Jim Smart
December 25, 2006
Contributers: Marvin Mcafee Photos By: Marvin Mcafee

It is a saw as old as the internal combustion engine itself-getting more power without spending a lot of money. Most of these tips involve common sense-or something that gobbles most of your credit-card limit. Who needs it? We need real solutions without breaking the bank-and our engines. It still boils down to the physics of drawing an air/fuel mix into the chambers, how tight we squeeze it, and how well we scavenge hot gasses when the action's over.

When we sat down at MCE Engines in Los Angeles and chatted about real, honest-to-goodness power solutions, it became an all-out tech session to explore what really makes more power. We learned real power gains don't always come from any one thing but rather lots of little things that add up to significant increases. Here's what we came up with.

Cold-Air Induction
This is an old, old tip, but it means an increase of 1 percent for every 10-degree reduction in temperature. If the underhood temperature is 160 degrees and you can feed your engine cooler ambient air that's 90 degrees F from outside, that's a 7-percent increase in power. Don't laugh-it's real physics and it really works.

Run Synthetic Engine Oil
Sure, it costs more, but it reduces internal engine friction by a significant margin over mineral-based engine oil. When we reduce an engine's internal friction using synthetic oil, we not only free up power lost to friction, we also reduce engine wear. The benefit is three-fold and makes great sense. It improves gas mileage, reduces friction, and frees up power. If the cost of synthetic engine oil turns you off, consider the cost of wasted energy and increased wear and tear using mineral-based oils.

Lower The Viscosity
If you're running 10W40 engine oil, drop your viscosity to 10W30, 5W30, or 5W20. This move all by itself frees up power-again, lots of stand-alone improvements that add up to big power gains. If you're not fond of full synthetics, opt for the best conventional high-performance engine oil or a synthetic blend.

Underdrive Pulleys
Pulleys that underdrive an accessory are popular, but there's more to it than that. Underdrive pulleys, such as those from March Performance, reduce accessory speed at high revs, which protects them from failure. Underdriving also reduces accessory drag just like low gear decreases drag when you're pedaling a bicycle. This is a low-buck power tip that contributes to the power picture. Just make sure you don't underdrive more than 10 percent-any more than that reduces water-pump speed and can cause overheating when an engine is used in stop-and-go driving.