10 Car Performance Upgrades You Can Do for Under $500

Every real car guy knows that there is a way to improve their car. Individualizing your ride helps set you apart and can add performance where engineers from the factory had to make compromises. Even manufacturers of high-performance cars have to make compromises to make them more appealing to a wider audience.


Since most of us can’t afford the pinnacle of automotive engineering, the best bet is to make improvements where the engineers couldn’t. We decided to help our readers out by compiling a list of performance upgrades that you can do to your car on the cheap.

Here are some of your options:


1. Get Driver Instruction

Professional driving instruction is by far the biggest upgrade you can do to make your car go faster. Most cars, from the factory, are considerably faster at the limit than their drivers can ever take them too. Going to a track day and hiring a professional driving instructor to ride along with you as a coach will not only help you in a multitude of ways. Correcting your driving line, balancing your car, and helping you improve your posture and wheel control are all critical to getting the ten-tenths out of your ride.


2. Remove Weight From Your Car

This is by far the easiest and cheapest upgrade you can do to your car. The weight is already there, so just strip it out. The lighter your car is, the faster everything will work. They say for every 100 lbs (45 kg) you shave off of your car you cut 0.01 seconds off your 0-60 mph (100 km/h) time. It will also improve handling and, quite literally, everything else about your car because you have less weight to tote around. The best part about it is that it is all free!

3. Increase Tire Size & Compound

Increasing tire size (width) can drastically change how your car handles around turns because it inherently has more mechanical grip. However, this must be balanced with the power of your car. If you go too big, then the tires will overpower your engine and will slow your vehicle down. That is where a change in tire compound would aid lesser horsepower cars. With a change in tire compound, more of the power being sent to the wheels will be translated into forward momentum. Plus, it will also assist in handling by offering better grip.

4. Lightweight Wheels

Rotating mass equals an energy sap on cars. With anything spinning the lighter, it is the less the engine has to work to move it before that power gets to your wheels. Switching your stock wheels to a lighter setup will not only make it easier for your motor to move them but will also reduce unsprung mass. That means you will maintain better traction over bumps and rises; essential for sporty driving.

5. Short-Throw Gear Shifter

You see it in car movies all the time, actors who are rapidly shifting their cars as fast as possible. While violent gear changes are not conducive to fast lap times, and will probably make you grind a gear, decreasing that shift can help. That is where a short-throw gear shifter can assist you. A quality setup can quickly take a stock throw from 1st gear to 2nd gear and reduce the time required to complete it by 20% or more! The faster you switch gears, the less RPM you lose, and the longer you stay in the powerband to win that race – simple.

6. ECU Tune

Even performance cars come from the factory with an ECU tune that is less than racey. Fuel economy figures have to be met, and not everyone is an aspiring race car driver like us. That means that there is easy room for improvement in the timing of your car’s ignition and exhaust system.

7. Cold Air Intake

You’ve heard the claims “20 horsepower, bro.” While we can’t confirm that you will see numbers that big more direct the air is coming into the air intake will allow for denser air into the engine – that increases power. A big proponent of this is making sure that you properly shield the intake (given the car) from the rest of the engine. Having an intake that is exposed to heat will expose your engine to hot air, which reduces power.

8. Sport Seats

A good race car has a bucket seat that holds the driver. The reasoning is simple: the less you slide around, the more you can work on going fast. Racing seats in your car are no different. Being exposed to less G-force movement will only help you manipulate the steering wheel and gear lever easier. Another benefit of most sports seats is that they weigh less than standard seats so that you may increase performance there too! Talk about two birds with one stone.

9. Anti-Sway Bars

It is highly likely that your car is equipped with anti-sway bars that are not only smaller in diameter than they need to be for performance driving but also non-adjustable. Anti-sway bars help counteract the roll of a car, so improving the diameter can contribute to control that roll and keep your tires contacting the surface. Less body roll equals more traction, more confidence, and more speed. Buying adjustable bars allows you to perfect the understeer and oversteer of your ride, further tuning your control.

10. Aftermarket Brake Pads, Lines, & Fluids

No matter how fast your car can go, you ultimately want to stop. Improving brake pads help slow your roll and on the track will be essential to continually providing you with confidence that you won’t hit a barricade. Lines are important to this component because they will continue to provide strength (lines) being applied to the calipers. Fluid is critical because a high-grade fluid will be less likely to boil; resulting in a pedal going straight to the floor and you going straight into a wall.

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