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Tuning Import Cars

Import Cars Guide Overview

If you are ready to tune Import Cars, you came to the right place. Tuning Import Cars is a fun and exciting experience that can bring hours of enjoyment and personal recognition after the end product is done. In this guide, we will be talking about different paths you can take to modify your car.

Before modifying your Import it is wise to have an understanding of your needs and budget so you can select a path to minimize the dollars you spend and maximize the horsepower you get. In this guide, we have outlined five potential paths that can be taken to improve your Import Car. Three of the paths are for naturally aspirated engines (non turbo) from the factory and there are two paths for Import Cars with turbochargers from the factory. We have divided the paths into two sections, one for naturally aspirated and the other for from-the-factory-turbo cars because there is an optimal approach in selecting your parts in each scenario.


Your Import Car is Forced Induction from the Factory


Turbocharged Import Cars have bolt on parts that can give you a bigger multiplying factor in horsepower improvements than their naturally aspirated counter parts. What we mean is that turbo Import Cars will benefit more from a bolt on part such as an exhaust system then a naturally aspirated engine. In a way, upgrading turbocharged Imports is easier since you really can focus on all of the basic bolt on parts at first and then go to the more hard core parts later.

For each of the paths we will list parts to give you an idea of where to begin. This not a complete list of parts to tune your Import; its just an idea to get you started. If you would like more assistance on your particular Import Car, feel free to email us with a the make model, year, and submodel of your turbocharged Import Car (For example, 2008 Mitsobishi Evolution GSR) and we will help you out with any questions you may have.

The Two Suggested Tuning Paths to Upgrade your Turbo Charged Import
  • Path (A-Turbo) is to go for the most gains by upgrading to a bigger turbo unit.
  • Path (B-Turbo) is not knowing if you want to go "all out", but you know you want to squeeze out the most HP gains from your current turbo setup.
Path (A-Turbo) Going for the Maximum Horsepower
This path is suggested for the hard core Import Cars enthusiast with a bigger budget that wants to do everything all at once. Essentially what this path entails is upgrading your turbocharger unit with a turbo kit upgrade package and getting parts to support the extra power. The order you would want to do things is the following:
  • The first thing is to select and buy an turbo upgrade kit package such as found in the Turbo Kit section of our site. These kits often come with different parts so knowing which upgrade kit you are getting lets you know what else to get to support and maximize the extra potential power (the ability to push in more psi of air). A turbo upgrade kit usually comes with a turbo manifold, a wastegate, and the actual turbo unit.
  • The second step, which should be installed at the same time as the parts acquired in step one is to get bolt on parts to support your Import. An example of a must get bolt on item would be an exhaust system which helps exhaust flow (free up resistance on the motor). Other parts to get would be a down pipe, a short ram intake (if available), and a boost controller.
  • The third step, which again would be installed at the same time of initial installation is to get a means to manage the air / fuel ratio as well as providing a way to deliver more fuel. A means to adjust the fuel ratio on a more granular level involves purchasing a standalone engine management system, a piggy back engine management system, or a device to reflash your ECU. A way to deliver more fuel would be to purchase bigger fuel injectors, a higher rate fuel pump, and a fuel rail. If significantly more power will be delivered to your engine, your engine internals must be upgraded. The internals which are usually upgraded are pistons and rods.
  • The last step is to tune your vehicle using what you purchased to manage your engine. Getting a professional tuner to tune your vehicle is highly recommended since they know what a safe level of boost to set your car at as well as optimizing your air fuel ratio maps for various driving conditions.
Path (B-Turbo) Maximum HP from Your Current Turbo
Turbocharged Import Cars have a lot of room to grow with basic bolt on parts. If you want to get more power later, most, if not all parts purchased in this path can be reused for the more hard core path. Here is a recommended path:
  • Start out by upgrading your exhaust system, a short ram intake, and a down pipe. You don't have to buy all of these at once to see some noticeable gains.
  • (Optional) Purchasing a turbo manifold would help out with freeing up your enitre exhaust flow, but this part would probably not be reusable if you get a turbo upgrade kit.
  • An ECU reflashing unit, such as one made by COBB Tuning, can help squeeze out more HP gains. These units usually have preset reflash maps for many bolt on combinations; hence, an easier choice for engine management upgrades. Another benefit of the reflash units it is that they can also be re-used if you go for a bigger turbo. Alternatively, you can get a piggy back system or a complete engine management unit, but they are more complicated.
  • In order to take advantage of the turbo, one can purchase a boost controller to adjust the amount of boost the turbo is putting out. Usually there is room to safely give Turbocharged Import Cars an extra 2 to 4 psi, but it really depends on the car.
  • Lastly, if you get the reflash unit (such as the COBB one) and a boost controller, a trip to the dyno and professional tuning is highly recommended to maximize your horsepower output and to keep your boost at a safe level for your stock internals.

Your Import Car is Naturally Aspirated (NA) from the Factory


The following set of paths are recommendations to upgrade your naturally aspirated engine (also known as NA) Import Cars:

The Three Suggested Tuning Paths to Upgrade your NA Import
  • The first path (A-NA) is to convert your NA Import car into a Forced Induction car via a turbo kit or supercharger. The forced induction platform will then be the base.
  • The second path (B-NA) is to tune your Import with a naturally aspirated setup as your base.
  • The last path (C-NA) is to get parts that will work for both a naturally aspirated engine and a forced induction setup, then decide later if you want to go forced induction or upgrade your naturally aspirated setup.
For each path we will list a few parts to get you started. By no means is this a complete list of parts to tune Import Cars; its just an idea to get you started. Feel free to email us, or call us and let us know the make, model, year, how many doors, and trim level of your Import and we will assist you in selecting the other optimal performance parts for your Import.

If your are confused about what naturally aspirated and a forced induction engine setups are you should read our Import Upgrading FAQ. The upgrading FAQ is a great place for beginners to start to learn about tuning their Import and a great refresher course for the experienced tuner.

Path (A-NA) Going to Forced Induction as Your Base
This path will get you on par with stock turbo engines, but requires the biggest upfront money allocation. This path is recommended if money is not too much of an issue for you. The following is a list of steps to take to Turbo NA Import Cars:
  • Get a turbo kit. A turbo kit comes with headers and its own air intake. Hence, you will not have to purchase headers or a cold air/short ram intake. If an intercooler is not included in your turbo kit, we highly recommend purchasing one at the same time as your kit. Another option for forced induction would be a supercharger kit. Supercharger kits are usually easier to install, but do not typically come with an intake or headers, and they often do not produce quite as much power as turbo kits do.
  • If you do go for the turbocharged setup, look at our recommendations for a turbocharged car from the factory (Path A-Turbo) for other part suggestions.
  • Go to a dyno shop and tune your turbo kit (not necessary on the kits we carry but generally recommended for maximum power). If you need help finding one, we can help you. The same applies to a supercharger kit as well.
Path (B-NA) Staying Naturally Aspirated
If you choose not to go with a forced induction setup, then you'll be headed down the naturally aspirated path. Here are the following parts and actions we recommend:
  • The most inexpensive item you could get that will give you the best gains is a cold air intake for your NA Import Car. There are short rams, cold air intakes, and electronically tuned intakes. If an electronically tuned intake is available for your vehicle we recommend it. For older cars having it electronically tuned is not necessary (it depends on your sensor configuration).
  • The second item to purchase in this path should be an exhaust system. All Import exhaust systems we carry our highly tuned and will give you similar HP gains. The choice of what exhaust you select comes down to a preferrence in the exhaust system's look and sound that is produced.
  • Headers and a highflow catalytic converter will be the next part to get in this tuning path. For the high-flow catalytic converters, we recommend the direct fit and semi direct fit over the universal models. If you live in California we can't sell you a catalytic converter because of state smog laws.
  • Although not necessary, you can benefit from an ECU reflash unit such as a the Hondata FlashPro or COBB Tuning AccessPORT.
This path is the best on your wallet and is what most people like to take. We find that new tuners will take this path to get a better feel for Import Cars customization. Some of the tuners will eventually get a turbo kit and others will fine tune their naturally aspirated engine.

Path (C-NA) Decide Later if You Want to Go Forced Induction
This path is designed for those people with Import Cars that are undecided on getting a turbo kit (or supercharger), and/or will attempt to save up for one. If you are sure you will not get a turbo kit anywhere in the foreseeable future, then path B is your best path to tune your NA Import. Here are the following parts and actions we recommend:
  • Get a Import performance exhaust system first.
  • Get a highflow catalytic converter.
  • Although not necessary, you can benefit from an ECU reflash unit such as a Hondata FlashPro or COBB Tuning AccessPORT. These units can be used to tune a supercharged or turbocharged setup if you choose to upgrade later.
  • Upgrade your Import's ignition components, if needed.
  • Analyze your budget. If you feel like you will get a turbo kit/supercharger in the near future, keep saving for it. If you are unsure contact us and we will give you some other low priced choices for tuning your Import with performance parts.
This path will allow you to postpone the decision of committing to a forced induction setup. If you want to tune your Import to get medium gains and save some cash, you could simply follow path (B). If you feel like your're ready to commit to the high performance of a force induction base, then you could branch into path (A). In other words, starting on path (C) will allow the most flexibility in regards to committing to a forced induction or naturally aspirated configuration.

Other Sources of info to Upgrade Import Cars


Magazines are a great place to find ideas about Import modifications. Import related magazines are great to see what is currently hot in the world of Import Cars. The most useful feature of magazines is the car profile articles, in which you can see what a highly tuned Import looks like and what makes it run. Lastly, getting a Repair Manual for your Import will be extremely helpful.
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