Most of us don’t accessorize our cars. But some people, apparently, get restless if there isn’t half a garage of stuff attached to their Honda. If their car isn’t louder than a rock band falling off a stairwell, they can’t fill that gaping hole in their existence. But car accessories aren’t cheap, and their prices are far from standardized. So for anybody who’s got to stick extra bits to a car, here’s a quick and dirty guide:
Singapore’s car accessory market is sentiment driven. That is, prices aren’t just determined by the cost of the accessory, but how popular the accessory is. Joining a trend can mean spending more than is justified.
The next big concern is availability. The famous JapanRims store is a prime example of this: their prices are fair because of the brands they stock. If you can check with other other importers of those brands, you have a pretty solid imagination. Because they don’t exist is what I’m saying. JapanRims can charge what they like, because the alternative is your own cargo plane.
This means cheap car accessories come down to a few things:
- Dodging the “hype” period
- Looking on the second-hand market
- Looking for parallel imports
- Ignoring branding
1. Dodging the “Hype” Period
If your life is defined by “fitting in”, then you will overspend on car accessories. I asked around, and got a quote from Mr. Cheong Hyun, a car enthusiast:
“If you follow a small circle of friends, that’s one thing. But if you always try to upgrade your car because of mods you see on the Internet, or in movies, you will waste a lot of money. In two or three years you’ll find the accessories are not cool any more. And not say it’s easy to sell second-hand.
For example, neon*; I have some friends who were happy to install neon, even if they cannot use it in Singapore. Last time it was so expensive; today they take out and throw away. I think if you want to save, don’t buy it when it’s popular. Buy it because you really like it; wait a while to buy and sometimes, you will find it becomes a lot cheaper.”
* Mr. Cheong refers to under-carriage neon lights. The sort which make your car look like a mobile strip club.
So if you’re buying accessories, dodge the hype. Remember that popularity pads the price. And besides, a faddish accessory might go the way of a Lindsay Lohan tattoo; something to show off now and be painfully ashamed of later.
2. Looking on the Second-Hand Market
The secondary market is a big deal for car accessories. Because accessories do nothing for the price of a used car, sellers often strip the accessories and sell them separately. A lot of local sites and forums cater to this, and you should keep an eye on them.
In general, second-hand accessories are 10 – 15% cheaper than new ones. Stereos and sports rims see bigger discounts, from 30 – 50%, depending on their age. An exception to these discounts are old or out-of-production accessories; these sometimes cost as much as they did brand new, due to lack of availability.
If you are on a strict budget, stay exclusively within the second-hand market. Remember that, with few exceptions, car accessories will not appreciate in worth.
3. Looking for Parallel Imports
Parallel imports (PI) are a legal grey area. They’re not loudly advertised, but they’re not illegal.
PI accessories are sold or distributed without the manufacturer’s knowledge. In effect, they come from the same manufacturer, but cost marginally less (about 10%) than from an authorised dealer. Some places that deal in PI cars also deal in PI accessories.
If you bought your car from a parallel importer, ask them if they have the accessories you want. If they have, you might get yourself a further discount. At the very least, they’ll be happy to direct you to a contact or source. Alternatively, you can shop around for PI accessories yourself.
Granted, you probably can’t install a body kit or a new fuel injector yourself. But there are accessories that aren’t very hard to install: headlamps, tail lamps, mirrors, and stereos all come to mind.
Whenever you buy an accessory, ask the dealer if it’s in the DIY range. Or just flat out ask how you go about installing it. If the instructions reach the 40 minute mark, or if he starts babbling about tools you’ve only ever fantasized about, then stop: it’s beyond you. Anything else you can handle.
Self-installing accessories, like a new stereo, isn’t just cheaper; it will familiarize you with your own vehicle, and you’ll know exactly what tweaks you’ve made. All useful when you next visit the mechanic.
5. Ignoring Branding
Sometimes, a particular brand isn’t expensive because it’s better; it’s expensive because no one is importing it.
If you insist on sticking to a particular brand, you’ll be paying inflated prices. Someone’s got to go to Germany or Japan or wherever and bring the parts for you. But a pragmatist looks at car accessories the same way you look at supermarket meat:
Do you remember the brand of the last steak you bought? Yeah, no one does, because no one cares. We poke it and if it’s fine, we buy it.
Same goes for accessories like rims, battery related products, or LED lighting features. Look at the price first and the brand second. Half the time, the fact that it’s an authentic XYZ product is going to be utterly irrelevant. To be sure, ask around in places like Hardwarezone’s car forum. See if Mazda’s new rims really are suited to Mazda models, or if it’s just hype.
Do you save money on car accessories? Comment and tell us how!
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