UPGRADING YOUR TESLA MODEL 3 - CUSTOMIZATION & MODIFICATION
NEW TO MODIFYING AND CUSTOMIZING CARS? WELCOME!
So you're head over heels in love with your new Tesla Model 3, and you want to do some upgrades to it. The problem is, you're new to modifying and customizing cars.
You’re not sure what to buy – what is good, what is bad, where to go to get things installed, and if you’ll have issues down the road, who will help you.
This article was written for you. We’ll try to keep it as unbiased as possible, but obviously keep in mind we are a manufacturer of performance parts and we’ll always recommend our parts! However, bear in mind we can still provide you with some solid advice on how to go about modifying your Model 3 in a way that will prevent you from spending good money over bad and to achieve your goals within your budget.
Determine Your Goals:
Once you determine your goals and a budget, you’ll be able to select parts that give you the best value for your dollar.
Select Quality Parts:
We’ve had a number of customers sell our competitors parts to switch, and often times they will have spent twice as much as they would have spent if they did it once the first time. So do your research and are sure what you’re looking for before you install parts on your car!
Make Sure You Have Excellent Support:
Likewise, if the person you’re contacting is a genius but impossible to get a hold of, that doesn’t do you any good either.
The companies you’re looking to purchase from should be both responsive and provide quality information to you when you ask. If they can’t even give you quality communication before you purchase, how do you think it will be AFTER you’ve given them your money?
Reading reviews on forums is usually the best way to get a real idea of what it will be like to deal with a company. Google reviews and others can be easily manipulated, and YouTube reviews are often paid (or they were given the parts for free) but forum posts by members with a high post count are almost always a true way to get an idea of what a company is like.
UPGRADE - LOWERING + SUSPENSION
Springs Or Coilovers?
When it comes to upgrading the suspension and lowering the Model 3, there are two routes you can go straight away. Lowering springs or coilovers. We only sell coilovers here at MPP, so naturally we’re going to recommend them. We have written an article about springs versus coilovers, and you can read that here if you’re interested in our reasoning for coilovers over springs.
The basics are that lowering springs will do the job of getting the car down to roughly the height you’re looking for, but the ride will not be nearly as good as it could be, as a coilover kit uses a matching shock absorber (called a damper) designed for the upgraded spring rate and lower ride height. The other benefit to coilovers is that they allow you to fine-tune the ride height to exactly what you’d like, while with springs you are stuck if you don’t like what you get.
When it comes to shopping for coilovers, one of the major things to look out for is noise. Many aftermarket suspension systems make a lot of noise, as they are designed by a company that generally make sport suspension for gas-powered cars that usually have loud, upgraded mufflers! Pinging and popping noises are not uncommon, especially when springs do not have rubber isolators, or when solid bearing mounts are used. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort on ensuring our coil-over kits are as quiet as stock, and that is something we are really proud of. Online reviews will usually tell you if you have something to worry about in this department.
If you’re interested in performance, make sure you do some research on the quality of the damper as well. Many times you’ll see companies advertising “32 clicks of adjustment” for example. It’s pretty common for coilovers to have a huge number of “clicks” – but each click does almost nothing. Generally speaking, if the damper company supplies professional racing teams (24hr endurance racing teams, not club level or Time-Attack stuff), and regularly wins – the dampers are the real deal. We can’t stress this enough. Also, ask where they are made! Assembled in the USA doesn’t count.
Once you lower your Model 3 an alignment is absolutely required. That is because when you lower a car, the wheels will no longer point in the right direction. As a result, the car will not drive well, and tire wear will be excessive. An alignment can get the wheels pointed straight, but on the Model 3 the front and rear camber is not adjustable. That means the wheels will be tilted inwards at the top when the car is lowered, which increases wear on the inside shoulder of the tire. This is more of an issue in the rear than the front, as the rear camber gain is much greater than the front.
We have designed our rear camber arms to address this problem, and they are one of our most popular products. They both improve performance and are extremely fast and easy to adjust, so alignment shops love using them. They also used sealed spherical bearings that should last the lifetime of the car, rather than the typical rod ends you will find on other arms. Rod ends should be avoided, especially if your car is not a dedicated track vehicle. Dirt and debris will quickly ruin them, causing play and excessive rattling and clunking. If you went this route, be sure to regularly check all the rod ends for play, this is something race teams have to do after every session and replace them often.
What about the other suspension parts?
Rear camber arms are really the only part we would say you NEED when lowering your car. The rest of the suspension components we make are designed for performance applications. If you’re looking to improve the responsiveness and feedback that your Model 3 delivers to you, then you’ll want to upgrade the suspension arms on the vehicle that currently use soft rubber bushings. Soft rubber bushings affect your feeling of connectivity to the road and result in an unstable, floating feeling when driving aggressively. All of our aftermarket arms currently use sealed spherical bearings as you’d find on a Porsche or BMW M-car, so they should last the lifetime of the car while having the performance of a solid bearing.
Upgraded anti-roll bars are an option worth considering. Generally for road driving, the factory anti-roll bars are fine if you’ve installed a coilover suspension system. Upgraded anti-roll bars can be used on the track to adjust the balance of the car and for fine-tuning, or to reduce roll with high grip tires.
UPGRADE - BRAKES
The Purpose Of Brake Upgrades
Depending on the goals for your Model 3, upgrading the brakes may not be relevant to you. However, if you’re looking to rip up the canyons, go for a spirited drive or hit the track, brake upgrades are not just an upgrade – they are a necessity.
There are two types of brake upgrades. Upgrades that improve the feel you have with the braking system in the car, and upgrades that raise the thermal ceiling of the brake system. Upgrades that improve feel are enjoyable for all drivers, even when you’re not pushing your car to the limit. Modifications that help increase the thermal ceiling of the brakes are what you need if you’re going to the track or even having fun on a mountain road (especially if it is a downhill section).
A Word Of Caution
We shouldn’t have to mention this, but thanks to good old fashioned internet marketing BS, we do. The brakes on your vehicle are the only thing stopping your 4000+lb Tesla from turning into an unguided missile. PLEASE make sure you are purchasing brake upgrades only from vendors that have experience in professional motorsport with a winning heritage. This is not a place to cut corners or fall for salesmanship. Any brake supplier worth their weight will have at least won some championships in professional motorsport by now, and in all likelihood continue to be involved in high-level racing. This is the only way you can be certain that the brakes you’re buying are safe for track use.
Pads, Rotors, Lines
Upgrading your brake rotors and lines have no negative side-effects. The soft rubber brake hoses that come with your car are used because they are cheaper than stainless steel lines, there is really no benefit to them. Likewise, the OEM rotors cost a few dollars each to manufacture. They are cast with non-directional vanes so that the same rotor can be used for both sides of the vehicle, again to reduce cost.
A rotor upgrade will increase the thermal ceiling of the brakes by improving airflow (in the case of a curved-vane rotor), increasing rotor mass and/or surface area (which improves conductivity to the air, and thus cooling). Rotors that use an aluminum hat are the best, as they put the mass where it is needed (in the rotor ring), but keep the hat as light as possible. This is how rotors can be lighter than stock while having more usable thermal mass.
Brake pads, on the other hand, do put you in a position to make some compromises. OEM brake pads are designed to inexpensive while having maximum performance when cold. Upgraded brake pads can be anywhere from a near-stock level of performance with no noise, to squealing, rotor eating monsters that don’t work unless hot. There are many pads out there that are great on the street, with very little noise or dust that will work for spirited driving and even novice track use. However, when it comes to a high-powered car like the P3D and a driver that is pushing anything over 7/10 on the racetrack, a more aggressive pad that can work at high temperatures without fading is a necceesity.
Brake fluid is the next critical upgrade before doing any heavy-duty braking. OE brake fluid is designed to last a long time and be inexpensive. It has a very low boiling point. When the brakes get hot, they transfer this heat into the brake fluid and when it boils air bubbles are created in the brake system. When this happens the pedal becomes very soft, and in extreme cases, the pedal can totally go away resulting in a dangerous situation. Having the pedal go to the floor at the end of a 100mph straightaway is terrifying! The brake fluid on the Model 3 MUST be upgraded prior to any track use. It is UNSAFE to track the car with OE brake fluid. At least when pads start overheating, you can feel it through the pedal. The brake pedal will become hard and more effort will be required to attain the same rate of deceleration. Boiling brake fluid can happen suddenly and without warning. If you haven’t practiced the technique of “pumping up the pedal” you could find yourself in a bad spot!
Big Brake Kits
The Model 3 already comes with quite decent calipers from the factory, even on the base car. However, the front rotors on the base car are just too small for the power level and weight of the Model 3, especially with high grip tires. The Model 3 Performance has decently sized rotors from the factory, but even they could do with an upgrade if you’re going to the track regularly. The most important aspect of a big brake kit is to ensure it is well balanced and doesn’t upset the brake balance of the car. Often times a poorly engineered kit will reduce the total braking ability of a car, simply because the balance is off so the brakes are not maximizing all four tires during braking.
UPGRADE - WHEELS + TIRES
When selecting aftermarket wheels for your Model 3, there are a few things to consider before you upgrade. Namely aesthetics, weight and aerodynamics. Beware of any claims that a lightweight wheel will improve efficiency. The truth is that the weight of the wheels is far less important than the rolling resistance of the tire, and the aerodynamics of the wheel. The wheel weight makes a small difference in stop and go driving, but it is relatively minor when compared to aerodynamics or rolling resistance. Wheel weight has almost zero effect on efficiency at sustained highway speeds.
The Model 3 uses 5×114.3 bolt pattern wheels, an exceptionally popular wheel size. However, the Model 3 uses 14mm wheel studs, and most 5×114.3 wheels have a 13mm hole. It’s not a big deal to have the holes drilled out for 14mm studs, and centering the drill perfectly is not critical as the wheel is centered by the taper of the seats and a hubcentric ring, not by the hole location.
Width + Offset
The width and offset you select for your Model 3 is a compromise between looks and efficiency. With aftermarket camber arms it is possible to fit a 10″ wheel all around on the Model 3, with an offset of +35 in the front and +27 in the rear. However, a wheel that wide and far out will significantly increase aerodynamic drag, causing a 10-15% impact on efficiency, especially on the highway.
For the Model 3, having a “track set” of wheels really makes a lot of sense, although it is a big expense. A good street width and offset we’ve found is 9″ +40 offset. It’s certainly not that flush, but it keeps the efficiency close to stock in terms of aerodynamic performance.
Tires are again another compromise with the Model 3. The Michelin MXM4 tires have an insanely low rolling resistance, there is basically nothing else on the aftermarket that comes close. The most efficient tire options will be sticking with OE Tesla “TS” marked tires, and after that, the only way to get some efficiency back is by raising the tire pressure significantly. This, however, will have a negative effect on ride quality.
High grip sports summer tires generally have the worst rolling resistance, but even “Eco” rated tires are quite bad in our experience compared to Tesla-spec tires, so you may as well just select a tire you really like and accept the range loss. If you’re concerned with range, my suggestion is to stick with an OE tire size, such as the 19″ 235 Continental, and mount them on a set of wheels you like.
UPGRADE - LIGHTWEIGHT PARTS
Weight Reduction 101
Naturally, battery-powered electric cars are quite heavy. The first thing you’ll learn when researching vehicle dynamics is that weight = bad. Always. There are zero instances where heavier is better. One of the ways you can improve your Tesla is with weight reduction, as a reduction in weight is the most effective tool in improving grip and acceleration. This is why go-karts can produce 3 G’s, and a racecar 50 times the cost can only produce 1.5 G’s.
This concept is what makes weight reduction so significant. Especially with electric cars, where there is no practical way to increase the power output of the motors, the only way to improve acceleration is by reducing mass. A 10% reduction in mass is the same as a 10% increase in power.
As a very general rule of thumb, adding 100lbs will cost around one-second per lap on a normal length racetrack.
The 12V battery is the first and most cost-effective spot to save weight on the Model 3, as the Model 3 comes from the factory with a heavy AGM battery. Once you’ve replaced the battery, weight reduction becomes a little bit more difficult. Tesla did a fantastic job with the design of the Model 3 in trying to make everything as light as possible, and that’s why their electric cars are so much lighter than the competition’s EVs.
Brake rotor upgrades are a good location to remove weight, as are lightweight wheels. The next step after that would be more extreme and would involve removing components, or expensive dry carbon fibre body panels (not “wet” carbon fibre, which is generally made with excessive resin and can be as heavy as OEM aluminium panels).
Generally speaking, we will make sure that any part we offer is significantly lighter than stock. We’re able to do this because we aren’t constrained to the extreme cost-saving measures that Tesla needs to consider for their production parts. When shopping for parts, see if the OEM and aftermarket component weights are listed. If they aren’t, it might be a sign that this wasn’t an important design consideration.
It’s important to understand that weight reduction is a very slow and steady progression. There is not one part that will be able to just remove 50lbs from your Model 3 in one shot, but our catalog of parts is already able to remove 50lbs (not counting wheels) without increasing the noise or harshness of the vehicle.
UPGRADE - BODY + WRAPS
Wrapping Your Tesla
It’s quite popular for Tesla owners to get their car wrapped, and this is generally a good idea as it can protect the underlying paint which will keep the resale value high, and is also something that can be changed in the future without damaging the paint or doing anything irreversible.
When it comes to wrapping your car, make sure you find an experienced installer with a good reputation. There’s nothing worse than creases, bubbles and excessive seams on a wrap job. Make sure you have an understanding of what kind of warranty there will be if the wrap starts peeling, or if the trim is damaged while wrapping your car.
The same goes for PPF film. PPF is a great investment to protect your car from damage and is something best done when the car is almost new. We’ve had a few instances already where the PPF has prevented our bumper or fenders from being damaged. But, as with the wrap, there is nothing worse than peeling PPF once dirt gets stuck under there! Find a good installer.
When it comes time to select a color to wrap your Model 3, please remember that you have to live with what you pick for years to come. Keep it subtle and ask your significant other!
There are a number of aftermarket lip kits and body parts already available for the Model 3, and obviously when it comes to this sort of thing just select whatever you like the looks of best. None of them affect aerodynamics or drag too much, and there haven’t yet been any real-world back to back tests showing a significant difference, so unless something appears obviously excessive, you likely don’t need to worry about a difference in drag or downforce when considering options.
Instead, focus on reading reviews about fitment and quality. There’s nothing worse than an aftermarket body panel that doesn’t sit flush and has gaps or edges sticking up. If you’re thinking about painting the panels the OEM color, keep in mind that some colors are extremely hard to color match, such as the Pearl White. In this case, it may make sense to leave a carbon fibre part in bare carbon as even though that stands out more than a painted part.
FINDING AN INSTALLER
Find A Good Shop!
Finding an honest workshop that is both competent, fair and careful is difficult. There’s no doubt about that. However, there are many good shops out there that will value your business and not rip you off. Here are a few hints that might help you find a shop in your area. You can always email us and we can refer you to our dealer network. In the event that we don’t have a dealer in the area you’re enquiring about, we can also ask some customers in that area who they have had good luck with and you can do your research on them for yourself.
Do Your Research
No different than researching companies that sell parts, you’ll want to research shops. Read reviews on forums, try to find someone with first-hand experience, and most importantly, go into the shop and talk to them. More on that below. If the shop you’re visiting is clean and organized, that’s certainly a good sign. If it looks like cars are regularly coming and going, that is also a good sign. Any business involved in motorsport will always be a good one to use because racing teaches you lessons that you can’t learn on the road. Those lessons often make for better technicians.
That being said, you also should be mindful of a shop that too big and too pretty, but that has a ton of junior technicians on staff. Ultimately, the person you’re really interested in should be the one who is touching your car. If you can get some information on the experience level of the tech that will be working on your car, and how much experience they have installing similar modifications on a Model 3, that is the most important aspect above appearance. There are plenty of small shops around that do far better work than expensive shiny dealerships.
Communicating With A Shop
As a previous shop owner, let me give you some advice on communicating with a shop. Generally, shops are very busy and worked extremely hard. For that reason, shops and shop owners really value their time. It is in your best interest to show respect and appreciation for their time, while at the same time stating your expectations. The way you can show an appreciation for their time is by doing some research on your own and knowing specifically what work you’re looking to have completed. Excessive back and forth emails are a great way to have a shop lose interest in working with you, or to have them forget or make mistakes down the road. Here is a rough template:
Hello XXXX Shop,
I have a Tesla Model 3 and am looking to install the following parts in the next 6 weeks or sooner (generally don’t bother contacting any earlier than 6 weeks in advance unless the shop is extremely busy):
If you could please give me a quote that would be great.
I know your time is valuable but I’d like to drop by and have a quick visit to see your location and setup an appointment for installation. I’m looking for a competent, trustworthy shop to bring my business for these upgrades as well as future ones. My car is very dear to me and I want to make sure it is well taken care of. I also understand you’re all busy so I will not take much of your time.
From that point on, if the shop doesn’t respond or doesn’t seem interested in showing you their location, you most likely have your answer on whether you want to deal with them or not.
If they do respond and you end up setting up an appointment, it’s best to not send a ton of back and forth emails but rather to collect all of your questions for one email to send shortly before your appointment. Many emails, especially ones sent well before your appointment, will likely not be remembered or sent to the technician when installation time rolls around. However, one organized and coherent list of questions or requests (it is even better is to print out and leave it on your dash if there are specific concerns or requests – I.E. to use jack pucks) will almost always get through.
Hopefully this helps!
This article is just a brief introduction to Upgrading Your Tesla Model 3, but hopefully it helps some of you if you’re new to modifying cars. We’ve seen a huge influx of interest from people that have never considered modifying their car before, simply because the ownership of a Tesla has inspired so much passion in them. We hope those of you that read this article find it useful even if it is extremely self-serving. We aren’t denying that!
As always feel free to email or call with any questions and we would be happy to help. Keep converting people over to Teslas and other EVs, and eventually, we’ll clean up the transportation sector!