Automotive enthusiasts who care for and tinker with their own vehicles are often in a position where they're looking for a little something more out of their ride. Thankfully, modern technology affords gearheads a myriad of opportunities to slightly modify their existing vehicles to capabilities exceeding those of the factory, often while inflicting little to no distress to the vehicle itself.
Aside from fully swapping to a bigger engine, which is inherently a large task, here are 10 solid other options to give a vehicle a little extra push on the road.
Although not the biggest power-bump upgrade available, an exhaust swap will help a car breathe much more effectively which is a necessity if any other subsequent modifications are to be made. If opting for a total header-back/turbo-back/supercharger-back exhaust system, there is a very good chance of seeing a slight power bump from the swap, not to mention a total change in the car exhaust decibel level.
Air filters are a key component of any upgrading job and can, like the exhaust, help the car intake much cleaner air for it to manipulate.
A high-performance air filter is an easy swap that often requires no bolt manipulation and can help, in conjunction with other upgrades, to give the car another small boost in useable power.
Especially necessary in cars with forced induction, a performance cold air intake system ensures the largest amount of ice cold air possible is blasted into a forced induction system. An abundance of cold air is key for cars running turbo or supercharger setups because both of the above thrive and produce the highest amount of power when fed bountiful amounts of cold air.
You may often hear amongst tuner enthusiasts about their vehicles going "cat-less," and then subsequently hear the vehicle a mile away as it burps and spits flames out of its exhaust with no regard.
Although this may be a cool party trick, swapping stock catalytic converters for high flow catalytic converters helps with back pressure in the exhaust system. Using a high flow converter will allow the vehicle to remain emissions legal while mostly lowering restrictions on that aspect of the car over that of its stock configuration.
An option, of course, not available to every specific model, but in cases of big displacement engines, re-gearing the transmission may help better allocate the power the vehicle already produces instead of just trying to milk more out of it.
For example, changing any gear ratios can help redisperse torque to the low end and make the car quicker on the initial go. Although this is not necessarily as much of a home upgrade as the previous ones, it still is leaps and bounds easier than a full on engine swap.
Plug and play units that connect directly to the car's ECU, such as the Cobb Accessport, have largely become the most common first step for tuner cars with reprogrammable ECUs. The devices—when you purchase them—usually come pre-loaded with staged "maps," meaning plans, for the car's computer to re-configure it to make more power over stock.
Plug and play units such as these are often fairly simple, as they just require being plugged into the main ECU jack, running/downloading the program to the car, and then restarting the vehicle. This type of device is where a user will be more likely to see a significant power bump for the least amount of money. Even further, if done in conjunction with points one, two, and three from this list, will effectively make the car "Stage 1" tuned.
The step directly above the plug and play units such as the Accessport is a traditional pro-tune. Usually done at a garage on a dyno machine, the pro-tune is the epitome of ECU reprogramming done specifically for the unique vehicle and its engine to make as much power as possible. If an owner is looking to advance their power bump beyond what completing "Stage 1" at home would do, then looking into a pro-tune and the following few upgrades as well is the option to consider.
The pinnacle of non-engine swap external upgrades is opting for forced induction. Whether your car is already hooked up to a supercharger/turbocharger or not, this upgrade will always consistently create a massive jump in power in any vehicle it is applied to.
Of course, forced induction being added to any vehicle not previously dispositioned for it will require a slew of supplemental modifications, not to mention a pro-tune, but will yield the highest results of any upgrade on this list. If the vehicle is, in fact, already running a forced induction system, maybe considering a larger turbo or different configuration of a supercharger would be the optimal choice.
Despite tires not actually producing power for the vehicle, they are an often overlooked element in the upgrade process that will enhance the driveability of any vehicle. So although the tire itself is not directly supplementing the power output, it is accentuating it due to the fact that a proper tire compound allows for the maximization of the output of the car itself. Good tires means good control and maneuverability on the road, and it's pretty hard to enjoy all that extra horsepower these add-ons create without them.
Engine responsiveness is vital, its ability to react to inputs in short amounts of time and with a high level of responsiveness is all down to the quality of the parts that keep everything moving on the engine, and pulleys are one of those things.
Finding lightweight, sports-optimized pulleys in conjunction with other upgrades and constant maintenance will make the engine run at its absolute prime and ensure steady high power output no matter the circumstance.