What Are the Key Factors in Choosing an Aftermarket Performance Camshaft for Your Engine?

February 12, 2024

Selecting an aftermarket performance camshaft for your engine can significantly improve your vehicle’s horsepower, torque, and fuel efficiency. This piece will provide you with the necessary knowledge and considerations to make an informed choice. We will explore essential factors such as the camshaft profile, the type of vehicle, your specific driving conditions, and the intended use of your car. You will also understand the role of the engine’s current state and the importance of a compatible valve train.

1. Understanding Camshaft Profiles

Before diving into the detailed factors for selecting an aftermarket performance camshaft, it’s crucial to understand the camshaft’s role in your engine. The camshaft’s crucial function is to manage the opening and closing of the engine valves. The timing, duration, and lift of these valves control the engine’s power output and efficiency.

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Different camshaft profiles are designed to optimize performance at varying RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) ranges. These profiles can be broadly divided into three categories: low RPM, mid-RPM, and high RPM.

  • Low RPM camshaft profiles are designed for engines that spend most of their time at low to mid-range RPMs, such as daily drivers and towing vehicles. They provide strong low-end torque and excellent fuel efficiency.
  • Mid-RPM camshaft profiles offer a balance between low-end torque and high-RPM power, making them suitable for street performance and some motorsport applications.
  • High RPM camshaft profiles maximize performance at high RPMs. They are mostly used in racing applications where the engine operates at the upper end of the RPM range most of the time.

Selecting a camshaft that matches your engine’s RPM range will help you achieve the performance gains you desire.

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2. Vehicle Type and Specific Driving Conditions

The type of vehicle you have and the conditions under which you drive it will significantly impact your camshaft choice. A heavy tow truck will require a different camshaft profile than a lightweight sports car. Similarly, a car that spends a lot of time in city traffic will have different camshaft requirements than one used mostly on highways or for racing.

For daily driving and low-RPM towing applications, a low RPM camshaft profile that focuses on torque and fuel efficiency is ideal. If you’re looking for a performance boost for street driving or occasional track days, a mid-RPM camshaft profile might be the best choice. For dedicated racing applications, a high RPM camshaft profile designed for maximum horsepower will likely be the best fit.

3. Intended Use of the Vehicle

The intended use of your vehicle will also play a significant role in your camshaft selection process. If your car is a daily driver used primarily for commuting or casual driving, you’ll likely benefit from a low to mid-RPM camshaft. These cams provide a good balance of power, torque, and fuel efficiency suitable for everyday use.

If your vehicle is a weekend warrior used for spirited driving or occasional track days, a cam designed for mid to high RPMs will likely offer the performance enhancements you seek. These cams focus on boosting horsepower and torque in the mid to high RPM range, providing an aggressive, sporty driving experience.

For dedicated racing or high-performance applications, a high RPM camshaft designed for maximum power output will be the best fit. Keep in mind, however, that these cams often come at the expense of daily drivability and fuel efficiency.

4. State of the Engine

The current state of your engine plays a crucial role in your camshaft selection. If your engine is old and has high mileage, it might not be able to handle the increased stress a performance camshaft can put on it. In such cases, it might be more beneficial to invest in a rebuild or a new engine before considering a performance camshaft.

On the other hand, if your engine is relatively new or has been well maintained, it will be better equipped to handle the increased performance a new camshaft can provide. Always consult with a qualified mechanic or engine builder to assess your engine’s condition before making a camshaft choice.

5. Compatibility with the Valve Train

Any change to your camshaft will affect the rest of your valve train, including the lifters, pushrods, rockers, springs, and valves. These components need to be compatible with the new camshaft for optimal performance and reliability.

For example, a camshaft with a high lift and aggressive profile may require stronger valve springs to prevent valve float at high RPMs. Similarly, a camshaft with a high lift may necessitate longer pushrods or different rockers to accommodate the increased lift.

When choosing an aftermarket performance camshaft, it’s vital to ensure that the rest of your valve train can handle the changes. Always consult with a qualified mechanic or camshaft manufacturer to ensure compatibility.

6. Required Supporting Modifications

When considering an aftermarket performance camshaft, it’s essential to understand that such an upgrade may necessitate other supporting modifications to your vehicle. These modifications aim to ensure that the rest of your vehicle can keep up with the enhanced performance of your engine.

For instance, installing a high RPM camshaft might result in increased horsepower and torque. But if your vehicle’s transmission, driveline, or brakes aren’t upgraded to handle this additional power, you may end up with a car that is fast but not safe or reliable.

Also, a performance camshaft could mean that your engine will burn more fuel and generate more exhaust gases. Hence, you may need to upgrade your fuel system, including the fuel pump and injectors, and possibly your exhaust system, including the headers and catalytic converter.

Remember, upgrading your engine for increased power is just one part of the performance equation. Each component in your vehicle needs to work harmoniously with the others to ensure optimal performance, safety, and reliability. Therefore, planning for supporting modifications is critical when choosing an aftermarket performance camshaft.

7. Professional Installation and Tuning

After choosing the right aftermarket performance camshaft, the next key step is to have it professionally installed and tuned. Installing a camshaft is not a simple task. It requires mechanical expertise, specific tools, and a deep understanding of how the engine and its components work together.

Hiring a professional mechanic or engine builder ensures the installation is done correctly and safely. A poorly installed camshaft could result in engine damage and a reduction in performance, rather than an increase.

Once installed, your engine must be properly tuned to take full advantage of the new camshaft. This involves adjusting the engine’s fuel and spark timing to match the new camshaft profile. Without proper tuning, your engine might not perform optimally, and you might not see the performance gains you expect from your camshaft upgrade.


Selecting an aftermarket performance camshaft for your engine involves careful consideration of various factors. From understanding camshaft profiles to considering the intended use of your vehicle, the current state of your engine, and the required supporting modifications, every aspect plays a crucial role in making the right decision. Additionally, ensuring professional installation and tuning can significantly enhance the performance gains you achieve.

With the knowledge provided in this article, you are now equipped to make an informed decision when choosing an aftermarket performance camshaft. Remember, the ultimate goal is to improve your vehicle’s performance without sacrificing safety or reliability. Always consult with a qualified mechanic or engine builder to ensure your chosen camshaft fits your specific engine and performance goals.