A Brief Introduction
So you want to modify your car, but there are so many options out there you’re having a hard time finding a good starting point? Well, you’ve come to the right place!
With so many different cars and parts on the market it can make deciding on one piece alone tough, and even confusing if you are not familiar with all the terminology.
In this blog post we are going to be breaking down the basic mod path for most modern turbocharged applications to help you get a better understanding, and more power out of your vehicle!
Freeing up some extra power is easier than you think, and can be done without changing out any parts on the vehicle! You guessed it, we are talking about ECU (Engine Control Unit) TUNING.
The easiest way to think of an ECU tune is like a coffee for your Monday morning. It will let you take full advantage of what the car comes equipped with from the factory! Most basic ECU tunes will offer a higher boost target than stock, with the fueling requests to support it. More air and more fuel all translate to more power! What about your engines well being? That is a great question, but nothing to be concerned about as long as you keep up on maintenance!
Since this is the first step to building a higher horsepower car it is commonly referred to as a stage 1 tune.
What’s the next step?
Once the ECU has been tuned and you have grown numb to the extra power you were once so enthralled with, it’s time to start thinking about the next step. This is where things start to get a little tricky. Our cars our supposed to be an extension of ourselves after all, so while you may be interested in more sound someone else may be interested in strictly power, or purely aesthetics.
For the sake of the blog let’s keep power as our main goal!
Replacing your vehicles DOWNPIPE (which commonly contains a catalytic converter) with a higher flowing unit is a great way to free up some additional power when paired with the proper ECU tuning!
On a turbocharged vehicle, the downpipe refers to the part of the exhaust system that connects the turbo exit to the catalytic converter. Factory downpipes can often be improved upon by using a larger diameter pipe with smoother bends, and a higher flowing catalytic converter.
A downpipe that offers additional exhaust flow which will help the turbo to spool up faster, and allow for some additional power out of the car at higher RPMs (when paired with the proper ECU tuning). Downpipes can also work as a 2-in-1, as they tend to offer a subtle sound change while continuing to add power to your vehicle.
Installing a downpipe and an updated ECU tune on your car is commonly referred to as stage 2.
But wait there’s more?
If you do not want to change your vehicles and emissions components, or have already done so it would like to keep the mod train going, replacing your vehicles INTAKE can also prove beneficial by removing restrictive plastic accordion couplers, and providing a more direct path for airflow.
A “cold air intake“ or a “short ram intake”, can allow your vehicle to breathe easier and put down some additional power. What’s the difference between a short ram intake and a cold air intake you may ask? Great question, and that’s why we’re here!
Cold air intakes commonly sit in your vehicles bumper, as far away from the engine itself as possible. This helps ensure that the air being sucked into the engine is at ambient temp, to prevent a rise in intake air temperatures.
A short ram intake commonly sits in your vehicles engine bay. These are the go to option when clearances are tight, or were you would like to get most of the benefits of a cold air intake at a lesser cost. While short ram intakes are more susceptible to heat soak due to their placement in the engine bay they can also add additional power – and may be your only option depending on the platform.
Neither setup is a bad option, but it’s always best to consider all routes before deciding!
Heating things up!
Once your car is capable of pulling more air in, and moving more out, the goal becomes making everything you have purchased so far as efficient as possible. We had touched on intake air temperatures above, and they are exactly what they sound like! The term refers to the temperature of the air as it passes by your vehicles IAT (intake air temp) sensor, and they play a bigger role than you may realize!
Your vehicles looks at the temperature of the passing air to calculate it’s air fuel mixture (or AFRs). Since cooler air is denser, that technically means there is more of it. The more air you have the better as that translates to more power!
And of course, cooling back down.
Now that you know all about IATs you need to help control them, how? Simple, with an upgraded INTERCOOLER!
An intercooler is a cooling element used on turbocharged and supercharged engines. What does it do? An intercooler cools the air compressed by the turbo or supercharger, reducing the temperature, and increasing the density of the air! A larger intercooler provides more surface area for the air moving over it to dissipate the heat.
Many intercooler designs may appear the same. However, effectiveness of the system and performance are greatly determined by several key features. The metals used to construct it, end tank design, construction type, the style of the metal fins, the density of the fins, and dimensions must all be taken into account when manufacturing an aftermarket intercooler.
While the factory intercooler is designed to be light weight, cheap and easy to manufacturer, and fit as many cars as possible; when you start to go beyond factory power levels these pieces will not cut it.
Where to go from there?
Once you have done all of the above, you end up with a vehicle that is commonly referred to as one with “full bolt ons”. This means that all the basics have been replaced and the mods required to get more power out of the car become more involved.
To continue to make power on a vehicle that is full bolt on, you essentially need to replace the turbocharger. A larger turbo will allow the vehicle to drive more air into the intake tract which creates the potential for more
With more air becomes the need for more fuel, and with more air comes higher cylinder pressures. It is not uncommon for vehicle owners going with a larger turbo to upgrade to forged internals to keep things safe and reliable.
Curious what a stage 3 build looks like? Check out our blog post HERE from a little while back featuring Walter’s MK7 Golf R!