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Beginners Guide to Car Tuning

September 17, 2018

Beginners Guide to Car Tuning

Hero Image Credit: kuhl.com

Without a doubt, car tuning can significantly improve the looks, performance and capabilities of a vehicle. You have probably seen how much it has transformed the cars of your friends or neighbours, and you may be saying, “I want that!”

There are many opinions out there on how you ought to tune your car (take car forums, for example), but you need to take such advice with a grain of salt. Most of the time, this well-meaning advice is biased, based on what the people who are sharing it have been exposed to. Not to mention, they aren’t necessarily experts in the field.

Before you dive into tuning your car, know the answers to these questions, to ensure that you do it right the first time (and avoid wasting time and money).

What kind of car are you going for with the tune?

Before you start, it’s important to have an understanding of where you want to go with the car tune. You may just want a street car that looks more aggressive, handles better and sprints faster, or you may want a fully-primed road racing, drag racing, or autocross racing car that can compete against the best contenders in national competitions. All these tuning options are done differently right from the start.

As such, don’t just start modding your car because the mods look good on your friend’s car, or because you have been told that certain mods are must-haves. You may realise later that you really want to take a different direction with the tune, and that may mean taking apart all the mods that you had installed initially. Worse still, you may find it almost impossible to do a more aggressive tune, because of the adjustments you made in the beginning.

Beginners Guide to Car Tuning What kind of car are you going for with the tune

Image Credit: RSsportscars.com

Do you want bolt-on or permanent modifications?

You also need to consider whether or not you want to do permanent car modifications. If you are not going for a really extreme tune, if you do not want to void the warranty over your car, or if you intend to resell your car some years down the road, you should think about getting bolt-on mods that can be removed at will. There are many options out there for bolt-on aftermarket parts – like equal/unequal-length headers and exhaust systems – so you are likely to fare quite well with such mods.

However, if you are going all-out with the car tune (especially if you want the car for serious track or racing duty), then you may have to make permanent modifications, in order to achieve the level of performance that you need the car to deliver.  

What is your platform like?

You should only tune a vehicle that is in good condition. There is no point in modifying a car that has a degenerating engine or a ramshackle suspension system, because such a car may not be able to harness and utilize the gains in horsepower that will come with the mods. You have to fully repair or service the vehicle before you start to tune it; that may mean replacing certain parts and components.

Additionally, your vehicle should be ideal for your intended tune. For example, if you want to build a fire-breathing, road racing car, a Hyundai Accent would not be the best choice of car for you. A platform that is already tuned and designed for performance would be best in such a case because you would not have to spend as much to get it to a competitive level of performance as you would with the Accent.

Will your tuned car be able to handle real-world driving?

If your intention is to ferry your tuned car to your preferred track circuit or racing competition venue in a trailer, then you don’t have to worry about this. However, if you intend to drive this car on regular streets and roads, then you need to think about how your tuned car will cope in real-world driving situations. A super-slammed coupe with a front chin spoiler looks great, but it is more than likely going to scrape a speed bump or pothole, so you may want to give it a substantial amount of ground clearance if you intend to drive it around.    

Beginners Guide to Car Tuning Will your tuned car be able to handle real-world driving

Image Credit: twitter.com (via Toyota Motor Corp.)

What kind of tune do you need?

To this point, it's important to know the intended use for your car, so that you can tune it appropriately, either as a street car/daily driver vehicle or as a track/race car.

Street Car/Daily Driver Tune

Most car enthusiasts fall into this category. They want to enhance the looks, the handling, and the horsepower/torque output of their cars, but within certain limits, because they still want their cars to serve as daily drivers.

If this also describes your intentions, here are a few pointers on what you can do:

  1. Suspension: You need to preserve the car’s ride quality but still improve its handling. You can do so with a set of aftermarket lowering springs. Thanks to their higher spring rates, these aftermarket springs will improve the car’s handling, while enabling you to set a lower ride height.
  2. Make the engine breathe better: You’d be surprised at how much more output your car’s powertrain can deliver when you feed it more air and when you help it to eliminate exhaust gases quicker. You can start by installing either a short ram air intake system or a cold air intake system. A short ram air intake system is shorter and less expensive, but it does not deliver that much additional power. A cold air intake system, on the other hand, while more expensive, features longer piping, and delivers much more additional power. A new aftermarket exhaust system is also sure to help your engine breath better. Many people say that you get more power from a catless exhaust system, but it is wise to use a catted system, in order to comply with smog laws.
  3. Wheels and Tyres: When you have lighter alloy wheels, your suspension system won’t have to work as hard as it did with the stock alloys to keep them planted on the ground. Therefore, with lighter wheels, the suspension system becomes more responsive, resulting in better handling. You should also get wider tyres with more road grip, to enjoy better cornering agility and control.
  4. Brakes: You cannot go wrong with enhanced brakes. Your stock brakes probably work really well, but since you want to kick things up a notch and improve the car’s performance, you should think about swapping to performance-oriented brakes. Having stronger stopping power will give you the confidence to push the car to its limits.
  5. ECU remapping: ECU remapping is one of the most effective ways of improving your car’s performance. Without a proper ECU remap, your car won’t be able to fully utilize the gains in output that your different mods have garnered. You should only use a reputable tuner to get the best results.

Beginners Guide to Car Tuning Street Car Daily Driver Tune

Image Credit: autoblog.com

Track/Race Car Tune

The tune for a track car/race car is definitely going to be more aggressive and more expensive. At this level, you’re committed to going all-out with the mods, because the car needs to be able to achieve the level of performance required for serious racing competition.

  1. Wheels and Tyres: The choice of wheels and tyres depends on the type of racing that you wish to engage in. If it’s drag racing, you’ll need a set of high-quality racing slicks in the rear with the appropriate accompanying wheels. If it’s road racing or autocross racing, you need top-grade, high-performance tyres that can handle over 30 minutes of high-speed driving per race. Your tyre choice could determine whether you win or lose, because your tyres need to be able to put all the power and torque to the road without constantly slipping.
  2. Suspension: Coilovers work best for track cars. They allow you to adjust the ride height, depending on the level of performance you wish to achieve. Since you are preparing the car for competition, opt for the top-quality coilovers on the market.
  3. Safety: Enhanced braking power cannot be overstated when it comes to track cars. You have to get more premium, race-oriented brakes with larger diameters and high-quality materials. Your safety on the track depends largely on the quality of your brakes, so you cannot skimp here. You must also install a roll cage in your car that is built in line with the recommended roll-cage standards for race cars. Also, you’ll need to add a fire extinguisher, a helmet and a 4-/5-point safety harness.
  4. Turbocharge/supercharge: Installing a high-quality turbocharger or supercharger in your car can boost the output of your car’s engine by over 40%, so if you are seriously looking to improve your car’s performance, this is the way to go.
  5. Nitrous oxide: Nitrous oxide is another surefire way to cause your car to deliver explosive output. When nitrous oxide is injected into your car’s engine, it quickly splits into oxygen and nitrogen, because of the super-high temperatures. The increase of oxygen for combustion in the engine results in the production of much more power.

These are solid starters, but there are many other things you can do to tune your car so that it suits your performance objectives. It all depends on how passionate you are about tuning your car and how deep your pockets are.

Getting the Right Car Tuning Guidance

If you want to better understand all the complexities of car tuning, you need to visit a reputable car tuning spot in your area and ask questions. We at AusBody Works can also help. With our vast experience in this field, we’re happy to share our knowledge, to help you along in your tuning quest.