Fact Checked

What is a Custom Car?

Lori Kilchermann
Lori Kilchermann

A custom car is a car that has undergone a variety of modifications. These changes can involve the car's performance, such as replacing its transmission. Alterations can also focus on the car's look, such as adding a design to the paint.

The custom car culture began in the garages and shops of southern California in the US in the mid 1950s. Terms such as tail draggers and lead sleds soon became familiar with people all over the United States. As the custom car craze spread, modifications began appearing on vehicles all around the world.

A man painting a car to customize it.
A man painting a car to customize it.

One of the first popular steps in creating a custom car was to lower the entire chassis. Termed low-riders, the pavement-scraping automobiles cruised city squares and occupied parking stalls at local drive-ins all while drawing attention to their owners. Paint became the second component many custom car buffs altered. From classic "candy" paint jobs to flames and scallops, the customs showcased their owners' imaginations. The only limit to the amount of customization found on a custom car was linked to the owner's pocket book.

Creatng a custom car might involve welding.
Creatng a custom car might involve welding.

The custom culture was in full swing in the 1960s as the practice of chopping tops and sectioning bodies began to occur. Chopping a top involves cutting metal out of the roof pillars and lowering the roof of the vehicle down. This is thought to create a sleeker appearance.

The sectioning of a body is more involved and subsequently more expensive. To section a custom car body, the entire car body has a predetermined amount of metal cut from the perimeter of the body. Once the cut is achieved, the top half of the body is lowered to sit on the bottom section, and it is then welded back together. This is perhaps the most involved and time-consuming practice in customizing cars. Chopping and sectioning are thought to bring custom cars to the next level.

Most of the customs found cruising any given city around the world have more money spent on the customization than the actual vehicle purchase. As the customization became more and more intricate and gold plating began to replace chrome, many areas formed custom car clubs. The clubs stage shows where members can show their vehicles. The shows began to attract more and more curious onlookers, and the sizes of the shows increased. Many of the custom car owners display their car club name and city on plaques suspended from the rear bumper of their cars.

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Discussion Comments


I love my 1999 Toyota Corolla, I will drive it until the engine completely dies, which I hope and pray never happens! I probably won't customize my car, because I personally think my car would look silly with most customizations.

If I had a really nice car, and a good amount of money, I would probably consider customizing my car. Making something you hopefully will have for a long time more personalized and unique, makes sense to me.


@JaneAir - Some people are just really into cars. Even though you might not understand it, that doesn't make it ridiculous or stupid.

I don't think I would ever modify my car, but I think custom cars look really cool. I went to a custom car show awhile ago, and some of the paint jobs were extremely impressive.

I really think the kudos should go to the artists who paint the cars though, not just to the person who paid for the paint job. But other than that, I have no issues with car modifications.


I actually think the whole custom car craze is kind of ridiculous. Cars are for driving from place to place, not showcasing your personality or wealth or whatever.

I personally think that people who are heavily into modifying their cars have self esteem problems. Why else would you do something that has so much potential to draw attention to yourself? I just don't get it.


A buddy of mine owns a body shop and occasionally he will get asked to work on a custom job. These kinds of projects are really a sight to behold. Building a good custom car is both an art and a science.

One of the things that lots of people forget when they build custom cars is that it still has to work as a car. They sacrifice safety and performance and durability for aesthetics.

But you really have to have both because who wants to have a custom car that is going to fall apart or that can barely get don the road?


In my neighborhood I see a ton of custom Honda Civics. I asked a buddy of mine why so many people choose to modify civics? This seems like such a plain and simple car, you wouldn't think so many car guys would be so in to them.

He told me that there are so many custom civics because they are really easy to modify and there has been a lot of parts designed just for them. The plainness and the simplicity is actually its biggest asset. It is kind of like starting with a blank canvas that you can build on top of.

I have to admit that some of them look really cool. Not all of them but a few for sure.


I just got my first car and would really like to start to customize it. I am thinking about starting with some custom car paint and custom car interior so I can really let my personality shine.

I don't have any experience in doing actual work on cars, but there is a custom car shop in my neighborhood I am thinking about going to. They offer to customize your car at a competitive price.

Right now I think that the custom car accessories highest on my list are stylish rims, some great interior lighting and a much better sound system.


Building a custom car has always been a dream of mine, but it is turning out to be one of the most expensive things I have ever thought of doing. I have been visiting a lot of websites lately and am currently looking at turning my little Subaru into something a lot more impressive.

Just swapping out engine parts and getting better rims isn't really enough for me. Although I have been reading that most people just tweak their cars a bit. I really want to modify my car so that I could join in and make some spins around the local race track.

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    • A man painting a car to customize it.
      By: loraks
      A man painting a car to customize it.
    • Creatng a custom car might involve welding.
      By: oneinchpunch
      Creatng a custom car might involve welding.