Drive Time

Drive Time

Remember when power windows and steering were all the rage? “And power lock brakes,” adds Robert Donnelly, an install manager for the car audio retailer Tweeter, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. “Back then, we were [wondering] what else they could do to make this car any better. Now, any convenience you can have at home, you can have in your car; it just depends how much you want to pay for it.” And it seems that Americans don’t have any problems doling out thousands of dollars in the aftermarket industry to customize their cars to their comfort and liking.

According to the aftermarket trade group Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), approximately $27 billion was spent on car enhancements in the aftermarket.

Personal costs can range from $600 to $50,000, says Donnelly. “If you’re spending $50,000, you’re modifying a good majority of the interior — prefabricating, building panels. You can also have stand-alone DVD players, PlayStation 2, a full entertainment system, VCRs, satellite radio, and TVs in the front and in the rear.” The largest television he has ever installed was a 20-inch plasma screen. “They don’t look that big, but you put one of those in a car and all of a sudden you’re at the movie theater.” Most customers who come to his shop, however, are spending a minimum of $25,000 to $35,000.

David Fowlkes Jr. is one such enthusiast. Ever since purchasing a new Chevrolet Avalanche in 2002, the wheel designer and president of Davin Wheels has spent more than $28,000 customizing his vehicle. There are two monitors in the headrest and one in the front visor. Audio is delivered through a Clarion stereo with 11 JL audio speakers, and there are two amplifiers under the rear seats. “That gives you the whole theater sound,” he offers.

With a background in industrial design, he has enhanced his truck to very detailed specs so as not to interfere with specific functions of the vehicle. His vents are fully operational and his truck can be packed to its intended capacity. “I hate when people design things and it looks cool, but it takes away from the usability of the vehicle. I put the arm rests on the console because I don’t want it to just look pretty and not be able to lean on it.” The console extends up to the dashboard to support the PlayStation and his computer. “And I’m still not finished,” he laughs, “we’re never finished,” referring to customizing junkies.

In fact, Fowlkes says that the car customization craze is divided into two categories: those who can afford to buy (for example, a $625,000 Rolls-Royce outfitted with all of the newest technology) and those who will buy what they can afford and develop it into a ride they fancy. “When you add it up, sometimes it ends up being twice as much as what they paid for the car.” Fowlkes offers. “And in that situation, they may not have had all the money up front, so they did it piecemeal.”

Matt Figliola, owner