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I am a high schooler that was lucky enough to get a 2000 chevy cavalier 2.2l automatic 4 door sedan for $100 for my 16th birthday. One of the parents owns a drag strip/race track that we can use, so we are NOT doing this stuff on the road. Sometimes after school we like to race for fun. I already know that a cavalier is not the ideal car. We are careful about it, so we don't need a safety warning. The car is completely unmodded and I was wondering what I could do for fairly cheap to make it more show off (from a high schooler's perspective such as faster acceleration, louder engine, higher top speed, etc.) Sadly there is hardly any room under the hood for extra stuff. I am fairly good with electronics and I have a way to interface my arduino to the obd2 port so if I can do anything there please suggest it (I don't have access to a reprogrammer, but I can send commands over the obd2 port, but I am not very familiar with obd2.) So in conclusion what can I do for fairly cheap to make it more show off (from a high schooler's perspective such as faster acceleration, louder engine, higher top speed, etc.) If this is the wrong place to ask this question, can you please suggest where to ask it. Any ideas are welcome. This does still have to work as an every day car.

P.S. The engine doesn't have any problems and it is at ~168,000 mi.

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    The best general way to save money is to do any modification work yourself. Plus you'll learn a lot and can make more informed choices in the future. And it's way more fun. Just take care to keep your emissions legal if you intend to use the car on the street as well. – Jason C Aug 1 '16 at 17:00
  • (Having access to a shop helps if you have mechanic friends. I remember in high school I had a buddy whose dad was a mechanic and they rebuilt and dropped some old Chevy big block engine into his Oldsmobile Cutlass, just a few hundred bucks but tons of time. It was a pretty funny car.) – Jason C Aug 1 '16 at 17:06
  • Yeah, my school is small enough where if you are in the right class you can bring in your car/truck to work on. – Alex Rodgers Aug 1 '16 at 17:14
  • If you want to tinker with the ECU you'd need to reverse engineer the protocol used to tell the computer to read/write its firmware. It has nothing to do with OBD2 and each ECU has their own proprietary commands to update the firmware. If that is not possible then you can read the firmware directly by desoldering the memory chips. Once there you need to disassemble the firmware and understand where the important values are regarding fuel injection, timing, etc. – André Borie Aug 1 '16 at 19:46
  • There are forums dedicated to mod'ing Cavaliers, I used to be part of one back when I had a Z24. I'm at work so I can't look any up at the moment, but depending on which engine you've got there's quite a bit you can do to them. – Taegost Aug 1 '16 at 19:57
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If the question emphasis is on cheap, weight reduction is your friend

For many reasons:

  • A lighter car accelerates more quickly

    Because physics. Since you're planning to drag race, top speed should be less of a concern here.

  • It costs nothing except time and effort

    Plus it'll help you get familiar with how the car is bolted together

  • There's a chance you can earn something from selling the parts you remove

    Think breakers' yards, eBay, dedicated car forums... The proceeds could then be used towards purchasing a performance mod later.

  • You'd be following the Colin Chapman philosophy: "Simplify, and add lightness"

    It's the low-hanging fruit of racing.

  • There are lots of components that could be removed without affecting the car's essential functionalities

    A few examples (you can pick and choose what you want to keep):

    • air conditioning components (compressor, condenser, evaporator)
    • all seats except the driver's seat
    • interior trim
    • spare wheel
    • engine bonnet
  • This is true, but most things that people would remove from their car doesn't add-up to much weight. – tlhIngan Aug 1 '16 at 18:27
  • I also have to use this for my day to day car (I don't want to look like a bum), and we have been able to get to top speed on his strip (the fuel pump has shut off on me which I know is from the computer) – Alex Rodgers Aug 1 '16 at 18:28
  • @AlexRodgers well, you should have specified it in the question. I was assuming this was supposed to be a dedicated racecar. Mind you, the answer is still valid. Best bang for buck, since you have no buck invested in this mod. – Zaid Aug 1 '16 at 18:35
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    The spare tire is a fair amount of weight. Try leaving it at home when you go to the strip. – tlhIngan Aug 1 '16 at 18:36
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    @tlhIngan - You need to go back and take another look at what can be removed then ... there is a ton of stuff (not literally) which can go by the wayside if your are looking for weight reduction. Zaid's answer is just the tip of the iceberg. As he states, the best part about weight reduction is, it's all free. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Aug 1 '16 at 19:44
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For most vehicles, the cheap but effective upgrades are:

  • Advance your timing: 2 degrees of timing advance can give you a bit more umph, you may need to start using intermediate fuel instead of regular though
  • Exhaust header: on most vehicles, this is the best bang for your budget buck. Replace your stock exhaust manifold by an exhaust header, let the engine breathe more easily, free up some power. Generic ones can be just as good for less money. You're looking at $100 for the part. enter image description here
  • Performance air filter: replace your paper air filter with a reusable cartridge, good for a few more HP. Stay away from short ram intakes, all they do is look cool, but now your engine is breathing warm air. You're looking at $60 for the part. enter image description here
  • Exhaust: Most vehicles either don't have much gains to be had from an exhaust upgrade, or the upgrade is expensive. We are talking about replacing the exhaust pipe from the catalytic converter to the muffler. A larger diameter usually allows better flow, but go too big and you kill your performance. Some vehicles don't have the space to accomodate a larger pipe, and some vehicles already have a pretty optimal-sized pipe. Muffler upgrades only give you minimal gains in performance, people mostly do this for obnoxious sound or to have shiny things sticking out from under your bumper. There are shiny muffler tips that will do that last part for cheap.
  • Nitrous oxide: This will give you a boost at the press of a button. Ideal for the drag-strip, not terribly expensive for the bang you get.
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    You can pull unneeded stuff out of the vehicle too to shave a small amount of weight off, essentially a free upgrade. The cost is generally comfort and convenience, e.g. pulling out the seats, etc. – Jason C Aug 1 '16 at 16:59
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    Are we really suggesting N2O to a high schooler? :) – JoErNanO Aug 1 '16 at 17:09
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    As for the question "cheap ways to add power" a $300 NOS Sniper kit with jets for up to a 75 shot is hard to beat. – rpmerf Aug 1 '16 at 17:16
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    Most computers are locked-down pretty good, and performance increase is not a matter of "sending commands." You can get diagnostic information and engine data by "sending commands", but performance things usually involve physically hacking the computer, and some can be done with external electronics. Generally speaking, you will not unlock massive horsepower, and the things that do tend to make your engine run rough at idle. – tlhIngan Aug 1 '16 at 18:30
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    @JasonC I live in northern Wisconsin, so there are NO emission checks and most people are farmers, you should see the black smoke kid's trucks blow. – Alex Rodgers Aug 1 '16 at 18:33

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