We live in an age of wonders. Technology surrounds our lives, enriching us, educating us, and most importantly, making our slow cars faster. With a simple modification or two, we get instant performance. But not every mod works, and some parts that say they’ll improve your performance actually harm it. We care about you, and we only want the best for you. So it’s time to have a talk about bogus mods. Here are a few worthless “upgrades.” Just say no.
The Electric Supercharger
We know where this one probably originated. Some enterprising jamoke saw a video of a leaf blower supercharging a car on a dyno, and they thought, “Let’s put a PC cooling fan in an intake tube and tell everyone it’s the same thing.” And the electric supercharger was born.
This little bundle of plastic nonsense, usually available on Ebay, claims to work just like a real supercharger, forcing more air into your engine, and granting you more power, like some kind of nitrous-addled fairy godmother. In theory, this should work. The more air you can force into your engine, the better. In practice, it doesn’t work at all, and could even reduce power. There are three reasons for this.
The first is that there’s not enough air pressure. That tiny, underpowered fan can spin all it wants, but there’s a reason forced induction carries that term. Superchargers and turbochargers have to force the air into the engine. It takes a great deal of pressure. In fact, a boost gauge, which tells you how much power your supercharger or turbo is adding, uses a pressure figure to communicate that, either in PSI or BAR. You can’t pressurize your intake system with that tiny electric motor.
The second reason is that the motor is powered by the car’s electrical system. This can create a parasitic draw, taxing the engine further. This is why your RPMs dip when you’re idling and you turn on your fan or rear defroster. Sure, this could be solved with a bigger alternator, but there’s not much point when it can’t create any extra power anyway.
Finally, the fan can actually create an obstacle for air getting into your engine. Remember our conversation about pressure? This means that the engine is sucking air into the intake faster than the fan can push it in. So it’s essentially a big road block stuffed into the end of your intake tube.
Instead, invest a little more in a quality cold air intake from a reputable brand. A cold air intake like this one from K&N increases flow over your stock intake, with a smoother channel for the air and a higher capacity air filter. Cold air intakes also separate the cold air coming into your engine bay from the hot air already there, and colder air is denser, allowing for more power. Plus, every intake K&N releases is dyno-proven to improve horsepower. The nameless shysters behind the electric supercharger can’t make the same claims.
The Miracle Performance Chip
For about 20 years, almost every car on the market has had the potential to get more or less power through computer programming. Adding more fuel in the right proportions can add more power, and a computer controls that fuel volume. Hack the computer, get more power.
Well, it’s not quite as simple as that, but some…enterprising individuals would have you believe that it is. The Miracle Performance Chip is usually found on Ebay for about 20 bucks and claims to guarantee you massive horsepower and torque gains. Just plug in the chip and you’re ready for the track.
But usually these cheap chips don’t even remotely live up to their claims. They generally work by fooling your mass air flow and oxygen sensors, giving your ECU the impression that there’s more air heading into your engine, and causing it to dump more fuel. Clumsy and imprecise, this tends to ruin gas mileage and confuse your computer. This leads to trouble codes and limp mode, which reduces power anyway.
Don’t buy the miracle chip.
Instead, check out a power programmer like this one from Hypertech. Unlike the Ebay professors, the people at Hypertech made a system that comprehensively reprograms your vehicle’s computer, making sure it runs as efficiently as possible while still providing a substantial boost in power. No unreliable engine codes or system confusion. Many programmers even offer different modes for economy, towing, and power.
Clamp Lowering Kit
Lowered cars look great, right? Get rid of that unseemly wheel gap. Be one of the cool kids. Now, if you have 60 bucks and a wrench, you can lower your car, according to some actual humans on the internet.
These coil spring adjuster clamps do just what they say they do. They clamp your springs down, effectively lowering your car. No more wheel gap, people. So flush. Very stanced. King of the meet.
The ads are strangely silent about how these will surely foul your suspension geometry, ruining the car’s handling. Your shocks or struts and springs are designed to work in concert. Clamp down the springs and you’ll reduce the travel in your shocks, which means that when you go over a bump, your wheel doesn’t return to the road when it should. That could be dangerous.
But that’s only the start of the danger. The cheap, stamped steel of these clamps could rust and snap any old time, even at 80 mph. What happens when one wheel suddenly goes Speed Racer jump jacks at 80 mph? It’s a mystery best left unsolved.
There’s also the danger of your own mental health, because can you imagine how these things squeak?
Don’t buy this “lowering kit.”
Instead, look into these awesome lowering springs (or these, or even these) from Eibach. These springs are individually engineered for your car, so they’re safe and squeak-free. They’ll eliminate your wheel gap and refreshingly improve your handling, braking, and even acceleration.
This one might be a bit controversial, but we’ll explain. For decades now, every car legally sold new has come with a catalytic converter. This is a honeycomb array of platinum and/or palladium in the middle of your exhaust pipe. These precious metals interact with the exhaust gasses, neutralizing some of the bad stuff to keep it from chewing up the ozone layer, ruining everyone’s lives, and eating all our steak.
Thanks to the test pipe, you have the opportunity to un-bolt your catalytic converter, which has a reputation of being restrictive and reducing horsepower, and replace it with a length of plain old pipe.
Now, it’s no secret that some cats can be restrictive, especially if they’re old and clogged. It seems like the test pipe would surely be a solution. The problem is that a test pipe can negatively affect the downstream oxygen sensor, which most cars have had for many years. This could cause your computer to throw codes, go into limp mode, yada yada, problems problems.
Worse still, if you live in a state with emissions inspections, a test pipe could keep your car off the road. And if you want to sell your car across state lines, you could lose some value.
Don’t buy a test pipe.
We have a better solution. The exhaust experts at Magnaflow created high-flow catalytic converters, which create so little restriction in your system that it’s not worth measuring. It’s certainly not something you’ll feel on the road. Yes, they’ll cost a little more than an empty length of pipe, but you’ll be legal and O2 sensor-safe, and you’ll help prevent your city from looking like Beijing. We recently installed one on a Civic, and it seems to have actually improved acceleration.
A note: Many race cars do run catless to reduce restriction, weight, and cost. These cars, however, have been custom tuned for this, so the O2 sensors don’t present a problem. This is legal for racing use only.
Carbon Fiber Contact Paper
Did you know that they make carbon fiber hoods for a 1991 Ford Festiva? They make carbon fiber hoods for everything, thanks to this CF contact paper stick-on stuff. It’s the best way to fool yourself into thinking that others will assume your car is fast.
Carbon fiber is a strong, lightweight material that high-end cars use to reduce weight. Hoods, fenders, sunroofs, trunk lids, and more come in the glorious steel-replacement. Some cars, like the Ferrari F40, are completely bodied in CF, and it’s very widely used in racing circles.
It’s also fairly expensive. A CF hood is far more expensive than just buying this wallpaper that looks like it and carefully rolling it on.
Here’s the problem: Anyone who knows what CF is will immediately recognize it as a fake. You won’t impress anyone. You’re actually adding marginal weight to the vehicle.
Don’t buy CF wallpaper.
Instead, if you can’t afford CF parts, we recommend actually reducing the weight of your car. This can be as simple as pulling out your never-used rear seats or other interior parts. If you’re the type who calls AAA instead of changing onto a spare tire yourself, unload that thing, or trade it for a can of Fix-A-Flat. Clean the junk out of your trunk. Never listen to your stereo? Delete it. There are a million ways to trade comfort for lightness. Most of them will actually impress people who understand carbon fiber, and you may even improve performance.
Remember, hoons, we only want the best for you. Don’t settle for bogus mods. Do it right the first time and have more fun.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.