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Are Performance Upgrades Worth the Money?

September 2nd, 2019
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Depending on what type of car you drive, there may be a huge aftermarket of performance parts available. Many of the Japanese brands like Honda and Acura have a large variety of aftermarket parts. Honda’s have an especially large cult following of drivers who will continue to modify and invest lots of money into sopping up the performance of their Honda racers. German brands like Porsche, Volkswagen, and Audi also have a lot of performance-oriented drivers who desire an edge.

Yet, at the end of the day, many owners of other brands that don’t have as large of a tuner following may wonder whether upgrades are worth it. If you are driving a Lincoln, for example, do you really want a lowered suspension system and lightweight racing rims? It makes sense to modify vehicles for the full potential if they have that potential. And although Lincoln vehicles are nice, they may not be fit for tuner racecar conversions.

Nevertheless, some of the higher-end vehicles don’t need many performance upgrades. They may already come with sporty suspension or adjustable suspension from the factory. Volkswagen models like the coveted R-series even had the stiffer control arm bushings that many of the tuners were upgrading to on their own for sake of performance. These factory bushings were even being retrofitted in other models that were based on the same steering designs, going as far back as the ’80s.

Benefits of Suspension and Steering Upgrades

Many drivers upgrade their suspensions with sporty systems that are stiffer. These stiffer suspension systems improve handling on the highways. Your vehicle seems to track straighter and can feel more stable at high speeds. By comparison, people who have soft and failing suspension systems can feel like they are driving a boat. The back-end can have a lot of play and moves around too much.

An adjustable air suspension or the like can help you go low when you need it and add some lift when the terrain isn’t quite as hospitable. That is the dichotomy of suspension upgrades. Trucks and off-road vehicles often upgrade their suspensions with softer shocks and lift kits that help them smoothly traverse any terrain.

Racers like to sit low to the ground to take advantage of the optimal physics. A lower center of gravity is associated with the perception of less verticle G-force and can help you to hug the corners without feeling as much body roll. This makes those slalom courses a lot more tolerable without that merry-go-round sensation.

Adding a thick sway bar and harder bushings to stabilize the suspension will also reduce body roll and improve the handling of any vehicle. If you like crisp and accurate steering, this upgrade is worth checking out. You may feel a bit more resistance in the steering wheel, however.

Airflow Upgrades

The automotive engine works a lot like an air pump. Auto manufacturers exploit this principle by adding turbochargers and superchargers to engines for optimal performance. Both of these mechanical devices force air induction into the engine and allow it to run with a greater level of volatility at higher RPMs.

A traditional naturally aspirated engine is limited in its powerband because it can only suck in so much oxygen to burn the fuel at once. If you don’t add a sufficiently balanced ratio of air, you are just burning the extra fuel and damaging catalytic converters and other components.

In fact, the Stoich ratio of air to fuel for a gasoline combustion engine is 14.7 to 1. This means that you will need 14.7 pounds of air for every pound of fuel used to achieve optimal combustion. It is not hard for your injectors to stay open longer and pump out more fuel. It is difficult for your engine to suck in more air, however, unless you have some form of air induction upgrades.

These can be as subtle as a performance air filter or as extreme as retrofitting twin turbos or superchargers. The problem with only bringing air into the engine is that you get a lot of nasty back pressure that becomes a veritable brick wall. If you really want to open things up and let your engine breath, you need to add a high-flow exhaust system to lower the backpressure. You can also port the engine head for minimal gains at a great cost.

The problem with performance on engine parts is that the bearings will wear quicker at higher RPMs and the exhaust can become louder. This is why many don’t want to upgrade. They believe that the factory stock OEM engineering is ideal for their daily driver needs.

Conclusion

Numerous performance upgrades exist on the market. Whether you are interested in subtle modifications or slamming your vehicle to the ground for styling and performance, there are always trade-offs. Unless you are a mechanic, keeping up maintenance on modified vehicles can also become expensive because they can be flakey or temperamental.

Some upgrades like performance air filters, performance oil filters, and even a larger head can be inexpensive and easy to retrofit without any problems. Other upgrades require a balancing test for every driver to decide for themselves what they really want out of the vehicle, performance or reliability.

About the Author
Andrew