Confessions – The Worst Car Mod I Ever Did

We’ve all done them; modifications to our cars we’re deeply ashamed of. Sometime the regret is instantaneous, sometimes it’s a slow boil of disgust that eventually festers into full-on repulsion. Over my lifetime, I have made more than enough erroneous enhancements to my cars. But no car suffered worse than my first car – the 2003 Oldsmobile Alero.

The list of poor choices was as equally shameful as it was extensive. There was the stenciled vinyl sticker that went over my third brake light, displaying the word ALERO every time I would step on the brakes. Or how about the polished metal shift knob I installed, making the manual shift lever skin-searing hot when left in direct sunlight? There are also the 17-inch alloys that didn’t quite fit my car and proceed to vibrate the rear drum brakes to literal pieces.

Sadly, there’s more. My car didn’t come with the factor installed fog lights, so instead of buying the OEM set, I bought a cheap pair from a big box store and installed them in the front air dam under the grille. Admittedly, they looked good there, but I had nowhere to mount them. So I just screwed them into the bumper itself. Like most modern cars, the Alero’s bumper is a rubbery plastic material which means there is a lot of flex in it. As I drove down the road, the fog lights bounced with every crack in the road, shining their light in all sorts of random directions. The glass on both lights also cracked at the first sight of snow and ice.

Now For the Worst

But none of these are the worst malady I inflicted on that poor Oldsmobile. That honour goes to the gauge cluster. No, I didn’t replace my gauge cluster with a fancier, digital readout. That would make too much sense. Instead, I went the cheap, tacky route; I decided I needed to get a cluster trim overlay.

A trim overlay is basically a giant sticker that goes over the black plastic trim surrounding the gauges within the cluster. Some examples of these inserts are shown below. Why I thought I needed a cluster insert is lost on me, but I blame it on being young, dumb, and playing too many Need For Speed Underground games. Usually, these overlays are created out of a piece of vinyl, printed with various designs or to mimic the look of other materials like carbon fiber. But as is the pattern in my life, I had to be different. I couldn’t just buy a nice vinyl insert like everyone else, I had to get one made from billet aluminum.

When it arrived, I was excited to install it. I took out my gauge cluster and looked to attach it. I realized at this time that the black plastic trim in front of gauges was actually part of the entire cluster pod and not part of gauges themselves. This meant there was no way to get the non-flexible aluminum overlay inside the pod to attach it. Friends with Aleros who had bought vinyl overlays could simply bend the overlay in half, slide it through a gauge whole, then affix it in place.

Hack Jobs 101

Not to be deterred, I decided I would attach it directly on the gauges themselves and cut out all the plastic from the gauge pod. In theory, this could have work, but my methods were ill informed and unwise. I used a Dremel drill with a cutting disc attachment and things went as poorly as you can probably imagine.  

Every piece that was cut out from the pod was done so with a jagged incision. A few times the Dremel got away from me and sliced a scar right across the gauge pod. Other times I got too close to the billet aluminum overlay and scuffed the hell out of it.

In the end, the finished product resembled a train wreck. It looked like I had taken my gauge pod out, tossed it off a cliff, then put it back in the car. The worst part was, I had too look at it every few seconds when driving – so the constant reminder of my failure was always staring me in the face.

I have never messed around with the gauge cluster of a car since.

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