Home Automotive AdviceMods, Tuning, and Performance Full Bolt On: What Exactly Does It Mean?

Full Bolt On: What Exactly Does It Mean?

by Jordan Harris
Full Bolt On

You might have heard of the term “full bolt-on” thrown around by car enthusiasts. You’ll find that people may have different definitions of the term full bolt-on. But what exactly does it mean? Should you do it to your car? Well, that’s what we’re going to discuss in this post. By the end, you’ll know everything there is to know about full bolt-ons, and whether or not you should do it to your car.

What Does Full Bolt On Mean?

A “bolt-on” implies an aftermarket modification part that you bolt onto a car, pretty self-explanatory. To elaborate further, a bolt-on part means that you can simply remove an existing car part (or it can also be installed to compliment another part), and then install the aftermarket bolt-on ones without needing any custom fitting, fabrication, or tuning in order for the part to work.

For example, let’s say you bought an aftermarket exhaust muffler. You then remove the OEM muffler, install the new aftermarket one, and it just works with your car. No cutting or welding the existing exhaust pipes, no tuning, it just works immediately. It basically means “plug and play”, where you plug it in, and you’re good to go. To be clear, bolt-on parts can often be tuned as well, but it’s not necessary for them to work.

So, what does a “full bolt-on” mean then? A full bolt-on car implies that the car has numerous bolt-on parts installed. For example, a car with an aftermarket exhaust system, wheels, air intake, coilover suspension, and sway bars can be considered a full bolt-on car.

It’s quite difficult to point out exactly what a bolt-on part is and what constitutes a full bolt-on. A turbocharger or supercharger is technically a bolt-on – you can bolt it onto the engine. But it’s not a “true” bolt-on since it requires more know-how and ideally some tuning and possibly internal upgrades to the engine for it to work properly. Or at least, you need it if you don’t want to blow your engine.

Don’t Worry Too Much About The Terminology

If we’re being honest, it doesn’t really matter what it means. As mentioned, car enthusiasts have differing opinions on what constitutes a full bolt-on car. Some may consider a fully modified car as a full bolt-on. Others may refer to a fully upgraded exhaust system when they say “full bolt-on”, but no other parts in the car are changed.

All you need to know is that when people say “bolt-on”, they usually refer to modifications that are easily installable. And a “full bolt-on” usually means that the car has numerous aftermarket parts installed, whether it’s for aesthetic or performance purposes.

Additionally, when it comes to modifying your car, the terminology really doesn’t matter. Modifying a car is like painting: it’s your canvas and you can paint it however you like. It doesn’t matter whether you have a full bolt-on or not, all that matters is you have fun with it and you modify it the way you want it. It’s all about having fun and expressing yourself with your car! As such, we will be using the terms bolt-on and full bolt-on interchangeably in this post.

Full Bolt On: Is It The Same As Stage Tuning?

You might have heard someone saying “My car is full stage 2” or “Yeah, I’ve got a stage 2 clutch.” Or maybe you’ve heard tuning companies talk about stages 1, 2, and 3, so what does this mean? Well, stage tuning also refers to parts modification, often fitted as a set. The stage itself represents how much performance the parts offer.

Stage 1 usually involves replacing basic factory parts, such as air intakes and exhausts. Meanwhile, stage 2 replaces more complex parts with even higher-performing aftermarket parts. This includes the exhaust downpipe, intake, intercooler, clutch, and even engine mounts. Stage 2 parts are usually intended to replace factory parts that are the weak point of the car.

When you get to stage 3 or higher, this replaces crucial parts such as fuel injectors, pumps, engine internals, and even adding a turbocharger or supercharger if they are available for the car. For the most part, stage tuning is similar to bolt-on upgrades. What differentiates stage tuning from bolt-on upgrades is that it typically involves engine remapping.

Tuning companies or shops will remap the car’s Engine Control Unit. This process will change a variety of things, such as ignition timing, fuel & air mixture, and more depending on the stage. Because of this, it’s no longer just a bolt-on upgrade since tuning and fabrication are necessary.

The end result is more power and torque from the engine, but often at the cost of fuel consumption and sometimes even reliability. As you can imagine, engine remaps are necessary for parts like turbochargers and fuel injectors to get the most out of them.

What Differentiates The Stages?

To summarize, stage tuning often involves fitting bolt-on upgrades to the car. The difference is that stage tuning involves engine or ECU remapping, which at this point, is no longer just a bolt-on upgrade since tuning and fabrication are required. But what differentiates the stages then?

There’s no consistent difference or a set measure to differentiate the upgrade between stages. Stage 1 basically means simple and easily reversible upgrades that give the car a minor performance boost. Usually somewhere around 10 – 30 horsepower. This is the most ideal stage if you want more performance, but still want to use the car comfortably as a daily driver.

Meanwhile, stage 2 changes more parts as we’ve mentioned. These parts have higher performance compared to stage 1 parts, and you will replace more complex parts such as the intercooler. And of course, they’re more expensive, but the end result is you get somewhere around 40 – 60 horsepower more.

Full Bolt On

As for stage 3 and higher, this basically means you’re building a race car for the road. Stage 3 modifications are more “invasive”, as it often requires you to change engine internals to get more power. At this point, you will greatly sacrifice comfort and everyday usability. However, you’ll often see a power increase of 80 horsepower or more, and this makes a huge difference in performance.

Full Bolt On Parts To Consider

Now you know what a full bolt-on is and how it differs from stage tuning. You’re probably interested in bolt-on upgrades for your car, but what parts are there, and which one should you choose? There’s a lot of them, and here are some bolt-on parts to get you starting on modifying your car:

Exhaust Bolt-Ons

Upgrading your exhaust is a good starting point. Not only it will increase performance, but it will also change the way your car sounds. Often making it louder and sound better, allowing you to announce your presence wherever you go. And you can choose the extend you want to upgrade your exhaust.

The simplest exhaust upgrade is a bolt-on muffler. The muffler is part of the exhaust system that muffles your car’s noise by adding resistance to the exhaust gas flow and absorbing the sound waves in the process. Bolt-on or aftermarket mufflers allow more flow in the exhaust gas, increasing the noise from the exhaust and slightly increasing performance by reducing backpressure.

A muffler upgrade typically costs around $150 – $250. If you have a bit more money to spend, you can consider cat-back exhaust systems. A cat-back system basically replaces all the exhaust components that go after the catalytic converter. Since more parts are involved, it’s more expensive. But this allows for even better exhaust gas flow, resulting in better noise and more performance.

And finally, you can also replace the headers or exhaust manifolds. These are the tubes that come out of the engine block, directing the exhaust gases to the exhaust system. Much like the muffler and cat-back system, a header change is also a bolt-on upgrade, meaning it doesn’t require tuning or custom fitting. However, replacing the header is usually expensive since it’s quite labor-intensive.

Cold Air Intake

Your car’s engine uses its intake system to pull air into the engine and then burn it along with fuel to power it. Standard air intakes are designed to have a good balance between performance, fuel consumption, and reliability. If you’re looking to improve performance, the next bolt-on part you should consider is a cold air intake.

A cold air intake usually has an exposed air filter, whilst standard ones usually use a paper filter that sits inside a plastic airbox. But that’s not the crucial bit, the main difference with a cold air intake is that it’s usually designed to sit further away from the engine. This means the intake is further away from the heat source (your engine) and can take in colder air into the engine.

So how does this affect performance? Simply put, colder air has a higher oxygen density. This results in a combustion reaction that’s more productive, giving you more power from the engine and possibly better fuel consumption. Additionally, cold air intake usually has better airflow as well. With more air, the engine can burn more fuel, thus resulting in better performance.

Installing a cold air intake involves undoing several screws and clamps, removing the standard intake, and the Mass Air Flow (MAF) sensor. Then reinstall the MAF, and then the new cold air intake, and you’re good to go. A cold air intake can give you anywhere between a 5 to 15 horsepower boost. Some well-known brands include K&N, Airaid, and AEM. It will cost somewhere between $150 – $500 depending on your car’s make and model.

Wider Wheels And Performance Tires

So far we’ve been talking mostly about bolt-on parts that increase engine performance. Now, let’s talk about parts that can improve handling performance, as well as make your car look better. So, how do wider wheels and better tires improve your car’s handling?

Wider wheels mean you will have wider tires as well. This increases the contact patch between the tires and the road, increasing grip and allowing your car to stick to the road better. But when it comes to wheels, the width shouldn’t be the only consideration. You should also consider the weight of the wheels, lighter wheels will reduce your car’s overall weight and help it to handle better.

The cost of a set of aftermarket wheels depends on the brand, model, wheel size, as well as its material. It varies greatly that we can’t really give you an estimate. Some brands you should consider include Enkei, Volk Rays, BBS, Konig, and HRE. Before making your decision, we recommend learning more about wheel fitment here.

As for performance tires, they have unique tread patterns, construction, and rubber compounds that are better than standard tires. This enhances the overall driving experience, and can often increase grip which helps with handling and stopping distances. Many tiremakers usually have a lineup for performance tires, such as Michelin with their Pilot Sport lineup. The cost will depend greatly on the tire size but expect to spend anywhere between $300 – $1,000.

Performance Sway Bars

The antiroll bar or often referred to as a sway bar is a steel bar that connects the left and right suspension of your car via the control arm. The purpose of it is to keep your car level and stable during cornering and stop the car from rolling over during hard cornering.

When the car corners, the outside suspension will lower due to the cornering forces. For example, if you’re cornering left, then the left suspension is on the inside and it will go up. While the right suspension is on the outside and it will go down. As one suspension goes up, the sway bar will produce torque that forces the other suspension to go up as well. This levels both suspension which evens the weight and the force on the suspension, keeping the car stable and controllable.

Aftermarket sway bars are stiffer than factory ones, allowing them to cope with greater loads. This allows you to corner harder, and the car will remain level, improving overall stability and handling. They also often come with multiple holes to install the sway bar links, allowing you to adjust the handling characteristic. Aftermarket sway bar costs vary greatly, depending on your car’s make and model. Expect to pay anywhere between $150 – $750 for aftermarket sway bars, possibly even more.

Steel Or Braided Brake Lines

Going faster and cornering better is all well and good, but remember, your car will eventually need to stop. You can buy high-performance brake pads to improve braking performance. But the brake lines are often overlooked, and you should consider if you want to improve braking performance.

The brake line is a tube that transfers brake fluid from the master cylinder into each individual caliper. Factory brake lines are usually made from rubber since its cheap and relatively durable. However, the rubber can swell and flex over time, especially if you brake hard repeatedly, such as during a track day.

When the brake line swells or flexes, the fluid pressure will lessen. And because the braking system relies on pressurized fluid, this will reduce the braking performance in your car. Additionally, rubber brake lines are more prone to punctures. This is where steel or braided brake lines come in.

Full Bolt On

Steel brake lines won’t flex or swell, meaning you will get consistent fluid pressure to the brake calipers. This gives a better braking performance, a firmer feel on the brake pedal, and a better response. The downside to steel brake lines is that they can corrode over time. Additionally, they have little flexibility which could stress and ruin the brake line connections.

Braided brake lines are also available, and the materials vary. Some braided brake lines are actually just rubber lines encased in braided strips of steel. They’re still prone to flexing, but less prone to punctures thanks to the braid covering. If you have a bit of extra cash to spend, consider looking at performance brake lines made from carbon fiber, kevlar, or Teflon. Learn more about brake lines here.

Full Bolt On: Questions & Answers

Got any more questions about full bolt-ons? The answer you’re looking for might be below:

How Do I Make My Car Full Bolt-On?

Again, a full bolt-on may mean different things depending on who you ask. But generally, a full bolt-on car means that the car has all the possible basic modifications you can apply to it. As mentioned, this includes exhausts, anti-roll bars, air intake, wheels and tires, brake lines, and a few more. Once you apply all those upgrades, your car can be considered a full bolt-on.

We suggest you don’t get hung up on the terminology and how to make your car a “full bolt-on”, it’s mostly just for the street-cred anyway. Rather, focus on how to make your car better to drive that fits your preferences and needs. When it comes to modifying your car, it’s all about making the car better to drive and expressing yourself with it!

Does Bolt-On Parts Void My Warranty?

Some parts may void one or more of your car’s warranty. For example, an exhaust or air intake upgrade will often void the powertrain warranty, although this may not be the case. If you’re worried, check with your dealer and see what aftermarket parts will void the warranty that you’re worried about.

Should I Make My Car A Full Bolt-On?

When fitting bolt-on parts or modifying your car, there are a couple of things you should consider. First, does your car still have any warranty? If it does, do you mind if those warranties were to become void or null? If you don’t want to void the warranty, check what parts will void it, and avoid them for the time being.

Secondly, are you happy with the way your car drives? Bolt-on parts by definition are simple upgrades that are easily reversible. But when you don’t do it correctly, or you don’t use quality parts, it may actually ruin your car. Carmakers design their car to have a good balance between performance, comfort, and reliability. Adding aftermarket bolt-on parts may ruin this.

Full Bolt On

If you’re perfectly happy with your car, then don’t make your car a full bolt-on. Instead, address the weak points instead. For example, let’s say you’re not happy with the way your car sounds. In this case, get a quality aftermarket exhaust to make it sound better. And let’s say you’re happy with the way it handles, then there’s no need to go out of your way to replace parts such as the sway bar trying to improve it.

In any case, do your research before you make your car a full bolt-on or even install simple individual upgrades. There are tons of aftermarket bolt-on parts out there, some are worse than others. Read the reviews and see what customers have to say, how it affects their car, and make sure it will fit your car’s make and model before purchasing.

Which Bolt-On Part Should I Install First?

We suggest starting with the weak point of your car. If you feel like your car doesn’t have enough power, a cold air intake and an aftermarket exhaust system will slightly improve performance. If you feel like the power is enough but the car feels too soft and there’s a lot of body roll when you corner, a performance sway bar will be a good starting point.

The purpose of bolt-on parts is to improve your car’s overall performance and driving experience. Consider what you’re not quite happy with your car, and then find the bolt-on parts that can improve your car in that particular aspect.

Facts on Full Bolt On Car Modifications

  1. Bolt-on upgrades involve replacing stock parts with aftermarket parts and are referred to as “bolt-ons”.
  2. There are different levels of bolt-ons, and a full bolt-on is when the entire front end of a car has been replaced with new or updated parts.
  3. Full bolt-ons can increase safety, performance, and fuel economy in a vehicle.
  4. Full bolt-on modifications require a qualified technician and may require additional knowledge and skill.
  5. Full bolt-ons are easy to do and don’t require additional tools or engine tuning.
  6. Full bolt-ons can improve a car’s performance, making it more responsive and stable on uneven surfaces.
  7. A full bolt-on can add more horsepower and torque, but it’s important to check the engine’s specs to avoid overdriving the engine.
  8. Header and exhaust installations can add up to 75% more power to a Chevy engine.
  9. Basic bolt-ons don’t require tuning and can be removed to return the car to its stock status.
  10. It’s crucial to consult with a mechanic before making any modification decisions to avoid damage to the car and ensure that it can safely take full bolt-ons.

Full Bolt On: Wrap Up

To recap, a bolt-on is an aftermarket car part that you can simply install on a car without needing any tuning, custom fitting, or fabrication for it to work. And a full bolt-on car means the car has several bolt-on parts fitted to it. This includes parts like an air intake, exhaust systems, brake lines, sway bars, and wheels & tires amongst other parts.

There’s no clear definition, and the meaning of full bolt on will vary depending on who you ask. But it generally refers to aftermarket parts that can be bolted onto a car. Hopefully, this post have been helpful. And if you’re planning to modify your car, good luck and have fun!

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