The Ford F-150 is the top selling truck for a reason. It has earned its reputation in terms of power, reliability, off-road capability, hauling, and more. But what if you want just a bit more out of your truck then what you can get from the factory? There are a bunch of “truck” things you can do like off-road additions, suspension upgrades, and more, but what about performance? What about focusing on the HP over the MPG? What about if it’s literally the opposite and you want MPG over HP?
Performance upgrades are all about the driving experience both on and off-road. Being a Ford, there are plenty of options for you to consider, and that is what this article is all about. Join us for the ultimate guide in engine performance modifications to your Ford F-150 to get more power!
The Basic, Disclaimers, and other Housekeeping
What is a performance mod? While we normally talk about off-roading, we know there is plenty more to the F-150. For this, we will be focusing on products, additions, and hacks that will help improve the drivetrain in some way on your F-150: horsepower, fuel mileage, torque, shift stiffness, throttle response, and things like that.
I should point out that you should be careful about any of these mods. While most of this plug and play stuff is completely safe, changing the way your engine and transmission behave from the factory could lead to troubles down the line. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: vehicles are made to work the best they can from the factory. Changing one aspect will make other parts have to work harder. Just be careful and know that you could void certain aspects of your warranty with certain mods. Always read what the manufacturer of performance mods say about their product so you’re on the safe side.
You also should note that some states (mainly California) do not want you modifying your engine in any way, so make sure whatever you are interested in is legal for your state or country.
Let’s also get some baseline numbers out of the way for the F-150 so we can compare them down the line. Let’s focus on the 2020 F-150. Did you know there were SIX engine options!? Six!? Let’s stick with the 5.0L V8. While that does leave five engines out of the mix, these are all modifications you can get on all of the engines. The power increase will be a similar percentage across all engines.
2020 Ford F-150 5.0L Specs
Torque: 400 foot pounds
0-60: about 5.9 seconds
Miles Per Gallon: 17 City / 23 Highway
With all that out of the way, let’s get on to some mods!
F-150 ENGINE BOLT ON MODS
For this section I’ll cover the few modifications that “bolt on” to your engine to help increase performance. With modern day engines, there are not an incredible amount available for many vehicles, but the few that are can help!
Cold Air Intake
Cold air intakes are some of the most cost effective modifications that you can do to any vehicle. Engines work better with cooler air. Ever notice your F-150 has a bit more pep in its step on a nice fall day compared to the middle of summer? Cold air intakes take the place of your factory airbox and intake tube, and are designed to take in more air, and from a position that sucks in cooler air compared to air closer to your engine. These are relatively inexpensive for the amount of horsepower and torque you get. While you won’t be racing Mustangs anytime soon, it is something you will notice!
If you think about performance and Ford, one of the names that come to mind is Roush, and for good reason. Roush has been making specialty parts and full-on custom vehicles for Ford for years, but you can get just the pieces you want such as this cold air intake. This kit features a reusable filter and an enlarged intake tube and airbox to draw in more air for your engine. While the official numbers are not listed, you can expect about 10 horsepower and 15 extra foot-pounds of torque. It will run you $439.
For a 40% better airflow, reusable filter, and more power at $349, this cold air intake kit is hard to beat. In addition to all of that, the clear top on the airbox simply looks cool, which is always a plus. Reviews are high, installation times are low, and performance is instant.
Throttle Body Spacers
While debatable by some on if these actually do much, what they are designed to do is mount between your throttle body and intake manifold to increase the spin in the air to make it flow more optimally into your engine and allow better combustion. Better airflow and better combustion means better performance. While your butt dyno may not be picking up drastic differences, adding this and a cold air intake could lead to great results adding the gains together.
These are always easy to install. All you have to do is unbolt your throttle body from your intake manifold, put the spacer in, and then bolt it all back together. Do not overtighten the bolts, because you don’t want to crack anything!
The unique Helix Bore design in the spacer will also help spin the air into your engine, improving the air/fuel mixture to ensure the best performance. This will help with the mid-range torque and power in your F-150. While you won’t be racing any Mustangs with this any time soon, it will help most if added with other modifications. It will set you back $150.
If you want a more affordable option, SR Performance offers their throttle body spacer made from aluminum that has been CNC machined to its unique “Spiral Bore” design. It claims to boost your low to mid range power in your Coyote powered F-150.
Tuning your engine means changing the computer’s parameters. While in the past tuning was all mechanical and involved screws and springs, now it’s all electronic. Tuning an engine can change idle speeds, shift points, speed limiters, and so much more.
There are two main ways: DIY and professional. Doing it yourself can be done with tuners you can purchase, and professional means taking it to a performance shop. While taking it to a shop can be more expensive, there is less chance of you messing something up doing it yourself! While doing it yourself can be fun, if you change the wrong parameter, you can create negative long term effects which could get very expensive!
SCT has been in the tuning industry forever. They know how to get the most out of an engine. This tuner will allow you to change engine parameters, perform data logging, read and clear check engine lights/codes, and more! While you can normally find this tuner for around $500, this link will send you to 5 Star Tuning which will provide a custom tune to deliver the performance you are looking for for a little extra!
This tuner will allow you to take care of everything you could need from checking and clearing codes, tuning all aspects of your engine and transmission, and more. You have preloaded tunes that are designed to either get you going, or to use 24/7. This will only set you back $425. That may sound like a lot, but for a tuner that can do all this? That’s not a bad price.
Professional tuning is not really something I can give links to here. There are shops all around the world that can assist with something like this. Prices can be all over the place depending on what you need done. Simple tuning can be a couple hundred, but if you want to step up to full on dyno tuning, you’ll be looking at a pretty penny.
The good thing about professional turning is that it’s done by professionals. While that may sound obvious, they know what they are doing. Their work can come with a warranty, and if you go to a certified shop, there is a chance that the tuning might not even void the factory warranty.
Do your research and ask around. You do want to make sure it’s not a random shop that got the same tuner you could have. Remember that when it comes to something like this, you get what you pay for!
OTHER F-150 BOLT ON MODS
There are other products that you can attach to your F-150 in locations beyond your engine that will increase performance. Again, while this is limited with modern drivetrains, there are a few good products out there that can help crank out some better performance!
Electronic gas pedals can lead to lag and slower than desired acceleration. Thankfully, Pedal Commander is here to help. This simple product plugs into your gas pedal to help eliminate that nonsense. Gone are the days of a physical wire opening and closing your throttle when you press your pedal down. Now, everything is electronic.
When you press your pedal down, it tells your F-150’s computer that you’re doing so, and how hard you’re doing it. The problem is that it will still only open the throttle as fast as it’s programmed to. Pedal Commander will amplify the signal your foot provides to open the throttle faster. You can choose between different settings to dial in the amount of performance and fuel savings you want. For $350, it could be one of the best mods you do!
Changing the exhaust on your F-150 will not only help it breathe better, but it can make it sound better too. Like your cold air intake taking air in more efficiently, a less restrictive exhaust will help the air leave more efficiently. Why is this important? Breath in as much air as you can, then stick a straw between your lips and breathe out. It sucks, right? Your F-150 has to deal with that with a stock exhaust.
Within reason, as you still want to maintain good back pressure, a more free exhaust will help your engine perform better which will unleash more power. Keep in mind that this will also change the sound of your engine. You’re going to want to watch tons of YouTube videos to hear what you’re interested in to make sure that it is for you.
Since sound is highly subjective, and there are so many muffler and pipe combinations, I’m not going to leave any example links. You could expect to send anywhere from $250 to $1000. Most will fall around the $500 range.
OTHER F-150 PERFORMANCE HACKS
In addition to all of these physical products, there are a number of hacks you can do to increase performance in your F-150. Some of these involve you getting a little dirty, and others just involve paying attention to what you’re doing. Let’s take a look.
Windows Up, Air Off
Aerodynamics and your comfort can actually go hand in hand. To get the best fuel economy, top speed, and acceleration, the shape of the F-150 plays a big part. While mostly built for conquering mountains, the F-150’s shape will allow for improved highway performance as well. However, you can mess all that up depending on when you use your windows or air conditioning.
Lowering your windows obviously allows air into your F-150. At high speeds (generally accepted to be above 55 miles per hour), this will create much extra drag on your F-150. Your engine will have to work harder to compensate for the extra “weight” of the air forced into your truck. This will lower your fuel economy. While it’s hard to beat the windows down sometimes, if you’re going over 55 miles per hour, it may be best to leave the windows up and turn the AC on instead. However…
If you’re cruising around town, using your air conditioning is actually not the smartest idea. The A/C causes your ening to work harder, and while that may be fine if you're cruising along at 60 miles per hour, stop and go traffic paired with your A/C will kill your mileage. Over time, it’s potentially going to cause more wear and tear on your engine as well. If you can handle the heat, keep your windows down around town.
Cleaning your Throttle Body and MAF Sensor
Your mass airflow sensor (MAF) is a bit of circuitry that reads the air that’s coming into your engine. It will read a number of parameters and tell your engine how to run accordingly… What RPM, the amount of fuel, amount of air, and so on. When this gets dirty, it can start causing false readings. You’ll start to lose power and probably some MPGs as well.
Thankfully this is super easy to clean. For a few bucks at your local auto parts store, you can pick up a can of MAF sensor cleaner. Then just disconnect your battery (to be on the safe side), unplug your MAF, unscrew two screws holding it in, then pull it out and spray it down! Once it’s dry, reverse the process, and your truck will come alive once again.
As I mentioned before, your throttle body is responsible for letting air into the engine. If it gets dirty, it may slow down how fast it opens and closes, or it may have trouble opening and closing completely. Your truck may start to sputter, and maybe even stall. This is also easy to clean!
Go back to that auto parts store and pick up a can of throttle body cleaner (not carb cleaner). Take off the intake tube, spray the cleaner onto a cotton cloth (like an old t-shirt), and wipe the inside down! Make sure you open the valve and get behind it. Be careful and gentle, and don’t let the valve slam closed.
If you do these two things, especially if it’s been a while or never since the last time, you’ll be amazed at the results. Close to $10 will get you the two cans (that will last you years), and it will take you 30 minutes to do both things. A shop will charge you close to $100 for this service.
While the F-150 is amazing off-road, a little help on the road may not be a bad idea. As you can see, you can accomplish quite a bit for a few hundred dollars. Just make sure you follow all directions, and enjoy the power gain!
F-150 Engine - Courtesy of Auto Blog
Cold Air Intake - Courtesy of S&B Filters
Dyno Tuning - Courtesy of Ford Truck Enthusiasts
Exhaust - Courtesy of Borla
Throttle Body Spacer - Courtesy of F150 Forum User "onegoesbyu"
F-150 Driving - Courtesy of Ford Authority
MAF and TB Cleaners - Courtesy CRC on Walmart