In our free-market system, most folks are familiar with the principle of caveat emptor, or "let the buyer beware." At the very least, we're raised to be wary of big promises attached to quick or easy fixes, to the point where the very idea of the "quick fix" conjures images of scheming snake-oil salesmen and the desperate marks who fall for their pitches. Believe it or not, sometimes there actually are real-life quick fixes for your car that work and make sense. Let's take a look at some of the relatively easy — though not always inexpensive — ways to improve your ride without wasting your time or money.

Headers

Headers work to expel exhaust gases from the engine's cylinders more efficiently. Depending on the size and design of the headers applied, benefits can include improved torque and more optimal engine performance at higher rpm levels. Between the costs of purchasing headers and installing them, this is not a cheap upgrade, which is one reason your car didn't come from the factory with them. However, if you have the money to install them, headers can give you some extra pull when you need it most.

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High-quality air filters

This is an upgrade in both engine output and fuel efficiency so simple and relatively cheap that it's easy to overlook. While a performance air filter can cost nearly twice as much as a standard filter, it still isn't a huge hit on the wallet, and the benefits are real. For most automobiles, installation of a high-quality air filter can mean a bump of a couple of horsepower and better engine efficiency at highway speeds.

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Windshield wipers

This is a basic upgrade — literally, it's right in front of your face. It's all too easy to look right past your windshield wipers, but for about $25 to $40 you can throw on a new pair that will make life that much easier the next time the skies open up. It's not a particularly sexy improvement, but if your wipers are old and worn, you'll be amazed at what a difference a high-quality set can make.

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ECU tuning

Those installing performance upgrades such as headers, turbochargers and exhaust systems should also look at fine tuning the software of their engine's electronic control unit. The ECU manages your engine's performance, and "remapping" the ECU specifically for your car and its new upgrades can return improved fuel economy and horsepower. Be warned, however; ECU tuning can easily run into thousands of dollars, and you definitely want to be sure you're going with a reputable ECU remapping service.

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Wheels and tires

Upgrading wheels and tires is the single easiest way to improve the performance of your car or truck. An upgrade could mean anything from getting new, higher-quality rubber that will grip the road better and resist puncture, or going for a wider set of wheels to fit tires with a larger contact patch to improve steering response and vehicle stability through a turn. Tires can get pricey quickly, and wheels even more so. In the end, new tires and wheels are almost always worthwhile. Also, they might look cool, and that's always a plus.

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Turbocharger / supercharger

Rising gas prices and the desire of auto enthusiasts to increase both fuel efficiency and performance have led to renewed interest in turbochargers and superchargers. Turbochargers have improved from their earliest popular applications in the 1970s and '80s, when "turbo lag" meant uneven throttle response. Even the least expensive turbocharger kits run into the thousands of dollars, however, and supercharger systems cost even more. But without question, when these forced-induction gizmos go on, horsepower goes up.

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Ceramic brake pads

Ceramic brake pads offer improvements in just about every aspect compared with metallic- or organic-based pads. They wear better over time, have a longer life span and handle heat better under heavy use. Usually, the only argument against ceramic pads is the cost, but if they're right for your vehicle, using them is almost a no-brainer, particularly if you find yourself attending regular track days or autocross sessions.

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