Drivetrain Modifications That Keep You Sideways

Getting a car to go sideways is easy. Getting a car to stay sideways is the real challenge! Sure, you can pull the handbrake on any car that has it, and if it’s adjusted, you’ll start to skid. If you do that enough, though, you’re bound to break something. Handbraking puts a ton of stress on your vehicle, as does downshift-dragging and drifting in general. You need to get some stronger parts to be able to drift reliably! The real question is “how can we drift reliably and cheaply?”


While drifting in and of itself is an expensive sport, there are ways to lower the costs. Only getting the necessities for driveline modifications is one such way. The bare minimum is a differential (welded or LSD), Angle Kit, and spare wheels. If you’re looking to splurge a little, there’s some engine modifications for even more reliability.


Making a car reliable is fairly easy, but doing it on a budget is difficult! Let’s break down each mod, and see how we can cut the costs without cutting our car’s lifespan.



The Best Differential For Your Car!


Having plenty of engine power is fine and dandy, but if you only have an open differential, you’ve got a one-tire fire! Going sideways with an open differential is incredibly dangerous, having caused many crashes and deaths before. It even cause me to crash one of my first sports cars! Aside from dangerous open differentials, there are quite a few differentials you could use for drifting. We’re going to refer to them as a group, the “Limited-Slip Differentials”, and compare them to a welded differential. If you want to know about all the types of differentials, and the pros and cons of each one, click here.


Limited-Slip Differentials


While there’s many different types of LSDs, I’ll be using the Torsen LSD as the example for this group. While the internal workings are rather complicated, there is a basic explanation as to how a Torsen differential works. Pinion gears can’t turn worm gears, but worm gears can turn pinion gears. Relying on this property, the differential has multiple series of pinion gears and worm gears. When not under acceleration, the worm gears turn the pinions, allowing the wheels to spin at different rates. Once there’s an acceleration force, however, those pinions can’t turn the worm gears, and that forces the wheels to turn as one.


These differentials rely solely on mechanical properties, allowing them to function with little maintenance. The only “maintenance” you really have to do is fluid changes, and that applies to almost every differential. While these are mechanically superior to most differentials, this is reflected in their price being much higher. Welding your current differential is much cheaper than purchasing a new LSD, and can be just as reliable. An LSD puts much less strain on other components of your vehicle, such as axles, suspension, control arms, and other parts.


Used LSDs can cost you anywhere between $100 and $300, but new ones can run you well over $1,000. I’d be very careful, but purchase one used.


Welded Differential


While the LSD is optimal in every other sense, the welded differential is much cheaper, and can match an LSD’s reliability. If you’re looking to get drifting on a budget, this will be your differential of choice. Having a welded differential can put a huge strain on other parts of your vehicle, like the aforementioned axles, suspension, and control arms.


Whenever you go around a corner, both wheels will need to turn at the same rate. Since the wheels are turning on different radii of a circle, they’ll want to travel at different speeds. Either the outside wheel will be forced to slow down, or the inside wheel will be forced to spin faster. This binding of the driveline will cause jumping and skipping when you go around corners. This constant binding can magnify pre-existing issues. This exact phenomenon caused stress in my 240sx, turning a minor issue into a catastrophic one. That was a fun day at Dairy Queen.


Having a differential welded shouldn’t cost more than $40, if you’re just bringing them the differential. It’s more likely in the $20 range for a local shop. If it’s still on the car, expect it to cost a ton more, and maybe not as good work quality. Taking a differential out of a car is fairly easy, though, so I’d recommend that route.



Getting Further Sideways With An Angle Kit (Or Just Angle Modifications)


Now that we can put power to the wheels, lets worry about what happens once you get sideways. Stock cars run somewhere between 25 and 35 degrees of steering angle. Thus, when you go sideways, you could only get a little past 25 or 35 degrees of angle in your drift before you spin out. Drifting with that low an angle requires either high entry speed, or a ton of power. Both of those are really bad for a new drifter. Having more angle allows you to slow your drift down, and focus on steering your skid instead of praying you have the angle to turn.


For almost every drifting car made, there’s an angle kit for it somewhere. These are your safest bet for getting more angle out of your car, being tried and true by their manufacturers. There are some cars, however, where very simple methods will get you more angle. For example, the S13 240sx chassis can achieve incredible angle (60 degrees and above!) without ever touching a kit. Spacers, extended tie rod ends, minor hub modifications, and you’ve got as much angle as you can use. Definitely research your specific chassis before you purchase an angle kit. You may be surprised how much angle a nearly stock car can get!



Do I Need Spare Wheels And Tires?


It’s almost a necessity to at least have spare rear tires whenever you go drifting. Trusting the same tires you just tried destroying to take you home is a big yikes. If you’re carrying at least one set of spare wheels, you’ll be able to rip up your drifting set, and when the day is over, just swap back. I’ve heard horror stories of people going drifting their first time, and they pop their rear tires on the track. Lowe and behold, there’s no spares in sight! They have to call a flatbed to haul their car home.


Even if you had spare tires, if you don’t have spare rims, you’re banking on the drift event to have a tire-changing machine. While most large tracks will, many grassroots events won’t have a tire changer on-site. If you’re able to convince someone to run and get them changed elsewhere, you’d be paying quite the pretty penny to have them do that. That wastes time, money, and someone’s patience. You’ll save so much money and headache in the long run to just have a set of spare rims, with tires already on them, for drifting.



Keeping Your Engine Reliable


Without spending lots of money, there aren’t many engine modifications you can make. Even if you were to get parts for free, your engine would need a professional tuning to dial the parts in. Tuning an engine, especially dyno-tuning, isn’t cheap. My personal recommendation would be to an intake and exhaust, and leave it at that. The closer to stock your engine is, the more reliable it should be. Of course, if you’re driving a Subaru, it’s gonna blow a gasket no matter what you do.


The best, and cheapest, way to make sure your engine is reliable is simply to keep up with maintenance. Regular oil changes, keeping the engine clean, and keeping fluids topped off all contribute to a happy engine. Making sure you properly warm your engine before beating on it, and let it cool before shutting it down. The cool-down period more applies to turbocharged cars, where the turbo is reaching incredibly high temperatures. Diesels also benefit from running an extra minute or two, as idling actually cools the engine down (as opposed to petrol engines, which generate more heat by idling).


Most other maintenance is car-specific, make sure to check your vehicle’s forums for common problems and maintenance practices. For instance, RB engines have oil starvation problems, you generally pre-mix fuel for RX-7s and RX-8s, and the e36 M3 has overheating issues. These are things you’d only know if you looked up that particular engine, or had experienced the problems before.



How Much Are We Spending Here?


Let’s bust out these calculators, and see how cheap we can get this! We’re going to use the example of the E36 328i from our How Much Drifting Really Costs article (The irony in that is, we recently got an e46 330ci that we’ll be modifying, and here’s our goals for it, prices included!). With that 328i, you’re getting the M54B30 engine, which shares the S54’s tendency to overheat.


Running down the list, we’ll be having someone weld our differential for $40 (high estimates, so you get a worst-case scenario. Realistically, $20 is plenty for someone to weld it). Next, when we’re getting more angle, we can just get a set of lower arms off an E46, and with a little magic, fit them in. You can get a used set off eBay for around $200 shipped to your door. After that, we need spare wheels and tires. If you’re patient, you can pick up a set of 4 off Craigslist (tires already on them) for around $100. They won’t be show-car rims, but they’ll work for drifting. Last, we’re working on making the engine reliable. The M54 barely has any issues, just the overheating. Here’s a little secret though: taking the hood off is free, and so is cleaning your filters and radiator!


So, totaled up, we’re looking to spend (on the high end) $340. Seriously, under $400 to make your car reliable to drift, are you kidding me? That’s an amazing bargain! Realistically, of what we’ve done, the most likely part to fail is the differential welds cracking. In which case… Have someone weld it back together! Those inner gears don’t have to be in good condition if your diff is welded, they’ll never turn!


If you’re looking to get started drifting on a budget, or are just curious about the real costs behind drifting, check out these articles!


As a drift enthusiast, if I've owned the car, you can bet it's been sideways! Honda S2000, Chrysler Crossfire, 1987 Porsche (only once, *never again*), and my babies, my 1995 Notch-top SR 240SX and 1991 Red-top SR 240SX. I've had a ton of fun, and I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences, tips, and recommendations with you all!

Recent Posts