Rice burner (Rice car; Ricer Car) is a pejorative used initially to describe Asian-made – specifically Japanese-made – motorcycles and automobiles. Many variations have also been used, such as rice rocket for Japanese sport bikes.
More contemporary use of the term rice burner, along with the prefix rice, has taken on an alternate pejorative meaning for an automobile that has been modified to give impression of high performance, but does not necessarily have any high-performance capabilities. This practice is in contrast to the “stealth” or “sleeper” style of automotive modification, where a vehicle may have major performance modifications, but the appearance remains similar to that of a stock model. In this manner, the appellation can apply to any vehicle regardless of country of origin. The most commonly modified cars are sport compacts, but the term can apply to any class of vehicle, including trucks.
In some circles, or even entire regions of the U.S., the term rice car is used exclusively to describe Asian-made vehicles, modified or not. However, as more types of cars began being used as a platform for modification, including German and American-made cars, use of the term rice is no longer restricted to Asian-made vehicles.
“Rice burner” is used chiefly as a noun. Variations of this usage include ricer (both vehicle and driver), rice car, rice cooker, rice boy (used for the driver, a reference to the usual age demographic in question), rice mobile, rice rocket (for motorcycles), etc.
As an adjective, rice alone is primarily used and can apply to both vehicle and driver. Alternates include riced, riced out, riced up, and ricey. Ricing is the present progressive of modifying a car in the described manner.
The word “rice” in rice burner refers to the fact that the vehicles the term was originally applied to were of Japanese origin, and the fact that rice is a staple food in East Asian cuisine. The climate of the East Asian region provides optimal growing conditions for rice, and rice has historically been a staple food source in Japan and other Asian countries. As such, this word has associated itself with that racial group in the same way pasta is associated with Italians (e.g. using the term “pasta rocket” to describe Italian made sports cars such as the Ferrari or the Lamborghini). Its earliest usage is still in question, but examples include the term referring to Japanese motorcycles in the early to mid 1980s, and muscle car enthusiasts’ jokes that cars from Japan used engines powered by rice alcohol.
Though in the 1970s and 80s the Japanese did produce many popular performance cars and performance versions of existing cars, many of them were never exported to North America, and Japanese cars were not thought of as sport performance vehicles in the west. Not until the late 1980s and early 1990s did imported performance parts began filtering through the west coast, as well as more performance oriented cars, such as the Toyota Supra. Many factors, such as parts being interchangeable, the low cost of obtaining a used import car to start with, and networking and e-commerce via the Internet all allowed the expansion of the practice of modifying a low-cost compact car. This was in direct contrast to American car production around the same time, where there was little widespread performance aftermarket for any widely-sold domestic compact or economy car. The focus was instead on full sports cars of the day, such as the Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Corvette, or on classic muscle cars.
When properly modified, economy cars and compact cars made for capable sporting cars because of their light weight and the increasing availability of low-cost parts. However, as professional sporting and racing with such vehicles increased, so did more recreational use of these vehicles. Drivers with little or no automotive, mechanical, or racing experience would modify their vehicles to emulate the more impressive versions of racing vehicles with mixed results. A few detailed examples are below, but the most pointed out instances are aerodynamic attachments to a car, or loud and unattractive sounding exhaust systems.
By the late 1990s, many of the recently produced import sports cars were no longer being sold in North America, such as the Toyota Supra, the Mazda RX-7, and the Mitsubishi 3000GT. This added to the exclusivity of sports cars in the west that were not American made. The release of the PlayStation racing video game Gran Turismo acquainted North Americans with performance versions of compact cars that were never made available in many English speaking parts of the world.
The movie “The Fast and the Furious” released in 2001 continued this exposure and expanded the visibility of automobile modification to the general public, and may have resulted in an increase in the number of cars being modified. Two sequels of the movie series have been released since, with similar focus on modified vehicles.
The most immediate criticism of such modifications is usually aesthetic on the part of the person using the term rice. However, because of pop culture references to movies and the influence of video games, as well as the perceived demographic of “ricers”, the criticism is often levelled at the driver.
As American car companies began to follow suit with performance versions of older economy and compact car platforms, such as the Dodge SRT-4 based on the Dodge Neon, a similar phenomena could be seen trickling down to used American cars of the last generation. The term “American rice”, “domestic rice”, or “wheat burner” has been used to describe American-made cars that have been modified as described, but simply calling them rice is also commonplace.
With the introduction of the Scion line from Toyota, auto manufactures have begun to actively court the “ricer” market. Scion television ads frequently feature modifcations and interviews with Scion owners who have modified their cars.
As with any term based around region, race, or culture, some people claim “ricer” is an ethnic slur. Its widespread use socially and on the Internet to describe any driver, no matter their race, and any car, no matter its country of origin, seems to contradict that point of view.
“Ricing” (a term usually not used by the modifier himself) a vehicle is meant to emulate the aesthetic work of independent automotive car tuning companies who modify more than just appearance, and to give an appearance of greater ability than the car actually has. Ricing is generally looked down upon amongst people who perform engine tuning and other performance racing modifications.
Common aftermarket modifications in this style can include but are not limited to:
- Aerodynamic-seeming or creatively-designed body kits, often with little function
- Wings and spoilers that serve no useful function, possibly increasing drag and decreasing traction.
- Carbon fiber hoods (sometimes fiberglass replicas made to look like carbon fiber, or just decorative self adhesive plastic with carbon fiber look)
- Non-functional hood scoops
- Excessively large wheels (“rims”) (for example chromed, or “dubs”, as well as Spinners) that often decrease acceleration due to higher rotational inertia. Handling is also often made worse by the extra unsprung weight.
- Improperly lowered suspension, such as stock springs shortened by heating or cutting. Or from not getting a proper alignment resulting in excessive negative camber.
- Bumper canards fitted to the front bumper.
- Bright paint or interior, frequently in contrasting colors
- Decals and stickers for aftermarket parts not actually present on the vehicle
- Badging from other higher-performance vehicles or JDM tuning companies like Mugen, Nismo, etc.
- Digital turbo, consisting of speakers installed under the car that emulate the sound of a turbo engine.
- A loud, free-flowing exhaust system with a large cylindrical resonator at the rear of the car, known as a “fart cannon” and many other colorful names.
- Decorative neon and LED lighting in addition to the regular head/tail lamps and brake/turn signals, such as lighted windshield washer nozzles and tire valve caps, underbody neon lighting (“hover lights”), etc.
- “Altezza”-style lights or “Altezzas” (equally popular and known as “Lexus” lights in Europe). The term “Altezza” comes from the JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) Toyota Altezza, known in the US as the Lexus IS300 and Europe as the Lexus IS200. Toyota continues to use “Altezza” style tail lights on various Lexus models, including the RX “crossover SUV” and ES sedan
- Super-bright headlight bulbs (although most of these bulbs offer better lighting than conventional halogen bulbs), sometimes of illegal specification and poorly aligned; colored bulbs, also often illegal, which are used for turning signals, side-markers, etc.
Car has any of the aforementioned modifications, yet appears to have sloppy workmanship or has not been properly cared for (dirty, parts of the car with smashed or dented body work, etc.)
This is not meant to be a complete list of known ricing characteristics, nor do all rice burners have or are limited to these modifications. Almost all of these examples have practical performance or racing applications, but when these modifications are made improperly, done for pretense of being fast, or for the sake of visual appeal, the car in question will likely end up labeled as “rice”.
Many of these modifications are nearly always found on high spec, comprehensively modified professional racing cars, but they are added as finishing touches to other extensive modification.
A so-called “identity crisis” can occur when an individual adds decals, badges or other identifiers from one type of vehicle onto another vehicle of the wrong type, or to a vehicle that does not contain the modifications or special attributes indicated by the accessory. Examples could include a Impreza WRX sporting a VTEC sticker, or a Honda CR-X with a TRD (Toyota Racing Development) badge. Honda vehicles, as an example, can often be observed with examples of identity crisis between different versions of the same models, with Type R badges on sedan Civics (the Civic Type R is only available in two-door hatchback form) and older Civics made before the Type R was available.
American cars can also suffer from this. A Ford Mustang may have a GT badge, indicating it has a V8 engine, but the car may only have a V6.
In some cases, this phenomenon may cross over manufacturers, such as a Chevrolet Cavalier possessing a Honda emblem or decal.
This is also a common phenomena amongst German cars where “up-badging” frequently occurs, examples of this are base model BMW 5 series sporting M5 badges.
Some people who perform visual modifications may be more interested in visual appeal than any perceived performance, as there are custom car shows and competitions with focus on innovative design and expression of the driver. Such shows may be used to display artistic paint schemes or even radical structural body modification of the vehicle.
Almost all of the examples given have a legitimate performance or racing application that can be seen in professional motor sports. Carbon fiber body panels (as seen in Formula 1) are extremely light and reduce overall vehicle weight. HID lamps improve night vision for rally (WRC) and endurance racing. Large diameter and lightweight rims can improve cornering for SOLO events.
The terms “rice rocket”, “riced-out” and “ricing” are sometimes used to describe computer case modifications which serve to make the computer look fast without actually improving its performance. As with “riced” cars, neon lights and adhesive decals can be installed by the consumer, although some consider this tacky.
Rice burners in popular culture
In the opening sequence of the 2000 remake of Gone in Sixty Seconds, after two characters steal a Porsche 996 from a Porsche showroom, they meet a driver and his girlfriend in a modified Honda Civic to start a traffic light race. The driver of the Honda (played by Mike Owen) is credited as Kid in Rice Burner.
The posers in the Poser Mobile commercials for T-Mobile featured a severely riced-out Toyota Corolla driven by the posers.
Bobby Lee’s “Tank” character on MAD TV is usually seen attempting to lure women into his “ricer” Daewoo; the joke rests on the fact that few self-respecting ricers would spend the time to modify a Daewoo.
A series of advertisements for the Volkswagen GTI in 2006 featured a German engineer “un-pimping” a Honda Civic, Ford Focus, and Mitsubishi Eclipse that had been “riced out” by their owners by violently destroying them with a wrecking ball, falling cargo container, and a trebuchet, respectively. See VDub.
The arcade game Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune has a “ricer” character, Gen Sasaki (Gatchan). His car, a Toyota Celsior, is regarded as a joke in the game, with underbody neon, dark tint, and poorly-designed bodykits (in reality, a subset of Japanese tuner culture of VIP style body kits for luxury saloon cars in Japan), plus his reluctance to remove interior items like air conditioning, audio equipment, and interior trim to lower the weight of the car. His “ricer” attributes are further reinforced with comments throughout the game, such as his boastful claims of “This car can do 1000 BHP!” and upgrade comments such as “Chrome tails confuse the enemy!”
The intro movie for Need_for_Speed:_High_Stakes starts off with an excessively lowered (to the point of paint chips in the front body kit), heavily decaled, obnoxiously painted, cannon exhausted, large rimmed, Honda Civic hatchback revving its engine to initiate a drag race between it and a Porsche 911. The hatchback stalls and manages to damage the engine (there’s visible smoke rising from the hood) while the Porsche takes off and various other exotics pass by the stationary rice burner.
To a certain degree, recent console games like the Need for Speed game series can be considered to be “rice”, with some of the attributes listed above existing as part of the gameplay, and sometimes required to complete certain stages. For example, in Need for Speed: Underground 2, players needed to attain a certain visual rating to pass certain stages, usually by using body kits, plus the use of devices impractical for street racing (lowrider technology, trunks filled with audio equipment, etc). In Need for Speed: Most Wanted, players have more control over how their cars can be modified, even attaining a sleeper look if so desired.
The British TV program Top Gear had a generation race in its seventh season, where a riced-out Peugeot 306 “with £26,000 of mods, including 3 TVs, a PlayStation, and over 54 inches of subs,”Top Gear Season 7, Episode 6 2005.12.27 raced a 1961 Austin Healey Sprite modified for racing shortly before the event. Even though it suffered a 100 BHP gap, the Sprite beat the Peugeot by a second when racing on Prescott Hill.
The film Cars has a minor character called Wingo, with a high contrast paint job (green and purple), a badly done bodykit, and a wing ladder twice his size (a ladder of six spoilers) on the back, along with many other “rice” modifications that he shows off as he drives along the freeway, cutting off traffic.