Illustrations by Brett AffruntiCar and Driver
From the January 2021 issue of Car and Driver.
I don’t like to sneer at anyone’s enthusiasms. For the most part, whatever you want to do to your car is fine by me. Cover it in stickers. Jack it up or slam it to the ground. Get yourself some underbody lighting and truck nuts, if that’s your bliss. But there are a few trends that deserve derision.
The Carolina Squat: Because of its name, I assume this is a regional phenomenon, like vinegar-based barbecue sauce and secession. To give your truck the Carolina Squat, you install a lift kit on the front end but leave the rear end stock (or maybe even lower it). That’s it. Now your truck looks like it was dropped off a five-story building with 10,000 pounds of bricks in the bed.
My friend Keith used to run an off-road shop, so I asked him whether anyone ever wanted him to build a truck that way. “Hell, I lost a lot of customers to that,” he said. “I’d tell them, ‘We warranty our work, and I’m not buying you ball joints and control-arm bushings. And it’s not safe; your headlights can’t aim down that far, and frankly, Tom Cruise, your short ass can’t see over the hood.’ It jacks up the camber and makes trucks drink fuel. Plus, it looks stupid. I call them squatters and poopers.” One time, Keith installed a complete lift kit on a guy’s truck, and the owner removed the rear blocks afterward. Then he subsequently broke a spindle and brought the truck back to Keith, at which point, I assume, he was ridiculed into the next state.
Empty roof baskets: In college, I had ski racks on my raggedy 1987 Jeep Cherokee (two-door Laredo, 4.0-liter, five-speed, thanks for asking) but only—get this—in the winter. In the summer, I removed the ski racks. It was easy! They just unscrewed from the crossbars. And I bet you can do the same thing with your YakiThuleRhino rack. In fact, I know you can because my neighbor has a Roofnest tent on his Toyota Highlander but only sometimes. I’m assuming he puts it up there when he expects to use it and then takes it off when he’s done rather than drive around at all times with a small house on his roof.
Just admit your roof basket isn’t really for carrying things. It’s for telling the world that you have so much stuff and go on so many adventures with a carful of all your cool friends that your Subaru wears a metal hat just in case you spontaneously set off on a whitewater rafting trip, which is the kind of thing you do. There’s nothing inherently wrong with roof baskets, but leaving them up there all the time is like wearing crampons to Walmart.
Furry steering-wheel covers: This trend involves taking a plush toilet-seat cover from the 1980s and wrapping it around your steering wheel. Why would you do this? Because you’re in high school and your frontal lobe isn’t yet fully developed.
To assess the appeal of this, I borrowed a crazy red one that belongs to my niece. She’s 17 and her car’s steering wheel resembles a Tickle Me Elmo that got stuck in a centrifuge. I’ve told her that it’s dangerous and makes her car look like Pennywise the clown is bursting forth from her steering column, but suffice it to say, my opinions on coolness are not highly valued by Gen Z.
Anyway, I wrapped this Muppet pelt around the wheel of a Cadillac XT6 and hit the road. And the furry cover actually isn’t bad. It’s way beyond bad. For one thing, the ugh rug makes the XT6’s precise steering feel like you just swapped in the rack from a 1947 Mack garbage truck—whatever information was coming through the wheel is smothered under a yard of writhing polyester fibers. And that terrible textile itself squirms around on the wheel, adding another layer of interference. It’s so huge it obscures the instrument cluster, so you accidentally leave the turn signal on because the indicator light is blocked by Animal’s mop. But at least, to anyone who saw me, I looked like a really smart guy who has it together.
I mean, I modded my car when I was in high school, but my accessories were timeless. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some ultrasonic deer repellers and smoked headlight covers to install.
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