True car enthusiasts live for buying used cars, upgrading them, and turning them into real sports cars. The problem is, people saturate the internet with misinformation, or often times outdated information, and instead of building fast sleeper cars, people end up building race-looking cars that can’t turn a quick lap for the life of it. There are a lot of modifications you can do to your car to increase horsepower, and a lot of the performance upgrades are actually quite easy. These upgrades come in the form of bolt-on mods, or they can be much more involved (that’s for another article). The biggest mistake car people make is in the order of upgrades. We’ve compiled a different list of 5 performance upgrades you should stop doing. Before thinking of raw horsepower, looks, or historically-proven upgrades, you should focus on the upgrades that will make your car faster, offer you the most value for the money, and most importantly, upgrades that will immediately make your car quicker, better, and safer. Here are the first five upgrades you should do before addressing anything else on your vehicle.
1 Tires: Traction Is The Most Important Performance Upgrade
I owned a 2014 C7 Corvette. The rear-wheel drive 6.2-liter V8 was a blast, but I couldn’t get it to launch properly to save my life. Whenever I took off, the tires would lose traction, and I’d end up losing a good amount of time in the 0-60 or quarter-mile. You can have the most powerful car in the world, but unless you can maintain traction, you won’t be able to put the power down properly. This doesn’t mean you should go with slick tires or the stickiest tires you can get. You actually need a small amount of wheel slip in order to protect some of the other driveline components, like your transmission. Since energy cannot be created nor destroyed, the wheel slip ends up absorbing/releasing some of the initial shock/energy, which protects your transmission, driveshaft, differential, and more. The idea is to find the right tire for your needs. Drifters won’t want the same tires as drag racers, and definitely not the same as off-roaders. Consult with your preferred tire company, and find the tire compound that is right for your type of driving or racing. You also have to understand that you always have to make a compromise. Performance and wider tires will wear out quicker on the road, but they will provide you with quicker lap times, better launches, and all around improve your car’s traction. The bottom line is, you can’t go fast if you can’t keep traction. So change your tires before you change anything else.
2 ECU Tuning: Reflash Or Custom Tune
Common upgrades like intake systems and exhaust systems used to work in the past, but modern cars are completely different. Engineers set up cars’ ECUs to have set torque maps. These maps are there to give your ECU enough wiggle room to adapt to changes in octane level, oxygen density, and other mild changes. When you are at elevation and the oxygen is thinner, the ECU will automatically adapt timing to make sure your engine doesn’t detonate. With these set torque maps, however, the ECU works against your traditional modifications. So when you try and improve air flow using an aftermarket exhaust, the ECU will force the car to produce the same power. This is why you can’t get any performance merits without a proper tune. Companies like COBB sell their Accessport for specific cars. They have model-specific off-the-shelf maps that you can upload to your ECU, and you will immediately get a performance gain. These systems will also have options to support other upgrades, like a cold air intake, exhaust, intercooler, etc.. If you want to gain more noticeable power, investing in a tuner to create a custom tune for your car, which is especially important if you have other upgrades on your car, will yield the most power. You can keep pushing your car with the stock ECU tune all you want, you simply won’t gain more than 5 or 7 horsepower without a reflash or a tune.
3 Flex Fuel Kit: E85 Fuel Will Tremendously Increase Performance
You can think of it as the monster of gasoline, E85 is 85-percent ethanol and 15-percent gasoline (mixture changes depends on gas station and location). E85 is far cheaper than pure gasoline, and depending on the vehicle you have, you can often get as much as 100whp gain with the proper tune (from personal experience in a 2019 Subaru WRX). If your car doesn’t have flex fuel, then you would need to install a flex fuel kit, which would allow you to use a wide range of octane levels. You would need to replace some of the fuel system components for some vehicles, but not all. Finally, you must tune the car to accommodate the ethanol mixture. Once you do all of that, you will have fuel that’s corn-based/more sustainable, has a higher knock resistance, and higher cooling effect. This could often allow you to increase your power without needing to address the intercooler and some of the other cooling parts. If there is any bolt-on modification after and with the tune that would yield the most horsepower and torque, it’s switching to E85 fuel. Some cars would only benefit from 60-percent ethanol, often times even less, but in all cases, E85 will have tons of benefits that would outweigh any negatives.
4 Brakes: Good Brakes Will Allow You To Go Quicker On Track
The first question that will come to mind is: how will the brakes make me go faster? Well, if you’re on a circuit track, good brakes will allow you to keep your momentum much farther before you have to slam on the brakes and corner. If you have weak brakes, you will need to start slowing down more in advance, which will cost you more seconds. More importantly, you should never try to make your car faster without addressing the brake system. We all hate spending money on safety equipment because we don’t get to see performance value in terms of horsepower or acceleration, but safety should always come first. In addition to increasing safety and improving lap times, as you increase your engine performance, you get to wear your brakes quicker. Your car simply goes faster, the brakes heat up quicker, and your pads fade right away. Replacing everything from the brake lines to improve pedal feel, to the pads that are more resistant to fade, to the rotors with ones that are slotted and drilled to stay cool under heavy use will be all you need to complement your other performance upgrades.
5 Suspension: Reduce Body Roll And Improve Handling
Upgrading your suspension is a great series of upgrades that you can do to support the increase in power and improve your track time. This doesn’t mean go as stiff as you can. Often times, car DIYers think the stiffer the suspension, the better the car will handle as it stays planted during cornering. This could be a mistake more often than not. A great suspension system reduces slop and roll, but it doesn’t eliminate it. The main role of a suspension system is to keep all four tires in contact with the road at all times. Having some flexibility and give will allow your car to shift its weight around corners without one or more of your tires losing traction. Talk to your favorite aftermarket suspension company about the type of racing you want to do, or the setup on your car, and they will help you choose the right parts, like coilovers and bushings, and more importantly, they will help you find the balance you need to improve your handling without compromising traction.