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Getting More Power From Your Engine

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On: Thu, Sep 29, 2011 at 11:07AM | By: Peter C Sessler

Getting More Power From Your Engine

Once in a while I get a letter from someone asking a question that typically says, "I love my car—it gets great mileage, but from time to time I find myself in situations where a little extra power would sure make a big difference. How can I get more power from my engine?" Sometimes you need more power to go up an especially steep hill, get onto a fast moving highway, or simply to avoid hitting or getting hit by someone. If you've ever seen Steven Spielberg's first film, "Duel" you'd know what I mean. This was a movie about a sinister tanker trunk, which, for no apparent reason, tries to get a guy driving a Plymouth Duster off the road.

My typical response has usually been, "Sell your car and get another one." That is the easiest way to get a faster car. However, that is rarely possible, so this week, I'll outline what steps you can take to get a little more ooomph from your engine from the least expensive to the most.

I've often used the analogy of a long distance runner when describing how your engine "breathes." If you put a handkerchief in the runner's mouth, it's obvious that he won't be able to get as much air as he needs to maintain his pace or exhale it for that matter. Your engine works the same way. For certain reasons, car manufacturers have placed what are equivalent to handkerchiefs in your engine's mouth. A restricted and baffled air cleaner and associated tubing limits the air intake noise your engine makes and a restrictive muffler makes for a quiet exhaust system. Both of these systems limit the amount of power your engine will make and, at the same time, tend to reduce your engine's mileage as the engine's overall efficiency is reduced.

The typical hot rodder can live with the extra noise—in fact, they like the noise. So the first step is to replace your engine's air intake system with an aftermarket one that is less restrictive and lets more air into your engine. Will you see a great surge of new-found power? Probably not at low speeds and you might notice a difference at high rpm, but your engine will run better and get improved mileage.

The second step is to replace the stock exhaust system with one that has larger diameter pipes and free-flowing mufflers. You can also get less restrictive catalytic converters and specially tuned exhaust header pipes. These modifications do result in significant power increases (depending on the car), but can get a little pricey.

Changing to a synthetic oil is usually worth about 5-15hp, depending on the engine. The larger the engine, the greater the power increase is the general rule. Up to this point what you've done is taken the stock engine and made it live up to its maximum designed-in potential. There is still one other area that you can get into relatively cheaply and that has to do with electronics.

All engines today have sophisticated computers that control your engine's timing and all other functions related to the fuel injection system. These are programmed by the manufacturer for optimum power and derivability in normal driving. Change the timing, fuel delivery curve, and so forth and you'll alter your engine's performance. There are companies who make special computers and chips designed to increase output, sort of like Windows 7 for computers running Windows 3.1. These components can make a big difference, especially if you've already made intake and exhaust system modifications.

Beyond this, you'll have to go into the engine, meaning replacing pistons, camshafts, and the like, which doesn't make much sense from the cost point of view. You can replace the engine with a larger one—it all depends how much you want to spend. That's why I said earlier that you're better off getting a car that has a lot more power to begin with.

If you want to find out more, I suggest you get several magazines such as Car Craft or Hot Rod or one of the many other magazines that cater to foreign and compact cars. You'll a good idea what enthusiasts do these days to get more power.


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