Stage 1 Tuning

"All you need to know about taking your car to stage 1"

What is stage 1 tuning? Most people visiting our site and forums have already done a stage 1 mod or are looking to perform their first mod. So let's look at what people mean by stage 1 tuning.

Although there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what the car tuning stages mean, you might want to read this article to get an overview of what most tuners mean by the stages.

This video also explains stage 1 tuning mods and compares them to the other tuning stages.

Aims of a stage 1 tune

When people talk about stage 1 tuning they are usually looking to improve the performance of their car as easily and simply as possible.

Most are happy to do the work themselves and have basic mechanical knowledge.

Sadly a lot of parts sold as stage 1 mods do very little to improve the performance of your car and we hope to highlight the common pitfalls and problems in this article.

Stage 1 tuning mods

These are literally mods you can just bolt on and they will work. They are typically simple easy DIY mods but many will not make much difference to the car's power.

Here is a video discussing the best stage 1 tuning mods for your car.

A true stage one mod is a stand alone mod, but there is nothing stopping you from adding more to your car, and in fact, we strongly recommend you do as the power gains are exponential.

By that we mean the sum of power gains add up to more than the individual parts.

For example, adding a sports exhaust (2bhp) an air intake (4bhp) and remap (15bhp) you'll end up with unlocking a power gain of 30bhp rather than 21bhp if you just added them together.

The most common stage 1 tuning mods

Stage 1 tuning parts

Typical stage 1 mods often include:

  1. Alloy wheels,
  2. Sports exhaust,
  3. Remap,
  4. Panel air filter,
  5. Lighter flywheel,
  6. Suspension upgrade (drop 30-40mm).

So let's take these stage 1 tuning mods and discuss the effectiveness of each of them.

We'll also help you decide which are the best stage 1 tuning mods.

Alloy wheels

Alloy wheels, adding a nice looking set of rims to the car is often the first mod and can make a big difference to how the car looks.

Bear in mind that larger heavier wheels will often have a negative impact on the car handling and performance.

If you choose the right size and specify a lighter weight wheel, it can improve handling so we suggest you read our articles on wheel upgrades to investigate this further.

Stage 1 air intakes

Induction kits are another common stage one mod. The airbox is replaced with a cone shaped filter. Stage 1 intake mods would also include a panel air filter and replacement airbox, as they don't require additional mods.

Is it worth getting stage 1 intake mods on their own? Not really - power gains from this are generally negligible and we often get messages from people who've added induction kits and seen a loss of power or now have a flat spot.

Induction kits are not really a good stage 1 mod unless your car has a restriction in the intake which is not something we often see.

However, if you are adding other mods then an air intake upgrade makes a lot of sense as you'll have created a restriction in the intake with the engine's need for more air. We have a few articles on induction kits and air intakes to help you make a wise choice when you do this mod.

Stage 1 performance exhausts

These are generally added to give the car a better sounding exhaust note when done as a stage 1 tuning mods. Like the stage 1 intake this won't add much power but will free up the engine removing potential future restrictions in your project.

Power gains from a cat-back sports exhaust are usually not even noticeable, Things get interesting when you look at the exhaust headers.

This is the manifold that connects the exhaust to the engine and it's shape and design can make a big impact on performance.

Most manufacturers use a rough cast manifold, which is not great at flowing the exhaust gases, and at the engine they are flowing at the fastest rate and are at the hottest.

So rather than the catback exhaust, we would recommend you fit well-designed headers, and you should see a modest power gain on most engines. Don't expect too much, but you'll be well placed to release the power in all of your other mods.

Read more on performance exhausts here.

Stage 1 tuning (remaps, remapping, and ECU tuning)

The best and easiest upgrade open to us is a change to the engine computer settings. In modern engines, this contains the fuel and ignition timing map, matching fuel and air to maximize power. We strongly recommend this stage 1 tuning upgrade for all turbo cars and most NA (naturally aspirated) engines.

Most manufacturer settings are conservative and you can fairly easily unlock 15 to 40% more power just by having the computer reflashed.

Not all cars can be mapped but we explain other options for you in this article on piggyback ECU tuning.

A mapper will connect a computer to your cars ECU via the OBDII Diagnostic port. They will download your current map and settings, amend and upgrade this.

After it has been encoded and verified it can be re-written to your car and you will have extra power and performance.

Turbocharged cars generally respond better than naturally aspirated NA (naturally aspirated) engines, but most drivers will see a benefit, and thanks to the ease and costs it makes stage 1 remaps one of the best options for your car.

Stage 1 suspension mods

Dropping the car around 20 to 40mm will lower the center of gravity and improve the handling. We think a stage 1 suspension upgrade makes a lot of sense and will increase your cars handling and cornering ability.

We strongly recommend you do your research as it is possible to ruin your cars handling with the wrong stage 1 suspension modifications.

If you can fit adjustable shocks, typically a decent set of coilovers, you have more options and can set them up to suit your driving style and what you expect from your car.

Read more on handling mods here.

Stage 1 brake mods

Keeping true to stage 1 we are looking at bolt on brake upgrades. Thankfully there are a good range of options for most cars. Once again for a stage 1 tuning upgrade we recommend this mod, even if it's the only thing you do to your car.

Just sourcing some performance pads can make a big difference to your cars braking.

When you buy a used car you'll often find people have cheeped out on brake pads fitting the cheapest they can find, dramatically degrading its performance.

When it comes to the discs, you can, true to stage 1, just swap out for a same size performance option. These will generally have holes (drilled discs) and grooves to help dissipate the heat and keep the pads in contact with the surface more tightly under heavy braking.

See our article on brake upgrades, for more insights on brake mods, from stage 1 to full race setups.

Going to a breakers yard you might even find a set of larger discs and pads from a performance variant, but technically as you are now bolting on multiple parts you are moving to stage 2 mods, which we will cover in this article.

When does stage 1 tuning become stage 2?

When a mod doesn't work on its own and required additional mods you are moving to stage 2 tuning, and this is where we recommend most people go with their car tuning project.

You'll usually waste money adding stage 1 mods, then undoing these to take the car to the next level, so it makes sense and will save time and money to plan all of your mods and go straight into stage 2.

Please also let us know what mods you've done to your or if you feel we have missed any information out in this article, we are all here to learn and share what we know.

Check out my YouTube channel, we're regularly adding new content...


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One Response to “Stage 1 tuning”

  1. Gerry Lafont says:

    Hi guys,
    I enjoy your article/site. Find the info very helpful, simple, informative and easy to understand.

    I am new at this. I would like some advise and recommendation to do a stage 2 tuning to my 2018 BMW 430i adaptive sport suspension and 19in OE tires. I am targeting a 40+ hp increase. Please list items I may need to achieve this. I am okay with altering some mechanical parts, preferably at minimal where I can put back OE parts if I decide to sell later. I am okay with changing to a slotted disc & brake, caliper, or even the exhaust. Thanks in advance.

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