So you've got a nice ride that's got plenty of power and handles well, but you could always squeeze a little more performance out of it, right?
You may not be up to the task of installing headers or a fatter cam on a late-model vehicle, and that's perfectly understandable. Here are some bolt-on performance modifications you can do to enhance your ride.
The internal combustion engine runs on air, fuel, and spark, of course. Any time you can up the game on any of those, you can squeeze a little more power and response out of that engine. Cold air is denser than ambient air and helps deliver more volumetric efficiency to the engine's combustion chambers. It's the same concept as a shaker hood scoop on a '60s muscle car. A cold-air intake will duct more air into the engine and, coupled with a permanent low-restriction air filter, will help the engine's breathing immensely. If you're not up to the task of installing a cold-air induction system, even just a less-restrictive air filter can be a help. Newer air filter designs offer filtration that can stop even the tiniest particulates from making their way into your engine's fuel system, while enhancing air flow. Best news about that is that it's a matter of locating the air filter box, undoing a couple of snaps, dropping the new filter in, closing the box again, shutting the hood and going on your way!
The exhaust is a critical part of the air/fuel/spark equation, and a less-restrictive, freer-flowing exhaust can make a big difference in performance. You can elect to go with anything from an aftermarket muffler from Flowmaster or Borla to a "cat-back" system and dual exhaust, replacing everything from the catalytic converter on back for less back pressure and easier breathing. Just bear in mind that the difficulty and expense of an aftermarket exhaust will vary a lot from one make/model to another, and that an aftermarket exhaust may negate a factory warranty.
This is another area where you want to be careful, since radical modifications can throw off your suspension and steering geometry to a point where you'll have a pretty squirrely vehicle. Still, depending on what you drive, entire suspension kits are available, pre-engineered for your ride. An upgrade of shock absorbers, springs, struts, bushings, and other parts can significantly tighten up your vehicle's handling properties, responsiveness, and road manners without too much of a sacrifice in ride quality.
If it goes fast, it needs to stop fast, too. Performance-brake upgrades can include hard ceramic brake pads, slotted or drilled rotors for better ventilation and less brake fade, braided steel brake lines that can deliver more hydraulic pressure to the calipers, and wheel cylinders or even oversize rotors that can slow you down quicker.
This one's a bit of a misnomer—it's not really a matter of installing a chip into the computer's circuits. Instead, it's a reprogramming of the engine computer to tweak fuel delivery, timing, transmission shift points, and other performance parameters. These setups are especially popular on diesels, with kits that can actually change these factors on the fly. The good news is that, while tweaking the computer can invalidate a warranty (careful!), it's not hard at all to reset everything back to factory spec again.
Charles Cimino shows us how to install a performance air intake system and tuner in this short video: