If you enjoy driving, then improving your car’s handling is a pretty good way to amp up the experience. But can you do it on an RM 1,000 budget?
Before we begin, I’d like to point out that this is a fairly loaded question because “improvement” can be subjective and there is a huge variation in pricing depending on what kind of car you drive. Making a Perodua Kancil handle better is going to be a lot easier and cheaper than doing the same for a Porsche 911 – but we’ll try to break it down anyway.
Welcome to the Free.99 option, and one that few people pay attention to – even among those who consider themselves enthusiasts. Tyre pressures are critical when it comes to a car’s handling and many people forget that pressures can run and change over time. It literally costs nothing to make sure your tyre pressures are correct (except perhaps the cost of a tyre pressure gauge), but even beyond that you can experiment with what works.
Certain tyres are more responsive to changes in tyre pressure than others, although it also depends on the situations the car is in. Tyres with softer sidewalls that are more comfort oriented can be a pain to balance grip (lower pressure) with steering response (higher pressure), but adjusting it progressively is the key to find the right pressures for you. You can even vary the pressures between the front and the rear to control how the car behaves – but whatever you do, try to make your adjustments when the tyres are cold for consistency.
Perhaps the cheapest option that you can go for which will transform your car’s handling is a simple alignment job, whether it’s to make sure that your wheel alignment hasn’t run over time, or to adjust the alignment to suit your desired result. You would be surprised how much an alignment change can affect how a car behaves, although that depends on how adjustable your car is to begin with and how receptive it is to these changes.
For example, with most front-wheel drive cars a small amount of toe-out for the front wheels can dramatically improve how quickly the car reacts to your steering inputs as well as improving the front-end grip from mid-corner to exit. Similarly, as long as your car as a way to adjust rear toe, you can choose to either toe-in the rear wheels for more straight-line stability or run them with zero toe (or toe out, if you’re a madman) for a livelier rear end.
All of these changes are very minor and will probably run you RM 100 to RM 200 at most (if the job is especially complex). You don’t lose anything in terms of comfort or driveability, but the flip side is that the right alignment for you may take a couple of attempts as you test and retest to see what feels good. Always remember not to go overboard with these changes as extreme settings can have unpleasant results.
Bars and Braces
One common modification, especially for older cars where the chassis can feel as rigid as a can of soda, is to add strengthening bars and braces throughout the car. The prices of these are generally not too extravagant, especially if you pick a local company like Ultra Racing. Each brace or bar costs a few hundred Ringgit, but it’s also important to know which ones to use and which to avoid.
For example, strengthening bars that fit under your fenders are usually a big help when it comes to sharpening up the steering feel and response as there is a huge amount of chassis flex from the front end. Strut bars go without saying, both for the front and the rear, and some room bars that fit between the B pillars of your car can also help to curb chassis flex. Anti-roll bars are a different matter entirely and not something we recommend you change without a deeper understanding of the potential drawbacks.
This is not something we really recommend as results can be a little hit and miss, but they are cheap! Lowering springs will usually cost under RM 1,000 for more mass market models, and mid-to-high end models will probably break that RM 1,000 mark for a decent set. The concept is that by lowering your car slightly you end up with a slightly lower centre of gravity, and the springs are usually slightly stiffer as well so you get more perceived body control.
There is, however, a whole bunch of issues that need to be addressed. For one, lowering a car may get the centre of mass lower to the ground but it may actually shift the roll centre further from the centre of gravity, resulting in a longer roll couple whi- well, it’s a lot of physics but you get the idea. Similarly, the stiffer lower springs may not work well with the stock suspension dampers that you still use, which can create some strange results and wear out your shock absorbers prematurely. In short, not the best option, but one that still falls within budget.
This is a bit of a conundrum because if you’re driving a car that needs tyres 16-inches in size or larger, you probably won’t be able to pull this off for RM 1,000 or under. Similarly if you have a car that runs a larger tyre, there’s a higher chance that the manufacturer specified decent tyres from factory so you probably won’t need to change the tyres to have a very noticeable effect – at least not without spending a lot of money.
But for the rest of us who drive more budget-friendly cars running smaller wheel and tyre sizes, going to a decent tyre can be a big help. We’ve covered a range of tyres before that will absolutely deliver on performance, and each of these tyres can be had for RM 1,000 for a set of four, in 15-inches or under (if they’re available in that size). Going to a better tyre gives you better, more consistent grip as you drive.
Now, there are plenty more things you could probably do to your car to improve the overall handling positively, but all of them will cost you more money that our rather low budget allows for. From full on aftermarket adjustable coilovers, to aerodynamic devices, the possibilities are endless. The important thing is to make changes progressively and measure improvements to ensure that you are making a positive change rather than regressing.