Bolt-Ons for Beginners: 5 Basic Mods for 5.7-Liter Hemi Challenger

Performance projects of any magnitude all have on thing in common: a beginning. Though some may seem endless, all projects need to start somewhere and for most of us, it starts with Bolt-Ons for Beginners. Despite the current wave of Hemi Challenger popularity, we decided to take a close look at some minor mods for a typical 2015-2018 5.7-Liter Dodge Challenger and what better place to start than American Muscle.

AmericanMuscle has long been the go-to resource for anything late-model Mustang related. With the recent expansion into the Dodge Challenger platform, owners and enthusiasts of the third generation of Challenger, model years 2008 to present, can look to AM for research and aftermarket performance support. Adam Maqboul is the resident Mopar expert at AM and we asked him what the most popular Challenger mods are among late-model Hemi owners.

Cold Air Intake –

Cold air intake | FCA Photos

What is a Cold Air Intake and why do I need it?

According to Maqboul, a cold air intake helps the engine run more efficiently while adding a few extra horsepower and torque numbers to the Hemi’s overall power outputs.  The factory air filter is typically known to be a little restrictive in comparison to a well-made aftermarket filter and an aftermarket intake is going to do a better job filtering out the particles you don’t want coming in.

What should I look for when selecting an aftermarket cold air intake?

When it comes to selecting a cold air intake, Maqboul recommends an intake with a box because the box protects the filter from excess engine heat under the hood. “When the majority of air filtering through the intake to the manifold is cold you will see better performance. If you’re also pulling in that extremely hot engine heat without the heat shield/airbox then you might not see as much of a performance gain in some cases,” Maqboul said.

Choosing the right cold air intake can then be determined by the quality of the heat shield, the materials of the tubing – such as ABS plastic or aluminum – and the quality of the filter.

How difficult is it to install?

“In all categories, adding a cold air intake is one of the simplest things you can do,” said Maqboul. He added that the bolt-on modification doesn’t require much mechanical experience under the hood of a Hemi.

Catback Exhaust –

2018 Dodge Challenger

What is a “Catback Exhaust” and why do I need one?

Maqboul says a “catback exhaust” is essentially the part of the exhaust from the end of the catalytic converters back to the exhaust tips coming out of the rear end. This generally includes a mid-pipe – usually an x-pipe or h-pipe – a muffler, sometimes a resonator, exhaust tips, and all of the piping that connects these parts.

The benefits of a cutback exhaust are sound and power.

According to Maqboul, when you change exhaust components from the stock configuration, typically the exhaust becomes less restrictive which helps make more power. The less restrictive the exhaust is, the quicker exhaust gases can escape from the motor to the stock manifolds, or aftermarket headers, and out through the exhaust.  

Additionally, the sound of a 5.7-liter Hemi will change dramatically if the diameter of the exhaust piping is changed, the internal makeup of the mufflers is altered, or if you delete the resonator – if it has one.

How do I select the right catback exhaust for me?

According to Maqboul, there are race-specific muffler systems for the 5.7-liter R/T and supercharged 6.2-liter motors that are crafted specifically for the best power gains but picking the right sound is all about personal preference and is the best way to fine-tune exactly what you want to hear every time you start up your Challenger.

“Going with an exhaust like the Stinger option from Borla, one of my personal favorites, will change the R/T’s sound from stock to deep, throaty and aggressive. The best thing about the car culture is that there are endless amounts of ways to make your car yours. The exhaust, in my opinion, is the most fun way to make your Challenger yours. There is no ‘right or wrong.’”

Lowering Springs –

Side profile showing stock ride height on Dodge Challenger Demon

How will lowering springs affect the performance of my car?

Most Hemi Challenger owners don’t really baby their cars on a day-to-day basis. “We put the suspension to the test from time to time, and aftermarket springs play a huge role in how our suspension handles and performs,” Maqboul said.

Adding lowering springs helps lower the center of gravity and, according to Maqboul, “when the center of gravity is lowered, the car remains more leveled throughout turns. With a nice, stiff lowering spring – maybe something that drops an inch to an inch and a half – you’ll be able to take on tougher turns easier because you won’t feel like you’re on a big boat that’s rotating throughout the turn.”

In other words, body roll is reduced, cornering abilities are increased, excessive nose dive and squatting is reduced, and spring rates affect performance in certain situations.

What is the difference between progressive springs and linear springs?

Additionally, the springs compression and rebound can vary depending on if the spring is progressive or linear and the drop in ride height effects the body roll and handling abilities.

According to Maqboul, progressive springs are comfortable springs to drive on in normal driving conditions but will get progressively stiffer under heavier loads, such as taking a hard corner at higher speeds. These tend to be more comfortable for daily drivers who want the best of both worlds with their springs.

Linear springs retain a set spring rate and stay consistent in every condition, which is typically the spring-of-choice on the drag strip.

Catch Can –

2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Widebody

What is an oil catch can and why do I need one?

According to Maqboul, an oil catch can, sometimes called an oil separator, helps stop oil sludge from bogging down engine performance and it reduces blow-by. Blow-by is essentially crankcase exhaust gases that re-enter the system sludging up the intake manifold or supercharger on SRT Hellcat.

The oil residue backs up and can become a problem in the long-term said Maqboul, adding  “catch cans, well… ‘catch’ that residue or sludge before it makes it way back into the engine. I think this is one of those cases where Challenger owners see that this is an easily preventable problem.”

Catch cans are installed in minutes and are typically inexpensive, “They have nothing but positive impacts and absolutely no downsides, it’s easy to see why people are buying them” Maqboul said.

Choose your own Power or Performance –

Challenger SRT Hellcat

“The fifth mod could be a few different things depending on personal preference – performance, handling, appearance, etc. – Personally, I’d add a custom tune just to tie those performance mods together and bring out the most in them,” Maqboul said.

The custom tune ties everything together with a nice little bow. Adding an Airaid cold air intake and a Borla catback exhaust gives the 5.7-liter and 6.2-liter motors a nice bump in power, but adding a custom tune allows you to get every last bit of power out of your new mods.

“Others sometimes go with headers for sound and performance, or sway bars for handling and suspension benefits” Maqboul added.

Headers are a great way to add that classic muscle car sound. Long tube headers, in particular, have a huge impact on top end performance gains for the Challenger and give it a really noticeable, beefy sound. Maqboul noted that long tube headers are a power-driven mod as well but are much more difficult to install.

2018 Dodge Challenger GT AWD

Tackling suspension mods in order to get the best handling you will want to reduce chassis flex and body roll. Sway bars have the sole job of stiffening the chassis. They work with the lowering springs to enhance suspension performance.

“I’m a fan of the Challengers, both old and new, but they are big and heavy and the right sway bar can really go along way in reducing body roll,” Maqboul said.

For more information on Challenger mods, see AmericanMuscle. 

About the author

Nicole Ellan James

As an automotive journalist and avid car enthusiast, Nicole Ellan James has a passion for automotive that is reflected in every aspect of her lifestyle. Follow Nicole on Instagram and Facebook - @nicoleeellan
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