Tuning your car to make it faster isn’t about just throwing money at it, and you can make big differences for bargain prices with a little thought; and we’re here to show you how with some of the best tricks, tips and hacks in car tuning.
We all know how expensive this modified car hobby is, and there’s just no escaping that, but that doesn’t mean you need to be rich to go fast.
Just like everything in life, a bit of thought goes a long way to getting the most for your money, and this feature is about some of the ways you can make big improvements to your cars performance for surprisingly little money.
Not only will this car tuning guide feature help you make your car faster, but it should hopefully get the cogs in your brain spinning and you’ll end up thinking of other clever ways to get maximum bang for your buck!
1. Tyre pressures. Approximate cost- From 20p!
The difference in how your car handles and grips simply by adjusting your tyres pressures can be pretty incredible, and can sometimes make a bigger difference than much more expensive suspension modifications.
For maximum traction, well that’s quite simple, you just lower the pressures on the driven wheels to maximise how much rubber is touching the tarmac, sometimes under 15psi on drag and drift cars, though we’d not recommend going that low on the road!
For handling, well, do you feel your car understeers a bit too much? If so, set the front pressure a little lower than the rear. Feels too tail happy? Lowering rear pressure compared to front can help compensate for that. Of course, going too low or too high will make the car handle either strangely or dangerously, so adjust it just a few psi each time, but considering the cost of some air for your tyres, the difference can be huge!
2. Suspension geometry. Approximate cost- From £30
Having all your wheels pointing in the right direction is, despite being pretty obvious when you think about it, really overlooked, but even if your geometry is at perfect factory settings, that’s rarely perfect for maximum performance.
You’d be surprised how far out your suspension can be, as pot holes, little knocks against kerbs, or your suspension parts being replaced, can mean the geometry can end up miles out, really messing up your handling potential.
Even if your geometry is perfectly on factory settings there’s improvements to be made, as standard geometry is more for tyre wear and idiot-proof handling than getting the most out of the car. For maximum performance taking it to a specialist who can set it up for fast road or track use can transform your handling and grip. While having adjustable suspension components will allow them to make bigger geometry changes, most cars still have some adjustment using factory parts, and certain cars, MX5s are a good example, are fully adjustable front and rear as standard, allowing a performance geometry specialist to make one handle like a real track weapon with no problem at all.
3. Drivers bucket seat – Approximate cost- From £100
What do you think the best single modification to help you tackle the corners is? Swanky coilovers or expensive tyres? Nope. A drivers bucket seat. It’s hard to believe unless you’ve experienced it, but it’s almost impossible to get the most from a cars handling even if you’ve got a car with sports seats as standard.
Even if you’re not fully falling out of your seat, you’ll be subconsciously putting a lot of muscle effort in to staying put, and any effort doing that means less effort actually driving.
With a fixed racing bucket seat, not only can you put 100% of your efforts in to driving, as it’s literally impossible to fall out of it no matter how hard you corner, but you can feel what the car is doing a lot easier, and is usually significantly lighter too. If hard cornering or drifting is your thing, a tight fitting drivers bucket seat is the best value for money modification you can do.
4. Modified standard air filter setup- Approximate cost- From £0!
Taking a drill and grinder to your standard airbox to increase airflow has been a bargain DIY modification since the dawn of time, with people turning the pre-filter side of an airbox in to Swiss cheese, drilling hundreds of holes in it to increase airflow. This really does work and can be very effective on cars with restrictive airboxes, but with a little more thought you can get even better results.
The reason drilling holes in airboxes can help is the intake is often far too small, especially on modified engines. While drilling holes can solve that problem, these holes can often suck in hot engine bay air, which is far from ideal.
The ideal solution is to make a much bigger inlet snorkel, feeding cold air to the airbox from elsewhere, through an enlarged hole in the airbox. This is pretty simple and can have a dramatic effect on lots of cars for very little money – Even big 4inch diameter aluminium ducting can cost less than £10 from a DIY store.
Along with your modified airbox, an aftermarket panel filter will help increase airflow at a fraction of the cost of a full induction kit, making an impressive performing inlet setup for just a little bit of your hard work and hard earned cash.
5. Uprated brake pads – Approximate cost – From £30
While fancy looking brake discs and calipers are impressive to look at, the one major effective upgrade of your brakes, even if you have seriously puny discs and calipers, is uprated brake pads. Simple to fit and cheap to buy, with the right pads you can get serious stopping power from even the crappiest standard brakes. If you’re serious about stopping we’d normally skip the ‘fast road’ pads, and find some serious track pads. They might make more brake dust, sometimes a little squeal, and give your discs a shorter life, but the improved stopping power for the low cost makes it well worth while.
6. Large bore turbo downpipe- Approximate cost- From £150
Exhaust systems aren’t cheap, but if you have a turbo car and can’t afford a full system, just get a big downpipe; they make a far bigger difference on a turbo car than all the rest of the exhaust!
Big downpipes are key to performance on turbo engines, and with most standard ones being small diameter and often further restricted by catalytic converters, a decent aftermarket downpipe not only often increases power, but it can make the turbo spool up sooner too. If you have a turbo car, a big downpipe needs to be near the top of your engine mods list, simple as that.
7. Remapped ECU – Approximate cost- From £150
This isn’t DIY, and it’s generally only truly a bargain on turbocharged engines, but a remapped ECU on a turbocharged engine is often the biggest performance increase for your money there is.
Thanks to modern technology, a simple remapped ECU on most engines takes less than an hour to complete too, and pretty much every turbocharged engine on the planet, petrol and diesel, will feel like a completely different animal after a remap. If it’s more power you want, just get it done.
8. Smaller wheels- Approximate cost- From £300
Just like changing your diff ratio that we mentioned earlier in the feature, fitting smaller wheels changes your gearing, reducing your top speed a little, but improving acceleration.
There’s more advantages than that too, as smaller wheels are lighter, and providing you go for a size common in motorsport, you often have a far wider range of high performance tyres too. Overall, 13s, 15s, and 17s give you the best tyre choices, with 18s not far behind too.
In high end motorsport all cars run as small a wheel as they can fit for the brake disc size they have, and if you want maximum performance, so should you!
9. Suspension top mount swap- Approximate cost- From £50
This is a clever one, but if it applies to your car, it’s super effective. On some cars, BMWs and Subarus are two common examples, if you swap certain front suspension top mount designs from right to left, and sometimes also rotate them from their intended orientation, it gives the car increased camber and castor, both of which are good for handling.
For example, on E36 and E46 BMWs, you can fit standard E36 M3 Evo top mounts to any model, giving more camber and castor than non-M3s had, but if you also fit the right one to the left, and the left one to the right, the camber and castor gains are even higher, to a level most drift and track cars would love to have, but at a far lower price than some aftermarket top mounts with that much adjustment can give. Winner.
10. DIY aerodynamics and ducting- Approximate price- From £0!
Aerodynamics isn’t all about huge wings and complex shapes, and you can make very effective changes to your own cars aerodynamics that cost almost nothing.
Unimportant ducts and scoops on your front bumper and bonnet can be blocked off to improve aerodynamics, and can often be combined with better ducting to your intercooler or radiator, forcing air in to this important area rather than through other holes on the bodywork.
Air to a radiator or intercooler needs to escape from under your bonnet too, so if you vent the bonnet just behind your radiator, which is very common if you take a look at front engine race cars, you reduce lift by allowing the air to get out without going under the car, and also improve your cooling efficiency too.
Home made front splitters made of thick rubber or plastic can be made to prevent as much air getting underneath the car and creating unwanted lift. Removing your rear spoiler, providing it doesn’t make your car unstable, can be a free way to improve aerodynamics too. Another common free mod, especially on drag cars, is to either make holes in the rear bumper, or simply cut it away so there’s less of it, as a big rear bumper often works like a giant parachute at speed, creating a lot of aerodynamic drag.