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?

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

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 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!

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 tuning 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/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 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 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.)

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.

Stage 3 tuning 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.

When you tune a car you are generally adding a percentage power gain, so at the bottom end you won't see much gain, but 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, but the same spend on a 200bhp turbo car 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 labelled stage 1,2 and 3 and maybe even 4 or 5.

Most people who come to our site have done stage 1 tuning mods, but they are looking to take the car further. Sadly many stage 1 mods need to be undone, 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 remap last, as this 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, as they have experience with your engine and will know which mods give you the best power upgrade.

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.

Check out our new YouTube channel...

PLEASE HELP: I NEED YOUR DONATIONS TO COVER THE COSTS OF RUNNING THIS SITE AND KEEP IT RUNNING. I do not charge you to access this website and it saves most TorqueCars readers $100's each year - but we are NON PROFIT and not even covering our costs. To keep us running PLEASE Donate here

If you liked this page please share it with your friends, drop a link to it in your favourite forum or use the bookmarking options to save it to your social media profile.

Please watch this video on our new YouTube channel.


Please use our forums if you wish to ask a tuning question, and please note we do not sell parts or services, we are just an online magazine.

Help us improve, leave a suggestion or tip

Your Constructive comments on this article

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

Member Benefits

Join our forum today and benefit from over 300,000 posts on tuning styling and friendly car banter.

You will also have full access to the modifed car gallery, project car updates and exclusive member only areas.

(All car owners of all ages and from all countries are welcome).

Popular articles

Diesel tuning
Remapping ECU
double de clutch
Safety mods
Induction Kits
Customize a car
Tuning Chips
Modded Car insurance
Track day insurance
Diesel remaps
Work out your MPG
Unblock a DPF

Stage Remaps

Stage 1,2,3 remaps and mods

Superchargers Guide

Superchargers – A guide to supercharger kits benefits vs disadvantages

Suicide Doors

Suicide doors

Painting Calipers

Tips on brake caliper painting.

Best Sleeper Cars

Best sleeper cars

Handheld Ecu Mapping

ByteFlash Handheld DIY ECU mapping

MPG Calculator

MPG calculator UK miles per Gallon – calculate MPG