upgrade your SUV

7 Upgrades to Turn Your SUV Into a High-Tech, High-Powered Dream Car

Do you want to drive the best SUV of 2018… but you don’t want a new SUV?

If you’re ready to turn your current vehicle’s power, style and safety up to 11, check out these ideas for upgrading your SUV.

With these accessories and aftermarket modifications, you can get your vehicle ready for any terrain and conditions. You can make it safer to drive, not to mention more fun and exciting.

1. Heads-up display

“Hey, keep your eyes on the road!” So important, but then why do we have to constantly look down to check our speed and navigation?

First used in fighter jets, a heads-up display (HUD) is a clever solution. These systems will display important info within the driver’s line of sight, either a separate screen on the dashboard or (the more futuristic option) projected onto the windshield.

These are available in many new cars, ranging from the Mazda 3 to the BMW 7 Series, but you can add one to your current vehicle. They’re surprisingly affordable: high-tech versions cost around $150-200, while you can pick up a basic system for as little as $33.

2. Rear discs brakes

Did you know that replacing rear drum brakes with rear discs can provide up to 30% more braking power?

Your vehicle’s brakes are designed to work to a certain level under specific parameters. However, when your SUV is carrying a lot of weight, if its weight is increased by accessories, or if you’ve switched to larger tires, its braking distance might be compromised.

Rough road or trail conditions, of course, might also negatively affect its braking.

You don’t want to mess around with not-so-great braking ability, for obvious reasons.

So if you’ve made significant modifications, you frequently carry heavy cargo or you’re looking to navigate some tricky terrain, consider amping up your braking power.

Disc brakes use a slim rotor and caliper, within which are two brake pads that clamp together on each side of the rotor. They’re much more powerful than drum brakes, which are less effective at dissipating friction heat and can collect water inside.

Switching rear drum brakes to discs is a challenging DIY project, with serious safety repercussions at stake, so only try it yourself if you have a lot of experience and understanding of car repair, and the right tools.

If your SUV already has disc brakes all around, you can still upgrade to higher-powered rotors and calipers.


3. Advanced driver assistance systems

latest car technology 2018

Many new vehicles integrate high-tech safety systems that help drivers keep an eye (and their cars) on the road.

Forward collision avoidance systems detect impending accidents, alerting the driver if there’s an object in the road, the car ahead stops suddenly or a pedestrian steps into the path.

Lane departure warnings get the driver’s attention if the car starts to cross a lane divider line without using a turn signal.

Some systems will even read speed limit signs, alerting you if you’re over the legal speed.

This technology isn’t just fun gadgets, it’s saving lives. And you can get it for your SUV, even if it wasn’t built with it.

The Mobileye 560 Collision Avoidance System is one aftermarket safety system with all of the functions I mentioned above. Plus, it will automatically dim your high beams when you pass a car going the opposite direction at night.

This camera-based hardware is extremely reliable and effective. It’s a serious investment – $849 plus professional installation – but one of the most comprehensive systems on the market.

There are also more specialized options within the broad category of driver assistance. Do you want night vision? A system to detect when you’re getting drowsy and give a wake-up call? Sensors to check on your blind spot?

It’s out there and available to make your SUV much safer.

4. Air in, air out…

Your SUV needs to breathe, just like you!

On the one hand, the engine needs clean air to function. Replacing the factory-standard intake and filter with a high-powered aftermarket part can improve air flow, and therefore your engine’s performance.

Similarly, you can get some increased performance by upgrading the vehicle’s exhaust system. Cat-back exhaust systems increase the diameter and reduce the number of bends in the system.

You get less backpressure, less turbulence and more power.

5. Suspension lift

Suspensions are typically designed for vehicles to ride as low as possible, to make them easier to handle and save on fuel. They’re higher on SUV’s than normal cars, but still, if you’re driving on trails, you’ll need much more ground clearance than on paved roads.

Low ground clearance can cause your SUV’s underbody to take a beating if you go over rough terrain, or even get stuck on a stubborn rock or branch. Plus, it makes it hard to fit bigger tires.

If you’re taking your SUV on off-road adventures, I recommend installing a suspension lift. This will instantly allow greater ground clearance and improve your vehicle’s approach and departure angles (the maximum ramp angle the vehicle can ascend or descend without interference).

You can get a complete suspension kit from top brands like Rough Country, Pro Comp, Supreme Suspension, and many others. Expect to shell out anywhere from $150-$1,500, depending on quality and the amount of lift.

These typically include everything you need to lift your SUV, along with maximum tire size guidelines.

6. Sound-deadening material

Are conversations in the road more like shouting matches? Have to crank up the volume just to catch the lyrics of your favorite song while on the highway? Sound-deadening your SUV can significantly cut down on outside noise, making for a much more fun driving experience.

It’s an easy DIY to install damping mats, foams, insulation or even sprays for places where matting would be too bulky. The whole project shouldn’t set you back more than $100 or so.

Without the engine wind, exhaust, tire buzz, wind, body rattles and other noises, you can enjoy a quiet conversation, restful silence or music from your stereo the way it’s meant to be heard.

7. Underbody protection

Your vehicle’s underbody is its most vulnerable area. Major parts like its rocker panels, oil and transmission pans are exposed and at risk from rocks, stumps and other trail hazards. (Especially if your ground clearance is low: remember item #3 above!)

This can result in costly damage and even leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere, if, say, your oil pan is busted.

Fortunately, you can protect your SUV with skidplating. Options range from basic rocker protection to full coverage that smoothes out the underbelly, eliminating any “grab points” that are likely to get stuck on rocks.

Check out Desert Rat, 4Wheel Drive Hardware, Rocky Mountain Suspension Products or Rugged Ridge Offroad, among others.

8. Rear camera and parking sensors

Backing into a small space is always tricky, and with a big SUV the challenge is double.

Many new cars are now equipped with rear cameras or parking sensors, taking the stress and danger out of parking. (Sadly, thousands of people, including many children, are killed every year in parking accidents.)

If your SUV doesn’t have them, you can easily buy them and set them up yourself.

You can find good back-up cameras for around $70-150 at Best Buy. These provide clear images of what’s behind your vehicle whenever you’re parking or driving in reverse.

Parking sensors, based on radar that alerts you if the back of your car gets close to an object, are also readily available. Cheap versions start at $30, but you can expect to pay more like $50-100 for a quality kit.


Part of the fun of driving a new car is experiencing all the state-of-the-art technology that today’s models incorporate. If you want to know what the latest SUV’s have to offer, check out my review of the 2018 Volvo XC90.

However, you don’t need a brand-new vehicle to have a cutting-edge experience! With some knowledge and creativity, you can turn your current SUV into a rival for even the best new vehicle.

And the next time you want to lease a hot new car or SUV for the best rates anywhere in the country, contact Capital Motor Cars. We specialize in matching drivers to the best lease deals on their dream cars.