How to Increase Horsepower & Upgrade Performance

As a lifelong enthusiast of fast cars, Kevin Tetz understands the obsession that comes with it. The adrenaline rush, the sound of the engine, and the feeling of time slowing down are all part of the experience. However, what truly holds significance to him is the hard work and accomplishment that comes with building a high-performance vehicle. With the help of AutoZone, Kevin is here to guide you through the simple first steps to increasing horsepower and building your dream vehicle.

How to Upgrade to a High Performance

Performance horsepower air intake

1. Upgrade the Engine

The first thing you want to do is to look at your engine as a big air pump. The faster and better the air flows through the engine, the faster your car will move. One great upgrade that can help achieve this is a cold air intake system. Brands like Specter and K&N offer high-performance systems that replace the factory air filter and intake housing. This design reduces intake restrictions and allows for a larger amount of air to flow into the engine, resulting in more usable power and better acceleration.

AutoZone Performance Increase Horse Power AutoZone s How To Videos exhaust

2. Upgrade the Exhaust System

Another way to increase horsepower is to improve the performance and sound of your exhaust system. Replacing the factory mufflers with high-flow performance mufflers from Flow Master or Magna Flow can make a significant difference. If you’re not comfortable with cutting and welding, a local muffler shop can help with the installation. Another option is a cat-back exhaust system that replaces the factory system from the catalytic converters to the rear of the car. This upgrade can be done with simple hand tools and provides real performance gains.

A full performance exhaust system can also free up some horsepower. There are two options to choose from – a bolt-on kit designed to fit your car or a universal kit from Flow Master that you can customize to fit your vehicle. The full system includes mandrel bends to reduce resistance and an option for a crossover pipe or an X pipe for scavenging. You can also choose the performance muffler that best suits your performance goals or desired sound. This is a heavy DIY project that requires cutting and welding, so a local exhaust shop can help if you’re not comfortable with your skills.

Duralast brake rotor being installed

3. Upgrade the brakes

If you want a car that goes fast, then you better make sure it can stop fast, and upgrading your brakes is something that most of us can do. For performance, you want to look at your pads, calipers, and your rotors. And if you want a little extra flare, you can use some custom caliper covers, or go on to the full brake kit.

4. Upgrade Tires & Handling

You have got to be able to control your car, especially when it’s screaming at the top of its RPM range. You can really improve the handling with some performance tires, and you can get better feedback with a performance steering wheel. Most stock steering wheels are typically a larger diameter; they’re made from molded plastic, and they can be hard to hang on to in extreme conditions. A smaller diameter wheel, covered in leather or suede give you better feedback, a better grip, and better car control.

different types of motor oil

5. Upgrade fluids and chemicals

High performance means high heat, and if you’re dealing with high heat, you’ve got to go with synthetic. One of the best benefits of synthetic oil is that the oil itself doesn’t break down as fast. The viscosity stays the same for a longer period of time, and especially under extreme conditions. But it’s not just your engine oil. Synthetic and performance fluids throughout your vehicle can free up horsepower with less friction, and better protect your parts under stress, all at the same time.

OBD-II scanner done reading trouble codes

6. Reprogram the system

Power programmers are a simple and proven way to really wake up your car, providing power gains up to 30 horsepower or even more in some diesel applications. They use a data cable that connects the programmer to your car’s computer by plugging into the car’s diagnostic port of a ’96 and newer vehicle. A programmer can access and change tuning data that controls air and fuel into your engine, timing events, even transmission shift points, and line pressures to give you more power and a better performance feel, better towing, and even better fuel economy, depending on how the programmer is set.

These upgrades to the engine and exhaust system will make your engine more efficient, resulting in increased horsepower. AutoZone provides dyno results for the K&N systems that give a good idea of the performance gains. With a new cold air intake and exhaust, you’ll be able to hear the power and efficiency of a finely-tuned performance muffler. Head to an AutoZone store or visit for even more ideas to upgrade your vehicle.

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