Ways to Boost Power without Breaking the Bank

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. That’s great, but unless it came on your car it’s also easily a $5,000 and up modification.

If you want to improve your car’s performance without spending a lot, then you’ll want to focus on cost-effective ways to make that mill breathe like an Olympic decathlete without tearing into it. In other words, consider these following bolt-on mods that will give you the best bang, or should we say breathing, for your buck.

Edelbrock Pro-Flo 1000

Edelbrock Pro-Flo 1000

Golden Oldies Take a Breather
Going with a less-restrictive air filter setup than what the factory has 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. Although some old muscle cars actually came standard with these types of filters, or even trick hood scoops that funneled colder outside air to the intake, more often than not you’d see a closed housing that breathed 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 Kit

Something for the Younger Ones
When fuel injection became more 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.

Ok, Now Exhale
So 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 running 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. Of course you’ll want to check with your state’s emissions laws beforehand regarding replacing the cat(s), as some states may only allow factory replacements.

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 up 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.

Cat-back exhaust

Cat-back exhaust

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.


For these power-boosting auto parts, along with all the tools you’ll need to complete the job, Advance Auto Parts will get back to the garage fast. 

How sweet are your tuner’s tones?

For many import/tuner enthusiasts, how their baby sounds is just as important as how she looks and performs—whether on the street or on the track. That sound and performance share a common bond, and you happen to be sitting right on top of it—the exhaust system. If you’re still using a stock car exhaust system—muffler and catalytic converter—you’re sacrificing engine horsepower and the sheer, unbridled pleasure of hearing your import/tuner’s true expression. And if you’re considering achieving an engine horsepower increase by flaunting the law and going catless, or have already gone down that road, read on for why not running a cat on your exhaust system isn’t the best route to choose, in addition to it being illegal and costly.

Engine exhaustStock mufflers are designed to absorb sound. With all their twists and turns, they get the job of dampening the noise done, but in doing so, they’re the most restrictive component of the car exhaust system. That air-flow restriction is robbing you of engine horsepower and your vehicle’s natural sounds. So if you’re looking to improve engine horsepower and harmonics—without going broke—your first consideration should be to replace the stock car exhaust system with a performance exhaust system (the muffler and catalytic converter).

Why replace the catalytic converter too? Second only to the muffler, a stock catalytic converter is a big engine horsepower thief. But you have to have one, if you want to avoid big fines and possible impoundment.

So, what’s an enthusiast to do? Replace that stock cat with a high-performance one. ImportTuner magazine featured a great study that shows how they netted an extra five horsepower from their ’99 Civic SI, simply by moving from a stock cat to a metallic core Magnaflow OBDII cat. While a ceramic core might be cheaper, it delivered slightly less of an increase in the test. More worrisome for import/tuners, though, is its lower melting point and the resulting failure in high performance, or  boosted applications. And, when it comes to removing the cat entirely, that same dyno test showed only a one-horse increase as compared to running with a cat—hardly worth it, given the risks and considerable cost of running afoul of the law.

If you’re still running a stock exhaust system, sounding better and staying legal is easier than you think, and who doesn’t want that?


Editor’s note: Your new, robust sound and increased horsepower are bound to turn a few heads. Switching exhaust systems is easy with quality auto parts from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store.