Tuning a car engine requires an experienced eye, ear, and engine knowledge. Many people like to get hands-on with tuning their cars and treat it as a DIY project. If you are considering tuning your car engine, we have some guidelines you should contemplate before getting started!
7 things to know about tuning your car engine:
- What is tuning a car engine?
- Can you tune your car yourself?
- How much HP will a tune add?
- Can you tune a stock engine?
- Does tuning change the car’s sound?
- Does tuning reduce engine life?
- How much does tuning cost?
Tuning a car can benefit the vehicle’s performance, reliability, and power. While there are benefits to tuning the engine, there are some pitfalls too, which you should be aware of before undertaking the task. Take a look at these 7 aspects you should know before you attempt to tune your car!
1. What Is Tuning A Car Engine?
Tuning a car can mean different things to different people. To some, it may mean servicing a car, and to others, it is tweaking the settings to optimize the vehicle’s overall performance.
Tuning a car is adjusting the engine’s timing, spark, fuel mixture either manually or via the Engine Control Unit or ECU to optimize the car’s performance. The adjustments can produce more power, increase fuel economy or fix incorrect settings to improve how the engine runs.
Older cars have simpler engines, and the tuning is done manually by adjusting air-fuel mixtures and setting spark and ignition timing. Specialized tools may be required to make these settings, depending on the age and type of car you are tuning.
Modern cars have computers to control the mixture in the injection systems and the ignition timing. The Engine Control Unit or ECU controls these settings. You need a computer and an interface to connect to the ECU and the necessary software to program the unit to tune these engines.
2. Can I Tune My Car Myself?
Many people adopt a hands-on approach for tasks they have a special interest in. If you are a DIY enthusiast but you have never tuned a car before, you may wonder if this is an endeavor you should undertake.
Tuning a car is generally best done by a professional for best results, but you can learn how to do it yourself. You may need specialized equipment, gauges, a computer, and software to tune your car. Knowledge of the best settings for the adjustments is also a requirement.
While tuning a car engine is generally a specialized operation requiring a special set of skills, there is to prevent you from acquiring the skills for the job.
If you have the time and the patience to study the process, the logic, and the fundamentals of tuning engines, you can tune your car yourself. It would be advantageous to learn from an experienced mentor to guide you through the process and give advice where needed.
The equipment you need to tune a car with a modern engine controlled by an ECU would include the following.
- An ECU interface. This is the hardware to connect a computer to the ECU device.
- A set of gauges. Depending on the level you want to go to with tuning, you may need an oil pressure gauge, an exhaust temperature gauge, and an O2 gauge.
- A laptop. A laptop is generally required to interface with the ECU.
- Car tuning software. You will need software to modify the settings in the ECU. This can be software approved by your car manufacturer or custom software.
3. How Much HP Can A Tune Add?
One reason people tune their car is to squeeze some additional horsepower from the engine. How much horsepower or HP can a tune-up add to your car?
A tune can add 15 to 20 horsepower to your engine power. Depending on the type of tune and engine, more horsepower than this can be gained in some cases. Tuning incorrectly for higher HP can cause faster wear on the engine. Additional horsepower will likely result in a drop in fuel economy.
Some car tuning software comes with different tuning sets intended for different outcomes. Econo-tuning would improve fuel efficiency, turbo-tuning would increase speed and power, while performance tune would give a balance to optimize the engine’s performance.
Each of these types of tuning will have a different effect on the HP output of the motor. You can also perform custom tuning, where each setting is adjusted individually, but this requires a different level of knowledge and expertise to achieve good results.
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4. Can You Tune A Stock Engine?
If your engine is a stock engine without any modifications for performance enhancement, is it possible to tune this engine and get any benefit?
A stock engine can be tuned and will see some performance benefit from the tuning. The engine’s performance degrades as the engine ages, while the ECU program does not. This requires adjusting the ECU settings to accommodate the changes in the motor.
While tuning of a stock motor will not see huge improvements in horsepower or speed, the engine will benefit from a tuning in that it will run better, perform better, use less fuel, and last longer.
5. Does Tuning A Car Change The Sound?
Tuning a car involves making changes to the engine’s performance, but will this change the way the car sounds? Will the car develop a throaty roar or become louder after a tuning?
A car engine may sound smoother after a tuning, but it will not change the engine’s sound. The loudness or throatiness of an engine is mostly an effect delivered by the exhaust system fitted to the engine. If you want to change the engine’s sound, change the exhaust, not the tuning.
While there may be some minor changes in the sound of the motor after tuning, it will not make a dramatic change to the sound of the car. Changes to the car’s sound usually come with other modifications to the engine, such as adding an exhaust system designed to give more performance.
Read More: Are Exhaust Leaks Worth Fixing?
6. Does Tuning Reduce Engine Life?
One would think that tuning an engine means the engine will be working harder, increasing the wear and tear on the components in the motor. Will tuning the engine limit the longevity of the motor?
An engine that is not tuned correctly can sustain increased wear due to poor tuning. An engine that is tuned correctly will not suffer any additional wear sufficient to shorten the expected life of the engine. Extreme tuning for racing can potentially damage the engine.
Tuning a car for optimal performance will not damage the motor, but if you consider doing some extreme tuning on the car, it may be a different story.
Standard tuning to enhance performance or get a little more horsepower from the engine will not shorten the engine’s life unless you are constantly high-revving the engine.
Extreme tuning for street racing can damage the engine if it is not done correctly. This type of tuning requires a high level of knowledge and finesse to get the car operating beyond what it was designed for.
7. How Much Does A Tune Cost?
Tuning a car has various aspects to it, which can affect the overall cost. Adding new parts to improve performance will have parts and labor costs attached.
A dyno tune, including remapping of the ECU, can cost between $800 to $1200. Tuning without mapping the ECU will cost a little less at between $600 and $1000. Tuning for performance without special enhancements can cost $400 to $700.
Dyno tuning a car is where the car is placed on a dyno-tuning platform, and the car can be tested before, during, and after tuning without taking the car on the road.
Tuning a car to optimize performance without enhancements will make the car run better and is the cheapest form of tuning. Tuning to gain more speed and power is a more intricate process and will cost proportionately more.
Tuning your car can be a rewarding and exhilarating experience, but you need to gain some experience and knowledge before attempting to do it yourself.
Some auto shops will hire out their workshops to groups on the weekend who would like to tune their own cars. They will often have expert help available during these sessions, and it is a great place to learn and get some experience tuning your car.