In today's day and age you are flooded with aftermarket parts that promise to increase power and performance in all aspects. Some parts are expensive and might offer more show than go, while others might be bargains that seem to be too inexpensive that it makes you wonder if you should be putting that part on your car. One thing that all performance parts have in common is they try to address the main areas of the car that come heavily restricted from the factory. Parts that are designed to not necessarily cause a restriction, but do so in the effort of trying to meet strict CARB laws, noise ordinances and various other things. So what we did was to put together a small list of 4 things that are most common that you don't need a big wallet for, but allow your car to gain power as much - or in some cases better than - the expensive stuff.
Get rid of that restrictive muffler
One of the easiest things you can do is to get rid of your power robbing stock muffler. Stock mufflers are designed to be as quiet as possible at the expense of horsepower. They are filled with twists and turns that the air has to go through that makes them not straight through and awfully restrictive. Plus, they muffle the exhaust too much, and you don't get the true performance sound from your car.
When you buy a catback exhaust, you are replacing the exhaust from the catalytic converter back. Of this whole catback exhaust, the most restrictive part is the muffler. Even when you buy an axle back exhaust, most manufactures now release an axle back as a less expensive option because the difference between the two is usually only 1-2 horsepower, but $200-300 in price. Save yourself the hassle, and just buy a muffler. You can get one that is straight through with no restrictions for $25-$100, and you would just bring it to a muffler shop to get welded in for another $30. You get the style you want, the sound you want, and you gain almost as much horsepower as if you bought a full exhaust for hundreds more.
Cars that are turbo or supercharged from the factory gain the most benefit.
Junk that factory catalytic converter
Next to the muffler, the catalytic converter is the next biggest item on the exhaust that creates the most restriction. The stock catalytic converter is designed to catch as much of the exhaust as possible to ensure that as it flows through the catalytic converter that it trims all of the toxins as it exits. This is good for the environment and to keep smog pollution down, so replacing the catalytic converter can be done in two ways. The first way would be to replace it with a straight pipe. This simply gets rid of it all together. The other way would be to replace it with a high flow catalytic converter.
Straight Pipe or Test Pipe or Cat Delete - The pipe that replaces the catalytic converter has been called many different things. It's purpose is to simply bolt in place of the catalytic converter. These pipes usually sell for under $100, and give you a nice bump in power. Some people say that they feel a loss of torque low in the RPM band once doing this, but really what you are doing is shifting your power band. Most dyno's will prove this. However, you aren't looking to increase power at 2,000 rpm, right? You want power when you are full throttle. Keep in mind, removing the catalytic converter is not smog legal. This is good for off road or track only cars.
On some OBD2 and higher cars, this can cause a check engine light. You can fool the computer by using a defouler or o2 sensor spacer.
High flow catalytic converter - A high flow catalytic converter can cost about as much as a cat delete, and in some cases gain almost as much power.
Combine the high flow catalytic converter with the muffler, and you just removed two of the biggest restrictions in your exhaust system.
If you are all motor, supercharged or turbo, you can benefit from getting your car's computer reprogrammed. Most power is to be made from cars that are forced induction because on more modern cars the computer controls everything from boost pressure and timing to fuel delivery, so a good flash could increase power substantially. There are many ways of flashing the computer with everything from a piggy back system such as the "old school" APEXi Super AFC, to modern full engine management systems such as the AEM EMS. We recommend to search around on forums to find out what is the best for your particular vehicle. For example, many modern Lancer EVO and Subaru WRX or STi's gain up to 40 horsepower with a reflash that can cost under $500. That's power on a budget!
Let in some air
One big debate is the best way to let your engine breathe. Some people simply go with a high flow drop in air filter. Others say you need a short ram intake or a cold air intake. Some people ask us what the difference is between short ram and cold air. It's all pretty straight forward. Engines work by taking in air compressing it with fuel, burning it, and expelling it. The colder and more dense the air, the more power the engine will make. When you get an intake kit, you want the kit to draw in the coldest air possible.
Short Ram Intake - A short ram intake is called this because the pipe is short. It's usually in the same location as the factory air box. On most cars this factory location does not have cool air, and infact could be hot air due to the engine heat. By removing the restriction of the stock air box, your short ram air filter will still gain you power, but not as much as a cold air intake due to the heat.
Cold Air Intake - The cold air intake is called this because it places the air filter into a different location from stock, usually the coldest part possible. Many times this location is in the fender or another area away from the engine and in an area of cool outside air. Due to the amount of piping and research that needs to go into this, the cold air intake is the most expensive. It gains more power and torque than a short ram or a drop in air filter. You can get a good cold air intake on a budget, simply pick up a used one, or go with a brand that has a good track record. On more modern cars, you don't want to go with a brand that hasn't done good testing. The air flow sensors on new cars are very picky and you could actually hurt power and driveability. If you can't afford a new cold air intake from a good brand, buy used.
By doing these 4 things, you will have gained just about as much power as someone who went the expensive route, and have money left over to work on your suspension. We know every car has something unique about it that restricts power but it easy and cheap to replace. What have you found on your car or truck that gave you power for little money?