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Honda Civic Upgrading FAQ

Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Upgrading
Turbo Civic
An example of a nicely done turbo Civic
This guide's purpose is to get your started in the right direction, so you can make educated decisions when buying your parts. It is meant for those who are fairly new to upgrading Civics (hey, let's face it, we were all there at one time or another). Since the Civic is one of the most modified cars in the world, there are literally thousands of upgrades to choose for it. For new comers, it is often difficult to choose from all theses options. This guide will hopefully make the process a little easier.

Table of Contents:
  1. How do I get more power?
  2. How do I choose the right exterior parts?
  3. Will aftermarket parts void my warranty?
  4. Will installing aftermarket parts cause me to fail smog tests?
  5. I want a quiet exhaust, any recommendations?
  6. What engine / chassis do I have?
  7. What's an engine swap?
  8. How do I choose the correct suspension setup?
  9. Any other helpful tips?

How do I get more power?
First off, unless you have a Civic Hybrid, you have to understand that all the power pushing you forward results from only the combustion of fuel. Basically, combustion is a chemical reaction where oxygen from the air and hydrocarbons from the fuel react to produce a lot of energy. The basic idea behind getting more power is getting more usable energy from the combustion taking place in each cylinder. There are three basic ways to accomplish this:

1. Add more fuel and air to each cylinder
2. Compress the air / fuel mixture even more
3. Ignite the mixture so it burns more efficiently (i.e. completely and at the correct time)

Needless to say, accomplishing this is much easier said than done. For example, as engine speed increases, it becomes harder and harder to get air in and exhaust out efficiently.

Fortunately, the aftermarket has done the research for us and has made it quite easy to add more power to your Civic. Civics (and Honda cars in general) are very well engineered and can accept most power modifications without any decrease in reliability.

That said, there are some basic "bolt-on" parts that most people start with to gain power. Bolt-ons are parts that can be installed with just some simple tools (usually some wrenches and screwdrivers) and definitely don't require you to tear down your engine or weld anything. The most popular bolt-ons to start with for power are the air intake, headers, and exhaust, also known as I/H/E. These three parts will get your engine breathing better and produce a more aggressive engine sound.

Here's a quick chart that goes over all the part categories that relate to power:

Part Category & Example Parts Description
Air Induction (air intake, throttle body, intake manifold) Helps more air flow into your engine, causing your engine's computer to add more fuel, resulting in more power.
Forced Induction (turbocharger, supercharger, nitrous) Pressurized systems that force A LOT of air into the engine, requiring much more fuel, and resulting in some big power gains. Nitrous is a little different in that it is not normal air, but nitrous oxide, which actually serves two functions: 1. It cools down the incoming air, resulting in a denser air mixture and 2. The nitrous oxide splits into nitrogen and oxygen during combustion. The extra oxygen means more fuel can be used during combustion, which results in more power.
Fuel System (fuel injectors, fuel rail, fuel pump, fuel pressure regulator) Allows more fuel to flow into the engine, and at a faster rate. Necessary whenever you need to add more fuel than your stock system can supply. Also, performance fuel injectors help to "atomize" the fuel better, which results in more efficient combustion.
Exhaust (headers, cat-back exhaust system, high-flow catalytic converter) Each time fuel combusts, it results in high-pressure gases that need to escape. A well-tuned exhaust system allows them to escape quickly at all engine speeds. This allows your engine to run with less resistance, which results in more usable power to the wheels.
Engine Tuning (engine management system, cam gears) After a certain amount of modifications, it becomes necessary to re-tune your engine's computer to work optimally and reliably. Tuning can yield significant power gains and is a MUST for heavily modified cars. This is ideally done at a dyno shop, which can actually measure the power your engine is producing.
Ignition System (spark plugs, ignition wires, distributor) Provides more powerful and precisely timed sparks. This will cause the fuel / air mixture to be more completely and efficiently burned. Spark plugs also have the auxiliary function of helping remove heat from the combustion chamber.
Transmission (clutch, flywheel, limited slip differential) On modified cars, allows more power to be transferred to the wheels. A limited slip differential (LSD) can provide you with better traction to both tires. Automatic transmission owners can look into upgrading their torque converters.
Engine Head (camshafts, valves, valve springs, retainers) The "head", or cylinder head, is the top part of the engine that you see when you open your hood. This is where the most gains will be had for naturally aspirated (not forced induction) engines. Camshafts increase intake and exhaust airflow while valves, valve springs, and retainers support higher engine speeds and denser air mixtures.
Engine Block (connecting rods, bearings, head studs, pistons, sleeves) For those with a lot of upgrades, these parts will make sure that your engine can handle the extra power. Performance pistons serve more than just a structural purpose though; they can change your compression ratio (i.e. how much the fuel / air mixture is compressed).
Cooling System (radiator, fans, oil cooler) Keeps your modified engine running at optimum temperatures. If an engine runs too hot, performance suffers. Running too cold can hurt fuel economy and emissions, and lead to spark plug fouling. After some big upgrades, it's often a good idea to get a water temperature gauge to know how hot you're running.

To make all this power really work for you, lighten your car and get good tires! This will give you better acceleration, cornering, and fuel economy. Many performance parts are lighter than your stock ones, but you can also buy body parts that will help save weight.

How do I choose the right exterior parts?
It really comes down to your budget and personal tastes on what looks good and what doesn't. All the exterior parts we sell are quality items and will fit your Civic just fine. An exterior part's price is mainly determined by what material it is made of. The material will determine how flexible, durable, and heavy the part is. Here is a breakdown of the common materials currently used:

Material Type Description
Carbon Fiber Made from weaved carbon and covered with a clear resin. Great looks and very popular, but can be expensive. Very light weight and great fitment, and you don't have to paint it!
Polyurethane Thick, heavier resin-based polymer. Very flexible, great fitment and durability. Fairly expensive to produce.
Fiberglass Very fine glass fibers. It is the least expensive material. Fiberglass is lightweight and very rigid - so it will break easier than the other materials but allows for more extreme styles. It's also the toughest to install.
Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic (FRP) Essentially a polymer that is reinforced with fiberglass to allow better durability and more styles. It is the best (and most common) material in terms of quality for the price you pay. Most aftermarket body kits are made from this material.
ABS Plastic Provides great flexibility, durability, and fitment. It is also fairly light, but very expensive. Therefore, it is not commonly used in aftermarket body kits.
Note: A polymer is basically a plastic.

Lastly, get a professional install if you unsure of your abilities! Make sure the installer checks for fitment before starting the install.

Will aftermarket parts void my warranty?
Fortunately, not in most circumstances. Under Federal Law (the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 to be specific) it is illegal for a dealer to deny you warranty coverage just because you installed an aftermarket part. To deny warranty, the dealer must prove the part to be the root of the specific problem you are requesting warranty for. Even then, they can only deny warranty for components associated with the failed part(s), not for your whole car. Because aftermarket parts meet or exceed original equipment specifications, this normally only happens when the aftermarket part is improperly installed.

It is no secret that Honda itself wants to see the aftermarket succeed. Honda spends a lot of money promoting how their vehicles can be customized and upgraded. It is usually when a part is improperly installed or deliberately misused that warranties get denied. Just make sure to get a quality installation (or if you do it yourself, use all the correct tools and follow the directions) and you should have no problems with any of the parts you buy from us.

Will installing aftermarket parts cause me to fail smog tests?
Some of the parts we sell are 50-state smog legal, which means they have been granted an Exemption Order (EO) by the California Air Resource Board (C.A.R.B). Since California is the strictest state in terms of smog laws, a part that is "C.A.R.B Exempt" is smog legal in all 50 states. Parts that are not 50-state legal may be 49-state legal if they meet the EPA smog requirements but not California's. Some parts (such as test pipes or race headers) are not smog legal at all. Just because a part is not smog legal doesn't mean it pollutes more; it could be that the manufacturer has just not taken the time or money to get it approved.

You might be surprised to hear that some of the most powerful parts are smog legal. For example, most CT Engineering Supercharger Kits for the Civic are 50-state smog legal! All non-engine related parts and accessories are smog legal by definition (like suspension, brakes, etc.).

Here's a helpful link you can use the check any aftermarket part to see if it is 50-state smog legal: http://www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/aftermkt/devices/amquery.php

I want a very quiet exhaust, any recommendations?
Please contact us so we can get you the latest information.

What engine / chassis do I have?
Find your Civic in our garage! Once you select your particular year, submodel, and trim level, all the info will appear. Remember theses are U.S. specs only. Japanese models have different codes and, although very similar, have some important differences (like being right-hand drive).

What's an engine swap?
As the name suggests, you take out your whole engine and swap it for another (hopefully more powerful) engine. This is typically done with used Japanese crate motors. Interestingly, Japan smog laws say that a car is "past its smog limit" after a certain mileage, regardless off how much it actually pollutes. This results in a large number of extra motors that are still in decent condition. Engine swaps can be expensive, but are very popular.

Unfortunately, it is very hard to pass smog with an engine swap. In general, the engine must be of the same year or newer than your chassis. JDM engines must be used only as direct replacements for their U.S. counterpart. The swapped engine must also be the same OBD (On-Board Diagnostic) version as your current engine and use a U.S. spec computer. There are several other requirements, but you get the point.

How do I choose the correct suspension setup?
A lot of Civic owners don't understand just how much of a difference a good suspension setup can make. Choosing the best setup for you depends on how stiff of a ride you want, and how low to the ground you want your Civic to sit. In general, a stock suspension will have the softest ride but will feel very sloppy when taking corners at speed. Most of the aftermarket suspension parts will stiffen your ride, and this increases handling performance. There are several different categories of suspension parts to choose from:

Suspension Part What it Does
Coilovers Replaces your stock springs with a unit that has easily adjustable ride height. Coilovers, in general, offer a stiffer ride that a normal shock / spring setup. "Full" coilovers come with shocks and are whole, self-contained replacements for your stock springs and shocks, which makes them even easier to install. Full coilovers are really the way to go if you have the money - the springs and shocks in them are designed to work perfectly together.
Shocks / Struts Dampens the movement of your springs (prevents your car from bouncing up and down). It is not recommended to use stock shocks with aftermarket springs. Your stock shocks will blow or wear out very fast because they cannot dampen the stronger aftermarket springs very well. If you have stock springs, aftermarket shocks will offer a tighter, less "bouncy" ride. Struts are basically the same as shocks except they function as a stressed part of the suspension. In general, struts allow for a more compact suspension design. Struts are used in the newer Civics that employ MacPherson-style suspensions in the front.
Stabilizer Bars Reduces body roll and stiffens your car's overall structure. Several different types are available, including tie bars, strut tower bars, and sway bars. Some types of bars also reduce body flex, which is the tendency for a car's body to temporarily warp (change shape) under extreme forces.
Bushings An inexpensive way to really get rid of the sloppy feel of a stock suspension. Provides a noticeable increase in suspension response. Especially popular are the shifter bushings, as they provide firmer shifts for manual transmissions.
Alignment Kits Corrects the way your wheels and tires contact the ground. If you drop your car more than about 1 inch you should consider getting a camber kit. This will allow you to adjust your alignment to prevent your wheels from pointing inwards (called negative camber). The main side effects of bad alignment are excessive, uneven tire wear and reduced forward traction.

To lower you car, either buy a set of coilovers or get some lowering springs. In general, we don't recommend more than about a 2.8" drop on the front or back. When you lower your Civic, keep in mind that OEM shocks and some aftermarket shocks are "position sensitive" and will not work well with vehicles that have been lowered too much. Koni shocks are one exception - they are NOT position sensitive and will work with any sort of lowering spring as long as you don't bottom out. Of course, if you have the money, an adjustable full coilover system is the way to go.

Any other helpful tips?
Yes, here are several more simple tips that will keep your Civic running at peak power and reliability for years to come:

1. Keep your tires properly inflated. You'd be surprised what an affect bad tire pressure can have on overall performance. Use your owner's manual recommended tire pressure because optimal tire pressure is based on your vehicle's weight, not the tire. If you run under-inflated, you'll notice the side wear increases; over-inflated tires show more wear in the middle. The best time to check tire pressure is in the morning before you drive more than a few miles. You should re-check your tire pressure every month or so, or when the ambient temperature significantly changes (winter & summer).

2. Start using synthetic oil. It is best to switch to synthetic after your car has 3000 or more miles on it. Contrary to popular belief, synthetic oil is perfectly fine to use in older cars, even with more than 100,000 miles on them. If your car already leaks oil though, or has worn seals, using synthetic oil may cause slightly more leakage because of the oil's superior flow properties. We consider Red Line to be the best synthetic out there, but there are plenty of other good brands such as Mobil 1.

3. Get a good quality oil filter. Two good ones that are commonly available are the Purolator PureONE (commonly available) and WIX. We recommend to stay away from FRAM filters just because the construction quality is not as good. A good filter will enhance oil flow and filter out more contaminants.

4. Get iridium spark plugs. Newer Civics already come with iridium plugs. Iridium plugs give better fuel economy, increased power/acceleration and better throttle response. They last for a long time and are very easy to install. Just remember NOT to gap them - they come pre-gapped from the factory.

5. Change you transmission fluid about every 4 oil changes, or 16,000 miles. This will help preserve your gears and synchros, especially if you drive hard. Royal Purple makes transmission fluids that are of extremely high quality.

6. Get a set of magnetic drain plugs for your transmission and engine. Theses little things help to pick up a lot of metal particles that may be floating around in your transmission and engine. This will decrease engine / transmission wear and tear significantly. Make sure to clean off the drain plug after each fluid change.

7. Don't run a higher octane fuel without a good reason. Use the octane specified in your owner's manual unless you have modified your engine's compression or power output significantly. Most Civics (except for the Si models) are designed to run best with 87 octane fuel. Octane is simply a fuel's ability to resist detonation, meaning that it can withstand more heat before it ignites. High octane fuel is only suited for use in engines that create high cylinder pressures and a lot of heat. Many people think they can gain more power just by using higher octane fuel than specified in their owner's manual. As long as the fuel does not pre-ignite, any grade of fuel will produce the same amount of power (again, assuming a mostly stock engine).
Note: There is one exception to this. If your engine has a lot of carbon buildup from years of use and you are "pinging" (a.k.a. knocking or detonating), using higher octane may help to alleviate the problem.

8. Use a fuel system cleaner. Despite what you might think from the previous two tips, it IS a good idea to use fuel system cleaners once in awhile (say every 6-8 months). There is not quite enough cleaner present in MOST gasolines to keep your valves and injectors from building up gunk. Some Honda dealers even do this as part of regular maintenance now.

That's it! If you have a question that isn't answered here, feel free to give us a call and we'll be more than happy to help.

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