Tuning a favourite set of wheels is a pastime, or even a lifestyle, for thousands of young Canadians.
Using performance products to enhance that truck, wagon or sport-compact can be very rewarding — or a total waste of the aspiring tuner’s hard-earned cash — depending on the level of knowledge at hand.
Your writer was an aspiring tuner not so long ago. Like most, I’ve wasted a pile of cash on stuff that offered little return on my investment. Over the years, I learned from building, racing, lapping and fixing my ride, and others, about several realities that could’ve saved me money along the way.
Here’s a closer look.
High octane gas
If your car requires 87 octane and you feed it pricier 91 or 94 octane hoping for some performance benefit, you’re wasting about 15 cents a litre. Higher octane fuel has no additional energy in it — so it won’t make your stock Honda Civic or Subaru Impreza a spec more powerful, even with an intake or exhaust. Unless you’re driving a high-performance car that’s factory-engineered to run high-test fuel, save your money.
Slotted and cross-drilled brake rotors or ‘track’ brake pads are designed to maintain consistent stopping performance when exposed to the high levels of heat generated by driving on a racetrack. Driving on the street doesn’t generate these levels of heat. So, on a car driven exclusively on the road, fancy brake parts are more of a cosmetic upgrade. Some ‘track pads’ offer limited performance until they’re hot — meaning that on the street, your stopping power could suffer if you use them.
Expensive synthetic oil
Synthetic oil offers protection designed for high-performance, track-going Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Even if you often redline first and second gear on the street, your engine won’t generate enough sustained heat to break down conventional oil — let alone synthetic. So it typically amounts to overkill for the majority of drivers. There are other benefits of synthetic oil though, so do your homework and make sure you’re not wasting your money.
As a general rule, avoid chips, modules, spark-plugs or pour-in-tank products sold at department stores and auto centres that say things like “+15 horsepower” on the package. These are typically bogus and targeted towards a shopper with extremely limited knowledge.
Be weary of ‘cheap’ exhaust headers, downpipes, mufflers and other parts. Skimping on things attached to your engine is a bad idea — especially when it comes to exhaust parts. Low quality knock-off pieces often leak, crack, split and cause major headaches. Plus they’re often time consuming to remove and reinstall. So, seek high-quality parts — and save yourself the headache.