It’s the rallying cry of all gearheads, whether you secretly wish you were Brian O’Connor when passing cars in your Mitsubishi Eclipse or Cole Trickle when tossing your 1984 Camaro around town.
In making this list of cheap ways to increase horsepower, we focused on what most mechanically inclined people with a free weekend, an open garage and a few hundred quid can perform.
Most budding gearheads start here when looking to increase horsepower. Upgrading to a cold-air intake is relatively simple and can provide a noticeable horsepower boost.
A car engine is essentially an air pump. The more air it takes in, the more power it can put out. Cold-air intakes don’t have the sharp bends and restrictive air passages that characterise some stock intakes. Abrupt transitions and sharp edges in the intake create turbulence, which causes horsepower loss.
Increased airflow triggers the engine’s computer to add more fuel to the fuel/air mix. More fuel/air equals more horsepower. Cold-air intakes also (as the name implies) draw cooler air from outside the car engine compartment. Cooler air is denser, again resulting in the computer increasing the amount of fuel, helping the engine increase horsepower.
More air going in naturally means more air needs to exit the engine. While many stock exhaust systems can handle the increased volume of air generated by a cold-air intake, to achieve maximum horsepower you should consider upgrading to a performance (cat-back) exhaust or high-flow catalytic converter - especially if you’ve already modified your car engine to increase horsepower.
A performance exhaust comprises everything installed after the catalytic converter, including the resonator, exhaust piping and muffler. Performance exhausts are typically designed with larger-diameter parts compared to the stock exhaust, allowing greater airflow. Since performance exhausts include everything after the catalytic converter, you don’t run the risk of disrupting your vehicle’s emissions system by messing around with the catalytic converter.
Even so, a stock catalytic converter can restrict airflow and reduce horsepower, making it a prime target for an upgrade. A high-flow catalytic converter features larger openings on either end, increasing airflow and thus increasing horsepower.
Sometimes called “performance chips,” performance tuners plug into the diagnostic port. They modify the fuel and timing maps to increase car engine performance, typically at the expense of fuel economy. Some performance chips can improve fuel economy, though.
Performance chips are especially popular among diesel owners. They’re about the simplest cheap way to increase horsepower available on the market.
If your car engine is equipped with a turbocharger or supercharger, it will have been factory-set to deliver a certain amount of boost, measured in psi. Installing an engine boost controller allows you to adjust the boost level produced in the intake manifold, potentially causing an increase in horsepower. It’s a good idea to install a boost gauge as well so you don’t overdo it. A good rule of thumb is to limit the boost increase to 15-20% more than the factory setting.
Bear in mind that increasing boost too much will cause engine damage. Do your research, be careful and consider reaching out to a professional for guidance.
All this added horsepower and heat is likely to cause engine wear and harmful deposits if your engine oil isn’t up to the challenge. Upgrade to synthetic engine oil. While you’re at it, upgrade to synthetic lubricants throughout your vehicle. Synthetic oil offers improved engine wear protection and resistance to heat. They also increase horsepower due to their superior ability to reduce friction compared to conventional lubricants. Less friction helps increase horsepower to the ground.
One final word of advice: performing numbers 1-4 on this list can void your car warranty, so check your vehicle owner’s manual and proceed with caution.
Thankfully, your ‘84 Camaro is out of warranty, so happy wrenching.