buy a new Honda Headache, right?
Discuss with your mechanic what maintenance needs to be done at the current mileage of your vehicle to keep you running strong. Do a tune up, check the condition of the tires, suspension bushings and components, transmission, electrical system, brakes, etc. If your car has any faults, get them fixed as soon as possible.
*Phillip - I call them rims until they get tires on them, then they become wheels to me*[/size]
3. Alright, the car is running like a champ, now what?
Buy a 3-ring binder. I'd get a thick one if I were you, and a ton of plastic sleeves to go inside. What's this for? Record keeping.
Keep records of absolutely EVERYTHING you do to your car. From new parts to major maintenance to emissions tests to oil changes...keep track of everything.
You can even decorate it with pics of your own car!
These are few examples from my own binders, obviously there's a ton of info in there accumulated from 3 years of ownership. I would also make a separate folder on your email account for any invoices and transaction records regarding parts that you purchased online for your car!
4. This sucks...my car isn't looking any better
Be patient. Sit down and really think...browse some of the cars online or in the magazines that you admire so much, and ask yourself..what do YOU want to do with your car? What makes you tick, what is your build going to be about, what is it going to express and say to others? Is it going to be stupid fast? Is it going to be a daily driver with some mild mods? Is it going to be a trailer queen for shows?
Find your reason why you're getting into the tuning scene, and reflect on it. Write it down, and if you ever get lost later on down the road, you can look back on it and get yourself back on track.
5. Alright, so I believe I've found my reason why I'm getting into the scene, I have an alarm, and my car is running like a top. I've got a fat tax return and there's an intake I want for only $40...can I buy it now?
You're almost there, now you've reached one of the most overlooked parts of most builds. Planning.
People ask me why I never bought cheap and easy mods such as an intake or headers, etc. It's because I planned out my build, and in the long run, I will not need those parts.
DO YOUR RESEARCH! Open up a Word document or notepad and name it "Civic Build" or "Sexy Time" or whatever, just make this your dedicated planning sheet. Separate it into categories such as Interior, Exterior, Suspension, Power, etc. Think of all of those parts you want so bad and organize them...then go find the best prices you can for those parts and make an "imaginary build."
This part can take the longest, you'll have to read and read and read, browsing pages and writeups that other people have collected and shared on the internet. You want a K-swap? That's fine, put it down and then find out how much it costs on average for a shop to throw it in your engine bay. The last thing you want as a beginning builder is to buy half of the parts you need, and then find out there's some rare or expensive part that you hadn't accounted for...and have to stop your progress and go a different route.
Find info from multiple sources, I'm sure homeboy looking like a fool with his pants on the ground could tell you that you can get a boosted 500hp K-swap in your car for 3k, but the last thing you need is to be surprised when it costs (on average) 9k to do the swap alone.
This goes for many things, look into all avenues and find out what you want to do. You do NOT want to make a plan and start buying parts for it, and then hear some good things about a different setup, and then end up losing time and money parting out the parts you have collected so far. Pick a plan, and stick to it.
Once you have an idea of what parts you want and can realistically afford, finalize your car plan. Write down everything, organize it and write down the prices for everything. After that, show your build plan to another car friend you trust, and discuss the plan with them. They could point out things you may have missed or never accounted for. After all of this, add up the total cost so that you can see exactly what you're getting yourself into.
Realize that builds aren't an overnight thing, it's going to take time, money and dedication to do it right, but if you stick with it you can make it happen.
If you want coilovers badly, but can only currently afford lowering springs, or you want some awesome Works but can only afford Rota's, just wait a little longer! You're only pushing yourself further away from your goals if you keep yourself from buying the things you really want. Sure you'll be temporarily happy because you feel like your car is making progress, but when you go look at that picture of the car you admire so much, you'll realize that you still haven't done much to get closer to it and the plan you made earlier.
This costs you time and money because you have to do things all over again.
Keep your plan handy, and as you start buying the parts you have listed, cross them off. This not only gets you a sense of satisfaction, but it helps you gauge just how far off you are from actually getting exactly where you wanted to be!
6. Final words.
Building a car isn't just about money, it's about discipline. If you take some of these steps to heart, you can keep your ride safe, running well, looking good and have more money in your pocket.
I hope this helps you all as much as it helped me throughout these years. Happy building everyone!
-Artik and the DarkTune crew.