Vehicle Performance Upgrades
How can I upgrade the performance of my car?
Wanting more is a typical human trait, and when it comes to vehicle performance, wanting more does not retreat into the shadows. Many vehicle owners want more out of their vehicles, which means they then have to have it tweaked. This practice is better known as “car tuning”, but the more professional reference to it is “vehicle performance upgrades”. This refers to the modification (enhancement) of the performance of a vehicle. Performance tuning therefore has to do with the enhancement of the engine’s power output, torque, responsiveness, fuel efficiency and greater handling. It is highly likely that you crossed paths with one or more enhanced/tuned (tweaked) vehicles during your lifetime, whether it is in person or in a movie or a magazine. A “tuned” vehicle used to look different from a “normal” vehicle, and “The Fast and the Furious” movie franchise must surely be the epitome of this, but nowadays that is not predominantly the case anymore. Many vehicles undergo performance upgrades that are invisible to other road users.
There are different ways to do performance upgrades, and different parts can be upgraded for performance enhancement, but the first step along such a journey usually starts with your decision regarding what exactly you want to upgrade. This decision should never be taken lightly because tuning your vehicle may change your vehicle’s characteristics considerably. An upgrade on one part/system may have a more robust impact on another system (e.g., an upgraded engine – with more power output – will have a greater impact on the breaking and suspension systems). You also have to consider the financial impact of vehicle performance upgrades. Vehicle tuning is expensive and it can be time consuming, always keep this in mind. A word of warning, if you are not an expert in the field of performance upgrades, then do not attempt to do it. Let professionals, equipped with the required equipment, carry out any performance upgrades.
Let us turn to the various components that can be enhanced for better performance. According to Howrah engine tuning (2016) and The Advance Team (2018), the following parts of your vehicle can be tuned to accomplish better performance.
Air Flow Sensor
A mass airflow sensor (MAF) is a performance upgrade part. It is an electronic fuel injection component installed between the air filter and the intake manifold of the engine. This sensor determines the mass flow rate of air entering a fuel-injected engine; the engine control unit (ECU) uses this information to balance and deliver the correct fuel mass to the engine. The bore of a MAF sensor can be increased by swapping the sensor for a larger one from the same vehicle manufacturer. After having done this, the ECU must be reprogrammed to compensate for any change in air intake.
This is usually the first performance part owners look at because it is not as costly. An air intake, also known as a ‘cold air intake’, reduces the temperature of the incoming air by drawing air from a cooler place; it also reduces restrictions in the path of the airflow. This contributes to an increase in power. Scientifically, heat expands and cold contracts. With air, the same principle applies. Cold air has a higher density for a given volume; the more air you allow during the combustion process, the more power you will get. If cold air rather than warm air enters the combustion chamber, there will be more air, which means better combustion. A cold air intake does not only add to more power, it also makes the vehicle sound better.
Take note, if you consider a cold air intake, then be sure to invest in a hydro-shield (if necessary) in order to prevent what is known as engine hydrolock. This may happen when driving in the rain – the hydro-shield simply blocks water from entering the air filter. When water is sucked through the air intake tube, it will most likely leave you with less or no horsepower at all. It may also result in a so-called ‘hydraulic blow’ that may cause damage to the rods connecting the crankshaft with the pistons.
Connecting rods need to be lightweight but strong enough to withstand and transmit the thrust from the pistons to an engine’s crankshaft. The weight is important because it affects the reciprocating forces inside the engine. Less weight means faster throttle response and acceleration, but strength should not be jeopardized in the process. There is a variety of rods on the market, but what is of importance is that these may be changed for the sake of faster throttle response, and off course better acceleration.
The camshaft regulates the accurately timed injection of fuel as required by an internal combustion engine. Two important aspects makes this possible: camshaft duration (the time that at least one valve of a cylinder remains open) and valve lift (the maximum distance the valve head travels). Valve lift is influenced by the gap between the intake and exhaust valves, the piston to valve clearance and the intake charge pressure.
Performance camshafts have increased and faster valve lift rate. With a faster valve lift rate, the valve reaches full lift quicker and remains there for longer. That is why owners sometimes opt for a performance camshaft installation.
Having mentioned valves, let us see how valve changes may affect vehicle performance. Let us first emphasise the difference between the two types of valves. The intake valve allows mixture into the cylinder; the exhaust valve allows the spent gases to escape. Intake valves handle cool, low pressure, low-density charges whereas exhaust valves handle hot, high pressure, high-density gases. Exhaust valves are exposed to more severe operating conditions, and hence are made from much higher quality materials than intake valves. The intake valve needs to be larger than the exhaust valve to handle the same gas mass (but of low density). Installing bigger intake and exhaust valves may be a good idea to increase performance. Ensure that this is possible, as an option. As with ignition timing, accurate valve timing is also critical for achieving maximum power delivery from your engine, ensure that this is in order.
You may wonder how a flywheel can have an impact on vehicle performance! A heavy flywheel gives smoother idling and smoother cruising throttle changes but the acceleration is slower than in the case of a light flywheel, which will give faster acceleration. This is true to a much lesser degree on fuel-injected engines than on carburetted engines. That is why some vehicle owners make use of a lighter flywheel.
The cylinder (or engine) head is one of the key focus areas when it comes to vehicle enhancement; this part of your vehicle will potentially yield the greatest increase in power. Cylinder head porting is the process of modifying the intake and exhaust ports to improve the quality and quantity of the airflow. Another stern warning, cylinder head porting is an advanced form of modification, done by skilled mechanics. Do not attempt this by yourself if you are not skilled in this craft.
A high performance exhaust system has a direct effect on engine performance and engine power. If you can get exhaust gasses out easier, you can get more air and fuel into the engine to produce more power. The Cat Back is a complete performance exhaust system that is quite popular. It is installed all the way back to the tailpipe. The increase in flow contribute to better performance.
You may consider changing the fuel injectors in your vehicle, but consider the pulse duration of the injectors and the duty cycle, before doing that. The pulse duration is controlled by the ECU and is dependent on various sensors in the electronic fuel injection (EFI) system. The duty cycle can be altered by adjusting the fuel pressure and the injector nozzle size. An increase in injector nozzle size will result in an increase in fuel delivery. The ECU needs to be reprogrammed to compensate for this. A professional should do this for you if you wish to alter the injectors.
Some vehicle owners invest in better fuel pumps to supply fuel and fuel pressure to the fuel rail and the injectors. The fuel pump must be large enough to supply more fuel than the maximum amount the engine may require to ensure that the fuel pressure remains adequate at full throttle and at maximum RPM. You can increase the fuel flow rate of your vehicle by installing a larger pump or by installing a second pump.
One of the most overlooked systems after a vehicle performance upgrade, is the ignition system. It is important to remember that the spark must be strong enough to ignite the air/fuel mixture. A spark from the stock ignition system that is too weak to ignite the mixture effectively can have a negative effect on engine power. Ensure that if you are using performance spark plugs, that they are of the correct heat range and have the correct plug gap.
Nitrous oxide (NOS) is a gas, but for use in vehicles, it is compressed into a liquid form in a container. From the container, a high-pressure hose runs to the engine bay where a solenoid release the nitrous into the engine (on request). When the nitrous leaves the bottle, it changes from liquid to a gas. When injected into an engine, the gas will split into oxygen and nitrogen; more oxygen will be available for combustion. To get more power, the vehicle needs to burn more fuel. This will be impossible to generate without extra oxygen. Nitrous oxide creates an oxygen rich combustible system, so to speak. If you consider fitting NOS, then have it done by a specialist.
Performance Chips & Programmers
Chip tuning refers to changing or modifying a programmable chip in a vehicle’s ECU. This is done to achieve superior performance, whether it be more power, cleaner emissions or better fuel efficiency. Steves Auto Clinic have more than 35 years of experience in the field of performance upgrades, and we consider ourselves leaders in the field of chip tuning. The performance chip unleashes the full potential of your vehicle’s engine. With a performance chip, you can fine-tune your vehicle for top performance and economy. We offer performance chips that will allow your vehicle maximum safe power at full throttle and best economy at part throttle. The performance chip we offer can be re-programmed and can be transferred from one vehicle to another. It greatly enhances the functions and capabilities of the original ECU, turning it into a super computer! If you have a performance chip, and you wish to reprogram it, then have it done by a reputable programmer who have experience in this field. Always consider Steves Auto Clinic when it comes to anything performance chip related.
Pistons are one of the main accessories of an engine. Friction between the walls of the cylinder and the piston rings eventually result in wear, reducing the effective life of the combustion system. Piston rings seal the combustion chamber, it lessens the friction of the piston with the wall, it regulates the oil in the cylinder, and it is usually they that are damaged first because of wear. Damaged rings allow combusted energy to escape, thereby decreasing the efficiency of the engine. Increasing compression is the most productive way to increase power. There are performance pistons on the market that are made specifically to endure NOS and other impacts.
A supercharger is an air pump that forces air into the engine. Recall our discussion that more air in the combustion chamber means more power. A supercharger is similar to a turbocharger insofar as it acts as an air pump; the crucial difference is that a supercharger is a mechanically driven pump whereas the turbocharger uses the power of hot exhaust gases to power the pump.
Suspension (Handling performance)
The suspension merits some reference, not concerning tweaking your vehicle’s power output but rather its handling.
There are off-road suspension lift kits available for you truck, SUV or Jeep. The reason why owners install off-road suspension lift kits is mainly to compensate for bigger wheels that will improve traction and increase performance on diverse terrains.
Stiffer springs and shock absorbers can improve handling, especially if there is an addition of weight from other upgrades. A stronger sway and torsion bar can equally reduce body roll when cornering.
These are the areas of interest if ever you desire to do a performance upgrade on your vehicle. Performance upgrades must always be done responsibly and by a trained technician/mechanic. If you are not familiar with this field of upgrades, then leave it to the professionals. Steves Auto Clinic started out as a performance upgrade business more than 35 years ago. We have the knowledge, the equipment, and the staff, to handle any performance upgrade. Visit us for friendly, professional and satisfactory service.
Sources consulted during the writing of this article:
- Howrah. 2016. What to tune. Online available at: http://www.howrah.org/ Accessed on 12 August 2018.
- The Advance Team. 2018. How you can increase horsepower for your vehicle. Online available at: https://shop.advanceautoparts.com/r/advice/car-truck-mods/how-you-can-increase-horsepower-for-your-vehicle Accessed on 12 August 2018.