Whether you’ve just bought your first ‘92 Civic or you’re now on to your ‘03 Evo, power upgrades are probably nothing new to you. However, you should be well aware that they are critical building blocks for unleashing your car’s potential. This list of the Top 5 Performance Automotive Upgrades is everything worth doing to properly modify your car for horsepower and handling.
1 – Suspension Set Up
Always make the suspension faster than the engine. Ensuring you can turn and stop will always be more important than knowing you can go fast. Getting your suspension dialed in equates to you out-handling your competition. And, depending on your type of racing, it will give you better times. You need to consider how well your car handles and hugs the road. Your suspension setup will be the crux of your entire build.
The suspension of your vehicle is what ultimately determines how well it will handle. If your vehicle came from the factory with softer suspension, it will always handle poorly until the suspension is replaced with a performance setup such as coilovers. Worn out suspension also have a negative effect on the handling and should be replaced. This is especially true if it used for any spirited driving where handling is key.
Coilovers help to set up your vehicle’s height and damping. This allows you to lower your center of gravity and stiffen up your chassis for better cornering and control. Not only does your car look sportier (and better in our opinion), but it’s also a key step in allowing you to transform your car into a true performance machine, transferring your modifications into tangible wheel horsepower.
Check out our article on what to look for in a coilover setup
Another thing to consider is sway bars. As noted in our Blog on “Suspension Tips” you will want to pay attention to your sway bars. By default, almost all factory cars are tuned with an understeer bias. This makes them easier to drive at their limit, and also much safer. For example, a stock Mitsubishi EVO 8 (AWD Turbo) comes factory with a 24mm front sway bar, and a 22mm rear. While there are many upgrades the EVO might need out of the box, the point is upgrading the rear bar should be one of the first mods you do to bring the car to a neutral state. On our EVO 8, we upgraded the rear bar to a 25mm bar and noticed that the bar itself nearly corrected all understeering issues with the car itself. A bar and its size can make the world of difference in handling.
Keep in mind when lowering the vehicle it changes your vehicle’s suspension geometry, which can incorrectly preload the sway bars and cause unpredictable handling characteristics, or in an even worse case, damage. To cure this, use adjustable endlinks to correctly preload the sway bar.
Check out our available adjustable endlinks here:
Stiffer Rear = More rotation, more oversteer.”
Stiffer Front = More predictable, more understeer.
2 – Tires
The second of our Top 5 Performance Automotive Upgrades you should consider regard your tires. We know you may be asking, “How do tires affect power?” the answer is simple: if you have x-amount of wheel horsepower, you need to have the car properly grip to actually get that horsepower. Simple enough, right? Whether you’re in the corners or going in a straight line, the tires you choose and wheel combination will make all the difference of how your car performs at its peak. That being said, these are the tires you want to pay attention to for extra grip on a daily setup that can also be taken to the track.
Firstly, all season tires are not your friend. They tend to be a broad answer for a daily driver in that you can run these all year round; however, how they perform below the standard for a spirited driver. All season tires (including all season performance tires) often do not hold up in the dry, and harden in lower temperatures. Look for a summer or three season tire, because they will give you better grip, and stay stickier under performance conditions. Any tire that boasts a “AA” rating for traction and a 300 for treadwear or lower is ideal. Stickier tires also lead to better braking, due to better grip on the road. Sometimes the secret to beating a Porsche in a Mustang comes down to the tires the driver choses. More grip and wider tire surface for contact are critical factors in proper power correlated to grip setup.
3 – Cold Air Intake
Consider creating better air flow, both to your motor and exhaust. A better breathing system allows for more room to build power. Naturally-aspirated engines benefit from intake than turbocharged engines. However, intake design becomes even more crucial to capitalize on the potential of the engine. This isn’t to say that turbo engines don’t see improvements from intake- just not to the degree of a naturally-aspirated car. The cold air intake is usually sold in a kit by many different reputable brands. However, if you are mechanically inclined, you can also assemble one yourself with the right intake tube diameter, length and shape, attached to your OE MAF with a cold air filter using the same diameter.
The cold air intake replaces your stock air box with an open system and larger filter. This allows for initial air flow and pull. Find a kit that has great reviews; the last thing you want is to have anything fail with the intake, as it is the only thing guarding your motor from anything bad entering it. Getting a kit with a “washable” filter will help your wallet. The K&N filters are an easy filter to source at your local parts store. They also sell many different types of intake kits for almost any year and model car.
Avoid buying any intake that routes into the bumper. This design is not good for anywhere that water exists. Water that enters the motor may cause it to seize and potentially blow it up. Furthermore, you can risk seizing and blowing up the motor by the amount brought in through the air system. A short ram intake or intake that is close to your factory air box location is deal. Keep the system as far from the motor or header as possible, so that the cold air stays cold air.
4 – Exhaust
Now we say “exhaust” in general because depending on the vehicle you are modifying, you will have many options as far as header back, cat back or axle back. There are many options for most makes and models nowadays. How your car reacts to an exhaust will depend entirely on the platform. When upgrading your intake, your exhaust will be the next upgrade that you want to perform, in order to help your entire system breathe better. What is the point of being able to take larger breaths if you can’t exhale just as well? This is the theory at least. Less restrictive air flow both in and out will allow for the motor to wake up, as well as improve fuel economy. Usually.
Due to the nature of turbo cars, they normally see larger gains from exhaust than a N/A car. This is because the turbo needs to flow to yield the biggest power gains. Making sure to properly size your exhaust is crucial; bigger is not always better! Backpressure, flow velocity, and resistance of flow all help the car run better at cruising speeds and maintain drivability. Most exhaust systems will be legal; however, we do advise our California customers check what their current laws dictate.
5 – Tune
Now that your engine can breathe better and your exhaust is flowing freely, a tune to adjust for more air flow and fueling will be key to getting every last bit of performance out of those modifications. The stock system can only adjust for so many additional parts before it starts to correct as if it is still working with the OE parts.
A ‘tune’ is programming done to the stock computer in your car. It is necessary to see your parts’ full potential once installed on your car. The tune can be done through an online company who can flash it for you. You also have the option of visiting a tuner shop (we suggest the latter… article to come on why). Tuning will also allow you boosted kids to get some extra PSI out of your turbo!
Quick Tips: Before your tune, always make sure that you have a full tank of GOOD gas; don’t cheap out. Secondly, make sure that you have new spark plugs plus an extra set just in case they need to be swapped out. Be sure that your intake isn’t old and clogged. Additionally, ensure that the car is running well, and doesn’t have any issues that you haven’t told your tuner beforehand. Make sure you have good tires, because running your car on a tuner’s dynamometer can be risky for all involved. And please, for the love of all things performance, listen to your tuner when they give you advice. They will be key in your next steps towards greater horsepower.
A proper suspension setup will also help with your car running on a dyno when tuning. Being able to control how much your car will squat under load and grip the rollers will equate to your overall wheel horsepower read out.