Note: At Unitronic®, we are passionate about German cars and maximizing their performance, but we realize that even savvy shoppers may not realize the full potential of these cars. This is another installment of our series looking at the wider world of car technology and introducing more drivers and owners to performance upgrades and modifications.
THE BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO PERFORMANCE TECHNOLOGY - PART 4
For Commuters and Suburban Dwellers, What is "Performance"?
Everyone knows at least one person who’s a serious automotive enthusiast. Anytime you pass their house while out walking your dog, there they are with a wrench in hand tinkering away. When questioned about their vehicular habits, you’re given a puzzling one-word response: “Performance.”
Even if you fancy yourself an informed consumer when it comes to buying a car, you might assume that all the engineering and optimization takes place on the factory line, and that "performance" depends on what car you buy, rather than what you do with it once you've taken it home.
That sporty five-year-old Volkswagen® GTI® sitting in your garage is a fine piece of German engineering, but even it is no longer up-to-date with the latest car performance advancements. What does “performance” mean anyway, and why should more casual car fans even care?
Performance Can Be Practical
Performance at a basic level means increasing the capabilities of your vehicle. Associations of the word “performance” with gas-guzzling racing machines are understandable, but the goal of any vehicle should be to transport you as efficiently and safely as possible. Gearheads aren’t the only ones who should enjoy the benefits of a car operating at peak performance. Other factors like comfort, reliability, and fuel economy should also be taken into consideration.
For drivers who aren’t focused on using their vehicle for track-based vehicular activities (drag racing, etc), it’s best to view high performance from a practical standpoint. Increasing the efficiency of your vehicle can reduce long-term costs and risks associated with maintaining it. That means getting the full value of the car you bought, and keeping up with advances and upgrades to car technology even after it has come off the manufacturing line.
Every car rolling out of the factory is fitted with Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts. These OEM parts become the standard after rigorous testing, but they are just that: standard, rather than “high performance.” Choosing aftermarket improvements can make your old daily driver feel new again, or even improve the handling and performance of your new weekend car.
If you’ve never performed car maintenance or upgrade work on your vehicle, finding a place to start can be intimidating. There are a plethora of ways to improve performance and not all of them have the same benefits, time commitment, or cost associated. Each one is an opportunity to familiarize yourself with your vehicle and gain a greater understanding of how it operates. Practical performance mods could include any variety of the following:
● Air filter / Air intake: Installing a new air intake and replacing an old air filter improves the quality of air flowing through your intake and into your engine, improving overall engine performance in the process. Keeping your filter clean will also prolong the life of your engine by preventing debris and other particulates from clogging or abrading internal engine components.
● Tires: Purchasing a quality set of tires and keeping them correctly inflated and rotated can improve road handling, turning precision, and braking. Great tires harness the power of your engine and empower you with the ability to drive safer. There are tire options for every season to improve your car’s ability to steer and brake safely even in inclement weather.
● Exhaust: Upgrading from your factory exhaust can result in improved airflow and an increase in power when combined with ECU tuning. Better exhaust systems, coupled with performance flash, let engines “breathe” more efficiently by allowing exhaust gases to escape quicker. This means more air and fuel can be burned to create more power.
● Brake pads: The three types of brake pad you’ll find at your local automotive parts store are organic, semi-metallic, and ceramic. Most new cars typically come with Non-Asbestos Organic (NAO) brake pads. They’re the least expensive and suited for normal usage, but not what you would call high performance. Ceramic pads are expensive but great all-around performers, while semi-metallic pads are more versatile and probably the choice for that car nut down the street.
● Spark plugs: Replacing old spark plugs with new or better ones helps ensure that the spark necessary to ignite the air-fuel mixture in the cylinder is reliably created. Better quality materials can prevent oxidation of the plug and provide you with consistent performance over the lifetime of the spark plug.
● Engine Control Unit (ECU): Engine operation in modern vehicles is handled by electronic control systems. Reprogramming or “tuning” the ECU of your vehicle can improve nearly every aspect of your engine’s performance by ensuring that the engine’s software is running as efficiently (or powerfully) as possible, depending on your desired outcome. ECU tuning should always be performed by a professional.
Tuning or otherwise improving your vehicle doesn’t sign you up for a car enthusiast club or require any kind of membership. There’s nothing wrong with simply picking up a manual and learning at your own pace. Discovering more about how your vehicle operates can help prepare you to perform repair work on your own and serve as a bridge to other elements of vehicle ownership and maintenance. Above all, it instills you with the confidence that your vehicle is always running in tip-top shape and the knowledge that you accomplished it. That peace of mind is hard to replace.
You may not be driving down to the track to burn some rubber, but each of these car upgrades or modifications can provide you with a smoother, safer, and more efficient ride no matter where you’re going. Taking an active role in maintaining your car will help reacquaint you with an old automotive friend or perhaps discover the joys of tinkering on a car for the first time.
To learn more about ECU tuning, performance upgrades, and the full range of parts and services you can leverage to get more out of your Volkswagen® or Audi® vehicle, explore the products we provide or check out the latest industry news. The technology, and the opportunities to upgrade and optimize, are constantly changing; Unitronic is your resource for the best in performance products and services.
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