Transforming a plain-vanilla pickup into a red-hot ride involves a multitude of decisions. But, we're not talking about the details of lifting or lowering, intakes or exhaust. No, what we're going to tackle is something far more challenging than bolting on a cat-back or installing subs. We're focusing on how you're going to pay for those cool upgrades.

Along the way, we'll cover the pros and cons of walking into a dealership and financing a new truck with all the fixin's, versus taking that same stock truck and going to a custom shop to add all the mods once you've driven off the dealer lot.

How's your credit?
Basically, the question we want to help you answer is: Should you finance cool? And what's the smartest way to do that? Related to that subject, we'll look at how aftermarket parts and customizing affect the vehicle warranty and insurance, as well.

To get to the bottom line, literally, of this subject, we spoke with a number of companies-owners of custom shops, experienced finance managers, and a large auto dealership with a special division set up just for customizing. Altogether, the comments and advice we heard were sometimes surprising, occasionally confusing, but generally helpful, assuming you can apply these general principles to your specific situation. And that's the key, because just as every custom sport truck differs, so do the financial circumstances of their owners.

Let's start with the typical scenario of taking a production pickup to a custom shop. While everybody knows cash is king, given the high dollar amounts often involved in a full-on sport truck, there are other, better ways to leverage the cost of a buildup with another asset.

"Most of our customers own real estate," explains Nick Vazquez of Norcal Truck in Livermore, California, which handles a lot of specialty suspension lifts-usually 6 to 10 inches in height, typically costing $7,000 to $16,000, including wheels and tires. "So they do either a cash-out refinance loan to pull money from the equity in their property, or in some cases, borrow against its value using a line of credit."

Not coincidentally, many of Norcal Truck's customers are into the real estate and mortgage loan business, along with sport trucks, and use profits from their investments to pay for their automotive passion. He says he's never had a customer use a bank loan but occasionally will charge the buildup on a credit card. However, he points out the Car Care card, a behind-the-scenes finance company that provides credit services for accessory shops, does not usually provide the level of funding required for his specialty builds.

Using a credit card is more common situation with Cliff Leeper of Syndicate, which does a lot of custom chassis mods and four-link setups but not many bolt-on kits. He says the payment methods range widely, but most are done by credit card and, secondly, by cash. His advice? "A younger guy starting out on his first sport truck should buy a basic truck, then build it slowly over time," he says. "That way, he makes the right decisions and doesn't regret his purchases or go into heavy debt financing custom parts."

Getting back to the real estate method, drawing from your property's value to pay for personalizing a pickup may sound fairly simple, but there are several variations on that theme. To get a clearer picture, we checked with Todd Smith, a mortgage broker with Avrek Financial, who also happens to own a modified 1-ton Chevy that he uses at his biodiesel company, Xtreme Biodiesel. He recommends a particular type of equity loan:

"If your credit is in good standing, start with an option loan that's tied to the property," he says. "The advantage is that it frees up your cash flow with different payment plans that can be selected on a monthly basis, depending on how much money you want to set aside for the truck buildup. For instance, you can choose between a 30- or 15-year term, or you can even opt for an interest-only loan or minimum payment."

Be careful, here, though, because when you choose a smaller payment, you're not paying down on your principal, and it may actually increase the loan amount, which is tacked onto the back end. So, use the minimum payment option for only a short term.

Ok, so those are some approaches to consider when dealing with a custom shop. How about going the auto dealer route? Using its finance connections has some advantages, points out Steve McCloud, manager for Galpin Auto Sports (GAS). Located in Van Nuys, California, GAS is the customizing division of the largest Ford dealership in the U.S.