A few days ago, a customer asked me about Brembo big brakes. He said he wanted to improve his car’s braking ability, and so he sought out my company to inquire. He said he was modifying a (insert popular car enthusiast vehicle here), and he wanted the biggest brakes he could get. Now, the car in question is not a particularly powerful car, and though a brake upgrade is a great thing to do to your car, as soon as someone says “I want the biggest,” or “the top of the line,” or “the most powerful,” of anything, it raises a red flag for me.
In most cases, when you go parts shopping for your car (or almost anything, not just car parts), someone tries to sell you on the most expensive thing on the menu. That’s natural – they want to make the biggest sale possible. In most cases, however, the item that’s pushed is not what’s needed, but the one with the features that make a build sheet more impressive when other people read it. I call this “trump card car modification” – where the build is not for function, and sometimes not even for form, but instead for peer approval.
Back to my customer. I asked him what his plans for the car were, so I can help him choose what he really needs. He said he was adding bigger wheels and tires, fully adjustable suspension, and that he was planning to do some simple bolt-on engine modifications, but nothing drastic. I asked if this was to be a show car or a track car. He said that it was going to be a daily driver. That last part was what concerned me most.
I said if all he wanted was the aesthetic appeal of a Brembo kit, then I suggested the smallest kit available, but if all he wanted was to improve his braking performance, then a set of better brake pads is really all he needed. He was a little puzzled as to why I didn’t just offer him the largest big brake kit like he asked for, and I offered a simple explanation: if your car is not going to be making significantly more power than stock, then the brakes – or any other component – should match the increase in performance level. A 10-percent increase in power should come with a ten, maybe up to 20 percent increase in braking force. Any more than that is wasted, and the increase in cost is not justifiable. In fact, going with a caliper with more pistons and a larger diameter disc would only increase unsprung and rotating mass, which decrease acceleration and worsen fuel economy. In this case, going with the biggest brake system actually is worse overall for your car, and costs the most, to boot.
It’s a similar story with fully adjustable suspension, commonly referred to as coilovers (which is not always accurate). If you are going racing, then adjustable suspension makes sense. Different tires, different race tracks and different driving styles all necessitate fine tuning the damper and ride height settings, and these adjustments are made at every event. But if you are just using your car for the street, chances are you’re adjusting settings just once, and then leaving it alone for the rest of your car’s ownership. In fact, unless you have a proper suspension tuner set up the dampers, chances are you will make the car perform worse than a simple set of lowering the springs and getting performance shock absorbers (which are significantly less expensive). Lots of other components have similar diminishing returns in terms of cost-to-benefit, after a certain point.
I have been on the other side – I was a young car enthusiast once, without experience or technical know-how. Though there were a few who took the time to educate me on the right way of doing things. But more often than not, I encountered shops and sellers who cared more about making the maximum amount of profit than about building a car that fit my needs. It sucked and in some cases, I ended up spending lots of money on things that ended up not doing anything or, in some cases, making my car worse than if I had left it stock.
If your goal is to create a car for magazine shoots and car shows, and have an unlimited budget, then go right ahead and spend that money. If you can afford the best parts and the best builders, then go right ahead – just don’t make the mistake of cheaping out on the labor or setup, or else your expensive parts are not going to work right. But if you are modifying your car for a purpose – whether it’s a daily, a weekend car, a track toy, race car or something in between – look for multiple sources. With the internet, it isn’t that difficult to find subject matter as there are many experts for the modifications you want to make. Make sure you get several opinions from people in the industry before making your decision. And if they don’t want to properly explain their product in a manner that you can understand, or if the first thing they tell you is to buy the latest or most expensive thing in the market, make that your red flag. Chances are, you’re better off taking your business elsewhere.