Differences between stage 1,stage 2 & stage 3 tuning mods.

Tuners tips on "Car tuning stages"

Car tuning stages Guide

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, Stage 2 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.

Others mean cheapest easy power gain, slightly more expensive but you'll get more power, and give us a blank cheque and we'll take everything to the max.


Getting the right sports upgrade kits for your planned usage of the car is a time and money saver. Stage 3 (competition) mods just won't work well on the road making the car difficult to drive.

Read our guide on mods using the links below or scroll down to find out more about the definition of stages.

Tuning tips and articles Engine tuning Transmission tuning Care care Intake & exhaust mods Improve handling Forums

Stage 2 mods make more power but generally need other mods to support them or to get them to work properly.

We consider the following types of mod to fall into each stage, but we know that opinions vary.

Stage 1 mods: Remap, Suspension upgrade (drop 25mm - 39 mm.), Lighter flywheel, Alloy wheels, Sports exhaust, Panel air filter.

Stage 2 mods: high flow fuel injector, Ported and polished head, Power/Sport clutch, fuel pump upgrades, Fast road cam.

Stage 3 mods: Competition cam, Engine balancing, Adding or upgrading forced induction (turbo/supercharger), Internal engine upgrades (pistons/head/valves), Sports gearbox.

So how do you know if a modification fits into a stage 1 or stage 2 category?

Let's look at what definitions people generally use to categorise modifications on cars and hopefully this will help demystify it for you, and when someone starts talking about stage mods you can call their bluff if they get it wrong!

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 silencer, air filter or brake pad upgrades. (These are all simple single bolt on parts.)

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 will usually require the uprating or replacing of other parts to work.

  • Examples of stage 2 modifications include a hybrid turbo which requires a different manifold or 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, also the parts used have varying degrees of affect 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.


Please use our forums if you wish to ask a tuning question, and please note we do not sell parts or services, we are just an online magazine.

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9 Responses to “Car tuning stages”

  1. Ali says:

    Yes, this did indeed did satisfy my curiosity, but you were not too clear as to what sets apart ‘sage one’ from ‘stage two’ meaning, all you mentioned basically is that stage two is better than stage one, obviously that is the case, but could you kindly elaborate slightly on what a general ‘stage one’ modification consists of, and what a ‘stage two’ modification consist of??
    Thank you 🙂

  2. xTALIBANx says:

    Stage 1 is just a remap with no modifications on the car and stage 2 needs some mods like Hybrid Turbo or Turbo back exhaust, FMIC and other stuff (to the best of my little knowledge)

  3. xod says:

    Actually from this article I read stages as “How easy is it to undo this mod?”. So stage 1: remap, air filter, exhaust silencer, etc. these are all easy to undo. Done a remap? Just do another with the original map. Changed the air filter? Just look for the old one in the trash container and put it back in and you’re .. undone. After these “safe side” mods come the stage 2. Say you have single slot brake pad configuration on the frontwheel and want to move to a double slot brakepad (that’s 4 brakepads instead of two). You will need 4 brakepads now and a new brake caliper and almost always a new brakedisk which can take the increased ammount of heat. Of course after this your braking will tear your face and splash it on your windscreen but it’s not that easy to undo. Stage 3 is even more .. but I think you got the idea.

  4. DIMITRIS says:

    dear friend…
    i read your article and i want to make some questions and i will wait an answer anytime you can!
    1. did excist any 4 stadioum or higher ? and what are the upgrades on it.
    2. can you be more specific about stage 3 and describe all the components that need to be change?
    3.i have a vw golf 2002 1.400cc 75hp ! i’m planing to make stages 1 and 2 how many horse power you think by your opinion i will gonna gain?

  5. Adie says:

    Dear Dimitris,

    Stage 1 is minor, just small upgrades to the factory products already in your car. You probably wont gain much more horsepower (5-20 additional hp max).
    Stage 2 however can give you massive hp gains, varying from just 25 extra hp to doubling your current horsepower or better.
    I myself have a ’91 Honda Integra, and a 86′ VW Rabbit. My suggestion to you would be to swap your engine for the 2.0L Turbo from the Golf TDI, or the 2.5L Turbo from the 2002 Rabbit. That alone will boost your hp to 200hp. However, I dont know how much experience you have with mechanics, and that can get costly.
    If you dont want to make the effort on a new engine, you can also upgrade these areas:
    -Suspension (Struts, lowering springs, sway bar)
    -Brakes (new rotors, brake pads)
    -Performance Chip (get a performance chip with the top limiter removed, this alone will give you a huge boost in speed)
    -Air Intake (Short Ram or Cold Air intake)
    Engine parts (manifold,headers, camshafts, clutch and flywheel)

    If you upgrade all that, I can guarantee you’ll have close to or over 200hp

  6. BlackBetty says:

    Thanks for the info. I started out just looking for info on when to change your DV for an upgraded one for performance and came across this info which will help with levels of improvement to my 2.0T A4 , probably not going past stage two. Thanks again.

  7. Arashi says:

    This helped SO much. Bought a car already at stage 2, and basically had to learn to control it from square one. Still have much to learn, but baby steps right? Lol

  8. Ndori says:

    Starting with stage 1, is there an order in which these mods should be done?

  9. admin says:

    Remaps should always be done last, as the timing/fuelling and turbo durations will vary depending on how well the engine can convert fuel into power. Adding just an induction kit or exhaust, won’t affect power much, you need to balance the flow of air through the engine. Most other stage 1 mods will not matter if done in any order.