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Most Cost-Effective Car Performance Upgrades

Custom Wrapped Dodge Challenger HellCat - Vertini RF1.3 Series Wheels
iKnowAuto Staff
If you are a car enthusiast, it’s only natural that at some point you are going to want to get more performance out of your ride. Why wouldn’t you? The internet is full of performance-enhancing aftermarket components that can be shipped directly to your front door. The problem is where to start and how do you know which upgrade is going to give you the biggest bang for your buck.
JUL 25, 2019

Actually, the biggest problem is defining what performance means to you. When considering upgrades, you need to do an honest evaluation of how you use your vehicle and how “juicing up” the ride will affect that use. You also have to consider what other upgrades you will have to make to accommodate your original improvements. In short, it takes some thought.

But let’s assume you’re like most people and you just want extra hp and torque out of your engine. Using that as a standard, the most cost-effective car performance upgrades are generally those that improve airflow through your power plant. Before you add any updates, make sure your car is properly serviced, has brakes that will handle the increased power, and is in generally good mechanical shape.

Let’s have a look at the most cost-effective performance upgrades for your car or truck.

AEM Cold Air Intake System

Cold Air Intake

Probably the easiest and least time-consuming car performance upgrades you can make. Cold air intakes are a fast fix and exceptionally popular. Most likely, your current air intake takes a circuitous route to the engine and is pushing hot air from the heat exchanger or simply the ambient temperature of the engine. Hot air is thinner than cool air. It has less oxygen and air with denser oxygen makes a bigger boom in the combustion chamber. More efficient combustion means more energy and that translates into more power. Cold air intakes typically are larger than stock intakes and are designed to grab air from the front of the engine compartment and deliver it in a more direct path. They don’t require special tools and you can install one in less than an hour.

Premium Automotive with 100,000 Mile Warranty

Performance Plugs

Another easy to do and almost instant car performance upgrade. Any new spark plug will immediately perform better than old burnt ones. The more air and fire you have in the combustion chamber, the more efficiently you produce energy. It’s worth the few dollars more to buy and install the hotter burning performance spark plugs.

Weiand Kit for 250/420 Superchargers

Turbocharging and Supercharging

Turbos and superchargers are often marketed as bolt-on car performance upgrades implying installation is easy. It isn’t. If you don’t have some serious mechanical knowledge, you’re best off having a pro do the installation. Turbos and superchargers both do the same thing, cram more air into the combustion chamber, they just do it different ways. Put simply, a supercharger turns a belt-driven fan to force the air. A turbo uses waste gas from the exhaust to turn its fan. Superchargers are doing their thing from the moment you turn on the ignition. However, they are less efficient because they need to draw energy away from the engine in order to turn the belt. Turbos don’t kick in until certain rev requirements are met. But because their fan is powered by exhaust gas, there is no additional energy drain associated with the boost in performance. Both components will deliver significant performance improvements.

3" Cat Back, Dual Split Rear, T409

Exhaust System Modifications

We’ve talked about getting more air into the engine, it’s also important to have an efficient way to get rid of it. The cats on older cars tend to clog after the year creating back pressure and that’s not good. The quickest way to resolve that, but maybe not the smartest particularly if you live in California, is the “Straight Pipe". This basically involves cutting off a section of the existing exhaust and replacing it with a larger stainless-steel pipe. If you want a pipe that gets the gas out and gives you a sweet tone at the same time and improves the value of your ride, a performance exhaust is your best investment.

Supercharger Kit w/Tuning

Remap or Tuning Chip

This is everyone’s favorite because it's cheap and has a millennial attraction to it. Most modern vehicles have set operating defaults very conservatively. This means the car can perform at higher levels if the settings are modified. Remapping involves a connection with the vehicle’s ECU and a computer than can change the air to fuel ratios, ignition timings, boost pressure and many others. There’s no shortage of these performance chips/mappers on the market, and they are almost all affordably priced. Do your research on these before you select one. Once you mess it up, say by adding a modified exhaust, you may need a pro to bring it back in line.

Most Cost-Effective Car Performance Upgrades 

So that’s it. There is a cornucopia of other upgrades available by these will get you started without breaking the bank.