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Simple performance upgrades for your car

Tom Vondrasek | 5th October 2022 | 9 minutes to read

This blog will appeal to all of us who would like our vehicle to be more than an urban taxi that travels from point A to B. It is for the enthusiast who would like their vehicle to have an edge and personality that reflects their passion.

  1. Overview
  2. Braking
  3. Filters
  4. Suspension
  5. Gauges

Overview

When watching a Supercars race you can’t help to get enthused and excited and want to be a racing car driver. Sadly, for most of us the lack of money, skill or both puts professional motorsport into the dreams and visions category. Watching todays gladiators in their brightly painted chariots, doing battle around tracks in Australia and New Zealand is an amazing spectacle. Throw in wildcards like rain or an on- track accident that brings out a safety car and the best laid strategy can be ruined in seconds.

The whole championship circus leads up to a race all drivers want to win and will elevate them onto a new level of hero status. Bathurst is the place steeped in tradition where myths and legends are created as well as tales of amazing victories and catastrophic failures. This Bathurst will be no different.

Back to reality. We can still slip a little bit of performance into our daily or weekend drives without spending a fortune. You can tie it in with routine maintenance events so while you might spend a little more you get a performance gain out of it. Sometimes it won’t be as much of a performance gain as an increase in reliability and strength.

These upgrades are designed for the spirited driver and not someone content to sit in stop start traffic. I have used specific brands in the examples. You are not restricted to these and can apply this to the brands of your choice.

Braking

I have split up braking into 3 categories. You can do it all in one hit or slowly replace items as required.

Brake fluid

Next time this comes up for a service, fully drain it and replace it with a high performance or even race brake fluid. You need to regularly replace brake fluid as it absorbs moisture from the air which reduces its effectiveness and corrosion fighting abilities.

Penrite offer a range of brake fluids from the basic to race spec and even a silicone. (See attached video) So if you use a DOT 3 upgrade to DOT 4, Dot 4 upgrade to 5.1. If you do track days, use a race brake fluid. Please use this as a guide and it will vary depending on your vehicle. Some modern vehicles may already be at a high level. Worth doing some homework on it before making any changes.

Brake pads

Bendix have a great range of brake pads from the Standard CT, Heavy Duty, Ultimate and Street Road and Track version. They also make specialist pads for SUV’s/4x4’s.

You can treat this the same way as Brake fluid. Upgrade to the next performance level when the time comes to change brake pads. There are racing brake pads available from certain suppliers. These are not recommended for street use. The reason being is a lot of them need heat to operate effectively. In a low speed, street environment this won’t happen. If you have a dedicated track car then putting race brake pads in it will help immensely.

Brake rotors

A lot of times brake rotors need to be changed when doing brake pads. Dba (Disc Brakes Australia) have a range of performance rotors that are grooved or their premium range which has slots and holes. These are there to create more efficient braking by helping dissipate moisture and gas build up. Especially when using the brakes hard. They are a quick and easy upgrade.

brake rotors and calipers

Image on left shows a standard Commodore front brake rotor and single piston brake caliper.

Image on the right is a Commodore HSV multi-piston caliper and performance DBA rotor. You can see the difference and this will be reflected in stopping distance.

When doing a performance upgrade ideally do the front wheels first as most of your braking is done by the front wheels. Then do the rear wheels.

Other brake upgrades

I will mention a couple of other brake upgrades you can look at that are more complex though well worth it.

  • Upgrading disc brake rotor size and brake calipers to multi-piston. This dramatically increases braking effectiveness though it involves a lot more planning and a bigger budget.
  • Changing rear drum brakes (if fitted) to disc brakes. Companies offer kits to do this work on lots of vehicles. Rear disc’s are a big improvement on drums.
  • If you have an old classic car with drum brakes on the front a disc brake upgrade is good insurance when driving in today’s traffic. Keep your old drums as the next owner may want to put it back to stock.

Filters

Engine air filter

Next time your engine air filter needs to be replaced, upgrade it with a K&N Performance Air Filter. They have been around for 50 years so it is a proven product. These bad boys are washable and reusable and that makes them environmentally friendly. They give increased airflow over a stock filter which makes it easier for your cars engine to suck in air. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and it is worth the time to fit one to your vehicle.

air filter
oil filter

Engine oil filter

Next time you do that engine oil change use a Ryco Syntec oil filter. These black in colour performance oil filters and can handle greater oil flow, higher oil pressures and trap more dirt. A good investment on any performance or hard working engine.

Suspension

Suspension bushes

Next time one of your suspension bushes needs replacing upgrade it to a Whiteline bush. Whiteline took over from Selbly’s suspension so have a range of bushes for vehicles from the 1960’s onwards. They do a polyurethane bush and this sits between rubber and metal joints as far as hardness goes. Hardness is measured in duro’s (durometer scale). The old style urethane bushes were all the same duro where the new ones now can vary depending where they are used.

Urethane bushes are the better performance option and Whiteline make some bushes in different duro’s for increased performance. If you want comfort, use the normal rubber bushes.

Sway bars and sway bar links

Whiteline also make a range of sway bars and sway bar links. Some of their sway bars are adjustable. You need to replace the sway bar D bush and sway bar link bushes now and again. Upgrading the bar for improved handling can be another option. Do some homework on this as changing a front or rear bar can change the vehicles handling. The bars are varying diameter’s and this translates to stiffness. The stiffer the bar the less the body roll in a corner which in turn places more load on the tyre.

sway bar links
sway bar bushes

Other suspension upgrades

I will mention a couple of other suspension upgrades you can look at that are more complex though well worth it.

  • Upgrading shocks and struts to a high performance version will also help handling and responsiveness.
  • Upgrading springs to a high performance version will also help handling and responsiveness. Especially on older vehicles.
  • Lowering (street or track) or increasing (off road) vehicle ride heights. This is a complex task depending on the amount of lift or drop you are looking at. You need to look at springs, shocks and struts and suspension travel to do this properly. Sometime your best bet is to look for a factory set up as all the engineering work has been done eg On a standard Commodore, use a setup run by a HSV Commodore. For 4x4’s there are many reputable lift kits available.

Suspension modifications are always a compromise between handling and passenger comfort. The joy is there is no need to trail blaze as most things have been done by someone before. The more radical you want to go the more homework you should do before spending money.

Gauges

Aftermarket gauges are extremely popular when monitoring the health and performance of your vehicle. Most factory gauges are not as exact or easy to read as an aftermarket gauge. Some items may only have a warning light or have no instant monitoring at all. There is a vast range of gauges available and I will go through some of them and their uses. If you have some basic wiring and handyman skills you can fit a gauge.

Tachometer

We have a range of Autometer Tachometer’s (Tacho’s) that are highly respected and have been used in competition for years. A tacho measures rpm or engine revolutions per minute and is vital to stop drivers over revving engines in the heat of the moment. You can get a shift light on them which makes it easy for a driver to know when to shift gears and a tattle tale to show you the maximum rpm used last time the engine was run. Normally mounted on a prominent, easy to see spot, they are a popular addition to any vehicle.

tacho cluster

Monitoring a turbocharged motor

Below is a list of gauges you can use to help monitor the health of a turbocharged engine. Turbo engines have become much more reliable though when pushed hard it is important to monitor their performance. We have a number of different brands including Red Arc, Turbosmart and Autometer.

boost vacuum gauge

Boost/vacuum gauge

Keeps an eye on pressure and vacuum being generated in the intake manifold. An easy way to spot pressure leaks or faulty pop off valve.

exhaust gas temp gauge

Exhaust gas temperature (EGT) gauge

It can be used to assist in engine tuning and monitor the health of a working engine. More important in diesel applications.

air fuel ratio gauge

Air fuel ratio (AFR) gauge

Lets you know if the engine is running to rich or worse, too lean. Comes in wideband which uses a supplied sensor that needs to be installed and in narrowband which uses your factory oxygen sensor.

air fuel ratio gauge

Oil temperature gauge

Keeps an eye on oil temperature as this lubricates and helps cool the turbo.


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