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What happens when you tune a car?

5 Tools You Need to Tune Your Own Car (and Where to Get Them)

If you want to electronically adjust and customize the settings of your vehicle’s computer with the goal of optimizing your vehicle’s performance, you are going to need to have the tools required to tune your vehicle. Unlike the tips for cleaning your vehicle’s interior , tuning your own vehicle can be difficult for novices and should only be done by experienced and auto-savvy car owners. Although it is generally best for most people to have their vehicle professionally tuned to improve performance, if you are capable of overcoming this task, it is a very rewarding project. The following are 5 tools you are going to want to have for tuning your own vehicle:

1) An ECU Reflashing Tool

When tuning your vehicle, you are trying to alter your vehicle’s engine control unit (often called your vehicle’s ECU) so that you can “tap” into the additional power that the ECU is limiting . Your engine control unit is a type of electronic control unit that reads sensors from your vehicle’s engine bay, interprets it using performance maps, then adjusts your vehicle’s engine’s various actuators based on the results.

Generally, the ECU will have an Electronically Erasable Reprogrammable Read Only Memory chip (also known as EEPROM), limiting alterations made to the ECU. If you have one of the top 5 upcoming cars in 2021 and want to enhance its performance, you will need to bypass this chip somehow. This is where the first tool on the list comes in. An ECU reflashing tool, sometimes also known as an ECU piggyback, can be used to erase the EEPROM and replace it with a new engine control map. This new map will alter how your vehicle responds to sensor readings so that you can get the most out of your vehicle.

On the other hand, others completely replace the original ECU. There are many ECU reflashing tools on the market such as Cobb Tuning, Motec, and ECUmaster’s reflashing tool. Before purchasing an ECU reflashing tool, be sure that it is compatible with your vehicle since many are not universal . You can readily find ECU reflashing tools on performance parts websites.

2) A Dynamometer

To avoid the dangers of testing on the road, a Dyno, short for dynamometer, should be used to test your vehicle’s performance. With the use of a Dyno, you will be able to test your vehicle’s torque, rotational speed, and other things to establish how much power your vehicle’s engine has. It is also able to inform you of your vehicle’s top speed without having to test it out for yourself and risking getting a ticket or worse.

Although the readings provided by a Dyno are extremely important for tuning your own vehicle, you likely will not be able to purchase one for yourself since they cost tens of thousands of dollars. Since you are only trying to simulate driving on a road and getting the readings, renting out a Dyno is a great idea. You can rent out a dynamometer by the hour or day. There are various places in the Los Angeles area that provide this service such as Los Angeles Calibration in Carson California.

3) Gauges

When tuning your vehicle, you are going to want a slew of properly functioning gauges to ensure everything is going well and to help guide you through the tuning. Some examples of gauges relevant to tuning your vehicle include a wideband O2 gauge, exhaust gas temperature gauge, and oil pressure gauge.

When tuning your vehicle, you want to get the clearest and most complete picture of your vehicle’s performance, and each one of these gauges, along with the Dyno, will help do this for you . As the name suggests, a wideband O2 gauge is meant to measure air to fuel ratios over a broad range of operating conditions unlike narrowband O2 sensors which can only measure between about 14:1 and 15:1 air/fuel ratios. They give a much more accurate reading, and an exhaust gas temperature gauge (also known as EGT) can help confirm the measurement obtained. You also want to have an oil pressure gauge on hand to help identify if things are going wrong.

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4) Laptop

The next tool you are going to need to tune your own vehicle is a laptop to install the required software on. The laptop you use does not have to be an expensive, top of the line laptop. Instead, you likely have a computer already that is very capable of getting the job done.

Just make sure that the laptop you choose to use has a good amount of memory first. Although it is possible to use a desktop, you would have to have it set up near your vehicle so that the wire will reach the USB port and that is not very feasible most of the time.

5) Car Tuning Software

Lastly, you are going to need car tuning software. Many ECU reflashing tools or piggybacks will come with the software required to tune your own vehicle. Some examples include TOAD PRO, Viezu K-Suite, and EcuTek. If the reflashing tool you purchase did not come with software, you can locate effective ones from the software’s corresponding website. Like with the reflashing tool, ensure that the software is compatible with your vehicle.

Not only do these programs allow you to tune your vehicle, but they are also capable of various other tasks. TOAD PRO, for example, can be used to perform a health check on your car and diagnose common problems, and edit your vehicle’s engine control unit data values to enhance your vehicle’s performance and optimize fuel efficiency. Other features include comprehensive CO2 emissions readouts, 0-60 second speed capabilities, and dynamometer analysis.

Wrapping Up

Even though tuning your own vehicle is more difficult than following the tips for driving a lowered car , it can be a very worthwhile endeavor for many car owners. Before you begin, make sure you have an appropriate ECU reflashing tool and corresponding software, laptop, gauges, and access to a dynamometer.

After tuning your car, it’s time to make sure it’s protected. For information on the features, benefits, and pricing of skid plates, click here, alternatively, use our interactive map to find an authorized installer near you. If you enjoyed this article, check out our blog.

Car Tuning: What Do You Need to Know?

We can’t tell for sure when the notion of modifying cars was born in the consciousness of car enthusiasts (it was probably right when the first four-wheeler lifted up city dust), but thing is certain – the wish is still very present, advancing an entire industry of products and services that aim to satisfy our primeval need to stand out from the crowd, to show that we can do better, to be noticed.

Car Tuning

Car tuning can be understood in many ways in terms of the domain of modification. For some people, tuning means changing parameters on a chip, for some it means installing spoilers and xenon bulbs, and some see it as building a racing car. In essence, tuning means improving the performance of a car that came down from a production line in the very same configuration as millions of units before (and after) it. Can’t the factory do better – you might wonder.

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Generally speaking, serially produced cars come in rather basic versions, meaning that they can offer much more than what they currently do. Why? The reason is that the aim of the car manufacturer is not to offer you a car that you cannot afford or maintain, but to achieve an ideal balance between economy and performance. This is where tuning comes in.

Don’t miss our article on most common myths about car tuning

Before we dive in deeper into this topic, we would like to explore the financial aspect a little bit further. Even though you are ready to pay for tuning services and replacement parts, bear in mind that greater stress on these parts means they will wear out sooner. Beside the already mentioned potential increase in fuel consumption, a more severe use means you will need to shorten every service interval. It’s up to you to do the math.

Who Can Tune a Car (for You)?

Motives, expectations, wishes and possibilities are different for everyone. So are the levels of complexity and cost of tuning. In the context of this series of articles dedicated to tuning, our projected reader is does not fit into one profile. Our readers are “urban fighters”, enthusiasts as well as racers. We will make sure to highlight which level of tuning fits these profiles.

When it comes to the person to whom you can entrust the modification of your four-wheeler, you can always turn to authorized tuners or tuning workshops which belong to the car maker. But these options are rather expensive for the conditions we live in, so most people decide to do it in a private arrangement. However, it’s no secret that many terrible wrecks happened due to poor level of expertise or wrong calculation… Tuning is a demanding and expensive hobby. It can cost you time, money or — in some extreme situations when not done properly — your life. Therefore, be very cautious and make sure you collect all the necessary information about the qualifications and the experience of the person you plan to entrust this demanding task.

Which Cars Are Best for Tuning

Which Cars Are Best for Tuning?

Generally speaking, any vehicle that has an internal combustion engine, and in recent times an electronic control unit (ECU), can be tuned. But first, let us differentiate cars run by ECU, and those run by “pure mechanics” (an older generation of vehicles). Both types, of course, can go through modification, but vehicles containing mechanical parts only demand a more complex approach.

When it comes to the engine type, you can tune the diesel as well as the petrol type. While gasoline engines are being tweaked on a regular basis, we did witness a serious increase in the number of remapped diesel cars with turbocharged engines in the (not so distant) past, which was due to the fact that turbocharged engines were easier to rework than the atmospheric ones. However, many diesel engines (especially the turbo kind) were destroyed by the hand of amateur tuners who had either remapped them the wrong way, or evaded the fact that certain engine parts were not designed to handle the increase in power and therefore had to be replaced.

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During the last decade, many global players tried to enter the world of racing via diesel engines. Although the diesel engine dominated the scene for a while, the interest dropped dramatically when the construction of turbocharged petrol engines surpassed their diesel counterparts.

What Is the First Step?

The easiest, cheapest (hence the most popular) way to boost horsepower is the so called chip tuning. Chip tuning is basically changing parameters inside the ECU by means of a computer, or replacing serial production maps with those from a higher class. By increasing engine power, you switch from a fuel-economy mode (determined by the car maker) to a fuel-consuming mode, so you need to be ready for this cost. Moreover, for some cars this kind of modification can be quite evident, meaning that you will need to think about replacing tires and brakes for safety reasons, which raises the initial cost.

chip tuning

Although chip tuning is considered to be the simplest way to draw maximum horsepower from an existing engine configuration, unfortunately it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have it done the right way. Lack of expertise and pirate copies of maps can make pistons, piston rods and entire engine blocks break. Therefore, it’s critical to leave the job to professionals.

Being that all tweaks are done electronically, you don’t need to dismantle the engine in order to perform chip tuning. The next step would be changing the technical features of the vehicles.

What Does the Process Look Like?

The process of tuning, logically, begins with increasing engine power by performing interventions on the cylinder block, the cylinder head and the ECU. We say process because anyone who wishes to take part in this exciting adventure should be aware that tuning is never done partially, meaning that its segments are dependent on one another. For example, when increasing the engine power, it’s necessary to pay attention to the suspensions and brakes in order for the entire system to endure higher speed and better performance. It would be wise also to lower the car in order to enter curves more easily. You’d also need tires that secure better contact with the surface and reduce swaying. In accordance with greater power, the springs and shock absorbers should be replaced with those of higher quality. The next level would be tuning elements of transmission that optimize the transfer of engine power to the wheels via the gear shift and differentials. Professional car tuning means adding safety features, like strengthening the body frame, installing safety cages, ergonomic seats and custom belts that improve safety and make it easier for the driver to endure the force of gravity at higher acceleration. And so on…

Fasten your seat belt and follow this section because we will be paying special attention to each of these segments in the months to come.

What Does Tuning A Car Do? (Pros & Cons)

You may have heard of tuning. Maybe you think it’s something to do with a musical instrument. Or maybe when I say the word diesel, you think, Vin. We’re going to go through exactly what it is and the benefits it can have on your car. Car enthusiasts and beginners alike, hop in, and let’s get into it.

What Does Tuning Do to a Car?

Let’s try to make this simple. Tuning is changing a car’s variables to optimize peak engine performance. This will increase your car’s torque and horsepower.

Modern cars are heavily controlled by a computer, also known as the ECU. Your ECU is what limits your basic engine power. Your ECU is a type of electronic control unit, aka computer, that gathers data from the sensors placed around your car.

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It calculates the sensors and makes its decisions using inputs such as throttle position and outputs such as ignition timing.

You could turn a pair of identical engines into distant cousins. For example, you could create an engine with maximum fuel economy or an engine with better performance. Or you could have a percentage of both.

The computer is the power. Tune the computer, control the engine.

What does turbo tuning do to a car?

The air filter in the car is pumped up a notch, which generates more horsepower and is especially popular in diesel engines because the turbochargers give higher torque.

What does a car tuning chip do?

Chip tuning changes the air/fuel ratio, increasing torque while making a change in the fuel economy. It’s usually a method used by those who are after fuel efficiency, thus leading to less horsepower than other methods.

Why Should You Tune Your Car?

You don’t have to be a race-car driver to want to tune your car. Car modification is for those that want better, whether it be from performance or appearance.

There’s more than one type of auto-tuning. There’s suspension tuning and break and body tuning. This work is common for people wanting to improve their car rather than to stand out from the crowd.

Sometimes, improving the way you drive can be as simple as changing your tires. This can affect factors like rolling resistance, ride comfort, and ground clearance. Or take a look at installing bigger brakes, shock absorbers, or dome struts that can increase performance.

Here are the three main reasons:

Improve acceleration

You’ll get more performance out of your car with its increased acceleration. Enhancing performance parts such as the cold air intake will give your car faster acceleration. However, other factors can get in the way, such as your car’s size and weight.

Enhance torque

Back in the day, changing your torque curve meant changing hardware. Then in the 1970s, manufacturers decided to turn down the power produced in engines for better fuel economy.

Now that things such as valve timing and ignition timing can be varied without touching the hardware, tuners can enhance their RPM on a torque curve. By doing this, your engine controls have widened your performance requirements.

Increase engine power

Re-working the exhaust pipes results in increasing engine power to its maximum potential. Again, this will depend on size.

Types of Engine Tune-Up

Stage 1 tuning

This is essentially chip tuning. Turbocharged engines particularly see an increase in torque performance when their ECU is re-wired.

Stage 2 tuning

At this stage, you’re going to need a professional to install parts. It involves improving airflow and the sound of a car. For non-turbocharged cars, it involves fitting a cat-back system, and for turbocharged, it’s fitting a turbo-back system.

Stage 3 tuning

In addition to all of the stage 2 car modifications, stage 3 involves upgrading the cylinder head and spark plugs. But that’s not all. This is a costly tuning process and is recommended for race cars.

Stage 4 tuning

You’re now on the final lap, and it’s the last stage. Typically, this stage is not for road use but track only. There’s an upgrade in the turbocharger or supercharged engines as well as an upgrade in oil coolers and multi-hole injectors.

What to Do Before Getting Your Car Tuned

  • Check your oil; you don’t want to turn up with poor or low oil.
  • Check your spark plugs and get them replaced before rework.
  • Check your fuel. The process can eat up a lot of fuel, so you want to make sure you have a lot of fresh gas in the tank.
  • Check your tires and make sure they’re up to scratch.
  • Check for any electrical wires that are trying to escape.
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How Do You Tune a Car?

Yes, it’s possible to do it yourself. Take a look at these steps for using a car tuning kit:

Step 1. Get yourself an ECU Refreshing Tool

The ECU has an Electronically Erasable Reprogrammable Read Only Memory chip, a mouthful I know, which restricts changes being made. To make this happen, you can use the ECU Refreshing tool to erase the EEPROM and get yourself a new engine type. However, make sure to check each tool’s compatibility as they’re not one tool fits all.

Step 2. Get yourself a Dynamometer

I need to stop you there before you google this and get completely freaked out by the price. Yes, it costs thousands to purchase a Dynamometer yourself, so this isn’t what we’re recommending. Instead, rent a Dyno to test your car’s functionality.

Dyno tuning is the safest way to test your vehicle’s overall performance. This will give you an accurate reading of how much power output your vehicle possesses. There’s no need to be getting too fast or too furious here. You could end up with a speeding ticket or worse.

Step 3. Get yourself some functioning gauges

Having a gauge is going to be the extra support you need to get an accurate reading of your car’s transition.

Step 4. Install the software

Use a laptop with a good amount of memory to support software installation.

Step 5. The tuning work begins

With the software downloaded, you can tune your car. Most software has other features such as reading data and optimizing fuel efficiency.

Pros and Cons of Tuning a Car

Advantages of tuning a car

  • You’ll receive more horsepower.
  • Your personalized engine will fit into your lifestyle.
  • Professional rework will add safety features.
  • Tuned cars will deliver a clean burn and less build-up.

Disadvantages of tuning a car

  • There’s a chance of poor quality rework.
  • Bad tuning can worsen your car’s energy efficiency.
  • A strain will be put on mechanical parts that may not be strong enough.

How Much Does It Cost to Tune a Car?

To get a professional tune on your vehicle, it can cost between $200-$900. However, it could be more depending on your vehicle size, car manufacturer, and purpose.

Where to Tune Your Car

Typically, people go to independent workshops that specialize in rework. Also, most of them are remote if you don’t live too far away!


How long does a dyno tune take?

If you prepare, it can take 2-4 hours.

Does tuning a car make it louder?

The more air moving through the exhaust pipe, the louder your engine will sound, but this isn’t the case for all car tuning. For example, chip tuning will have less horsepower.

What is stage 4 tuning?

This is typically for track drivers due to its high modification.

Is engine tuning legal?

Yes, it’s legal. However, some conversions to the internal combustion engine are illegal if you’re driving on regular roads. Therefore, it’s important to research the legal areas to ensure you’re operating responsibly.

Author: DJ

Dave Junior is a hands-on automotive technician with experience in performing service, diagnostics, and repairs on domestic and imported vehicles. He enjoys writing and sharing his knowledge far and wide.

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