Tuning Stages – Car Mods & Turbo Upgrades

Tuning Stages – Car Mods & Turbo Upgrades

If you’ve just recently got interested in car tuning and have heard about tuning stages and wonder what each stage means, we’re going to talk about the general idea of the tuning stages in this article.

However, there is no definite answer to what exactly is a stage 1 tuning and what exactly is a stage 2 tuning, these terminologies only give people a rough idea of what they represent, every tuner or accessory companies might define each stage differently. In order to find out what each stage refers to exactly, it’s best that you check with the tuner you’d like to work with. 

Car Mods

Stage Tuning

Stage tuning refers to a set or series of modifications that enhance the performance of a car. Each stage includes specific upgrades, the higher the stage the more power it increases, but it also means more modification involved. In other words, a stage 2 tuning car goes through more modification than a stage 1 car and has more power and efficiency. 

Nevertheless, every tuner (company) defines each stage variably, what one tuner considered to be stage 2 on a petrol turbocharged car might be quite different from stage 2 of a naturally aspirated vehicle. To make things a bit easier in this discussion, we’ll take a turbocharged petrol engine as the standard throughout the article. 

Car Mods
Stage 1 - Entry-level Tuning

Stage 1 tuning is the entry-level tuning, generally refers to modifications that do not involve any hardware craft, meaning you only put on an extra part and you may remove it easily too, along with ECU remapping altogether.

General ideas of a stage 1 tuning usually include:

  • Air Intake upgrades
  • Exhaust System upgrades
  • ECU remapping / ECU tuning

    Air Intake / Induction Kit

    Feeding an engine with cooler and more air has slight effect on engine performance by giving engine better breathing. A performance air filter use a less restrictive filter material than paper, thus more air particles goes through easily and quickly. 

    Exhaust System

    Upgrading exhaust system to a cat-back exhaust is normally one of the entry-level tuning methods. It allows more gas flow, hence increasing the amount of air that the turbo pump through the engine, reducing back pressure. 

    ECU remapping / ECU tuning

    In most cases ECU tuning is the very first step of tuning, it basically refers to adjusting the software to the computer that controls the engine. It controls the spark, fuel, timing, and turbo-boost of the engine, unlocking more power from the engine. Especially with turbocharged engine, you will see significant power increase just by tuning the ECU.


    Car Mods
    Stage 2 - Advanced Tuning

    As tuning stages go up, every tuner defines it more differently, this is due to different manufacturers also have different setups for their vehicles, but the general theme lies on removing factory limits on exhaust along with more software tuning that adjusts according to hardware work.

    Typically stage 2 tuning includes hardware works such as upgraded intercooler, downpipes, and intake modifications. Basically, taking stage 1 tuning into the next level. Upgrading hardware is also paired with extensive ECU remapping altogether to reach better performance and efficiency. 


    An upgraded intercooler improve airflow coming from the turbo before it goes into the engine. As air gets colder and denser, it increases its ability to burn petrol and with upgraded intercooler, better cooling air makes air going into the engine more efficient since high temperature reduces engine power. 


    Downpipe is the section directly behind the turbo and factory vehicle build it with catalytic converter. Many tuners replace the original catalytic converter with a de-cat pipe or better flowing catalyst. This increases the efficiency of the airflow and thus increasing power. After improving the exhaust system, combining it with an uprate air intake make the airflow efficiency even higher. 

    ECU Remapping

    As mentioned above, due to extensive upgrades of the hardware, it is essential to tune the ECU according to your hardware adjustments. For example, after installing a de-cat downpipe, the “check engine” light will light up if you do not tune the ECU accordingly.

    Kindly note that each tuner might define stage 2 variably, similar ideas apply to Stage 3 tuning.

    Car Mods
    Stage 3 – Professional Tuning

    As you may have already expected, stage 3 tuning involves more extensive parts upgrades. When you try to push the factory engine more than it was originally designed, you need much more hardware crafts done to enhance your engine. Of course, you will be getting exceptional power performance towards higher power level.

    Which components should you modify depends on your vehicle condition, parts such as fuel injectors, fuel pump, turbocharger, as well as engine internals are typically what tuners aim at stage 3.

    Fuel Injectors

    Since power level increases, you will need to inject higher capacity fuel-injectors to keep up with the engine performance.

    Fuel Pump

    The right amount of fuel keeps the temperature inside the cylinders down, therefore you will need sufficient fuel to do the proper job. On the contrary, if you don’t, then parts may melt due to high temperature. 


    A turbocharger has three main sections, in which the turbine and compressor are the two sections that affect the amount of airflow injected. In order to increase the amount of airflow, you may upgrade the turbo size. While we talk about car tuning stages, we also have stage upgrades for the turbos.

    We call it stage 1 upgrade when you upgrade the compressor end, in other words, installing a bigger compressor wheel, and bigger compressor housing along with it to generate better airflow.

    Stage 2 turbo upgrade, on the other hand, is to install a bigger turbine wheel along with bigger turbine housing, creating more power. 

    Engine Internals

    When you modify the engine to an extensive level, you need to make sure you enhance your engine components so that they can bear the power it produces. Factory engine is composed of metals that are finely balanced moving parts, as you increase the power, the parts might be out of balance and break out. Therefore you must swap to stronger engine parts such as pistons, rods, crankshafts, camshafts…etc. in order for the engine to bear the power stress it now produces. 

    Car Mods

    Like mentioned above, there are plenty of different kinds of definition to stage 3 tuning, aside from above mentioned parts, these are the parts that tuners modify for their stage 3 tuning too. 

    • Brakes
    • Tyres
    • Clutch
    • Suspension
    • Filters

    Hopefully this article gives you enough idea of what stage tunings are, but keep in mind that everyone might define them differently. No matter how you mod your vehicle, make sure you reinforce other parts and tune your ECU accordingly.  

    Arashi Turbo

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