Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insuranc...

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity-backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He also has an MBA from the University of South Florid...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder, CFP®

UPDATED: Oct 2, 2020

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Even those who regularly have their car serviced and maintained may want a little extra performance every now and again.

So it should come as no surprise that there are a number of different methods to boost the number of horses your car packs under the hood.

Items to Check to Boost Your Vehicle’s Horsepower

Below are the items to help increase the power of your engine at the lowest cost. I will go over 5 of the listed item in the article.

RankTo Increase HorsepowerAverage CostPercentage IncreaseDescription
1Superchargers & Turbochargers$200 to $700+20 - 50%Compress air flowing into your engine for the greatest HP increase.
2High-Flow Cat-Back Exhaust System$120 to $1,000+10 - 20%Increases torque and airflow to improve horsepower.
3Larger Diameter Throttle Body$200 to $640+15 - 20%Regulates the air flow which goes into your engine.
4Exhaust Header$150 to $750+5 - 15%Move air efficiently as possible for more horsepower.
5High-Flow Catalytic Converter$75 to $400+5 - 15%Increases the flow of your engine to increase HP.
6Performance Chips$200 to $600+0 - 10%Adjust vehicle’s settings, such as fuel-to-air ratio, for more HP.
7Cold Air Intake$30 to $180+0 - 2%Cold air intakes have a specific shaped filter which increases surface area to pull air through.
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None of them require mortgage sized chunks of cash, in fact some are relatively cheap but can still provide a 5hp performance boost.

If you prefer to have a mechanic install the performance-base parts many body shops will be happy to fit the upgrades for you at a relatively low cost to cover the labor.

Cold Air Intake – Easiest & Most Affordable

Most will vehemently agree that this is the first and easiest way to improve the horsepower of a vehicle. Best of all most everyday auto enthusiasts will be able to do this themselves.

Cold air intake installed on Toyota

Note: The coned-shaped filter is the cold air intake installed on a vehicle. This is one of the cheapest way to increase your vehicle’s power. Many claim a cold air intake does not increase the power of the car. However, you will you notice an increase in acceleration and possible increase in MPG’s.

As cold air is considered denser than warm air, a higher volume will enter the cylinder, mix with the fuel and in turn leads to more powerful combustion and more power.

The easy-to-install kit basically sucks in air beneath the engine which is cooler.

The system uses a conical air filter or air scoop attached to a series of metal pipes.

By increasing the air flow you’ll be adding more power to the car with the cooler air. At the least you will see an improvement in acceleration and possibly fuel efficiency.

Cold air intake installed on a mazda

Note: The filter to the right is the cold air intake installed on a Mazda vehicle.

Computer Chip to Increase Engine Power & Torque

On most modern vehicles there is a small chip which directly affects the performance of the engine. This chip can be reprogrammed to make the most of the high quality fuel you use and improve the overall performance of your vehicle.

Computer chip and software to change vehicle setting for higher performance.

Note: The computer chip above is used to change the settings of your vehicle’s fuel-to-air ratio, turbo, and ignition timing. Now you can use Performance Software to easily plug into your OBD-II port. It is a simple as plug and play.

You do not have to replace the chip in a newer vehicle with a OBD-II port. The chip needs to be ‘rewritten’ through a process known as ECU remapping with Performance Software.

The amount of horsepower this adds depends on certain variables including fuel type and the type of vehicle you have.  Remapping can provide a fairly large boost in horsepower and can also improve fuel efficiency.

Tires Won’t Help with Horsepower, but Need to be Checked

If there’s a problem with the vehicle’s alignment the first thing to check is the tires.

Improving the alignment will often offer an improved straight-line speed. And changing for lighter more performance-based tires will increase the performance. The amount of acceleration is the most notable with lighter tires. In some instances, the amount of weight loss is near 10 lbs per tire.

Chart showing tire wear, cause, and how to fix.

Note: Proper tire alignment is not going to increase horsepower. Bad alignment can cause significant performance issues. Most tire manufacturers recommend rotating tires every 7,500 miles. Which is about every 6 months for the average driver. For more performance you can buy lighter wheels.

Altering tires can be an expensive way to increase the amount of power for your vehicle if you’re looking to decrease the weight of your car with lighter tires. This is usually not an option for most auto enthusiasts because of the cost. 

Air Filters & Turbochargers to Increase HP by 50 Percent

As mentioned earlier, increasing the air flow with cold or warm air will increase combustion and power by 20 or 30%.

Turbocharge installed on a vehicle for increase performance.

Note: The electric turbocharger is installed on a Subaru vehicle. Turbo’s are considered more efficient since they used the wasted energy from the exhaust for their power. Turbochargers compress the air flowing into the engine. By doing so, the turbo can mix more fuel for increase performance.

A turbocharger is designed to increase the efficiency of the air combustion system by compressing the air and feeding it into the engine.

Turbochargers and superchargers are similar but slightly different. A turbocharger uses the exhaust with a turbine while a supercharger compresses air using a complex belt driven system from the crankshaft.

Supercharger installed on a vehicle.

Note: This is a supercharger which is slightly different from a turbocharger. A supercharger uses the crankshaft for its energy while a turbo uses the exhaust. The supercharger is connected directly to the engine with a belt and its spinning (RPM) rate is 50,000 while a turbo is approximately 15,000 rpms.

Performance Exhausts Free the Airflow for Horsepower Gains

You can have all the cold-air filters and performance filters on the market but without the correct exhaust system your vehicle may lose performance through the exhaust.

Note: Your current vehicle has a stock muffler and factory exhaust which restricted airflow. Replacing both of them with a high-flow catalytic converter will increase horsepower and torque. Many Cat-Back (called Cat-Back since it is behind the catalytic converter) systems have straight flow mufflers to increase airflow for better performance.

By simply opening the exhaust the car will be able to “breath easier” by expeling the exhaust gasses.

Which can be achieved by increasing the diameter of the exhaust, straightening the bends in the system, or investing in a dual exhaust system.

High flow catalytic converter installed on a vehicle.

Note: A high-flow catalytic converter is an easy way to improve vehicle performance. They work pretty much the same as your stock version to reduce emissions. The high-flow version is able to the same at a much faster rate. With an increase in volume around the catalyst there is a better flow rate and an increase in torque and horsepower.

The lack of inconvenient bends are associated with straight pipe catalytic converters. This increases the flow rate which increases the overall performance of your vehicle.

Most of the performance parts are sold with devices which help with the sound. You will be able to rev your engine without getting a serious headache.

One thing to keep in mind, is how loud your exhaust is going to be. In many cities loud exhausts are illegal.

You may want to check your local laws to find out the maximum decibel output for your engine and exhaust to be legal. Normally, anything below 101 decibels is legal in most states.

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