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Aftermarket Upgrades for More Horsepower


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The more time I spent behind the counter, the more I noticed the diversity of customers coming into the store from one day to the next. My theory is that cars are a uniting force in our world. Put simply, they may be the one thing we all share in common. To some of us, cars are simply a way to “get from point A to point B.” Then there are the enthusiasts who look at their car not only as transportation, but also as an extension of their passions, and sometimes, their personalities.

I’d say that I fall into the second category. I love cars for a number of reasons. The snarling sound of a European V-8 compared to the rumble of an American V-8 – both are music to my ears! I also tend to make at least some sort of modification to every vehicle I own. It may not be a big upgrade, but something to either add a bit of my own style, or a touch of added convenience.

I’m not the type of person who is only interested in horsepower, but I know when a car feels like it’s lacking in that department. However, there are customers out there who want to boost horsepower as much as possible, and they’re willing to shell out some serious cash to make it happen! It’s probably safe to say that you’ve had at least one experience with a customer who is looking to boost their car’s horsepower, even just a little bit.

Let’s take a look at what sort of parts this type of customer could be interested in, and what you can do to make the sale.

Air Intake

High-flow performance filters are a common upgrade. These filters come in a variety of colors. The color is from a dyed oil that’s soaked into the element. The elements typically are a cotton weave, held in place by a wire mesh. The weave is looser than a standard paper air filter, which allows a greater volume of air to pass through. Since the loose weave can’t filter out the smaller particles, it’s soaked in oil, and the particles will, in turn, stick to the oil. Dye is used in the oil so there’s an easily noticeable contrast between the oil and the element, allowing you to ensure that all areas are saturated.

These types of filters can flow more air, and drivers may be able to feel a small change in performance. But they do require regular cleaning and re-oiling to maintain their level of performance. You can be confident about selling them and touting the increased flow, but I do warn people that when they clean and oil them, be sure to heed the instructions, and don’t over-oil them. There always have been “rumors” of these types of filters damaging mass airflow sensors, but they’re largely unfounded, and over-oiling them is the only thing that could possibly contribute to this.

At the higher end, the customer may choose to install a new intake system. An intake system swaps out the factory air box for a heat shield, or a redesigned air box for better air flow.

Power-Adders

This next category steps things up a notch. Power-adders are upgrades that are designed to add horsepower, or possibly free up ponies that are being lost along the way.

Thanks to the widespread use of turbocharging in modern-day engines, there are plenty of tuning possibilities with these forced-induction engines. Bigger, more efficient intercoolers will help to keep those intake-air temps low. Cooler intake air is denser air, and this means better power and efficiency.

There are plenty of opportunities to maximize airflow and efficiency in a turbocharged application. Small gains can be seen by upgrading the charge pipes that carry the charge air from the turbocharger to the intercooler, then from the intercooler to the intake manifold. The small, restrictive stock turbo inlet pipe can be swapped out for an upgraded cast aluminum for better air flow. These may be small gains, but they will start to add up. For the best possible power gains, they may want to consider having the ECU tuned by an aftermarket tuner.

High-End Upgrades or Retrofits

Our final category comes in at the highest price point, but some of them can bring tremendous power gains.

The exhaust system is responsible for carrying away exhaust gases after combustion. The real problem – at least in a car enthusiast’s eyes – is that stock exhausts are quiet. An upgraded downpipe can make a huge sound difference on a turbocharged engine. Aftermarket headers can have a similar effect on naturally aspirated engines. And a cat-back exhaust system (from the catalytic converter back) can benefit any vehicle with a livelier exhaust note. But it’s wise to urge your customers to always adhere to local ordinances and emissions regulations.

We already talked about modern engines that are turbocharged from the factory, but what if their vehicle isn’t turbocharged? Well, it’s possible, of course, to retrofit a turbocharger or supercharger onto a naturally aspirated engine, but that brings a whole new level of complication and cost.

And let’s not forget our customers with supercharged engines, such as the Pontiac Grand Prix GTP, Audi S4 and Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG. There are a number of vehicles out there with supercharged engines. One of the easiest ways to gain power in these applications would be by installing a new supercharger pulley. This smaller-diameter pulley causes the supercharger to spin faster, increasing the amount of boost it can generate. After this, the crankshaft pulley can be replaced with a larger one, increasing the amount of overdrive to the supercharger. Speaking from experience, with both of these pulleys and the required ECU tune on a 2013 Audi S4, the difference is night and day! The car went from being quick to snapping your head back into the headrest.

These are just a few examples of upgrades that can be used to boost horsepower. I would urge you to spend some time looking through your catalogs and familiarizing yourself with the offerings inside. Chances are you’ll have an opportunity to sell upgraded parts to a customer soon!

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