Your truck may already be a powerhouse, but a little more horsepower never hurt anyone! From the simple things, to major upgrades, here are the most effective ways to boost horsepower in a truck.
Get a tune-up
Staying on top of vehicle maintenance won’t necessarily increase horsepower so much as it will return horsepower. If your truck’s systems aren’t running properly, your horsepower can suffer. Air and fuel filters, for example, can starve a vehicle if they’re dirty or clogged. Since these filters are inexpensive and relatively easy to change, it’s a great idea to replace them.
Oil changes are also important, as the engine will run better and last longer when friction is reduced by using clean, high quality oil and oil filters. If you invest in a quality synthetic oil (and if you’re driving a newer truck), you might even notice a slight increase in responsiveness, as well as a slight increase in total power output.
Get rid of any extra “gear” you’re hauling around
Again, this will not actually put more power into your engine, but it will allow your engine to better use the power it has. Every pound of cargo you add to your vehicle is another pound your truck’s engine has to move. A mere 100 pounds of cargo, for example, can decrease efficiency by 1-2% — which is a lot considering how little cargo that is.
If you clean out your truck and get rid of that bag of clothes you’ve been meaning to donate, the books you’ve been meaning to bring inside, the toolbox you loaded in your cab but probably don’t need to truck around, etc., you’ll free up some power. Not to mention what might be floating around in your truck bed! As truck owners, we often leave materials and tools in the bed, if you don’t need them, don’t haul them around. A bag of sand or an old tire are great for traction in winter weather, but they’re just sucking up horsepower in the summer.
Install a cold-air intake
While there is a lot of debate about whether or not installing a cold air intake is worth it, they do improve efficiency, and therefore must add some power over stock. The cold air intake increases efficiency in a few different ways.
- First, they remove all of the sound baffling in the stock intake — this baffling is restrictive, and it’s only purpose is to reduce the noise of your engine at wide open throttle. If you don’t mind engine noise, replacing your stock air box is a nice modification.
- Second, cold air intakes collect air from outside the engine compartment (where air temps are notably higher). Cooler air is more dense, which means there is more oxygen in a given volume of air…and more oxygen means you can burn more fuel.
Depending on your setup, installing a cold air intake can add 6 to 11 horsepower, and slightly more torque. As a bonus, cold air intakes also improve throttle responsiveness, and many truck owners report improved fuel economy after installing an intake.
Install an aftermarket exhaust system
In addition to gaining an awesome exhaust note, aftermarket exhaust systems are a quick and easy path to additional horsepower. Much like the factory air intake, the factory mufflers are designed to be quiet first and efficient second. If you replace the quiet factory muffler with a quality after-market unit, you’ll see a slight increase in horsepower and enjoy a hearty exhaust note.
If you replace the factory exhaust system with an after-market tuned cat-back exhaust, you may see gains from 5 horsepower to as much as 20 horsepower (depending on the size of your truck’s engine). Finally, if you replace the factory exhaust manifold with a set of after-market headers, you can pick up a few more horsepower…just make sure you understand that changing your factory exhaust manifold can change your truck’s torque curve. Long-tube headers, for example, often increase horsepower at the expense of some low-end grunt.
Invest in an engine tuner
The factory engine tune on most trucks isn’t necessarily the best for generating maximum horsepower. Your truck heads to the dealership with a tune meant to make it shift smoothly, offer a good combination of fuel efficiency and power, and to operate as quietly as possible. If you re-program your truck with a more aggressive tune, you can often pick up considerable horsepower. Depending on the type of truck you have (gas or diesel) and engine size (small V6 or massive diesel), engine tuners can increase power from 10hp all the way up to 50hp.
Most engine tuners are handheld units that plug into your trucks’ diagnostic port. They are pre-programmed with a variety of tunes, and they’re generally very user friendly. If there’s a downside to using an engine tuner, it’s that they cost a fair amount of money (some cost more than $400) and they often require you to buy premium gas. However, if you’re willing to invest, an engine tuner can really maximize performance…especially on trucks that already have other performance add-ons (like intake, exhaust, etc.).
Install an STS turbo kit
Turbochargers are commonplace on big trucks, and for good reason:
- Turbos are fuel efficient, as they utilize waste heat from the exhaust to boost air intake pressure
- Turbos are durable, relatively affordable, and don’t tend to have much of an effect on the engine’s reliability
- Turbos make bigger engines more responsive
A company called STS offers universal turbocharger kits for trucks that can add anywhere from 50 to 200hp. While these kits aren’t exactly cheap (they cost a few thousand dollars), they include all the components you need to to upgrade your engine, and they’re available for nearly every truck on the market.
Install any number of aftermarket superchargers
Superchargers and turbochargers both increase horsepower through forced induction. However, a supercharger offers a couple of advantages over a turbocharger:
- Superchargers have no “lag” – there’s no delay between throttle application and boosted intake pressure
- Superchargers tend to be even more reliable than turbos
Toyota, for example, offers factory-designed superchargers for the Tundra and Tacoma thru their TRD performance division, and in the case of the 5.7L V8 Tundra, the TRD supercharger adds over 100hp and nearly 150ft-lbs of torque. Ford Racing, GM Performance, and Mopar also offer superchargers, some of which can be mounted on their late-model trucks.
Of course, there are also after-market universal superchargers available that will work on most pickups.