Manipulating your modification choices

Posted on February 25th, 2011 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

It’s taken a long time but I think that finally the web is now the main source of information for people modifying their cars. I say ‘a long time’ because I honestly expected that state of affairs to be current in perhaps 1995 – rather than six years later.

The benefit of the web being the main info source of car modifiers is that there has never been so much good material available – from enthusiasts’ groups, from manufacturers’ websites and from car modification company websites.

The bad news is now web marketing has become big business in car modification circles – and I am not talking banner ad spots.

Instead I am talking about deliberate and concerted manipulation of opinion through the ownership and infiltration of manufacturer-specific enthusiasts’ sites. 

I heard of one engine management modification company that has a paid team of people (was it seven of them?) who spend all their time posting positive messages about that company’s products to different discussion groups. I heard of another example where a major tuning company – let’s say it was a Volkswagen tuning company – owns a major Volkswagen-specific tuning forum – and of course, ensures that no negative messages about that company stay published. (And that no positives about the opposition appear, too.)

At the time of writing I’ve been on holidays and a bit bored; I have joined a few car modification discussion groups and have been contributing.

Now long-term readers will know I have a love/hate relationship with discussion groups: they can be extremely useful, and they can also be extremely misleading. But in the past I would have said ‘misleading’ because of the general lack of knowledge in what people are talking about – that is, through ignorance they say stuff that is wrong or misleading. But now I’d say ‘misleading’ because, from my position as a very experienced car modifier, I can see specific barrows being pushed.

For example… when selecting a new modified exhaust for your car, you can either buy an off the shelf performance exhaust developed for your model, or you can go along to your local exhaust shop and have them build something for you. There are pluses and minuses of each approach: an off the shelf exhaust is likely to be quiet, to fit well and be typically a low headache purchase. However, it will cost a lot. An exhaust made by a local exhaust workshop can achieve exactly what you want from it (eg retaining the factory cat – or upgrading it, as you wish) and will be cheaper. However, some experimentation might be needed to get the desired outcome. 

That seems a fair enough summary – there will be some other interpretations but this is largely in the ballpark.

But in the discussion forum I was reading, there was a clear and detailed attempt to say that anyone who bought an exhaust from a local exhaust shop was doomed to frustration and by far the best approach was to buy a specific, named, pre-built exhaust. For a post or two I thought the person just didn’t have any idea, but when I realised the length of the posts being written, and how they were so emphatic, I realised a different agenda was being pushed.

I realised it…but many people new to car modification wouldn’t have seen the reason behind the posts. Multiply that by hundreds of posts a day to thousands of discussion groups, and you can see that, at minimum, you should be extremely wary of anyone saying that a specific product is by far the best, or a specific way of doing things (a much more subtle approach) is the only way anyone sane would do it…

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