Differences Between Tuning Stages 1, 2 & 3?

"The tuning world often refers to Tuning Stages"

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

Is stage 1 tuning or stage 2 tuning best for your car? When should you think about a stage 3 tune?

We hate to shatter the illusion but tuning stages are, in the main, fairly meaningless terms if applied to power gains. They cannot reliably be used to explain how much power gets added by a modification or used to compare offering and products between brands.

This is because there is no consistent difference in part makers between their classifications of tuning stages be it stage 1 stage 2 or stage 3 mods. We have video games to thank for originating these options, but they can still be useful when discussing upgrades for cars.

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?

Tuning Stages According To Some Retailers

For some companies

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

For others

Then we get some working to power figures

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

I've even known some companies to offer a "stage 4 or 5 tuning" upgrade, just because it sounds better!

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 Tuning Stages 1, 2 and 3?

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

  1. Stage 1 tuning mods are simple and fitted in isolation
  2. Stage 2 tuning mods require additional parts to effectively work
  3. Stage 3 tuning mods are generally motorsport only and not usually road legal.

Let's break this down and fully explain each of the tuning stages.

Stage 1 Tuning Modifications

Stage 1 modifications added on their own will still work. 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 will 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 tune/remap or timing changes, blow off valves/diverters  and the like.

Most of these easy to fit stage one mods are the first thing people will do on their project car. Just because they are popular it does not mean they are good mods or will add any significant power gains.

Many stage 1 mods will raise the peak power, but you might sacrifice some low end power, so effectively you are moving the power band rather than just adding power. Stage 1 tuning is a good way to set your car up for bigger gains later.

Stage 2 Tuning 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 as stage 1 can also count as stage 2 mods. So if they are extreme in their ambition and work better with other mods, regard them as a stage 2.

Stage 2 mods are usually DIY tasks but many require specialist knowledge and tools.

Typical stage 2 mods include an aggressive tune/remap that requires a larger turbo, or higher spec turbo control valves, camshafts, and head work that alter the air flow into the engine and replacement of catalysts and filters with better flowing alternatives (if legal in your area or region).  The addition of a larger or hybrid turbo and many of these other stage 2 mods will require a tune/remap and fuelling upgrades as well as potential engine strengthening.

Fast road cams (need some engine dismantling and are fitted along 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.)

We recommend that most of our visitors research and look into doing stage 2 tuning, this gives the best overall effect.

Even if you think you'll only do one or two mods, you will get the modding bug and will go on to perform many other upgrades to your car.

Here is our video on stage 2 tuning mods on our YouTube Channel.

Stage 3 Tuning Modifications

Stage 3 modifications typically count by most people as suitable only for track days and motor sports.

Like stage 2 mods they will also need other mods to support them but tuning stages here 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.

So typical stage 3 mods would include race spec parts, that require a track environment to work properly and would render the car illegal to use on the road. Modifications such as removal of the catalysts and DPF removal, or those that cause the engine to run rich causing a smoky exhaust, or using slick tires would be included here.

A stage 3 race modified car needs regular servicing and frequent overhauls. The extra strain put on the cars engine will result in premature engine wear. 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.

Pease watch our video guide to stage 3 tuning, and be sure to subscribe and don't miss out.

What about power gains for the Tuning Stages 1 vs Stage 2 vs stage 3?

Think of power gains as percentages rather than a set bhp. Most companies will only quote a peak power gain figure when selling parts.

You will never get that peak gain through the whole rpm range. At the bottom end it may be much lower. Sometimes we see a power loss at low RPMs with certain mods.

When you tune a car you are generally adding a percentage power gain. So at the bottom end you won't see much gain. At the peak power zone your percentage will net you larger gains.

It really pays to start with a good power base. Spending $1000 on a NASP 70bhp engine will only gain around 7bhp more. Compare this with the same spend on a 200bhp turbo car which can see you hit 300bhp, around 50% more.

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

Most people who come to our site have done stage 1 tuning mods. They are now looking to take the car further. Sadly many stage 1 mods need removal, especially a stage 1 remap, before you can go to stage 2.

We strongly recommend you plan a power figure and research the power band profile you need for your car. Then go straight in at stage 2 mods. By buying a set of stage 2 mods you won't be wasting money and will fully unlock the potential from each mod.

Always do the tune/remap last. This then takes into account all the other mods and ensures they are all working at their optimum peak power.

If you talk to your remapper they will generally be able to suggest the best stage 1 or stage 2 mods for your project. With the experience they have with your engine they will know which mods give you the best power upgrade.

How much power will I get from a Stage 1 upgrade or Stage 2 mod?

You can't tell from the "stage label" without knowing what the parts are and which engine they are fitted to it would be impossible to put a power gain figure.

We can say that stage 1 tuning power levels will be a lower gain that stage 2 tuning and stage 2 is reaching the upper limits for a road spec car.

The only real way to know is to carry out the mods and get a dyno printout to see where the power lies and how effective your upgrades have been.

So when it comes to STAGES  on car parts websites such labeling 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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4 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. Erika says:

    Thank you for the very easy to understand explanation!

  4. 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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