Ways to Boost Power Without Breaking the Bank

Lotus intake

Much like an elite athlete’s ability to rapidly breathe allows them to perform stronger, so it goes with your car’s engine. Whether you drive a ’69 Chevelle or an ’09 Civic, the same principle applies. Get more air in and out, and your engine will make more power and run stronger. This is why forced induction (i.e. turbocharging and supercharging) is so popular as a means for, literally, pumping up an engine’s output. These modifications can easily cost $5,000 and up. But there are plenty of ways to help your engine breathe like an Olympic decathlete without getting into debt up to your eyeballs. Consider these bolt-on mods that will give you the best bang for your buck.

Edelbrock Pro-Flo 1000

Edelbrock Pro-Flo 1000

Going with a less-restrictive air filter setup than what the factory supplied has long been a staple of performance enthusiasts. Those who own an old American car from the ’60s and ’70s typically favor a round, open-element air cleaner that sits over that carburetor. Some classic muscle cars came standard with these types of filters, or even trick hood scoops that funneled colder, outside air to the intake. More often than not though they have a closed housing that breathes through a snorkel-like fixture sticking out of its side. Other options for those golden oldies include Edelbrock’s iconic, triangular “Pro-Flo 1000” (formerly known as the “Lynx”) open-element filter.

K&N Cold Air Kit

K&N Cold Air Intake Kit

When fuel injection became widespread in the ’80s, air filter assemblies took on more complex configurations that continue to this day. The latter is due chiefly to being equipped with various sensors that keep tabs on things like intake air temperature and velocity, so the computers can adjust fuel metering accordingly. The air filters themselves are typically buried within black plastic boxes. The aftermarket quickly came to the rescue with low-restriction, cold-air kits that typically feature a semi-conical, open-element filter. K&N, in particular makes well-engineered kits that are known for their high quality and wide range of applications.

Cat-back exhaust systems

Cat-back exhaust systems

Now that your engine can inhale more deeply, it’s time to turn your attention to the exhaling side of the equation—the exhaust. Before model year 1975, when catalytic converters (“cats”, for short) came on the scene to clean up exhaust emissions, the default performance-enhancing setup was pretty straightforward. Exhaust headers ran to true dual exhausts with a crossover. Nowadays, the ideal setup is pretty much the same, albeit with high-flow cats plumbed into the system.

Still, going with a full engine-to-tailpipes system can be rather complicated (ask anybody who’s installed headers) and expensive. Plus, that labor is probably beyond what most shade-tree wrenches can do. The good news is you don’t have to go that far. Those looking for a cost-effective and minimal hassle upgrade should consider a “cat-back” exhaust system. It is just that—a system that bolts on after your car’s catalytic converter(s). With its freer-flowing pipes and lower-restriction muffler(s), a cat-back exhaust system lets your engine exhale easier and sounds pretty cool in the process.

Regardless of what you drive, there are plenty of great choices for a cat-back system. Popular brands include Borla, Dynomax and Magnaflow. Even within each manufacturer’s product line, there’s great variety, sonically speaking. You’ve got systems that are fairly quiet at idle and part throttle that then growl gratifyingly when you step into it. And then you’ve got the more aggressive setups that proudly make their presence known whether you’re burbling at a light on the boulevard or grabbing gears as you rocket up a freeway on-ramp.

Tackling any of these projects in the near future? Leave us a comment to let us know how it went.

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