Car Tuning Stages – Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3 and Stage 4

Stage 1 – Stage 4: A guide to tuning stages

After we have remapped a customer’s car, it isn’t uncommon for that customer to start asking about what the next step is to gain more power. Having talked to our customers about this subject well over a hundred times, we thought it would be beneficial to write a handy guide for those of you who are interested in taking your vehicle’s performance to the next level.

So without further ado, let’s begin:

Tuning a vehicle is performed in stages. These stages are:

– Stage 1;

– Stage 2;

– Stage 3;

– Stage 4.

The reason stages are used is because they allow the customer and tuning company to budget effectively and also measure performance gains. By changing hardware and mechanical components in this way, we can see what gains each modification is bringing.

Editor’s note

It’s important to note that all vehicles are different and mechanical changes to one model may come before or after mechanical changes to another model. A typical example is a Mazda MX-5 – you can install a supercharger to this car without any additional modifications and this might be the first modification you make, but you wouldn’t do that to a Renault Clio 182.

What we have written below is a guide that we feel is relevant to most cars with modifications in an order which we feel would enable the owner to get the most out of their vehicle while not breaking the bank and while prolonging the life of their pride and joy. We have only listed engine and exhaust modifications below, not suspension/ transmission modifications.

Stage 1

A stage 1 tune is simply an ECU remap or chip tune. This is the most cost-effective way to modify any vehicle for performance. Turbo-diesel and turbo-petrol vehicles respond extremely well to stage 1 tuning and commonly see a 20 – 40% increase in bhp and torque.

A stage 1 tune is best combined with a high-performance air filter such as those from K&N or Pipercross, and we always recommend that the customer runs their vehicle on super-unleaded to burn off all of the crap in the engine and prolong the life of all mechanical components.

Stage 1 in a nutshell:


High-performance air filter.

£195 – £500+ (or higher for the EPC Powerbox Elite).

Stage 2

A stage 2 tune involves fitting a turbo-back exhaust on turbocharged vehicles or a cat-back exhaust system on non-turbocharged vehicles. In either case, these systems are designed to improve airflow from the engine. They are also well-known for improving the sound of a car.

A stage 2 tune at the very least needs to be performed by somebody who can buy the right parts and fit them without any risk of getting it wrong. It is also at this stage that an upgraded induction kit is usually installed to improve airflow to the engine.

Stage 2 in a nutshell:

Stage 1 mods;

Turbo-back or cat-back exhaust (improves airflow from the engine);

Induction kit (improves airflow to the engine);

£400 – £800+ est.

Stage 3

A stage 3 tune is considered by most to be a level that’s best invested in for the track. That’s because it can be very expensive. It usually involves upgrading the intercooler, cylinder head and inlet valves, head gasket, and spark plugs in additional to all stage 2 modifications.

This stage will require a car to be set up on a rolling road to optimise the fuel and timing and correct exhaust emissions. It is also at this stage that the stock turbo on a car might be upgraded, although this is recommended as the final modification to complete vehicle tuning.

Stage 3 in a nutshell:

Stage 1 and stage 2 mods;

Upgraded turbo/ supercharger;

Upgraded intercooler;

Upgraded head gasket;

Upgraded inlet valves;

Upgraded spark plugs;

Exhaust manifold gasket;

£1k – £3k+ est.

Stage 4

Stage 4 is the last state of tuning for most cars. What’s modified for a tune to be classed as stage 4 is open to interpretation, but at the very least, it is here that an upgraded turbocharger/ supercharger, such as a hybrid turbo, is installed. Along with that, most tuning companies will also install a re-circulating dump valve and enlarged, ported wastegate.

Stage 4 may also include an upgraded oil cooler, multi-hole injectors, bearing assembly. In the vast majority of cases, stage 4 cars are not for road use and are instead track-only cars.

Stage 4 in a nutshell:

Stage 3 mods;

Further upgraded turbo/ supercharger;

Dump valve;

Multi-hole injectors;

Usually track-only;

£1 – £3k+ est.

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