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Is a Carbon Fiber Hood Worth It?

Close up of a car with a carbon fiber hood in southern California

A carbon fiber hood is something that always grabs my attention. As a material, it’s one of the coolest inventions of our lifetime. As an aesthetic, it’s timeless. In this guide, I’ll be talking about carbon fiber hoods on everyday cars.

Carbon fiber hoods cost more than a thousand dollars, and the installation can be very tricky. While it’s a very lightweight material, you won’t notice a performance boost by shedding this weight. However, the material is also very stiff, strong, rigid, and durable. In my opinion, carbon fiber makes any car pop and look great. I think it’s worth it if you can afford it and like the looks of it.

More specifically, I’ll discuss if a carbon fiber hood is worth it. I’ll keep all my opinions until the end of the piece, and I’ll only discuss the facts. I’ll also explain what a carbon fiber hood is, the pros of getting one, and some cons to consider.

What Is a Carbon Fiber Hood?

Your OEM stock hood is either made out of aluminum or steel. Both of these metals are treated with a topcoat that protects the raw metal from damage from the sun, road debris, and minor damages. Below the topcoat is a layer of paint that gives your car its color.

The problem with aluminum and steel is that they’re pretty heavy. Sure, aluminum is a lot lighter than steel, but they’re both pretty dense.

So, why don’t auto manufacturers use something even lighter like fiberglass or plastic? These options can be more expensive, harder to make, less durable, and not as strong as the metals they choose. At the end of the day, auto manufacturers want to make an inexpensive car that appeals to the masses.

However, some people opt to put on a carbon fiber hood. This is a complete replacement of your OEM hood in exchange for a sculpted piece of carbon fiber.

Carbon fiber is an engineered material that’s incredibly strong and durable, but unbelievably lightweight. It’s the material that Formula 1, NASA, and the U.S. military love.

Pound-for-pound, it’s hard to find a material that works harder than carbon fiber. It’s about 10 times as strong as steel at half the weight.

As a result, people like to use carbon fiber around their cars to shed some weight while still keeping the strength of the aluminum or steel they’re removing. You’ll see it all the time in high-performance racecars, and it’s also a hit in the mod community.

Carbon fiber has a very distinct look. As a raw material, it’s matte black, and you can clearly see the latticework of the fibers. It can also be polished to have a glossy finish which can make the piece look grayer.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution EVO 8 VIII driving down the road with a carbon fiber hood
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution EVO VIII with a carbon fiber hood

Pros of a Carbon Fiber Hood

I want to start with the benefits of installing a carbon fiber hood. To be honest, I’m a huge fan of how these hoods look and I love carbon fiber as a material. With that said, I’ll keep it unbiased in the following sections.

It Can Look Really Cool

In certain color schemes, a carbon fiber hood can completely change how your car looks — for the better. If you do the swap in junction with your side mirrors, fenders, trunk, spoiler, and roof, you’ll be left with a brand-new car.

As I mentioned, a lot of people will install a carbon fiber hood just for aesthetics.

No Fear of Rust

Another great part about carbon fiber is that it’s non-corrosive. You could soak the hood in water every day and you’ll never have to deal with rust because it’s an engineered polymer (think of a very fancy plastic).

With stock hoods, you would have to worry about any scratch you encounter. A scratch can turn to rust which can turn into a big hole in your metal hood.

Carbon Fiber Is a Stiffer Alternative

If you punch a metal hood hard enough, you’ll leave a nice dent in it. With carbon fiber, the material doesn’t dent until it breaks. In material science, this is what’s known as “stiffness”. Stiffer materials will absorb more energy without deforming.

To put it simply, you can put your carbon fiber hood through more damage, and it won’t show the wear like a metal hood would.

Close up of carbon fiber composite material
Close-up of carbon fiber composite material

Harder to Scratch

Another material science property to mention is “hardness”. Hardness is a technical way of explaining how difficult it is to scratch an object.

Car paint, for instance, has a very low hardness value. You can run your car key into your vehicle and you’ll scratch away the topcoat of paint.

Carbon fiber is on the other end of that spectrum. It’s very difficult to scratch carbon fiber. Any scratches you see are surface-level and can be quickly buffed away.

This doesn’t matter as much, since a carbon fiber hood can’t corrode, so scratches aren’t the end of the world. However, I think it’s fair to say that nobody wants to see scratches on their car.

You can encounter more road debris and angry ex-girlfriends, and your carbon fiber hood won’t show any scratches.

Easier to Clean and Maintain

Another selling point for carbon fiber hoods is the fact that they’re so easy to clean and maintain. You can just use a dual-action polisher to completely clean and polish your carbon fiber hood. You can use a more vigorous spin setting without fear of scratching or marring the hood.

You can still clean it with soap and a microfiber towel like the rest of your car, or you can take the easy way and hit it with a polisher.

Maintenance is also a lot easier. A big issue with pollen and dirt build-up on an OEM car hood is that it can lead to corrosion. Since corrosion isn’t a problem here, you don’t have to stick to a routine washing schedule.

It Makes Your Car Lighter*

I’m adding an asterisk to this category, but a carbon fiber hood does actually make your car lighter. The reason for the asterisk is that this topic comes up in the cons of a carbon fiber hood section (the next section).

A steel hood is somewhere between 30 and 50 pounds altogether. A carbon fiber hood is closer to 15 to 25 pounds for the same shape and size.

On paper, that’s a weight savings of 25 pounds.

Car with a carbon fiber hood at a car show

Cons of a Carbon Fiber Hood

Now, let me take the time to go through some disadvantages of carbon fiber hoods. There are quite a few, and some of them are subjective. Again, I’ll try to be unbiased in this section.

You Won’t Notice the Weight Difference

I just mentioned that a carbon fiber hood can save you 25 pounds, but now it’s time to mention that the weight difference is negligible. I would wager a lot of money that you won’t notice that weight difference at all.

If you weigh a standard Civic, the scale will show around 3,000 pounds altogether. Swapping to a carbon fiber hood will shave off 0.8% of the total weight — not even 1%.

It’s the same argument as claiming you can feel a performance drop after you load groceries in your trunk. I don’t buy it, and it mathematically won’t make a difference in your performance.

However, if you swap a lot of parts with carbon fiber, you can start to notice the mass drop. As I mentioned earlier, swapping out the side mirrors, fenders, trunk, spoiler, and roof can save you a few hundred pounds. Then, you might notice a slight difference.

It Can Be Expensive

The only reason I didn’t get a carbon fiber hood on my ’02 Lancer in high school is because of the cost. It’s common for legitimate carbon fiber hoods to be at least a thousand dollars for just the hood. You still need to factor in installation costs if you go to a mechanic.

If you go for an inexpensive option online, there’s a good chance that it won’t fit correctly, and their customer service department suddenly won’t pick up your calls. It’s very tricky to get an accurate mold of a carbon fiber hood to perfectly match your vehicle.

Green Honda Civic hatchback with a carbon fiber hood isolated against a white background
Honda Civic Hatchback 5th Gen

The Installation Can Be Tricky

Speaking of the installation, that’s another issue you will run into. For most cars, uninstalling the OEM hood and installing a carbon fiber one will be incredibly tricky. You might need to remove the wiper assembly, get rid of electrical connectors, and then hold a 40-pound hood while uninstalling fasteners.

If you don’t have a good grasp of the hood, it can swing back and smash your windshield during the process.

Installation is just as tricky but in the reverse. It’s really a three-person job if you want to remove all the risk associated with the swap.

Truthfully, I would ask a mechanic to do the swap for me to avoid these issues.

Tends to Cloud Over Time

Another issue with raw carbon fiber is that it clouds over time. The surface will look murky as the hood is exposed to sunlight and UV rays.

There’s no real way to combat this problem. You can add polish to the hood, but you’ll never restore the hood to its former look.

You Can’t Repair it

I mentioned that carbon fiber is stiff and has a high hardness value. The downside of these material properties is that you can’t repair or patch carbon fiber.

The manufacturing process involves curing a product on carbon fiber so it stays in its shape forever. There’s no way to fix a patch or replace a section of heavily damaged carbon fiber.

The only way to fix it is to completely replace the whole hood — and that’s another few thousand dollars.

Is A Carbon Fiber Hood Worth It?

If you want my personal opinion, I think a carbon fiber hood is absolutely worth it if you can afford it. It looks great, personalizes your car, and makes cleaning and maintaining your car a little easier. If you don’t think carbon fiber hoods look cool, then it’s probably not worth it for you.

Personally, I love how they look. I’ll always turn my head if I see a car drive by with any carbon fiber — no matter what the car looks like otherwise.

What About a Carbon Fiber Wrap?

Want to save money and get the same aesthetics? Consider getting a carbon fiber wrap. A wrap shop can make your whole car look like carbon fiber at a fraction of the price, but it won’t have the same performance qualities as real carbon fiber. Learn more about car wraps and pricing in my guide, here.

Green Honda Civic hatchback with a carbon fiber hood isolated against a white background
Mazda RX-8 with a vinyl-wrapped carbon fiber hood

Conclusion

I just covered the benefits and disadvantages of carbon fiber hoods. I also revealed that I personally think it’s worth getting if you like the aesthetics and have the money to spare. If you don’t like them, that’s perfectly okay as well. It means you can save a few thousand dollars.

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References:

Motor Hills

Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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