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Whether you like spirited driving around town or you're a weekend autocross warrior, the more power your engine makes, the better your driving experience. Almost all vehicles have restrictions in their intake and exhaust systems and these are two areas of focus that most car enthusiasts concentrate on first. It's important to note that modifying your engine to create more power can cause additional wear and tear on the engine, but the effects of changing an air intake and exhaust system are usually minimal. It is for this reason that most car enthusiasts focus on these parts first.

A restrictive intake can choke your engine by not letting it breathe. Many manufacturers design the intake to be restrictive to help limit the horsepower output and save additional funds on the cost of producing the vehicle. This is one measure they take to ensure the longevity of the engine. Installing a high flow air intake system is typically an easy modification that most people can accomplish within one to two hours using minimal tools; a screwdriver, a few wrenches and some sockets are usually all that's needed. The power gains you can get from an air intake can be small or quite large, depending on your engine. The extra power comes from two things; better flow dynamics from larger and smoother intake tubes, and from drawing in cooler air for the engine to use for combustion. The larger intake tubes let your engine breathe easier; it's like you trying to breathe through a small straw or a big tube. Obviously it's easier to breathe through the big tube. Since air is a vital part of the combustion process, the more air you can get into a cylinder, the more fuel you can add and the more power you can make. And because cold air is denser than warm air, an air intake system helps the engine make additional power by drawing in air from outside the hot engine bay.

Believe it or not, an exhaust system also helps the engine breathe. Imagine trying to exhale through a small straw. Now imagine the same thing, but through a big tube this time. Which one was easier to exhale through? The big tube! This is the same principal that applies an engines exhaust system. The bigger the exhaust system, the less work the engine has to do to push out spent exhaust gasses. Exhaust systems vary in length and can sometimes replace the catalytic converters to help improve exhaust gas flow. Depending on how your factory exhaust was designed, replacing it with a higher flow exhaust system can create additional horsepower, usually quite a lot more on turbocharged vehicles.

The final engine modification commonly done by car enthusiasts is using a performance chip or power programmer. These chips retune the engine to maximize horsepower and torque. Power gains can be had on stock vehicles, but even more power can be had from combining a performance tuner with other power modifications. This is because your factory ECU doesn't know about the cold air intake or exhaust system you installed, but the performance tuner can let your engines computer know about these new parts you installed. It is not uncommon to get 20+ horsepower when you combine a performance chip with a CAI and exhaust system.

Resources:

If you want to get additional information about these auto parts, here's a few informative pages dedicated to air intake systems and exhaust systems. Take a close look at Magnaflow brand exhaust systems, they are world renowned for their high quality construction, power gains and unique exhaust note.
 
 
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