What Are The Best Mods For Autocross?
Author: Carly Augustynowicz
May 9, 2021
Ah yes, the million-dollar question; What Are The Best Mods For Auto X? Autocross is nothing short of exhilarating and challenging for drivers of all skill levels. Autocross events a true test of whether your car can handle some hooligan driving and hard launches, but more importantly than that, it's a test of driver skill and consistency. And the truth is, there isn't any perfect list of modifications and/or go-fast parts that will get you a better time. Honestly, this is true for all forms of motorsports.
However, if you've been hitting up the autocross track pretty often and are already set up with some sticky, 200 treadwear tires (or whatever your autocross class permits), some adjustable coilovers, and possibly even a lightweight set of wheels, as I discussed in the previous blog regarding autocross mods, AND you're looking to set up your game a little bit now that you have some seat time under your belt, here are some popular upgrades that you might consider.
Setting The Tone
Now, keep in mind that no amount of aerodynamics mods, go-fast parts, suspension components, or good tires, alone, will result in a perfect time.
More ponies under the hood or big wings won’t make you a better driver because autocross simply isn't about horsepower or modifications. That's the hard truth for some people about autocross racing.
In fact, most autocross course maps / autocross parking lots are designed with few straightaways and more of an emphasis on tight and windy corners not allowing cars with massive power outputs to have much of an advantage.
Now, don't get me wrong. Does power/torque help? Yes, it can. But, does it mean everything? No, it certainly does not.
More importantly than the horsepower and torque your car makes, driver skill and seat time are by far the most valuable factors and investments you can make to improve your time on the track, especially if you’re a novice driver.
Don’t modify the car, modify the driver.
The modifications on this list are only typical upgrades that drivers will make once they’ve had enough seat time and have learned the techniques and tips for this type of racing.
Again, these modifications aren’t necessary and won’t guarantee a better time, but if you know how to drive, these supporting mods may make it easier and safer to throw around your car.
Let’s dive into it.
Upgraded Suspension Components
Aside from driver skill and curb weight, the way your car handles that weight is crucial. At this point, you probably already have some adjustable coilovers to lower your center of gravity and have a more responsive connection around the corners. That’s perfect.
There’s a few other suspension components that you might want to consider to aid in more precise cornering. We’re talking about sway bars or anti-sway bars, or anti-roll bars babyy.
Sway bars have been a staple for many autocrossers because they help resist body roll when taking those hard corners. Along with sway bars are adjustable sway bar end links and stiffer bushings (if your sway bar doesn’t come with any).
Sway bars or anti-sway bars work by evenly shifting the weight of your car to the inside tire when you’re going around a tight corner thus creating a more even weight distribution and better handling. Having adjustable sway bar end links will help keep your end links perpendicular to the ground so your sway bar can do what it does best.
Additionally, they help reduce oversteer and understeer which is a common occurrence at autocross due to the nature of the driving. I’ll cover this shortly.
Sway bars connect your suspension on the left and right side of your car. When you go into the corners and experience elevation change, the roll-bar on the driver's side, for example, will be forced to rotate upwards causing the other side of the roll bar to rotate upwards due to the torque it creates.
To touch on oversteer and understeer, here’s what you may want to consider if you experience one or the other.
Understeer: Rear Sway bar and/or less stiff front sway bar.
Oversteer: Front sway bar and/or less stiff rear sway bar.
Alignment & Corner Balancing
On the topic of better weight distribution and handling, having a proper alignment and possibly even corner balancing is right at the top of the autocross mods list by a set of performance tires.
A proper alignment that’s set up for track use makes a massive difference in the way your car behaves on the track.
A good alignment is your friend in and through the corners.
A track-oriented alignment differs from a normal alignment because it takes into account the aggressive driving that autocrossers partake in. This type of alignment is done best with coilovers because there’s more freedom in manipulating the suspension to make the car behave a certain way when cornering.
A race alignment also utilizes your car's toe and some negative camber. So, adjustable camber arms would be another useful modification to aid in this process.
Corner balancing adjusts the load of your coilover springs to more equally distribute the weight of your car. Corning balancing also accounts for the weight of you, the driver, in this process.
Corner balancing, along with a proper alignment, will help dial in your car’s handling to give you the best opportunity for better cornering.
Big Brakes | Brake Upgrades
This is a modification that most enthusiasts go crazy for. Everyone loves a big brake setup for some massive stopping power. In autocross, you’re going to be braking very hard before the corners so having either a big brake kit upgrade, race brake pads and rotors, and/or some high temp brake fluid can be an advantageous upgrade.
If your car doesn’t already have big brakes, this type of upgrade can really make a difference in how you brake before diving into the corners and reducing brake fade in your later runs. The biggest difference here is having more confidence in smashing the brake pedal before you dive into the corners.
Big brake kits are different for every platform, so I would suggest reaching out to your car buddies on the FB pages or groups you’re in to see what other people went with for big brakes.
If you’re upgrading to big brakes, you may need to get a new set of wheels that have big brake clearance. Artisa ArtFormed Wheels, Volk Racing, and Enkei, for example, have plenty of race-inspired wheels that clear big brakes and are lightweight; the perfect recipe for a track setup.
If you don’t have the cash for big brakes (and possibly a new set of wheels), I’d suggest grabbing a good set of brake pads and some high temp brake fluid. Some might say that Dot 4 of Dot 5.1 brake fluid is necessary but you feel like you’re experiencing brake fade in your second heat or something, it can’t hurt.
There are some disadvantages to having race pads if you also daily drive your car, such as loud screeching and squeaky noises, but if you can handle the weird looks in your hometown at the stop sign by the local grocery store, go for it!
Stiffen Things Up
If you’re considering upgrades like a sway bar, some adjustable sway bar end links, and adjustable camber arms, another upgrade you might want to look at is some stiffer bushings all around. After all, bushings are what link many of these suspension components together.
Another option would be some stiff motor mounts.
Some people say these upgrades don’t make a massive difference, and while they may not be totally off, there have been some track tests that support the improvements in handling on the track.
The thing to note with these types of upgrades is that they might make your normal ride quality a little less comfortable. Factory rubber motor mounts or less stiff mounts reduce some of the vibrations that can come from your engine and from driving on crappy roads which is all too familiar here in Wisconsin.
You can usually buy kits of polyurethane bushings so you can replace everything at once, but things differ for every platform so again, do some research on different bushing kits available for your car.
Cooling System Upgrades
There’s a lot to discuss when it comes to cooling upgrades, but we’ll keep it simple. I’ll also note that again, this may be a controversial topic because autocross is very different from road racing where an advanced cooling system is necessary, but just like a lot of other car modifications, it can’t hurt to have.
When you’re participating in consistently aggressive driving, your engine temps can get high. But the greater the coolant flow, the easier it is to keep your engine cool. As well as airflow. Parts like cold air intakes may serve your car well for autocross.
Some common cooling upgrades to keep engine temps low are higher quality radiators and improving general airflow through aerodynamics mods.
The most important part of maintaining cool engine temps during autocross is making sure there are no leaks or potential leaks and keeping your fluids topped off.
Safety Upgrades For Autocross
Harnesses and racing seats are one of those upgrades that not only look cool, but serve a real safety purpose as well. And as a reminder, all autocrossers are required to race with a helmet!
I’ve been in plenty of cars at the autocross track that don’t have racing seats or harnesses and while it may not be necessary for those who only occasionally visit the track, it’s about being comfortable and safe.
Every time I’ve been in a car without harnesses on the track, I’m usually grabbing any plastic handle I can find and pressing my legs against the door and dash to keep myself from being tossed around the car.
As a driver, it's important to stay planted in your seat, but that shouldn't be something you actively have to focus on at the track.
Harnesses and supportive bucket seats will keep you grounded in your seat instead of being tossed around so you can just focus on driving. If you notice the really competitive autocrossers, every one of those cars has racing seats and 4 or 5 point harnesses with harness bars. You’ll often see those cars with a full or partial roll cage too.
There are plenty of modifications that can be discussed when it comes to autocross and other types of road racing, but between this list and the first autocross modifications blog post that you can read here…
...these mods are a great start for novice drivers and semi-competitive racers too.
There are a lot of performance mods that will help on the horsepower side of things as well, but due to those modifications being more specific to certain platforms, I wanted to keep things simple and well...a little cheaper.
Turbo kits, supercharger kits, and built engines are not as feasible as parts like polyurethane bushings and sway bars.
I hope you found this helpful for your autocross build! Make sure to add your car to the gallery with some sick track pics.
What upgrades have you done to your autocross car? Let us know in the comments below!