What is the difference between stage 1, 2 and 3 tuning?

"The tuning world often refers to stages"

You will often hear tuning companies and car tuners going on about stage 1, 2 and 3 mods. What are these different stages and what do they mean?

We hate to shatter the illusion but they are, in the main, fairly meaningless terms if applied to power gains and cannot reliably be used to explain how much power a modification adds.

There is no consistent difference in part makers between their classifications of stage 1 stage 2 and stage 3 mods.

De-mystifying the Stage 1,2 and 3 tuning mods. The tuning industry use these terms but what do they mean and what can you expect from each of them?

For some companies

  • STAGE 1 - Cheapest options
  • STAGE 2 - Pay us more money and get more power
  • STAGE 3 - Pay loads of money and we'll build a track car!

For others

  • Typical stage 1 - Single bolt on parts or one time upgrade
  • Typical stage 2 - Two or more parts required
  • Typical stage 3 - Internal work is also needed

Then we get some working to power figures

  • Typical stage 1 = 20bhp more
  • Typical stage 2 = 40bhp more
  • Typical stage 3 = 100bhp more

I've even known some to be the first to offer a "stage 4 or 5 tune"!

So let's cut through these over generalisations of the terms and explain what most car modifiers and tuners would put in each tuning stage.

So how do we classify stage 1, 2 and 3 upgrades?

Well there are some points that one should bear in mind that differentiate between a "typical" mod in each stage.

Stage 1 modifications

A stage 1 modification can be added in isolation. This means that a true stage 1 modification part does not require any other engine modifications to get it to work.

Whilst other mods can help to raise the power gains and realize the full potential of the mod they are not mandatory.

These are at the bottom end of the tuning scene in terms of the overall benefits you will get.

Typical stage 1 mods are generally a straightforward DIY fit and should work on a standard engine that is in good condition.

Some examples of stage 1 mods include, induction kits, panel air filters, sports exhausts, fuel pressure regulators, a simple engine remap or timing changes, blow off valves/divertors  and the like.

Stage 2 modifications

These stage 2 mods offer larger power gains than stage one but will usually require additional work or other parts if you want them to work reliably.

Some of the examples listed in stage 1 can also be regarded as stage 2 mods if they are extreme in their ambition.

A stage 2 mod is usually a DIY fit but many will require specialist knowledge and tools.

Addition of a larger or hybrid turbo (requires a remap and fuelling upgrades as well as potential engine strengthening).

Fast road cams (need some engine dismantling and will need to be fitted with followers/lifters etc but ideally the engine will need to be remapped).

Supercharger kits (these need air intake, exhaust and mapping modifications before they can work at all.)

Stage 3 modifications

A stage 3 modification is regarded by most as a track day or motor sport modification.

Like stage 2 mods they will also need other mods to support them but they are usually far from ideal for road use as we will explain.

Take racing brakes for example. These can tolerate extremely high temperatures but they are pretty useless whilst cool.

On the road you can't afford to have to wait for the brakes to warm up before they operate effectively.

On the track they will run hot through each lap. An aggressive cam profile will also move the power band right up the rev range and cause a very lumpy tick over making the car hard to drive in day to day traffic.

Heavy duty clutches can be off or on in their nature and make driving in slow traffic nearly impossible.

A stage 3 race modified car will also need to be regularly overhauled and serviced. The extra strain put on the cars engine will result in premature engine wear and if a car is used on a daily basis it will become very unreliable.

So to summarize stage 3 mods are the most aggressive and not the sort of thing you want to do on a road car.

You will also need to bear in mind that some tuning companies will just box their parts in packs labelled stage 1,2 and 3 and maybe even 4 or 5.

Such labelling is as helpful as a product number and should not be taken as any sort of guarantee of the power gains or suitability for your car.

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Your Constructive comments on this article

3 Responses to “Stage 1, 2 & 3 tuning mods explained”

  1. Bruce says:

    Very interesting. My interpretation from back in the 60′ and 70’s was this:
    Stage 1 – Bolt-ON Parts; carb, igntion, exhaust…
    Stage 2 – Bolt-IN Parts; cams, dome pistons, valve springs…
    Stage 3 – Requiring Machine Shop; boring, stroking, blueprinting…
    Until the last few years, I never heard of Stage 4-5-6 (I saw a ‘Stage 8’ the other day!) I consider this nothing more than marketing jargon to attract people who believe that ‘Bigger must be better’. Cheers!

  2. rian g says:

    thanks for taking the time to write this, normally i dont comment but that had real good structure. I have always wondered and i have never gotten a straight answer from anybody, or actually seen any set definition for staged performance parts. all the highschool kids here have stage 3 all over their hondas and i was wondering where they get the $ for such parts. now i wonder where theyre buying the stickers hahaha thanks again

  3. John hurley says:

    Felt like a one on one chat about basic physics that is interesting And more about saving us all time & money, thanks Waynne

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