You will often see modifications available in stages. Typically manufacturers of performance parts and car tuning companies use stages 1 – 3 to denote the state of tune provided. So, what does a tuning stage mean and what are the differences between a stage 1 and stage 3 tune up. There is a wide divergence of opinion on the web about these and some manufacturers merely mean option 1, option 2 or option 3.
The commonly held perception of these are as outlined below:
Stage 1 tuning is a "bolt on" or single modification that requires no other work to the car or engine. You can consider a stage 1 modification to be referred to as a fast road mod. It is suitable for a daily use car. It can be used in isolation with standard components. Overall reliability and daily drivability of the car will remain. Obviously, any power increase will necessitate a reduction in the manufacturers' inbuilt safety margin. Weak components will sometimes fail but, in general, a stage 1 tuning modification can be added to a car without incident or problem. A stage 1 modification will usually be enhanced further with the addition of other performance parts. Examples of stage 1 mods, remap, sports exhaust, or air filter upgrades.
Stage 2 tuning is a little more aggressive than stage 1 but needs to be added with other parts. It will give a power gain but usually requires the uprating or replacing of other parts to work. Examples of stage 2 modifications include a hybrid turbo which requires a different manifold, diverter valve or remap to work at it's best. Reliability of the car should be unimpaired but you will pretty much have lost any scope or margin for error in the standard manufacturers' setup. This can be considered a track day tuning option. Service intervals should be reduced and you can expect to perform a major overhaul on the engine every few years in some cases. Examples of a stage 2 modification; aggressive remap that requires a stronger turbo/diverter valve, sports exhaust requiring new headers and different mounts, internal modifications requiring fuel to be uprated etc... (the concept is that you need another mod as well.)
Stage 3 tuning is also referred to as the motorsport or competition tune. This is wholly unsuitable for road use. The car will typically idle erratically, be uneconomical, fail emissions tests and be too harsh to drive around in traffic. The stage 3 tune extracts the maximum power from the engine and reliability will be impaired. We have to bear in mind that competition cars are stripped down and rebuilt each season or even each race at times. Examples of stage 3 mods include high performance brake pads and disks that require heat before they start to bite, aggressive cam profiles causing a lumpy tickover, heavy competition clutch, ultra light flywheels etc...
Power gains are not quoted for any of these stages as this varies dramatically from car to car, as well as the brand of software. Also, the parts used have varying degrees of effect on the power band. Adding two or more stage 1 mods will not make it a stage 2 mod if the upgrades would happily work on their own, although you will generally release more power from each by combining them.
Have you done any of these upgrades? Let us know in the comments below.