What’s the Best Way to Modify My Car?

by Rob Schermerhorn on September 25, 2011

What should I modify first?” “Where’s my best bang for the buck investment? To Modify or NOT to Modify, THAT is The Question…

These are the questions that enter the mind of the crazed car enthusiast, streaking down the straights, squealing around the turns, attempting to concentrate harder than in Freshman Calc I and tempting extreme tire wear and Amex Terms and Conditions simultaneously.

If any of the above clicks with you then sounds like you’re participating in track days, lapping days, hpde, driver education events with us (Hooked On Driving) or your local favorite marque club or other organization.

More power or more brake?

As you progress in performance driving techniques one naturally experiences the limits of your car at some point; for most it’s the brake system limits of heat absorption and dissipation (or lack thereof). Now you start Googling, searching your favorite chat forum and local parts place for answers.

When it comes to modifications, please allow me to share some of my twenty-plus years as race-engineer/ driver/ team manager and now regional owner for Hooked On Driving:

  1. Best bang for the buck: BRAKES
    1. First a fluid flush or possible fluid upgrade (and two-three pints of fluid flushed prior to each track event)
    2. Next, high-temperature RACE SPECIFICATION (not street-able-track-able) brake pads
    3. Heat insulating titanium brake pad shims
    4. Air duct to center of brake rotor (not to the side of the rotor)
    5. Teflon brake lines
    6. Larger brake rotors and calipers

Read more about your braking system in this recent blog post.

  1. Tires (more here)
  2. Suspension
    1. Shocks
    2. Springs
    3. Anti-roll bars (aka sway bars)
    4. Alignment
    5. Bushings
  3. More power from the engine (always last on the list for track day participants)

All of the above is a separate blog post (if not a book) and we’ll expand on them in time.

One more “modification” that must be mentioned: Stability Control

Stability control (aka: ESP, DSC, Stabilitrack, ESC…) is not really something to modify (though there exists piggyback systems to do so) but with it’s prevalence in modern performance cars (all cars for model year 2012 and newer) it is a system to experiment with its settings (if the manufacturer’s lawyers permit) as you the driver advance in your skill set. Beginners must leave the system completely engaged. Intermediate level track drivers should consider the intermediate stability control system setting (if there is one) that will allow a larger yaw rate prior to intervention. Perhaps at some point you may consider defeating stability control, but only after years of on-track with-driver-coach experiences.

Changing stability control system settings may completely transform your car, perhaps to the point that it’s like learning a new car for you (a little more about stability control in this blog post.)

We’re just scratching the surface on this subject but we’re here to help you. Whatever your questions may be, send them in and we’ll address them right away! If you have a quick question just post below in the comments section… What’s your favorite “bang for the buck” modification?


Dale Flesburg December 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm

One of the things I tell new students (and none of them listen to me) is to put in a five point harness, at least in the driver’s seat. Being comfortably held still in the seat is the best first step for modifying a street car in my opinion. Even before the next step which would be brake fluid and pads as you mention.

Rob Schermerhorn December 12, 2011 at 5:52 pm

You’re right Dale, having a strong foundation with seat and harness can transform the driving experience!
There’s varying levels of difficulty to perform this modification; in my Mustang I’d need a harness bar at the least, something I’m not willing to install yet. (Screwing shoulder harness mounts to the rear seat lap belt anchors (something I see all the time, and I did in my autocross days) can be dangerous.) Often just improving the seat (with a quality aftermarket one) can get you a 50% improvement in support without needing a harness bar or roll bar.

Cliff Glidden December 12, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Ron – thanks for the check list of “I think I wants”. Most of us simply appreciate having a source of reliable information about brakes, suspension, seats etc., There is lots of guy talk out there but good data is really hard to find.

My humble suggestion to add to your list: Seat Time

Best drivin to you all out that way, Cliff, stock 09 Z06 Advanced driver Nor Cal HOD

Rob Schermerhorn December 12, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Hi Cliff, thanks; yes, no substitute for quality (with feedback/ coaching) seat time, best investment anyone could make in their car (but of course we’re biased!). Maybe I’ll see you next time I’m out west!

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