Reality Check: What you’re doing wrong

FINAL-0577

The longer I remain a part of the automotive enthusiast community, the more I realize most of us have no idea what we’re doing. I know this is a bold claim to make, so before you call me out for shouting at you from atop my petroleum powered high horse, allow me to explain.  I don’t claim to be the all-knowing god of the automotive universe, but what I can promise you, is that I’ve learned a good amount about cars in the last five years, and that the knowledge I’m about to share is something you will benefit from. Here’s what you’re doing wrong:

1. Obsessing over horsepower

Understand that your car already has more power you can handle. Yes, I’m serious, your base model V6 Mustang is powerful enough as is. I’m not saying you’ll be slaying your neighbor’s 1,200whp Supra in a highway roll race, but you should at least learn to drive, to really drive, before you slap that Procharger on. Your car has untapped potential that you will never release without a few days of seat time, whether it be on a road course, drift course, or AutoX track. If you’re looking for modifications that will help you grow as a driver and shave precious seconds off those lap times, buy some decent coilovers, sway bars, wheels and tires. Have some extra cash still? Spend it on a helmet and some track time. Don’t forget that alignment, either. The driver mod is the most powerful of all, because without a fast driver, even the most powerful of cars will be slow. The worst thing you can do is buy a well-powered car like the Subaru STi, build the motor, upgrade the turbo and leave the suspension bone stock. Sure, you’ll have great straight line power, but you won’t carry any of that speed through the turns you’re bound to encounter.

2. Buying cheap parts

If you’re anything like the rest of the automotive community, you waste (yes, I said waste) a lot of money on your car. Why buy inferior eBay parts with poor craftsmanship, cheap materials and no customer service backing? It’s all about quality over quantity here. Make the initial investment in quality parts and you won’t be replacing them with something better in a few months. Thinking about buying some Raceland Coilovers and a Spectre intake? Maybe replacing those high quality factory BBS wheels with some bigger XXRs?  Stop right there. Put down your debit card. Back away from the computer. If you buy these, you will be downgrading, not upgrading. If you can’t afford the nice stuff now, just have some patience and save up like the adult you are.

3. Putting form before function

Obviously this post is completely performance oriented, so I won’t even mention the stance crowd. But really, why are you even considering dropping $2,000-4,000 on a set of aftermarket wheels, or $600 on a Cobb Accessport, before you stiffen up that suspension and lower your center of gravity a bit? If you’re buying a sports car, you should be more worried about performance than appearance. After all, you already bought a good looking car, right? Treat yourself to a small visual upgrade and spend the rest of that hard earned cash on parts that will improve your driving experience. No, that doesn’t mean an intake and exhaust.

4. Listening to the wrong people

Stop listening to your 17-year-old neighbor who dives the Del Sol with a straight pipe. Get out to some track events, make some friends and enjoy the ridiculous amount of automotive knowledge they have to share. Have an instructor ride shotgun so he can critique your driving and offer advice. Learn about the best bang-for-your-buck mods from the most skilled drivers. Spend your free time skimming automotive magazines, forums and websites. There is an unfathomable amount of automotive knowledge up for grabs if you look in the right places. In time, you’ll be the person giving advice, rather than seeking it.

Although I’m no automotive guru, I guarantee that by eliminating these bad habits, you will build a far more enjoyable, track-ready car. Whether you’re looking to be a weekend autocross warrior, a Formula Drift professional or the next Ayrton Senna, just keep these points in mind, remember your goals and the rest will come naturally.

18 comments

  1. Dixie Normus · November 12, 2015

    I concur. Having owned my mr2 over 15 years, 7 of which were powered by a 5s. Going through a bit a slides, spins and very close calls, I will admit I’m still not that great of a driver, but I’m 36 and have yet to be in an accident (knock on wood). Now with a gen 3 3sgte, I feel there’s more than enough power to get used to, especially since this is modern power in a platform worn by the elements over a quarter of a century. I feel that the money is only wasted once I’ve given up and sold the 2. I hope it never comes to this. Keep writing, bro, people listen.

    Like

    • theapexhunter · November 13, 2015

      The MR2 is a fantastic platform. If you haven’t done much AutoX or track driving, you should really give it a shot. Your car is perfect for it. Freshening it up with new bushings all around would make a hell of a difference as well. Thanks for the encouragement, it’s much appreciated!

      Like

  2. Kieth stone · November 13, 2015

    When you mention decent coilovers with no mention of proper valving or spring rate you lost all credibility

    Like

    • theapexhunter · November 13, 2015

      Although I agree that a discussion of valving and spring rates is necessary (and will be discussed at length in a future post) I’m not sure I follow your logic on my total loss of credibility. Remember, these are blog posts, not longform essays. I could go on for years about suspension tweaking, which turbo offers the best balance of responsiveness and power, or which set of Potenzas is best for AutoX. But those in-depth explorations deserve their own posts, in my opinion. Regardless, thanks for reading! Hopefully you enjoy more posts in the future.

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      • Om1kron · November 13, 2015

        Troll post is obvious…. People that are doing it wrong already have no idea about proper valving or spring rates, or what helper springs actually do, or why they don’t need 8-10k spring rates for their weekend warriors. Anyone obsessed with track racing eventually will drop money for motons without knowing how to properly tune them, or build some catalogue how-to ground control koni yellow setup and talk about how they’re the based god of handling.

        I have jic magic FLT-A2’s and have had them for years now (probably could use a rebuild and some stiffer springs) and I couldn’t tell you jack shit about the valving, if I’m noticing travel loss in any one area of my car because I’m not that obsessed about it. The car drives good, it handles good, it’s at a height that is functional and not eating up my tires or fenders and that’s all one really needs.

        An extremist can worry about the things you’ve mentioned to sound smart and try to validate or bully others into seeing how much more they know than the person they’re speaking to.

        Another reason and example of how people are doing things wrong.

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      • theapexhunter · November 13, 2015

        Yeah, there’s always one, haha. I try to keep things simple, which is why I’m partial to Fortune Auto. A close friend had his re-valved and went for the optional swift spring upgrade and loves them. That being said, that’s about where my knowledge ends. I still need to research quite a bit about geometry correction, ideal application-specific spring rates, et cetera. I could probably write an entire post about car scene extremists though, lol.

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  3. SouthernMDGent · November 13, 2015

    Very nicely put. I agree that all too often the suspension is left until last on car modifications and generally overlooked for straight line performance. However I will have to disagree with you on the accessport. While it is expensive and primarily a horsepower generator it is also an invaluable diagnostic tool for those who do wish to race their car regularly. So while I agree with you on the suspension being important I think that for some, like us focus st drivers, for track time a mostly stock set up with money put into an intercooler and accessport would be an excellent starting point for learning at the track. The only reason I look at the intercooler on factory forced induction vehicles is that many are undersized, and the intercooler will allow you to keep many of the stock driving dynamics because of minimal power gains.

    Like

    • theapexhunter · November 13, 2015

      Thank you! I agree on the AP benefits you listed, but I’ve just never been a huge supporter. For the same amount of money spent on an Accessport, you could have paid for a professional open source tune, as well as a tactrix cable for data logging. Now, if I had unlimited cash to blow, I’d definitely go the AP route, but this piece was written with cost effectiveness in mind. I’m also a former Subaru (STi) owner, so I’m just tired of seeing people spend $600 on these things and then stick with mediocre OTS tunes since they spent all their cash on the AP and can no longer afford a tune. So, in short, I completely agree. The intercooler is also a decent upgrade, since most factory turbo cars come with crappy plastic piping and undersized cores. I just stress suspension and tires because I’ve seen, first hand, how beneficial it is to increase grip and reduce body roll in race applications.

      Like

  4. Josh · November 13, 2015

    I have to point out that some of your points are only good if the enthusiast is planning on racing the vehicle. Some enthusiasts only upgrade a few items to bring the vehicle into a more modern era and would not want to take the vehicle to a race level. Then you have those who build for show, these vehicles can range from high end sports cars to antique economy cars and may or may not have any modifications to them. Also some modifications are purely for show and are used by the owner to add flare or make a slight change to an already nice ride. As for ebay yes it contains some crap however it opened sourced parts from all over, some good some crap it falls to the enthusiast to decide which is correct for each vehicle and i for one welcome the options it drives high end parts lower and more affordable and it gives access to one off parts or custom parts for your specific vehicle.

    Like

    • theapexhunter · November 13, 2015

      I agree. The blog is mostly track oriented, though. Although I go to meets from time to time, most of my automotive hours are spent at the track or in the garage. I discussed the eBay reference at length on a forum this was shared on. Basically, I meant the knockoff Chinese parts. Not quality parts sourced through eBay.

      Like

  5. Brian · November 14, 2015

    Driver is single biggest upgrade. I generally agree, but I haven’t heard a word about brakes. No point in trying to go, if you can’t stop. We all know brakes take some abuse when tracking. I love me some suspension. Mine costs more than some peoples cars, but I think brakes/maintenance should be first.

    Like

    • theapexhunter · November 14, 2015

      Yeah, I’m definitely going to do a separate post about brakes. Not necessarily some crazy AP racing upgrades or anything (it’s all application dependent), but at least the value of decent pads/rotors/lines

      Like

  6. CDunc · November 14, 2015

    My only gripe, is that you listed making extensive changes to the suspension before track time. In most cases the stock suspension is already beyond the driver. Driver safety, brakes, seat time, tires. Make the bigger changes as the driver progresses; as he/she learns to listen to the feedback the vehicle is providing.

    For most, the mods listed are the first parts installed on their new car, and perhaps that’s what you were implying. Just found it odd the items I mentioned were not a priority. Good read, I appreciate the article!

    Like

    • theapexhunter · November 14, 2015

      You’re absolutely right. I was more so looking to downplay the importance of engine mods to emphasize that of suspension/tires (physical modifications) and then I realized the importance of the driver mod had to be mentioned as well. I’ll probably end up writing an entire post about the value of seat time, because it’s a concept I could drone on about for ages. I’m a huge supporter of learning your car and then modding accordingly. I appreciate you taking the time to comment though, hope to see you back again!

      Like

  7. MSM1624 · November 14, 2015

    Your comments are spot on with what I’ve been learning over the past season, which is also my first of many seaons, autocrossing and an HPDE event. This is perfect advice for someone coming into the sport and needing the basics. Shock rates and more advanced tuning comes after learning driving basics. Keep on writing!

    Like

    • theapexhunter · November 15, 2015

      Autocrossing is a great way to develop the technical skills that will set you apart on an actual track (assuming that’s your long term goal). I, admittedly, still have a good amount to learn about the advanced side of suspension tuning. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  8. scottyg555 · November 15, 2015

    You are absolutely right with this article. As a 16 year old who has just bought their first car (bmw e46 323ci), I’m pretty low on money but that doesn’t mean I’m going to dump the remainder into some cheap wheels and tires and raceland coilovers. I’ve driven the car hard enough that I know exactly what part is going to give out first and so when I do decide to upgrade I know exactly what to get. I’m also amazed by how many people just go into a tire store and buy whatever is cheap and fits their car. I’ve had countless comments about how pointless it is that I’m looking at getting over $1200 worth of tires when I could get a full set for under $300. This is a great article and I really hope a lot of people read it and actually look into what you’ve talked about.

    Like

    • theapexhunter · November 15, 2015

      Thanks for the support, it sounds like you’re in a far better spot (knowledge-wise) than most of us were at 16. If you have the chance (and have yet to do so), get out to a local AutoX event and you’ll learn more in three or four runs than you could learn in years of street driving. Good luck!

      Like

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