Can you modify a rental car?

Car modification – it’s an exciting world that many are enthusiastically taking part in. People buy all kinds of cars to get right to work and turn them into a unique machine that best reflects their personality and individuality. As they transform their cars into what they call “Tuners”, the one word they hope to avoid while working is “To search for.”

But how does the modification fit into the new car rental trend? Can these concepts come together as one? Can you modify a rental car and get away with it? Won’t you incur the financial penalties and general wrath of the dealership or leasing company? In today’s blog, we are looking at the possibilities (if any) of modifying a rental car.

Background: What is Car Modification?

Car modification refers to the practice of taking a mass-produced vehicle and replacing factory parts and systems with aftermarket parts. The overall aim is to make the car feel more individual and separate from the crowd, or perhaps add some value to the car by making it a high performance spec through mods.

Most car modifications are undertaken by enthusiasts who simply want to have a car that looks more like their own car than the one driven by millions of other people around the world. As we mentioned in the introduction, there are 2 types of results when modifying a car. He is called “Tuner” or “Ricer”. The former refers to well-appointed, stylish, and meaningful upgrades that add to the car’s convenience or aesthetics. The last one… well… refers to a nasty mobile-pilot boy who looks like an ill-informed 12-year-old boy’s automotive dream.

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Why modify your car in the first place? Leased or not, seems like so much work? People modify to:

  • express individuality
  • Stand out from the crowd – cars are almost all the same color these days, and even different brands are owned by the same small number of large corporations built on the same platform
  • Increase your car’s speed and performance capability – more hp, more torque
  • Make the car tallerlower, brighter and/or more elegant
  • Transform a lower spec vehicle into something more like a supercar

Can you modify a rental car? Short answer: Yes, but…

Some might automatically think that the answer to this question would be a resounding “No”, because a rental car doesn’t even belong to you. It belongs to the concessionaire or the finance company that owns the lease. They’ll end up wanting the car back from you (unless you eventually buy it with a balloon payment, which few do) to resell on the second-hand market. To do this, the car has to be in its original condition. The answer is that you can modify a rental car within reason, but you must be ready and prepared to restore the car back to its original specification when the time comes to return the vehicle.

What types of modifications to a rental car are acceptable?

When you’re thinking about modifying a rental car, the keyword you’re looking for is “reversible”

Reversible vs. irreversible modification

What these terms refer to is how it is possible for you to restore the car to its original condition after the modifications have been made. In that sense, modifying a rental car is a bit like redecorating a rental apartment. The landlord usually doesn’t care as long as you put it back the way it was before you left at the end of the lease.

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Examples of reversible modifications include (but are not limited to):

  • custom alloy wheels
  • Ambient lighting or car lighting
  • vinyl wrap
  • window color
  • new tires
  • Carbon fiber components (e.g. spoiler, diffuser)
  • New infotainment system and/or audio system
  • seat covers

You can see the pattern here. Anything that can be reversed easily enough so that the car can be restored to its original condition must be acceptable, and furthermore, it must not void the warranty (see more below on voiding a warranty).

you can modify a rented car

The term “irreversible” here refers to modifications that cannot be undone, or that perhaps can be undone technically, but with enormous difficulty and risk of damaging the vehicle, such as:

  • Installing a turbocharger or supercharger
  • Permanent bodywork like cutting wheel arches
  • Tweaking the ECU – which can also be illegal
  • Extensive modifications to exhaust systems

Some go into modification thinking they can reverse it, but find that going back to the original specification is much harder than they thought. They could end up in serious trouble, even being forced to bite the bullet and pay the balloon payment and buy the car to avoid hefty fines and penalties. At least that way you paid and still get to keep the car.

Does modifying a car void the warranty?

Despite some people’s firm belief that any kind of modification made by a car owner is an automatic one-way ticket to void-ville on the warranty front, it’s actually not that simple. Yes, modifying a car – rented or owned – can void the warranty, but the only way to do that is usually if it’s determined by the dealership or leasing company that whatever problem you’re trying to repair against the warranty wasn’t directly caused by your modifying actions.

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Let’s say that in your efforts to install a turbocharger, you caused some sort of damage to the car’s powertrain. Accidental or not, your actions in modifying the car are what caused the damage and/or malfunction in the drivetrain. Therefore, you cannot hold the manufacturer responsible for fixing it. As far as the OEM is concerned, if you had left the drivetrain alone it wouldn’t have broken down like this. Warranties only apply to things that can be identified as manufacturer’s defects.

modify a rental car

Bottom line: when you want to modify, owning the right is better

Ultimately, when you want to modify a vehicle, it’s always better to get it right away. Even better, you’ll be in a position where having a manufacturer’s warranty means nothing to you. If you can meet these 2 criteria, you can modify the vehicle however you like, knowing that you’re doing everything at your own risk and not stepping on anyone’s toes. With a leased car, you always have the option to buy it at the end of the lease anyway with a final balloon payment. If you’ve decided you’re going to buy the car in the end, modifying it shouldn’t worry so much – just be sure!

One more important piece of advice when modifying any type of vehicle is to always make sure you don’t accidentally make your car illegal on the road. Some changes like modifying the ECU can really hurt your vehicle’s performance. The same can happen with darkening the windows too much, lowering or raising the car too much, and so on. Always be aware of local rules and regulations.

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