It’s easy to think that you need a) to be Dominick Torretto from The Fast and the Furious or b) a mechanical engineering degree to work on your own car. That’s not entirely true, though you should have slightly higher than basic mechanical know-how before you unbolt covers and start removing things. Aside from extensive repairs and large-scale modifications, there are a handful of upgrades most anyone can do that will make a big difference. From new tires and spark plugs to installing backup cameras and data monitoring systems, here are a few easy upgrades that’ll breathe life into your old ride.
If you want your car to handle better, start with a good set of tires. Power is great and all, but if you don’t have quality rubber to provide grip and translate it to the road, high-output oomph is all for nothing.
Better spark plugs are an easy, affordable swap that can make all the difference. The better the quality of the spark, the better the combustion, translating to more power and better fuel economy. (Here’s a complete rundown on how to check yours.)
Good: Bosch Double Iridium Spark Plugs $5+
Better: NGK Iridium IX $7+
Best: Denso Iridium Racing $37+
Engine Control Unit (ECU) Flash
The ECU in your car is set up from the factory to control the fuel-air mixture in the engine, which maximizes efficiency and power. Problem is, manufacturers program the ECU’s parameters well below the engine’s true capability — mostly as a safety net. A quick reprogramming can unlock aaaall sorts of engine performance and, in some instances, even return better gas mileage.
Good: SCT Performance X4 Power Flash Programmer $379+
Better: AEM EMS-4 Universal Engine Management System $578+
Best: APR ECU Flash $600+
Replacing bushings is a bit more involved than swapping spark plugs, but you’ll be glad you did it. Between the suspension and frame and the chassis and engine, factory rubber bushings help kill vibrations throughout your car. The problem with rubber bushings is that they wear out and crack over time. Polyurethane bushings not only last longer than their standard rubber counterparts, but also do a better job of quelling vibrations and minimizing weight transfer.
The better your car breathes, the better it runs. A cold-air intake not only frees up the air flow to your engine, it also feeds it cooler, more condensed air, which engines love.
The age of infotainment systems is relatively new, so it’s understandable if you feel behind with an older car. A new, modern interface and speaker system is an easy way to reenergize your daily commute or weekend drive.
Along with infotainment systems, backup cameras only recently became an industry standard. But, once you use a backup camera, going back to parallel parking and reversing in tight spaces without one feels like serious work.
Good: Metra License Plate Back-Up Camera $50
Better: Garmin BC 30 Wireless Backup Camera $133
Best: Boyo VTC700R $239
Even if you consider yourself adept and handy under the hood of your car, diagnosing a single specific problem based on the all-encompassing check engine light can be near impossible. Data monitoring systems keep you in-the-know, defining problems in plain English.
Warming up or cooling down your car before even getting in it is a true luxury. But you don’t need a personal driver on the payroll — all you need is a simple remote starter.
Tire Pressure Monitoring
Whether you’re going on a long road trip or making your way through the daily commute, few things can ruin a drive like a flat or slow leak. Keeping the correct PSI in all four corners isn’t just safer, you’ll also extract better, more confident handling and perfromance from your tires when they’re properly inflated.