5 Common Car Modifications That Require Engine Tuning

Did you know that even the slightest change to your car’s drive-train can throw the whole thing off balance? That’s right: Even seemingly minor changes can significantly impact how your car runs — and sometimes, that calls for an engine tune.

Car modifications that require an engine tune include changing the air/fuel mixture or timing and installing a supercharger. The engine tune you need depends on the complexity of the modifications made to your car.

This article dives deeper into the murky waters of car tuning to help you make an informed decision. I’ll also focus on major mods that require an engine tune.

7 Pros and Cons of Tuning Your Car Engine

What Is an Engine Tune?

An engine tune is a complete checkup and adjustment of your car’s engine. It is designed to keep your engine running as efficiently as possible. The engine is the heart of your car, and like any heart, it needs to be in top condition to function correctly.

Your engine has to be powerful enough to get you where you’re going but not so powerful that it guzzles fuel. The engine tune can help your engine find that balance and stay there.

For most drivers, an un-modded car will suffice. But a few make aftermarket modifications to improve performance (or, at least, aesthetics). The problem is that these mods often throw the engine out of balance, resulting in poor fuel economy and increased emissions.

If you’re making modifications to your car, you have to recalibrate your car to ensure that it’ll continue to function efficiently even with the mods.

Car Modifications That Require an Engine Tune

You may be confused about which modifications require an engine tune. The truth is that only a few mods will have enough impact on your car to warrant one. 

Here are the most common modifications that require an engine tune:

  • Changing the air intake
  • Installing a supercharger
  • Changing the exhaust system
  • Replacing the catalytic converter
  • Installing a nitrous oxide system

Even then, some of these mods may not require a tune if they’re done correctly. For example, if you install the recommended cold air intake for your ride, you may not need a tune if you don’t make any other changes to your drivetrain.

How Much Does an Engine Tune Cost?

The cost of an engine tune can range from $800 to $10,000. The actual cost will vary depending on the type of car you have and the extent of the modifications you want to make. This recalibration is so expensive because it often requires special equipment and expertise. 

In some cases, you may need to replace parts of your car that may not be able to handle the pressure of working with the new setup.

For example, if you install a nitrous oxide system, you may need to upgrade your fuel injectors to handle the increased fuel flow. If you’re installing a supercharger, you may need to replace your car’s engine mounts to handle the extra vibration.

Also, keep in mind that the costs can add up. It’s important to do your research before modifying your car. That way, you can be sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

The Different Types of Engine Tunes

There are two main engine tunes: a flash tune and a piggyback tune. 

Flash Tune

A flash tune is a software upgrade installed directly onto your car’s computer. This type of tune is usually installed by a professional, and it can be expensive. But it offers the most precision and the best results. Essentially, a flash tune tells your car’s computer how to make the most of your modifications. It will adjust the air/fuel ratio, ignition timing, and turbo boost pressure to get the most out of your engine.

Piggyback Tune

A piggyback tune is a cheaper and less precise alternative to a flash tune. It works by “tricking” your car’s computer into thinking that there’s more air in the engine than there actually is. This makes the computer add more fuel, giving you more power.

Piggyback tunes are less expensive because they are DIY-friendly, and they don’t require any special equipment. However, they’re not as precise as flash tunes, and they can cause your car to “run rich” (i.e., your engine is getting much more fuel than air), leading to decreased fuel economy and increased wear and tear.

How To Choose the Best Engine Tune

The type of engine tune you need depends on the modifications you’ve made to your car. A piggyback tune may be all you need if you’ve made minor mods, such as a cold air intake or exhaust system. However, if you’ve made significant changes, such as installing a supercharger, you’ll likely need a flash tune.

It’s also worth noting that not all cars can be tuned. Some newer cars have “locked” computers that can’t be modified. BMW, for example, has a policy of voiding the warranty if the owner tunes the engine, and they’ve also locked the computer on most of their newer cars. So, if you’re thinking about tuning your vehicle, do your research first.

This is why most people tune project or salvage cars. They’re usually older models that can be modified without voiding the warranty. Plus, they’re generally not worth as much money, so you won’t lose as much if something goes wrong.

How To Get the Most Out of Your Engine Tune

Once you’ve decided to tune your engine, you can do a few things to get the most out of the process.

  • Do your research. You’ll find a lot of (often contradictory) takes on engine tunes online, so you need to make sure you’re getting the best possible tune for your car. Read online forums, talk to other car enthusiasts, and get as much reliable information as possible before making any decisions.
  • Find a reputable tuner. That way, you can be sure you’re working with someone who knows what they’re doing and can help you get the most out of your car. A bad tune can damage your engine, so it’s important to find someone you trust.
  • Prepare to spend some money. Engine tunes can be expensive. As I said earlier, you can end up paying as much as a thousand bucks for a tune. Some cheaper options are available if you’re on a budget, but you’ll likely get what you pay for.
  • Be patient. Engine tunes can take a while, and you need to be prepared to wait for the results. It’s important to be patient and let the process happen. 

How Often Should I Tune My Engine?

Most tuners recommend that you tune your engine every 5,000 to 10,000 miles. However, this can vary depending on the type of tune and your modifications. If you are not sure how often to tune your engine, consult a professional.

Over time, your car’s computer will “learn” the new settings and adjust accordingly. This means you may not see the same results after a few thousand miles as you did when you first tuned your engine.

However, if you’re using a piggyback tune, you may be able to get away with tuning your engine less often. This is because piggyback tunes are less precise, and your car’s computer will take longer to adjust to the new settings.

Things That Could Go Wrong With Your Engine Tune

If you’re not careful, a few things could go wrong with your engine tune.

  • If you don’t do your research, you could end up with a bad tune. This can damage your engine and void your warranty. Make sure you know what you’re doing before starting the process.
  • You also need to be careful about the products you use. There are a lot of snake oil products that claim to improve your engine’s performance. Be very skeptical of these claims and do your research before buying anything.
  • You can get illegal tunes that give you a power boost, but get you in trouble with the law. Make sure you know the laws in your area before you proceed.

Over to You

Modifying your car can be a lot of fun, but it’s important to do your research before starting the process. Be sure to read up on what car modifications require an engine tune and be prepared to spend money on the services. Most importantly, be patient and let the process happen. If you’re impatient, you may not get the results you’re hoping for.


Learn More...