Beginners’ Guide to Car Tuning

There is no doubt that tuning your car can dramatically improve not only its looks but also its capabilities and performance. There are loads of opinions when it comes to how best to tune your car, but it is important to remember that although this advice is often well-meaning, it is also biased and often limited with regards to expertise in the field.

In this article, Matt from AusBody Works, who specialises in custom made body kits, shared some helpful insights to give us an overview of car tuning. This beginners’ guide to car tuning is beneficial in order for you to determine the best ways to tune your ride, as well as to save you wasting precious time and money. 

What sort of car are you aiming for with regards to the tune?

It is really important to visualize the end result of your car tune. Whether you want an aggressive appearance for your sports car in addition to better handling and speed or a fully-primed race car (whether road, drag or autocross) that is able to compete against the top contenders in competitions around the country, all tuning options are carried out differently right from the beginning of the process.

Keeping this in mind, try to avoid the urge to make modifications to your car simply because they look awesome on your mate’s car, or because you’ve been advised that particular mods are “absolute must-haves”. You don’t want to realize later down the track that you, in fact, want to take the tune in another direction and end up having to take apart the modifications that were installed in the beginning. Even worse than this is where you find yourself in the frustrating and disappointing situation of being unable to progress with a tune that is more aggressive, due to the changes you made earlier on.

What sort of modifications are you after, bolt-on or permanent?

It is important to contemplate whether the modifications you will make to your car will be permanent or whether you would prefer to have the option to remove them down the track (i.e. bolt-on modifications). Bolt-on mods may save you voiding your car’s warranty, not to mention saving you potential difficulty selling your car in the future. There are mountains of options when it comes to aftermarket bolt-on parts – including exhaust systems and equal/unequal length headers, and you are likely to fare well with similar modifications.

However, it’s important to understand that if you are chasing a certain level of performance (e.g. in the case of track preparation and racing), you may, in fact, need to make permanent modifications to your car.

What is the condition of your platform?

If you are going to go ahead and tune a car, you should only do so if it’s in good condition. A car that has issues such as a ramshackle suspension system or a degenerating engine means it may not be able to cope with and benefit from the increase in horsepower as a result of modifications made to it. It is important you fully repair as well as service your car before you begin tuning it. This may involve the replacement of certain parts.

In addition, you want to ensure your car is a suitable platform for your tuning preferences (i.e. a Hyundai Accent is not going to work if you are looking to create a fire-breather of a race car). If you are looking to improve your car’s performance to a competitive level, you are best off beginning with a platform that is designed for high performance.

Will your tuned car be suitable for real-world driving?

If you tow your tuned vehicle to and from track circuits or racing venues on/in a trailer, you needn’t worry about its suitability for real-world driving. On the other hand, considering how your car will manage in real-world driving scenarios is necessary if you plan to drive on everyday streets and roads. These considerations may include the positioning of a front chin spoiler, which may look great, but be subject to scraping when driven over obstacles such as speed bumps.

What sort of tune shall you require?

Before you can go ahead and begin tuning your car, you need to decide its intended use i.e. as a track or race car, or for everyday use as a street or daily driver vehicle.

Street Car/Daily Driver Tune

The majority of car enthusiasts form part of this category – they wish to improve the looks, handling and horsepower/torque of their cars, but in accordance with legal limits, in order for their cars to be suitable as daily drivers.

If this sounds like you, let us give you some pointers:

a)   Suspension: Purchasing a set of aftermarket lowering springs can enable you to improve the handling of your car (thanks to increased spring rates), while still maintaining its ride quality and allowing you to achieve a lower ride height.

b)  Make the engine breathe better: Via feeding it more air and aiding faster elimination of exhaust gases, short ram or cold air intake system can assist your car’s powertrain to deliver a whole lot more output. Though more expensive, a cold air intake system features longer piping and as a result, delivers substantially more power than a short ram air intake system (which features shorter piping). To assist your engine to breathe better, you may also wish to consider an aftermarket catted exhaust system (to abide by smog laws).

c)   Wheels and Tyres: By swapping to alloy wheels, your suspension system is not required to work so hard to keep stock alloys planted on the ground. This results in a more responsive suspension system and better handling. Additionally, in order to benefit from improved cornering agility and control, you should also invest in wider tyres, allowing more road grip.

d)  Brakes: You can’t go wrong when it comes to enhancing your brakes – swapping your stock brakes for performance-oriented brakes means you can lift your car’s performance to the next level. More stopping power means you can feel increased confidence when pushing your car to its limits.

e)  ECU remapping: If you fail to consider a proper ECU remap by a reputable tuner, you will find yourself unable to fully utilize the output gains offered as a result of the different mods you’ve put in place. ECU remapping is certainly one of the simplest and most practical ways to improve the performance of your car.

Track/Race Car Tune

Without a doubt, tuning a track car or race car is considerably more expensive (and aggressive) compared to tuning a daily driver. If this sounds like you, you are fully committed to achieving a high level of performance necessary for serious racing and therefore are prepared to go all-out when it comes to selecting and installing the relevant mods.

a)   Wheels and Tyres: Choosing the right wheels and tyres for your car comes down to the type of racing you shall be involved in. Drag racing shall require top-quality racing slicks at the rear and appropriate accompanying wheels. Road or autocross racing requires high-performance, top-grade tyres that can cope with more than 30 minutes of high-speed driving in a single race. You want to ensure you benefit from the car’s power and torque without constantly slipping on the road.

b)  Suspension: Dependent on the degree of performance you’re seeking, coilovers give you the opportunity to adjust ride height and are most suitable for track cars. Choose top-quality coilovers when preparing your vehicle for competition.

c)   Safety: Premium, race-oriented brakes are essential for track cars. Featuring larger diameters alongside high-quality materials, premium race-oriented brakes enhance the braking power and hence the safety of your car. The installation of a roll cage (in line with relevant standards) shall also be required, as well as purchasing a helmet, 4-/5- point safety harness and a fire extinguisher.

d)  Turbocharge/supercharge: Offering an increase in output of more than 40%, the installation of a high-quality supercharger or turbocharger can seriously improve the performance of your car.

e)  Nitrous oxide: Nitrous oxide injected into your engine results in explosive output, thanks to an increase in oxygen for combustion within your car’s engine (following the split of nitrous oxide into nitrogen and oxygen due to super-high temperatures).

Although the above suggestions are a great place to start when it comes to tuning your car, there are many other modifications you can implement in order to meet your performance preferences. It all depends on how much you want to spend and your objectives when it comes to your car’s performance.

Seek the Right Car Tuning Guidance

Where you are wanting to advance your understanding of all the details of car tuning, ensure you visit a reputable car tuning shop in your area and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Author: elli schmitt