I hear a lot of people wanting to increase the horsepower in their vehicle, and I hear a lot of misconceptions about it too. The following should help you out a bit.


A performance air filter can get more air into the vehicle, and a high-flowing model is a good start. K&N is a popular brand. It is simple to install and you can expect a 5-10 HP gain (usually closer to 5), of course varying with your automobile. They usually cost about $70.


The exhaust system in most vehicles just doesn't allow enough air flow. A good thing to do is install a cat-back exhaust system. This will probably cost anywhere from $170 for a cheapie on up. This can add 10-20 HP to an engine.


Aftermarket headers can be placed on in place of stock headers. Headers start usually around $230 and go up. They are a very good investment and can add up to 20 HP. When selecting a set of headers go with the ones with a ceramic coating. Paint won't hold up.


Ignition systems can add power and increase gas mileage. I'm not sure of actual HP gains using a performance ignition but usually it is noticable. A good ignition usually starts at around $400 and goes up.


A computer chip upgrade for a vehicle can make a significant difference. However, you will probably want to modify other things and do the chip last. This way the chip will be programmed to utilize the mods you have. It wouldn't be good to add a chip and then make a lot of modifications unless you order a chip from a company that will let you send the chip back to be reprogrammed. These work by modifying the air/fuel ratio, idle speed, and spark timing of the vehicle. While you will probably be forced to run high-octane fuel afterwards, it is often a great investment. Chips start at around $170 and often can add 20 HP or more.


These work by reducing accessory drag. There are a few problems with these, one being that sometimes the alternator won't be able to charge the battery at idle. These can provide up to 15 HP , but I generally don't care for them.


This is often the best mod that you could make. These will usually provide around a 40-50% increase in power. They can add 100 HP or more to almost any engine. They both work by forcing air and fuel into your engine, although they work differently. The vehicle will need to be modified somewhat before putting these on. They normally cost about $3500 and go up from there. If you know a mechanic you can probably get a cheaper one.


A cheaper alternative to the supercharger is a Nitrous Oxide kit. It delivers high amounts of oxygen to the engine. A NOS kit will cost you around $500 and up. Traction must usually be worked on before adding a kit because the instant horsepower is hard on traction. Most kits provide about a 60-200 HP boost, but I've seen models that will provide around 350HP. Wow! I've seen cars take off 2 seconds in the quarter with a nitrous kit.

While many, many other things can be done, I feel these things are done pretty commonly and they will all help with boosting your HP. Figure horsepower gains to be on the lower end of what I have stated. The higher end is what you may see on a V8 350 or bigger engine.

The modifications listed in the above writeup are commonly known as "bolt-on" (i.e. they can be easily installed by attaching (bolting) it to some part of the car). However, hard-core performance enthusiasts sometimes try these non bolt-on mods. These are the mods that require super-high-octane fuel, and destroy your engine if you don't know what you are doing.

  • Increasing Compression Ratio
  • (This modification is not effective on engines with superchargers or turbochargers) The compression ratio measures how much the fuel-air charge is compressed before the piston reaches top dead center (TDC). It is expressed as a ratio in the form X:1. Car engines usually have compression ratios of about 8:1 to 10:1. The compression ratio can be increased by milling some metal from the engine head or switching to domed pistons. Increasing compression ratio increases fuel mileage as well as power, so it is especially desirable. However, increasing the compression ratio beyond 17:1 will actually reduce power and efficiency. Also, high compression ratios need a LOT of octane to prevent knock. Increasing the compression ratio from 9:1 to 17:1 will yield a power and efficiency boost of about 25-30%.

  • Optimizing Spark Timing
  • (DO NOT TRY THIS WITH A NITROUS OXIDE ENGINE!) When the fuel-air charge is ignited (in terms of piston position) is critical in determining whether an engine makes optimum power or not. If the charge is ignited too soon, some of the energy produced will fight the upward motion of the piston, stealing power. If the charge is ignited too late, the charge will become less compressed, which also steals power. However, the spark timing is not always optimum, because such a setting would increase the octane requirements. Retarding the ignition timing (making it ignite too early), creates a slight power loss, but the substantial decrease in octane requirements make it worthwhile to the manufacturer. However, if you have super-high-octane fuel, the octane concern becomes groundless. It can be difficult to determine the exact optimum spark timing, but once you do, the timing can be adjusted in the distributor using special tools. If the timing was way off, optimizing it can gain you about 10% horsepower and efficiency (like compression ratio, optimizing spark timing increases efficiency as well as power.)

  • Performance Camshafts
  • (Not recommended for engines with turbochargers) This modification is unlike the other two. Instead of increasing the efficiency of the engine, which leads to more power, this mod shifts the torque curve, which can lead to more horsepower, albeit in a different RPM range. Since power is proportional to torque times speed, shifting the torque peak to a higher RPM (speed) range will produce more horsepower. However, the horsepower will only become usable at a high RPM level.

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