Revving up a car’s capacity

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Supercharger and engine detail on a custom-built hot-rod

If car’s performance seems to be getting worse, an owner should not feel helpless, nor should he or she think about replacing the vehicle pronto. There are numerous remedies to a car’s subpar performance, and they’re not necessarily costly. Here are some of them.

Try using a supercharger. “A supercharger pressurizes air intake to above the normal atmospheric level so that more air can go into the engine, thus combining it with more fuel to produce more power,” Brian Boone, of HowStuffWorks, an American educational website, explains.

A supercharger, which is powered via a belt or chain from the crankshaft spins faster than a car’s engine — at least 50,000 revolutions per minute (RPM) — so that it can force air into the combustion chamber, allowing fuel to occupy more space and thus creating a larger combustion.

“How much more energy is produced? Nearly 50 percent more horsepower, if everything is installed correctly,” Mr. Boone says, adding that if a supercharger is attached to a normal sized car, the car will start behaving like a much larger and more powerful vehicle.

Mr. Boone also recommends purchasing aftermarket air filters for a more efficient use of the air/fuel combination, and to block contaminants and impurities that slowly degrade performance over time. “Secondary air filters are generally made up of a thin layer of cotton or other material housed between several layers of impurity-catching thin mesh,” he says.

Aftermarket air filters that are of high quality drop into the engine’s air box — “and that’s about it for installation,” Mr. Boone says, unlike the ones that come from the factory, which are standard and paper-based.

Modifying the exhaust system can do wonders for a car’s performance. According to Daniel Matthews, in his article for Lifehack, another informative Web site, exhaust modification means turning a car’s engine into a more efficient air pump by improving input and output.

“A cat-back exhaust is the overall modification system that gets you better acceleration and fuel economy,” Mr. Matthews says. “Mid pipes carry exhaust between the catalytic converter and rear muffler, and upgrading them increases exhaust flow.

To improve handling in particular, one should seek strut tower braces or strut bars. These accessories, Mr. Matthews says, work by giving the car better balance by reinforcing the frame.

“The bar connects your left and right strut towers. With one on, you can make turns at faster speeds without stressing the frame as much as you would without one. This also helps your car’s handling for speed bumps and bumpy roads,” he explains.

It may seem trivial, Mr. Boone notes, but the air’s temperature can, in fact, influence a car’s efficiency. “Normally, a car regulates the temperature of air as it enters the engine, providing warm air when the engine is cold, and cold air when the engine is warm,” he says.

By using cold air intake kits, which bring cool air into the internal combustion engine, can improve performance and efficiency, because colder air is denser than warm air, “which means that it contains more of that necessary oxygen for a more dynamic combustion in the engine,” Mr. Boone says.

Many new cars have an onboard computer that, in the words of Mr. Boone, is “running the show,” controlling functions like the timing and the fuel-to-air ratio. “Performance chips (or superchips) are ‘hacks’ that can be installed to override factory settings, and they’re most attractive to gearheads since they can increase the power of the engine and horsepower,” he says.

The chips set new parameters for the functions; one may command the car engine to use gas a bit more efficiently or to take in more air for bigger combustion. Another plus is that they are easy to install — remove the factory chip and plug in the new one, “just like plugging in a chip in a desktop computer,” Mr. Boone says.

Get better tires, Merton Auto Body, a US-based auto repair shop, recommends. “Ask anyone who knows about cars what your first performance upgrade should be, and they’ll probably say tires,” the shop says.

“Grippier tires help your car accelerate, brake, and turn. Low rolling resistance tires [LRR] are easier to spin, saving on gas, and modern designs don’t have the huge performance penalty that early LRR tires had,” the shop says, adding that one must do a research to find the best set for one’s tire needs.

Remove excessive weight from the car. “Lightweight things move faster than heavier things — that’s as basic as physics can get. This solution is simultaneously low-tech and work intensive, in that it involves switching out heavier parts of the car (throughout the car, not just in the engine block) with lighter parts so as to make the car lighter and more aerodynamic,” Mr. Boone says.

He suggests the following steps: get rid of extra seats, replace glass windows with lighter plastic or acrylic versions, and use disc brakes, which are lighter than traditional breaks.

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