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Low-Buck Power: Three Cheap Performance Upgrades for New Trucks

We highlight three cheap performance parts that make a positive difference on new trucks.

Feb 26, 2020
So, you've gone and taken the plunge. You did your research, shopped for the "best deal," and purchased a new pickup truck (for this discussion, diesel or gas doesn't matter).
When it comes to modifying and making changes, some of the people reading this probably are content with never, ever doing anything to their new rig. They will drive, and basically use their trucks for jobs and tasks that pickups are intended to handle. However, on the other side of the equation are truck buyers and new-truck owners who are all about upfitting a new pickup within minutes of taking delivery.
"What are cheap performance upgrades for my new truck?" This question is asked very frequently, especially by performance-minded enthusiasts who want to improve their new rigs. And understand that by "new," we mean 2019-to-present models.
Basically, there are three areas that need to be addressed whenever cheap performance upgrades for new trucks are being considered: Intake air, exhaust and ECM calibration. Now, it is important to understand that "cheap" purely depends on a person's budget, as well as how badly the upgrades are wanted versus needed. Bottom line? Some of the systems in this rundown may be more expensive than others. However, in the big picture, they're a lot less expensive than more extensive upgrades that can include turbocharger, injector and other major powertrain upgrades.
Comparative shopping is important, as is reading reviews and consulting with dealers/installers of these recommended upgrades. There are several levels to performance for pickup trucks. The items we suggest are entry-level products that we think are viable cheap performance upgrades for new pickup trucks that you should consider installing on your rig.
Photo 2/9   |   001 Cheap Web Sb

Cold-Air Induction

When it comes to cheap-, almost-free performance upgrades for a new truck, the buck stops at air. Basically, the colder the intake-air charge, the more efficient an engine is. Cooler air is denser and has more oxygen (for a specific volume of air). The increased oxygen allows the engine to burn a greater amount of fuel, which in turn, helps the engine make more power. Cold-air-induction systems such as those offered by Banks, Airaid and S&B Filters, feature less-restrictive filters and tubing that promote the force or "ramming" of cooler air into the engine, with more velocity and volume than airflow that passes through a standard airbox and paper filter. Of course, engine size also plays a significant role in the amount of performance that is gained by the upgrade. For both engine platforms, fuel economy improves when stock intake-air hardware is replaced with a good cold-air setup.
Photo 3/9   |   002 Cheap Web Airaid
Pros of Installing a Cold-Air Intake
  • Price
  • DIY installation
  • Does not require ECM calibration
  • Filter is easily serviced
  • Many systems are CARB legal
Cons of Installing a Cold-Air Intake
  • Dealership may frown at it, unless it's authorized by an OE's aftermarket division
Photo 4/9   |   003 Cheap Web Mbrpgas

Exhaust System

Of course, the first thought when aftermarket exhaust systems are mentioned is: "Sound." Yes, replacement pipes and mufflers are the primary difference makers in the notes we hear when a truck's engine is at idle, or roaring at wide-open throttle.
However, there is a second benefit to replacing stock exhaust with systems that feature larger-diameter after-cat (gas) or post-DPF (diesel), mandrel-bent three- and four-inch tubing (aluminized or stainless steel) and freer-flowing mufflers. The other plus is increased horsepower for gas-powered rigs. Diesels benefit slightly on the torque side. MBRP, Gibson Performance Exhaust and Magnaflow are a few companies that offer exhaust systems designed specifically for late-model pickup trucks.
Photo 5/9   |   005 Cheap Web Magnaflow
Pros of Installing Aftermarket Exhaust
  • Price
  • DIY installation
  • Great sound
  • Does not require ECM calibration
  • Some systems are CARB legal
  • Horsepower (gas) and torque (diesel) gains
Cons of Installing Aftermarket Exhaust
  • Dealership may frown at it, unless it's authorized by an OE's aftermarket division
Photo 6/9   |   006 Programmer Web Edge

ECM Programmer

Finally, the last cheap performance upgrade for new trucks that we recommend is an ECM programmer/monitor. Units like Edge Products' Insight CTS2, SCT's X4, the Bully Dog GT Platinum, and Banks Derringer are among several handheld and inline devices that can increase horsepower and torque in simple plug-and-play fashion.
For trucks that tow and rigs that are used for long-distance hauling, a programmer (also called "tuner") allows users to select ECM calibrations that can increase performance, and help improve fuel mileage, by changing fueling, timing and transmission-shift strategies for optimum operation.
Photo 7/9   |   007 Cheap Web Sct
Pros of ECM Programmers
  • Price
  • DIY installation
  • User friendly
  • Calibrations for improved performance and fuel economy
  • Compliments cold-air intake and free-flow exhaust systems
  • Some devices are CARB legal
Cons of ECM Programmers
  • May require premium fuel (gas)
  • Dealership may frown at it
Photo 8/9   |   008 Cheap Web Bullydog
Photo 9/9   |   009 Cheap Web Banks

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