5 Ways to Increase Your Car’s Horsepower
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A red Dodge Challenger with its hood open in a high-performance tuning center.

5 Ways to Increase Your Car’s Horsepower

Although downsizing and efficiency are now the trend in car engines, they’re becoming more powerful, even when working with lower displacement or fewer cylinders. Engines that we used to frown upon just a few years back are now churning out 300+ horsepower in small 4-cylinder guises and rivalling big V6s and V8s that we’ve come to love. So, what do car makers implement to bump up horsepower figures, and can you do it too?

Regardless of what car you drive, all cars can be tuned for more push and shove. Yes, you’ll be sacrificing a little longevity, and need to carefully pair parts for the best results, but the right car performance parts can completely transform anything on four wheels. Additions bring in faster acceleration, better throttle response, improved sound, and something more engaging and fun to drive.

To help you get there, here’s a short list of aftermarket parts to consider if you’re after power and torque:

Aftermarket Air Intakes

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Engines produce power by burning an air and fuel mixture. This needs to be in the right ratios (around 15 to 1), and air sufficiently dense and cool for increased efficiency. Factory intakes do an adequate job but are limited by space and placement, and the fact they forego any heat shielding, leaving air exposed to hot nearby parts. Cold air intakes reroute the tubing that leads to throttle bodies and carbs, scooping cooler air lower down and to the front of the bumpers while using heat shields to maintain oxygen levels. They also adjust air volumes and deliver it at optimised angles.

Complete intake systems are complemented with bigger air boxes, beefier air filters to remove more contaminants, and upgraded plumbing. The end result is up to 80 per cent denser and oxygen-rich air, 20 per cent increases in torque and horsepower and crisper throttle response. A deep, gurgling engine sound is a nice by-product.

Revised Exhausts

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Air coming in means air going out. Pair better intakes with wider exhaust tubing with fewer airflow restrictions. And improved heat-treated metal that can withstand higher temperatures and increased pressure on the exhaust pipe walls. Aftermarket exhausts generally go half an inch wider than stock systems, letting spent gases exit the tips faster and helping engines with improved combustion cycles. This produces more low-end torque, meaning a livelier car, better acceleration, and endless ways to fine-tune the exhaust sound.

Go with parts and configurations (axle-back, cat-back or header/turbo-back) that best suit your budget and power needs, and with established brands that have done real-world testing (many have racing affiliations), using advanced production processes and don’t skimp on materials or quality.

Get an ECU tune

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If you’ve come this far, the engine will need a reprogrammed ECU to handle the changes to air ratios, fuelling and timing. This is to ensure that additions are balanced and produce the best results without overstressing engine internals or drastically increasing fuel use. ECU tunes hook up your car’s OBDII port (under the dash or steering wheel) and use revised software to monitor and control vital engine and vehicle parameters. The whole process takes a few minutes and calibrates parts additions. The process can also be carried out on unmodified cars, bumping up factory power and torque numbers.

Fuelling, Timing and Ignition Upgrades

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Increases in air justify more fuel. This is done with high-flow fuel injectors able to spurt high-pressure spray at the right time for ideal combustion cycles. Upgrades here will also involve a more capable fuel pump, and braided fuel lines to deal with volume and pressure increases and prevent possible leaks.

How air and fuel are combusted largely depends on the camshaft. This opens and closes the inlet and exhaust valves in sync with power cycles in the combustion chamber for improved timing. Aftermarket cams have improved lobe designs that better handle abrupt changes in engine speeds. They can also help increase redlines and improve power spread according to needs. Bigger engines can do with more high-end power to pair with low-end torque, while smaller displacement and turbocharged cars benefit from more torque lower down for better pulling power from a standstill.

Here, you’ll also want higher-rated spark plugs to muster more of the ignition coil power and generate bigger bangs. Iridium or platinum plugs are more in tune with the heat generated in high-intensity sparks, leading to better burns and will outlast factory plugs. They’re also some of the cheaper upgrades, and worth every cent. If there’s left over cash, also consider upgrading ignition coils.

Other Options

White car undergoing a dyno test at a performance center.
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The upgrades above should provide major power gains without breaking the bank. Parts should be make, model and engine specific (go with VIN) for the best balance of performance and longevity, and rule out any issues major changes bring. You can stop here, or go full-out, essentially doubling available power. Think of internal upgrades, with forged pistons and connecting rods in the right bore and stroke sizes, and heat-treated cranks to get power to the wheels. Or push even more air in by changing stock turbines with larger capacity and faster spooling units, or by bolting on a supercharger. To monitor boost levels (and keep the engine from imploding) also add pillar-mounted boost gauges.

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