As an automotive writer and the proud owner of a 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8, I am constantly being asked by other Mopar aficionados what they can do to wring more performance out of their beloved Challenger. I’ve noticed that folks are usually less inclined to ask me about high-dollar mods like crate engines, superchargers, and turbo systems, and are more interested in my opinion as to what constitutes the biggest bang for their buck.
In an effort to spread my opinion far and wide (and possibly reduce the number of times I find myself repeating the same “mod mantra”), I thought I would put my thoughts down for you all, and offer what I’d like to think is a definitive list of relatively low-cost mods for the 2008-2018 Challenger. Because there are literally hundreds of parts available from Mopar and aftermarket suppliers, I have attempted to narrow down the list by capping the cost of the parts at $2,000, and, by keeping things limited to mods you can do in your driveway or garage. So without further ado, lets jump in and have a look!
#1 Skip-Shift Eliminator
If your Challenger came equipped with the Tremec 6-speed manual transmission, you probably only drove a handful of miles before first encountering the dreaded skip-shift “feature” of the gearbox. Chrysler incorporated it to meet EPA requirements by forcing a first to fourth shift when the car’s ECU detects that certain criteria are met. We don’t know whether it actually offers better gas mileage or not, but what we can tell you is; at times, the 1-4 shift can be downright scary.
One such occurrence stands out in my mind, when I was attempting to make a left turn at a four-way intersection in Los Angeles – and with oncoming traffic heading towards me. I couldn’t engage second gear to complete the turn and accelerate away. Later that day, I went online and found out there was a cheap mod to disable the lockout in the form of a Skip-Shift Eliminator. There are many versions of it available, but I went with the one available from Speedlogix’s online store for only $19.88. If you have a set of jack stands, you can do this mod at home in about five minutes.
One of the biggest power thieves in the Hemi variants of the Challenger (5.7, 6.2, and 6.4-liter engine) is the phenomenon of heat soak. It occurs when hot air is trapped under the hood of the car, raising both intake and operating temps. Hotter temperatures equal lower horsepower, so preventing this is essential to get the maximum power out of your car. Fortunately, the solution to this is cheap.
Installing a 180-degree thermostat such as the one made by Jet Performance for $39.99, will solve the issue when used in combination with a hand-held tuner. Simply install the thermostat and set the engine fan speeds to a lower switch-on point with your tuner, and you’ll see marked improvement in hot ambient conditions. Installation is easy, albeit messy, as you have to collect some leaked coolant during installation, but if you know how to use a screwdriver, you can accomplish this mod in about twenty minutes at home.
#3 Brake Pads
Improve the way your Challenger stops, and simultaneously ease the arduous task of cleaning brake dust from your wheels by swapping your factory brake pads for aftermarket ceramic ones. There are several companies out there that make pads for specific applications on the street or the track, but a favorite of mine and other hard core Challenger owners are Hawk Performance brake pads.
They offer roughly twenty different grades of pads, ranging in price from under $100 to over $400. All will shorten your braking distance, resist fade, and emit less dust than the OEM pads. With a set of jack stands and some time on your hands, swapping out your pads can be performed at home by the modestly inclined mechanic.
#4 Throttle Body
As most of you probably know, shy of boosting an engine or upgrading the internals, the greatest gains in power can be made by modifying the way an engine inhales and exhales. Combining performance intake components and exhaust parts with a custom tune can yield tangible results for a relative pittance, compared to the enormous costs involved in a supercharger system or the installation of a performance camshaft. The most cost effective place to start in this area is the throttle body.
From the factory, the 80mm TBs are adequate for the breathing requirements of the LC-platform, but installing a larger TB will give a mild 5-7bhp increase, and more importantly, will improve throttle response noticeably across the rev band. While many companies such as BBK and Arrington make aftermarket TBs, I chose a different route, and sent mine to Dan Arcand, The Fastman. He is the premiere port-and-polish guy for Mopar throttle body work. Dan increases the bore to 84mm, installs a custom blade, and modifies the factory shaft for maximum airflow. Best of all, his work is under $200. He will also provide a new, modified OEM unit if you want to keep your stock piece. Installation consists of screwing in four bolts, and takes under ten minutes to perform.
#5 Lowering Springs
To my eye, the stock Challenger ride height is a bit too high, especially in the rear. A cost effective way to ameliorate this, as well as improve your car’s handling at the same time, is by installing a set of lowering springs. As with several of the mods here, many companies offer springs for the LC-platform, but if you want a factory part, you should look no further than Mopar’s lowering spring kit.
Guaranteed to work with all Challengers, including those featuring adjustable shocks, the Mopars come in a coo, Corporate Blue finish, and will lower your ride 21mm in the front and the rear. Best of all is that they cost less than $300 from most online dealers. Worst of all? It’s not a job you can do without a decent lift. If you see a Challenger rolling with them installed though, chances are you’ll find a way to do the install yourself!
#6 Cold Air Intake
The next step in modifying one’s intake system is with a cold air intake (CAI). The factory intakes for most models are pretty good in terms of drawing air from underneath the car to feed the engine filtered air, but as usual with factory components, compromises are made to ease manufacture and assembly at the factory, and achieve efficiency goals. As such, the factory units can be improved upon with an aftermarket setup.
Most will increase the amount of airflow, thereby improving power and sound, not to mention the looks of your engine bay. There are many brands of CAIs out there with different designs and performance yields, but if you are looking for the maximum in performance enhancement, the True CAI by Legmaker Intakes is considered one of the tops. Featuring a 4-inch diameter carbon fiber tube and hi-temp silicon couplers, the True CAI draws cold air from the underneath the front fender and yields a dyno-proven increase of 10 hp and 11 lb./ft. of torque. Not bad for a sub-$400 mod that takes less than an hour to install.
#7 Strut Tower Brace
The LC-platform Challenger is not a svelte car. One of the most uncomplicated ways to improve the handling of your Challenger is by the installation of strut tower braces. They work to reduce body flex by tying in critical chassis points. Available from a variety of manufacturers, I personally went with the Mopar Strut Tower Braces (available direct from your Mopar dealer or from a variety of online stores) for the front and rear of my car.
They feature MIG-welded, heavy gauge, powdercoated steel, and great looking Mopar logos. Installing the front brace is easier than the rear, which requires a bit of modification to the trunk liner, but neither job is too hard for the average gearhead to perform at home with basic tools. $350 buys you the front brace, and $450 snags the rear. Both provide noticeable handling improvements for the money.
If your LC is a six-speed, then you are keenly aware how imprecise the factory shifter works. Gears are often hard to engage smoothly, and the throws are way too long for a performance car. Aftermarket shifters have been around since the Challenger’s introduction, but none of them come close to the offering from Barton Industries.
Built like a tank from solid billet aluminum, the Barton features centering springs that eliminate all slop, full isolation of the handle from the shifter for quiet operation, and a throw reduction of 44-percent. Selling for a nominal $400, the Barton is one of the best mods you can do to your car. And, yes, I have one and installed it in my driveway.
Many of the mods listed here, including the thermostat and throttle body, require a tune to get the most benefit. In the Mopar world, DiabloSport is the go to tuner company. DiabloSport offers three models of tuners for Challengers, the Trinity, the Intune I3, and the Predator 2. They vary in terms of features and operation, but all three will write a performance tune to your car that will modify the torque management system and afford double-digit hp and torque gains.
Furthermore, with a DiabloSport tuner, you can customize things like fuel-air mixture, throttle response, and cooling fan operation to make the most of your bolt-on mods. You can also get data acquisition, and customizable gauges. The cost depends on the year of your car (2015 and up require you to purchase a DiabloSport PCM to replace the encrypted OEM in your car in addition to the tuner), and the model tuner you choose. If you can operate a smartphone, then a tuner will be easy for you, with its touchscreen interface and straightforward operation.
#10 Cat-Back Exhaust
The final touch to any muscle car modification has to be a cat-back exhaust. While the stock exhaust on the Challenger, especially on the SRT variants, is decent, you can definitely improve upon the OEM unit in terms of sound, flow, and weight. There are a plethora of makes on the market, so finding the one that’s right for you is entirely subjective.
The best way to determine what should reside on your car is to check out the endless audio clips on YouTube, and even better, to go to as many Mopar car shows as you can, and hear them in person. Ask the owners questions, and be sure to inquire about drone, especially if your car is an automatic with the MDS system, which can pose aural problems when an aftermarket exhaust is attached. Other considerations should include the exhaust’s materials (304 stainless provides the ultimate in rustproofing, with 409 a close second), the diameter (go for 3-inch if possible), whether or not it has an x-pipe, and the style of tips you like.
While I won’t expose myself to flaming by recommending a particular brand, I will tell you that I went with the Magnaflow Competition Series on my SRT, as it carries a lifetime warranty, is made of high-grade steel, is a 3-inch diameter with x-pipe, and allowed me to reuse my stock tips for a stealth look. Prices for Challenger exhausts can vary from $600 to close to $2,000. Somewhere in there is the right one for you, so take your time choosing. I installed my M’flows at home without much difficulty, and so can you. Happy hunting!