Sorta-Kinda Fast and the Furious Filter: Ideas for tuning my 2001 Toyota Camry XLE?
May 31, 2007 1:17 PM   Subscribe

Sorta-Kinda Fast and the Furious Filter: Ideas for tuning my 2001 Toyota Camry XLE?

I'm interested in dipping my toes into the water of car modification and tuning. I don't want to actually become the life-my-life-a-quarter-mile-at-a-time guy, but I'm interested in simple modifications I can make that will pay off in overall performance and style.

The car is a 2001 Toyota Camry XLE, automatic transmission. Everything is stock right now.

If you were making suggestions for a tuner car newbie with this car, where would you start? ECU mods? Suspension? Wheels? Exhaust? I have only a B+ level understanding of the mechanics involved, but I am eager to learn.
posted by Cool Papa Bell to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Tangentially related to your question:

If you are going to tune your car, you should look up your local track for days you can race. There is an event, I don't remember what exactly it is called, where you basically estimate the time it'll take you to make it through a course and the person who comes in closest to their estimate wins. It's a blast, and is fun even before you make any modifications to your car. I did it in a 1989 Chevy Celebrity, so in something with better handling and acceleration, I'm sure it would be amazing.
posted by Loto at 1:39 PM on May 31, 2007

Also, there are a lot of people there who would be more than happy to talk about modifications you could make to your car, just go there willing to listen and learn.
posted by Loto at 1:40 PM on May 31, 2007

Cool Papa - suffice it to say, you might have come to the wrong forum to ask how to rice up the family truckster. I'd cruise on over to or a similar board, and search the archives for ideas.

But if I were the owner of this world-class sleeper, I'd tune it with a baby seat, a giant erector set fin bolted right to the trunk, a Type R sticker, new muffler bearings and a Jaguar V12 shoehorned under the hood.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:58 PM on May 31, 2007

First thing I do with a vehicle I'm modding is establish a baseline. Get the car weighed, calibrate the stock odometre/speedometre (look for measured miles on the highways around your area or places with aircraft speed enforcement marks), and do a series of coast down tests.

Then a complete tune up and run the coast down tests again. Now that you have a decent baseline you can preform mods and tell if they made more than a psychological difference.

After that the easiest mods are, synthetic fluids, +1 tires (note better (IE: stickier/larger) tires may actually slow your car down), better brake pads/shoes and the biggest honking automatic transmission cooler you can fit in front of the rad.

If this is a project car and not your daily driver you can start removing mass as well. Rear seats and interior trim, rear window regulators, carpet, sound deadeners.

Good set of gauges both for the look and so you can see what's happening with some degree of accuracy.

Better seats can often be found on the cheap in higher end models from the same manufacturer.

Bolt in cages are fairly cheap but you might have trouble finding one for the Camry unless it shares a shell with something else.
posted by Mitheral at 2:28 PM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Cams and headers
posted by acro at 2:33 PM on May 31, 2007

If you were making suggestions for a tuner car newbie with this car, where would you start? ECU mods? Suspension? Wheels? Exhaust?


No, wait. Hear me out. Take some race lessons, and start running autocross and/or other SCCA events. You'll learn lots about how your car handles at its extremes, and be in a safe place where you can comfortably discover what happens when your tires run out of traction. Soon you'll be able to drive your car comfortably near its limits -- and until you can do that, there's no reason to raise the existing limits of your car.

You'll also be in a better position to know where you'd like improvement in your car. Do you want more power (or is your car just too quiet)? look at intake and exhaust. Would you rather it handle better/quicker? Look at tires & wheels, then suspension work. Are you getting comfortable at the edges of traction, and want the option to brake later and harder? Time to look at larger rotors and calipers. Are you having trouble attracting street races, because the riceboys are ignoring your family sedan? Get some purple neon and a wing.
posted by toxic at 2:35 PM on May 31, 2007

heh... Slightly paraphrased quote from 'No Land For Old Men' on the audiobook-tronic currently playing...
posted by acro at 2:36 PM on May 31, 2007

1. You have an automatic transmission.

2. You have a mid-size family car.

So if you're going to start down the tuner path, you're already heavily disadvantaged. Part of the appeal of tuning is the go, and part the show; for show, nobody will be impressed by your choice of car/transmission, and for go, you're going to find few if any aftermarket modifications worth a damn. Might as well rice a minivan, for all the credibility and good vibes you'll get.

However: that doesn't mean you can't do some learning, so long as you understand the limitations and risks associated with doing it to your particular car.

a) You won't find many aftermarket parts. Seat covers and alloy wheels you'll find in droves; headers, turbo kits, suspension mods, etc. will be quite thin on the ground. That means you'll be limited to the number of truly useful things you can do, and what might be easy on another car (say, a Honda Civic) might be painful on your Camry, requiring a lot of improvisation and jerry-rigging; the aftermarket parts market focuses on the largest possible audience. Speaking of which...

b) You won't find much of a community to help. I drive a 1st generation Protege, and there's a small community for it, but nothing like the Honda and BMW communities. Communities tend to form around cars that are highly tweakable and/or quite good from the start, and that will benefit further from aftermarket mods. So not only will you have fewer parts to choose from, but you'll also have fewer people to get advice and assistance from.

c) At the end of the day, it's still a Camry with an automatic transmission. Take a Civic or a 3-series BMW; they're pretty good driver's cars from the get-go. Add the right off-the-shelf parts, and you'll have a blast. Your Camry, on the other hand, is a grocery-getter; add enough parts, and you might get close to a stock Civic or 3-series BMW. See what I'm getting at here?

Your best bet is to keep your Camry for daily driving, and pick up a cheap second car for experimentation. You're unlikely to find an inexpensive Civic or 3-series BMW in good shape, but there are other options (like the 1st gen Protege, say, or Ford Escort -- GT only! -- from the same years) that aren't as much in demand but have a good parts selection and community. Plus, if you end up with a broken or incomplete car and need to pick up one more part to fix/finish it, you'll have the Camry to go get it.

Oh, and since you say in your question that you're interested in simple modifications that will pay off in overall performance and style...I recommend losing the performance part of that, since there's no simple and inexpensive way to gain a substantial performance boost out of a Camry. Simple style, on the other hand, may be found in the following: +1 and +2 wheel conversions (also slightly improves handling, at the cost of a degraded ride), tinted windows, scrounging around the junkyard for leather pieces to replace non-leather pieces in your car (assuming a high-line interior was available and you don't have it), and for goodness' sake, keep it *clean*.

Good luck, and have fun.
posted by davejay at 2:37 PM on May 31, 2007

Step 1 for all cars is to get a fart-can muffler. Everything after that is gravy.
posted by rhizome at 2:39 PM on May 31, 2007

Pure speculation here, but what is the comparable model Lexus? If your Camry has a close enough relative, maybe you could get some higher performance Lexus parts that just bolt on (exhaust, air intake, etc.). Check out the Solara, too--it is built on a Camry frame so parts might be usable.

The most basic (and cheap) mod you could do would be to get a K&N air filter and start using synthetic fluids. People say they make a performance difference, but IMO for 99% of cases it is a placebo effect.
posted by jtfowl0 at 3:04 PM on May 31, 2007

davejay writes "Might as well rice a minivan, for all the credibility and good vibes you'll get"

Watch your mirrors davejay. Heh, heh.
posted by Mitheral at 3:10 PM on May 31, 2007

Seriously though, oil changes should be done way more often if you're driving the engine hard...
posted by acro at 3:28 PM on May 31, 2007

davejay wrote: scrounging around the junkyard for leather pieces to replace non-leather pieces in your car (assuming a high-line interior was available and you don't have it),

Since this is the XLE trim, it already has all the leather pieces you could possibly get on this car. This is the high-line interior that was available.
posted by qvtqht at 3:40 PM on May 31, 2007

Sure, there's plenty you can do, but it'll be polishing a turd. Trust me, you'd be better taking the total cost of the recommendations I'm about to make and buying yourself an RX-7 (truly a tweaker's car).

1) Lighter wheels/tires - better handling, better looks.
2) New shocks/springs - get something good, like Eibach, KYB, etc. The stock Camry is waaaaaaaaaaaaay underdamped. It'll also lower the CG of the car for slightly better handling.
3) Rollbars - the Camry is a wallowing, understeering pig. You need to get the body riding level before you do anything else.
4) Header(s), high-flow cat, high-flow muffler - this will make your car loud, and might have to be custom. Don't bother with anything larger than 3" diameter, and make sure you get mandrel bends.
5) Supercharger - Yes, TRD makes a bolt-on S/C for the V6 Camry, and I've heard of bits for the 4-cyl.

There you go - you'll turn your heavy grocery-getter into something that the cops will still ignore. :)
posted by TheNewWazoo at 4:10 PM on May 31, 2007

One cheap and easy suspension mod, even if you can't find bigger bars, is to replace the stock bar bushings with something harder. Poly urethane is available in all sorts of hardnesses.
posted by Mitheral at 6:35 PM on May 31, 2007

Minivan 12 seconds (mov)
posted by acro at 6:56 PM on May 31, 2007

I think this website might be what you are looking for: Toyota Nation
posted by khaibit at 8:24 AM on June 1, 2007

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