5 Performance Mods To Avoid For Beginners

By September 6, 2020Performance Modification

If you want to boost the horsepower of your car, there are plenty of mods that can help you. But if you are a beginner, which ones should you look for and which ones should you avoid? I already covered the 5 performance mods I recommend for beginners in this article. In this article I cover which mods you should avoid as beginners and why. As a sneak-peek, some are expensive, while others are hard to install or even downright doesn’t work!

Before we begin, we need to first understand how a car generates power. Then only we can cover how each of the performance mod works.

How Does A Car Generate Power?

To generate power, a car creates combustion in the combustion chamber – this is done by igniting fuel. The combustion is a controlled explosion that absorbs oxygen from the surrounding – the more oxygen, the more powerful the combustion could become. Fuel is injected into the combustion chamber, whereas air is sucked from the environment. 

To increase car performance (horsepower), you need a bigger combustion which in turn needs more oxygen and fuel. Injecting additional fuel in the combustion chamber is easy. Sucking more air is the difficult one. Every performance mod increases performance by somehow increasing the amount of oxygen in the combustion chamber. For example: cold air intake, turbocharger, nitrous, etc.

1. Turbocharger / Supercharger

Turbochargers and superchargers are air compression devices that suck air from the surrounding, compress it and feed it directly into the combustion chamber. All your car has to do now is inject more fuel and ignite it to create a more powerful combustion and horsepower. 

Turbochargers and superchargers differ on how they power themselves. Turbochargers are equipped with turbines – that power the turbocharger when exhaust gases flow through and spin the turbine. This means the turbochargers are ‘self-powered’ – it does not rely on your engine for power. Thus, it’s more efficient and does not use extra fuel.

Image of turbocharger
Image of turbocharger
Turbine is spun by exhaust gas to power itself

And as you may already have guessed (or not!), superchargers are powered by your car engine. This means superchargers can be less efficient and consume fuel. 

Image of supercharger
Image of supercharger

There are pros and cons in both of them but that’s not our concern now. I cover turbocharger and supercharger in detail in this article.  Give it a read if you are interested.

Why Avoid Turbo / Supercharger For Beginners?

 

Expensive

Both turbochargers and superchargers can be very expensive. Reputable brands sell them for more than $3,000. Although cheaper ones exist, I always recommend you to get car mods from reputable brands – this will save you tons of headaches and problems down the road that could end up costing more. If you really must know, cheap turbocharger / superchargers at eBay cost around $400 but as I said, don’t do it! 

 

Also, if you want to install turbocharger / supercharger on cars that don’t already have them, then you also need to install other required parts like an intercooler. The compressed air delivered by these mods are at high pressure and extremely hot. They have to be cooled first before they are delivered to the combustion chamber and this is where an intercooler comes in. These intercoolers are not cheap too – they can start at about $200 up to $1000 depending on the type and brand. 

If you are a beginner who’s looking for some boost in horsepower, I don’t think turbocharger / supercharger is the right one for now.

 

Hard To Install

As I have mentioned, turbochargers / superchargers require other parts like an intercooler to work. If your car already has a turbocharger / supercharger, then your car already has all the necessary parts installed. In this case, swapping out to a new one is easier. This is actually quite common because a lot of cars now come with turbo pre-installed. Small engine with big marketable horsepower number – which car manufacturer wouldn’t want that right? 🙂

But on the other hand, if your car does not have any existing turbo / supercharger, then the installation can be expensive and complicated. Clearly not suitable for beginner enthusiasts. Unless you have the budget and have a specialist install it for you.

2. Nitrous

Just like the movies, nitrous works like magic – press a button and your car flies forward. It works this way because releasing nitrous means releasing oxygen directly into the combustion chamber. Suddenly, your car has an abundance of oxygen and it can ignite much more fuel to create MONSTER combustion. 

But wait.. Releasing nitrous means releasing Oxygen? What? Ok – let me explain. So by now, you know that the goal of every performance mod is to increase the amount of oxygen in the combustion chamber right? Nitrous works the same. 

Nitrous is compressed Nitrogen Oxide (N2O) stored in a tank. N = Nitrogen molecule, O = Oxygen molecule. This means nitrous contains oxygen molecules in it. When released into the combustion chamber and exposed to a high temperature (570 F), the oxygen and nitrogen molecules in nitrous will split – resulting in additional oxygen, ready to be used for combustion. You get it right? 🙂

But why not just inject oxygen directly into the combustion chamber? That’s a valid question and it has been tried. Turns out, oxygen is overly flammable – before they even enter the combustion chamber, they already start exploding. This is why Nitrous is used instead. If you want to know about nitrous, I have an article covering that here.

Image showing storage space required by nitrous tank
Nitrous tank

Why AVOID Nitrous For Beginners?

  • Expensive. You are paying roughly $50 for every 2.5 miles of usage.
  • Don’t last long. Continuously use nitrous for a few minutes and you are done.
  • Takes up storage space. If you are a beginner, I assume your car is a daily driver. Which means you need the trunk space. Nitrous tanks will fill up ¾ of your trunk – not ideal for a daily at all.

3. Exhaust Header

Exhaust header collects the exhaust gases from the combustion chamber and directs them into the exhaust system. Stock headers are made of cast iron – which means they do have a narrow diameter for the exhaust gases to flow through. Also, the piping in stock headers do not have uniform lengths – which means the arrival of exhaust gases to the merging point is not consistent. This causes the gases to collide with one another before they enter the exhaust system – creating back pressure that prevents exhaust gases from flowing.

I cover more about exhaust headers in this article. By the way, stock headers are also called exhaust manifolds. So don’t get confused when you are reading online 🙂

Exhaust Header And Manifold
Aftermarket exhaust header
Stock exhaust header (exhaust manifold)

Aftermarket headers solve all the problems I mentioned above. Aftermarket ones are made of stainless steel – which means they are thinner and have a bigger diameter for the exhaust gases to travel. Also, aftermarket headers have uniform lengths – which means exhaust gases always take the same amount of time to travel, making them consistent and avoiding any collisions of gases when they enter the exhaust system. 

All in all, these improvements aim to increase the amount of oxygen that’s available in the combustion chamber. You see – when exhaust gases cannot flow out easily from the combustion chamber, they take up more space, preventing fresh oxygen from entering. If exhaust gases prevent pressure from building up, that means exhaust gases can flow into the exhaust system easily. Providing more space for oxygen to enter the combustion chamber.

Why AVOID Exhaust Header For Beginners?

  • Expensive. Headers from reputable brands start at about $700.
  • Hard to install. Headers can get complicated to install, especially for cars with tight engine bay. You will likely need a specialist to help.
  • Subpar performance gain. Headers alone will not yield you much horsepower. It only works well if you pair it with aftermarket intake and header-back exhaust.

4. Performance Chip

Performance chip is basically tuning on the go. If you don’t already know tuning means changing the configuration values of your car’s computer. Tuning is usually done when you install a performance mod like turbo or a new exhaust system. You need to calibrate the computer to make use of the new hardware. 

Although not as effective, tuning could also be done even if you don’t have any new hardware. You could change configuration values to make your car more performant at the lower rev ranges and feel more aggressive. For example:

  • Tuning the engine torque map
  • Remove rev limiter 
  • Remove top speed

 

You will not gain any significant horsepower but you could tune your car to perform better at wider rev ranges. 

Tuning is a manual process that needs special equipment and software. It needs to be done by a specialist and could take a whole day. Performance chips make it easy to tune your car by offering pre-defined options like performance options, eco options and many others. All you have to do is plug the performance chip into your car’s OBD2 port and press a button. Within a few minutes, your car’s computer is updated with new values.

Image of performance chip
Performance chip

Why AVOID Performance Chip For Beginners?

It does sound amazing and convenient, but it rarely works. Each car model is different from each other. The idea of tuning with predefined options just doesn’t cut it. There’s also no way to test the changes. Does it really work? Are you sure it’s not a placebo effect? If you really want a tune, invest in a dynotuning with a specialist. You clearly see the values that are tuned and you also have a concrete before and after statistics. 

The experienced enthusiasts know that performance chips rarely work. I am just worried about the beginners who purchased the performance chip that does not work. If you want to learn more, here’s an article I wrote about dyno tuning. And here’s another about performance chips.

5. Coilovers

Coilovers allow you to lower your car for improved handling. When you drive and take a corner, your car will lean towards a side – this is known as body roll. Body roll prevents you from taking a corner too quickly, because your car will fall and roll. 

Which muffler is your car right now?

You can reduce body roll by lowering your car’s center of gravity – this is where coilovers come in the picture. Coilovers allow you to accurately tweak how much lower or higher should your car be. This is useful for racers who know what they are doing and can accurately adjust the height of their car for the occasions.

Image of coilover
Coilovers

Why AVOID Coilovers For Beginners?

  • Expensive. Coilovers from reputable brands start at about $3000. Although you can get it from EBay for $400, I don’t recommend this at all. Coilovers work extremely hard when you drive – best to get a high quality one. 
  • Customizable. This is a pro if you know what you are doing. But if you don’t then this feature becomes an unnecessary complication. For beginners, get a lowering spring instead – it’s plug and play. 
  • Not suitable for a daily driver. The ride with coilovers can become very stiff and uncomfortable. For beginners, lowering spring is more suitable as a daily driver because they equip a progressive spring rate.

I can’t say this enough – if you are a beginner, coilovers are not for you. Look into lowering springs instead. I wrote about my lowering springs of choice in this article. I also cover progressive spring rates in that article if you are interested to know.

The downside is of course, the lower your cargoes the, more uncomfortable the ride becomes. Every bump and pothole on the road becomes a nuisance. Coilovers are generally not suitable for daily driving. If all you look for is a lowered car with  slightly better handling and aggressive looks, then look into lowering springs instead. I covered coilovers and lowering springs in this article.

Performance Mods I Recommend

I have spoken enough about the mods that I don’t recommend for beginners. Here is an article where I discuss the list of mods that I recommend instead!

I hope you enjoyed this article and find it useful. Best of luck in your modding journey! 🙂

Ifandi S.

Ifandi S.

Passionate about everything mechanical. Ifandi has been involved with motorcycles and cars since the old days - in his family's auto parts shop. Want to keep in touch? Scream "STRAIGHT PIPEEEEE" at the top of your lungs and Ifandi will show up.

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