There’s nothing wrong with holding on to an old car, racking up miles on the odometer and forming a connection with it. After a few thousand miles, though, no one would blame you if you felt like you wanted something more — more power, better handling, a smoother ride. That doesn’t mean you need to trade up. No, you’ve spent too much time breaking in the groove in the driver’s seat, and you’ve adjusted it enough times to get it right where you want it. Save the cash and save yourself the separation anxiety, and refresh your old ride with a few upgrades that are affordable and, in some cases, easy enough to install in your own garage with standard tools.
If you want your car to handle better, the place to start is a good set of tires. Power and performance are good, but if you don’t have the grip from quality rubber to translate that to the road, it’s all for nothing.
New Spark Plugs
Spark plugs can be easy to overlook, but new, better spark plugs are an easy, affordable swap that can make all the difference. The better the quality of the spark, the better combustion, which translates to more power and better fuel economy. (Here’s a complete rundown on how to check them.)
Engine Control Unit (ECU) Flash
The ECU in your car is set up from the factory to control the fuel-air mixture in the engine, which maximizes efficiency and power. Problem is, manufacturers program the ECU’s parameters well below the car’s capability — as a safety net. A quick reprogramming can unlock aaaall sorts of engine performance and, in some instances, return better gas mileage.
Install a Cold-Air Intake
The better your car breathes, the better it runs. A cold-air intake not only frees up the air flow to your engine, it also feeds it cooler, more condensed air, which engines love.
Bolt In a High-Flow Exhaust
The exhaust may be the… erm… wastegate of your cars respiratory system, but a free-flowing exhaust relieves pressure on the engine and can return a little bump in horsepower as well. Better sound is just a welcome side effect.
Replace Your Bushings
Replacing bushings may be a little bit more involved, but you’ll be glad you did it. Between the suspension and the frame and the chassis and the engine, factory rubber bushings help kill vibrations throughout your car. The problem with rubber bushings is that they wear out and crack over time. Polyurethane bushings not only last longer than standard rubber counterparts, but they also do a better job of quelling vibrations and minimizing weight transfer.
Install a Sway Bar
If your car leans too much through turns, all that weight transfer and body roll will kill your handling. Sway bars help keep that in check by connecting the right-side wheels with the left-side wheels, helping the car corner flat. All the once-wasted kinetic energy is focused back into getting the car around the turn more efficiently.
Good: Hotchkis $257+
Install a Short Shifter
Short shifters are a pure performance add-on. They minimize the distance the shifter has to travel and thus the time it takes to select the next gear. That said, when you can quickly click through the gears, your car will feel that much better when you’re carving up a canyon road.