5 Performance Mods For Beginners (And 5 To Avoid)

By September 4, 2020July 19th, 2021Performance Modification

Are you looking to install your first ever performance mod? So many options, so many pros and cons and so many suggestions! In this article I will show you the 5 mods that I recommend for beginners and 5 that I do not recommend. For each, I will explain what it’s used for and why you should or should not install it as a beginner. 

Before we begin, I want to touch up on the basics first. These knowledge are required for you to understand how the performance mods work.

Basic 1: 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.

Basic 2: Where Does Car Sound Come From?

When a car generates combustion, big sound waves are also created. These sound waves exit the combustion chamber to the exhaust system – where they eventually exit through the exhaust tail pipe. If not silenced, the sound is extremely loud and can even be deafening. This is why all cars come with a muffler in their exhaust system – responsible for reducing the sound waves that exit from the exhaust. Interestingly, car manufacturers silence the engine sound significantly. This is done to pass government regulations and also to appeal the mass market. 

Now with the basics covered, let’s dive right into the performance mods!

5 Performance Mods I Recommend For Beginners

1. Cold Air Intake

Cold air intake aims to improve performance by allowing your car to suck in cooler air instead of hot air from the engine bay. Cold air is more dense, which contains more oxygen molecules. With the basics down, you should know by now that more oxygen in the combustion chamber means bigger combustion and more power for the car 🙂

Cold air intake re-routes the way your car sucks in air. Instead of sucking hot air from the engine compartment, a cold air intake allows your car to suck cooler air closer to the wheels. Also, cold air intake is more open and less restrictive than the stock air intake. This means more air can flow into your car as compared to before. 

Personally, I love the cold air intake not because of the supposed performance boost but because of the sound it generates. With a cold air intake installed, you could hear the air rushing into your engine when you accelerate. This is such a unique sound that makes cold air intake worth every penny. Here’s the unique sound I am referring to. Skip to 3:59.

If you are looking to get a cold air intake, I recommend you to get the K&I cold air intake. K&I is a reputable brand when it comes to cold air intake. They are more expensive (at ~$300) but I recommend to always get performance mods from reputable brands. This will save you the troubles and headaches down the road. I cover the reasons behind K&I cold air intake in this article

Cold Air Intake Image
Cold air intake

Why Cold Air Intake For Beginners?

  • Relatively inexpensive (compared to other performance mods)
  • Easy to install 
  • Noticeable sound changes after installation 
  • Looks sexy when you pop open the engine bay
  • Popular choice among beginner enthusiasts

2. Resonator Exhaust Tip

Resonator exhaust tip is an extension that you install on your exhaust tailpipe to improve engine sound. The installation is easy – you just have to clip it on the tailpipe. Resonator exhaust tip contains a chamber that’s designed to cause sound waves to vibrate in a certain way to sound louder and more aggressive.

Resonator exhaust tip surprisingly works really well for something that’s inexpensive (~$30). You could clearly tell the difference before and after you install. Your engine sound will not be that much louder but it will definitely sound more aggressive. Here’s a before and after YouTube video to illustrate what I am talking about. 

If you are a fan of aggressive engine sound but don’t want to go overboard and don’t have much budget, then resonator exhaust tip is just the upgrade for you.

You can find plenty of resonator exhaust tip from Amazon. Just make sure the sizing fits.

Image of resonator exhaust tip
Resonator Exhaust Tip

Why Resonator Exhaust Tip For Beginners?

  • Cheap
  • Easy to install 
  • Noticeable sound changes after installation 
  • Will not cause any problem down the road 
  • Legal in all states 
  • Exhaust tailpipe will look aggressive

3. Aftermarket Muffler

Aftermarket mufflers greatly improve the sound of your car by reducing the number of metal platings and chambers inside it. This means sound waves do not get bounced and deleted as much – reducing the silencing effect, resulting in a louder noise.

Different mufflers provide different sounds – some can be extremely loud, while others too quiet. It’s important to research thoroughly before purchasing any aftermarket muffler. You must at least listen to the before and after sound of the muffler. You can find plenty of them on YouTube.

 If you are like me – who prefers a more aggressive, low pitched sound but not so loud to the point it’s deafening, then I recommend you to look into Flowmaster Super 40 muffler. Flowmaster is a reputable brand in the aftermarket exhaust space. I cover why the Super 40 is the best in this article

Here’s a video of how Flowmaster Super 40 muffler sounds like. It’s just an example of what an aftermarket muffler can bring in terms of sound.

Some mufflers are marketed to boost horsepower. Theoretically, this works by completely removing the metal platings and chambers inside the muffler – allowing exhaust gases and sound waves to pass through without any effort. This can reduce the amount of backpressure in your exhaust – which means exhaust gases can move from the combustion chamber into the exhaust system quickly. 

More exhaust gases leaving the combustion chamber means more space is available for fresh air (oxygen) to enter for the next combustion. Resulting in a more powerful combustion and in the end – horsepower. This works great in theory but not so much in reality. By installing a performance muffler alone, you will not notice any horsepower changes. If you are looking only for performance, then a performance muffler is not for you. Look into turbos if you have the budget. Look into catback exhausts or cold air intake if you don’t.

Why Performance Muffler For Beginners?

  • Cheap
  • Easy to install 
  • Significant sound changes after installation

4. Axelback / Catback Exhaust

Aftermarket exhausts aim to boost horsepower by increasing the diameter and allow exhaust gases to flow easily. If the pressure in the exhaust system is low, exhaust gases generated from the combustion chamber can escape to the exhaust system quickly – providing more available space for oxygen to enter to create a more powerful combustion in the next cycle.

Axelback and catback exhausts are different types of aftermarket exhausts. Axelback exhaust replaces the exhaust beginning after the rear axle all the way till tailpipe. Whereas catback exhaust replaces the exhaust beginning after the CAT all the way till tailpipe. Catback exhaust replaces more parts – this is more expensive but they could provide more improvements in horsepower. 

Image of flowmaster exhaust
Catback Exhaust

Depending on the type of aftermarket exhaust, they could come with wider exhaust pipes, free-flowing muffler and tailpipe equipped with a resonator exhaust tip for a louder sound. I cover parts inside an exhaust with a labelled diagram in this article. I recommend catback and axleback because they are the most beginner friendly. Other types of exhaust like header-back and straight piping are suitable for more seasoned car guys that know what they need.

Why Axelback / Catback Exhaust For Beginners?

  • Cheaper kinds of exhaust
  • Significant sound improvement
  • Boost in horsepower

5. Lowering Springs

Lowering springs lower your by a couple of inches to improve handling and to look more aggressive. If you don’t already realize, when you take a corner or when you accelerate, your car body will lean towards one side – this is known as body roll. Body roll prevents you from taking a corner quickly – you could lose control of your car if you are not careful. 

The solution to body roll is to lower your car. This works because lowering your car will lower the center of gravity for the car – increasing it’s stability. Furthermore, lowering your car reduces the amount of travel when you take a corner. This means less body roll and more grip between the tires and the road – allowing you fully control your car even in high speed cornering.

On the other hand, lowering your car will cause your car to be stiff. This means an uncomfortable ride – especially on bumpy roads. The good thing is, the majority of lowering springs come with progressive spring rates – which can provide both comfort and improved handling. I cover more on progressive spring rates and which lowering springs to choose in this article

Image of Lowering Spring
Lowering springs

Why Lowering Springs For Beginners?

  • Cheap
  • Lowered car for better looks
  • Still maintain a somewhat comfortable ride 
  • Suitable for daily driver

5 Performance Mods To Avoid For Beginners

If you are interested, I also cover which performance mods you should avoid as a beginner over in this article.

That’s it! I hope you have enjoyed this compilation 🙂 Getting your first performance mod should be the most exciting thing ever – so you better get the right one! Check out more of my articles if you want to learn about car performance and car internals in general.

Ifandi L.

Ifandi L.

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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