This is the first part of a series on car tuning where we take a look at different areas, loosely assembled in order of “best practices”, rather than as a set of rules. The order is mostly my opinion, feel free to disagree.
When you’re tuning your car, there are always a million different things you want to do. It’s almost a never-ending list—there’s always something else. Ideally, you’ll have a plan in place to help you along in the process. (If you don’t know where to start, making a plan is a good first step.) Since this is a post on tuning, we’re going to start with the assumption that you want more power and to go faster. To go faster, you need to be able to stop faster as well.
Tuning your brakes?
Braking is probably one of the more under-rated aspects of tuning. In popular culture, like The Fast and the Furious, everyone is mostly concerned going fast. In the real world you have to stop too.
The brakes that come with your car and are going to be more than adequate for the car as it came off of the assembly line (more than adequate if you’re driving a sports/super/hyper car, but then it was built to race to begin with). There are a large number of safety regulations that your brakes need to meet, so there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them, especially for every-day driving duties. We’re not really concerned with every-day driving duties, though, are we?
Preparing your car for more spirited or performance driving requires being able to slow down from higher-than-average rates of speed quickly. And repeatedly. (And, if you’re planning on adding more power to your car—and going even faster—your braking quickly will be even more important.
The last thing you want to do is pick the largest, highest-performance brakes you can afford. It may seem like the best thing to do, but you’re going to start running into problems like fitting them inside your wheels.
Let’s start stopping
When you’re choosing which high-performance brakes to put on your car, make sure you’re taking the rest of your planned modifications and overall goals in mind. The first step is knowing what you want to do with the car. This will determine what kind of upgraded brakes you look for. If this is your daily driver and you’re planning on auto-crossing or going to the occasional track day, you’ll be picking a different set of brakes than if you’re making a dedicated track car.
The second step is making sure they’ll fit inside your wheels. If you’re planning on putting larger wheels and tires on your car, you’ll be able to increase the size of your rotors and calipers. (You’ll probably want to have the wheels and tires already since more often than not, your stock wheels won’t clear the brakes.) If you’re going to be keeping the stock wheels, though (because you’re building a sleeper car, which is awesome) you’ll need to find ways to improve the braking system while still fitting behind your stock wheels. This can include upgrading your master cylinder and using high-performance rotors and calipers designed to fit in smaller wheels.
The third step is doing it. If you’re handy with tools and enjoy working on your own car, this won’t be a terribly difficult endeavor. It’s only slightly more difficult than changing your brake pads and rotors. You need to keep in mind, though, that your brakes are a safety system on your car. They are part of what keeps you alive when you’re driving. Be careful and follow all installing instructions for the parts you’re using and if you get into trouble, get professional help to finish the job. There’s no sense in taking shortcuts or thinking that a job is “good enough” when your life is on the line.