5 Best Value Car Performance Upgrades
When looking for more performance, better handling, and a little bling for your car, you’re often sold the story that the pricier the upgrade, the better the results. But this can’t be further from the truth. Parts costing thousands can be a letdown, while others that are big on value can produce outcomes that will often surprise. The point is, you can find hundreds of inexpensive vehicle parts and accessories that punch above their weight.
Simple additions that go way beyond stock are easy to come by. Take, for instance, the range of braided brake lines. They’re ripped right out of racing tracks and ready for street fun. You get better braking performance on top of the good looks.
You can also consider additions like uprated brake pads for a bit more bite, revised air intakes for better engine breathing, and a throttle controller for more push. If you still have some cash left, nothing’s better at improving looks than a new set of alloys. Let’s delve a bit deeper.
Braided Stainless Steel Brake Lines
These parts are the thin and flexible tubes that transfer the right amount of pressure from master cylinders to the wheel cylinder and calliper pistons each time you press the brake pedal. Factory versions are often made of rubber and are susceptible to swelling or even rupturing when more pressure is applied. This can affect braking performance, leading to brake fade or a spongy or soft brake feel in the pedal.
While rubber (and synthetic compounds) are considered durable, they will degrade over time, meaning potential damage to other braking components, not to mention the safety hazards from not being able to stop or slow down on time.
Here is where stainless steel steps in. Braided brake lines made of this material are far more capable of sustaining higher pressure and will deliver a consistent braking performance each and every time. They consist of inner hoses wrapped in said stainless steel and often have another layer of outer protection in the form of PVC coating that buyers can get in a range of colours.
The tough and robust build ensures that vehicles stop when necessary and that brake parts are kept clear of dirt and humidity. Steel braided brake hoses also handle higher temperatures better and prevent the negative effect of abrasions or sputtering oil. In a word, they’ll last much longer than what came with the car and perform much better. When buying, consider that you’ll need one line per wheel.
Uprated Brake Pads
Another step in improving braking is getting brake pads that offer increased friction with the rotors. And ones that withstand higher temperatures while doing so without wearing thin prematurely.
Buyers have the option of going with different brake pad materials. Organic or non-metallic pads are what comes with the car. They’re decent and inexpensive options but fall short when you need to brake harder.
Step up to semi-metallic models for improved performance and a better feel through the brake pedal. These will also last longer but can get noisy and cause more wear on the rotors.
You can spend a little more for ceramic pads when you’re going for faster lap times around the track. The benefit here is that these offer uniform braking in spirited driving, experience less wear, and unlike the two previous options, cause the least wear on rotors. The only downside is that they are pricey – but worth every penny.
If you’re looking for new pads, ensure that two fit on either side of the rotor and come as front and rear variants. In general, you should replace truck brake pads every 50,000 miles.
Cold Air Intake
When attempting to bump performance numbers, the main recipe is getting more air and fuel for combustion in the displacement allowed. Air intakes consist of several parts, including air filters, piping, and often, airboxes. These need to fit the limited space in the engine bay.
An Aftermarket cold air intake puts more thought into design and layout as it has to filter, cool and push more oxygen-rich air to the cylinders. This needs to correlate with the air-to-fuel ratios (around 14.7 to 1) while snaking its way around different engine parts.
Upmarket variants have bigger and wider aluminium tubing, incorporated heat shields to deal with radiant heat from other engine components, and larger cotton filters moved towards the front to filter out more contaminants.
The quality materials and industrial design also make for a pleasing appearance with the bonnet up. Performance-wise, you get better acceleration, a few more horses, crisper throttle reaction, and better engine and exhaust sound while using the same amount of fuel. Cooler temperatures also help with engine longevity.
Throttle Response Controller
If you feel there’s a slight delay between pressing the acceleration pedal and getting up and going, you’re not the only one. Many manufacturers have inbuilt throttle response delay programmed into the car’s ECU, which among other things, controls the fuelling and the actuation of the throttle body.
Cited reasons are safety concerns and increased emissions and fuel use. This, though, can be dangerous in itself. Consider the lack of throttle when overtaking or going up a steep incline, and those few moments of nothing happening can cause trouble.
A simple solution is a throttle response controller. It manipulates the voltage sent from sensors lining the acceleration pedal (determining pedal position) and those in the throttle body to send a built-up voltage to the ECU. More of this translates to the throttle body gulping in more air, so acceleration is virtually instantaneous.
All controllers have adjustable settings, meaning they can be dialled in just the way you need them for different driving conditions. If you want faster acceleration, choose the performance mode, and if you’re stuck in rush hour traffic, dial in an eco mode to save fuel. The device also comes in handy when towing or going off-road. And it doesn’t affect power numbers or interfere with other vehicle systems. To boot, this is one of the cheapest mods out there and is simple to install.
If you’ve come this far, it’s time for a little visual candy without having to pop the bonnet. Aftermarket alloys are available in hundreds of head-turning designs and colour schemes and they can even improve your car’s performance.
Aftermarket alloys consist of materials that are lighter, making them easier to turn and directly impacting acceleration. They’re built using advanced production methods, such as flow-forming and forging that lend the aluminium alloys durability and strength when facing potholes, curbs, bumps, and other nasties in the road. This durability translates to improved road holding since there’s less deflection when cornering or hard braking.
And lastly, going for something bigger lets you get more grip with lower profile tyres and better braking with more space for uprated callipers and rotors.
Where to Continue From Here?
Brake pads and braided brake lines come in as the least expensive items on this list. If you want the ultimate in braking then also consider getting multi-piston fixed callipers set on bigger ventilated rotors for increased brake force and superior heat dissipation. This is where parts start to get pricey, as all the tech (and exotic materials) is nicked right out of the racing track.
Cold air intakes will function on their own but revised and less restricted exhaust systems also help to pull spent combustions gases out quicker. These two are often changed out together. Exhausts come in different configurations, make use of more robust materials and production processes and add a raspy exhaust note. Prices vary depending on designs, parts, and your vehicle’s engine layout.
If you’ve installed a throttle controller and made revisions as to how the engine breathes, the next logical step would be to balance things out with an ECU tune. This can further increase torque and horsepower, extend the power delivery over a wider rev range, improve drivability, and also cut down on fuel use. The good news is that are different tune stages, so customisable for different needs and engine types.
Lastly, when adding new alloy wheels, you may want to upgrade your stock suspension. Firming up the ride with something like coilovers reduces body roll in turns, and prevents squat and dive when braking and accelerating. With the vehicle set lower, it also becomes more responsive and there’s a high degree of adjustability in terms of compression and rebound rates when faced with rougher roads.
Mods can get out of hand, so start with a few basic items. These won’t break the bank but will show you the path as to what you and your car are ready for next.