Is Tuning Worth It: Costs, Risks & Power (Detailed Guide)

By January 4, 2022ECU Tuning

Tuning a car is definitely worth it because of the clear benefits like improved horsepower, more aggressive ride or even fuel efficiency if you prefer. Tuning is highly recommended if you have installed any aftermarket mod.

Tuning is not risky if you get it done by a reputable tuner and it should not cause additional engine wear (given you don’t go overboard). 

I personally have tuned my cars multiple times – especially after installing major mods like headers and turbos. 

In this article, I am going to discuss tuning in more detail. You should be able to decide whether you should tune or not and which tuning method you should go for.

Upcoming content:

  1. Why tuning is worth the money
  2. Types of tuning: costs, risks effort and power
  3. Does tuning shorten engine life?
  4. Does tuning void warranty?
  5. Should you tune your car?

Tuning is worth the money because it can provide you with additional horsepower, customizable ride and ensures sure your aftermarket mods are performing as expected. 

Tuning basically means adjusting the configuration on your car’s computer. Depending on your goal, there are many things you could adjust – things like engine torque map, air/fuel ratio, top speed are all adjustable. 

 

Here are 5 benefits to tuning your car:

  1. Improved horsepower. Stock ECU from the factory has conservative software settings (for fuel efficiency and emission). With tuning, you could unlock more horsepower and speed by removing top speed, rev limiter and ignition timing.
  2. Unlocks full potential of aftermarket mods. Mods like headers and catback exhausts can increase the amount of air that enters the engine – resulting in more power. However, without tuning, these mods may not work properly and even reduce power. You need tuning to ensure the air/fuel ratio is optimal.
  3. Aggressive ride. You could adjust the engine torque map to give you more power depending on your riding condition. For example, more torque is produced on the low RPM (great for cornering) or stable torque output throughout the high RPM (great for drag race). 
  4. Improve fuel efficiency. If you prefer to save fuel, custom tuning can also deliver that. By making your car run slightly leaner, you could save fuel in the long run. Discuss your goal with the tuner and you should be able to get it. 
  5. Remove check engine light (CEL). Some performance oriented mods like a catless downpipe is definitely going to result in a CEL. With custom tuning, you can have it turned off. 

Related article: Should You Tune A Stock Car: Cost, Horsepower & Tuning Tips

Types of tuning: costs, risks effort and power

For each, explain what they are, how they work, cost and risk to engine damage and power and effort

ECU Chip Flash Tune Custom Dyno Tune
Cost  $200 $400+ $1000+
Power 10-20 horsepower 30-70 horsepower 100+ horsepower
Risk to Damage Engine Yes (Low) Yes Yes
Effort/Duration 1 hour 2-4 hours 1-3 days

 

ECU Chip

ECU Chipping is a plug and play solution whereby the chip will intercept incoming data into the actual car’s ECU and change it to achieve a desired output (more power or less fuel consumption.

ECU chips are very easy to install and are the cheapest option – they cost about $200 (depending on the brand) and you simply have to plug it into your car’s OBD2 port for a few minutes. 

You shouldn’t expect a lot of horsepower from an ECU chip (it may not give you any power at all). I personally would not go for ECU chipping. The last ECU chip I installed years ago did not yield me anything.

ECU chipping should not cause any engine damage because the modifications are fixed and have been tested by the company selling the chip.

Related article: What do performance chips do?

ECU Chip

ECU Chip

 

Flash Tune

Flash tuning is where you overwrite the configuration in your ECU in order to change the behavior of your car and could cost about $800 to flash a preset configuration.

Flash tuning a preset means installing an existing ECU configuration for the same car model and desired output as you. This is what I am talking about in this section. 

For instance, you own a 2008 Nissan 350z and would like a more aggressive car and additional horsepower. The tuner could download a preset from another 350z owner and ‘flash’ that configuration on your car.

Flash tuning a preset is fast, cheap and should work well because it has been flashed on many other cars before you.

Flash tune has some risks of engine damage if you accidentally installed an incorrect preset. But it should be reversible if the tuner has made a backup of your stock configuration.

 

Custom Dyno Tune

Custom dyno tuning is where a tuner specifically creates an ECU configuration just for your car and needs. Everything is customized for you and your car – which means it should work best and is the most expensive (starts at $1000).

Custom dyno tuning usually takes days because the tuner has to test the configuration on a dyno and recalibrate until the desired output is achieved. 

Custom dyno tune is the most risky (especially if your tuner is not reputable). It’s complicated and requires vast knowledge on ECU. Perform custom dyno tune only if you know a reputable tuner and have the required capital. 

Image of Dyno tuning

Custom dyno tuning

Does Tuning Shorten Engine Life?

ECU tuning will not harm your vehicle’s engine and not shorten engine life when tuned correctly. An effective tuning process can even help in improving the fuel economy of the car. 

However, more maintenance might be required. Moreover, excessive tuning like removing the rev limiter and running rich might affect the longevity of the car’s engine.

Which muffler is your car right now?

More horsepower with ECU tuning implies more stress for all units of the aggregate along with more wear of the moving parts. 

However, this does not necessarily imply that tuning will shorten the engine’s life. When executed properly, tuning will not have any consequence on the engine other than just improving its overall performance. 

Does Tuning Void Warranty?

When car tuning is executed by some authorized tuner or a factory tuner, the warranty of the vehicle remains safe, otherwise you could lose the warranty of your car.

If you are thinking of tuning for power and to install custom mods, your car warranty will most likely be voided. 

It’s also not easy to tune your car back to stock before claiming for warranty. Most car’s ECU will detect tampering and have it recorded. 

As per the Law pertaining to road traffic safety, change is only possible for personal use. It should only be executed in cases wherein the overhaul can help in improving the vehicle’s safety, invention, and technical culture. 

It implies carrying out particular activities for which the vehicle is not specifically manufactured. In this case, you can consider the instance of tuning race cars.

Motor trailers and vehicles along with their respective devices, equipment and assemblies, produced serially or individually or even repaired, should be harmonized with standard technical requirements of the homologation rules.

 It implies that the vehicle is expected to go through the technical tests and inspections on ecological and safety features. 

Should You Tune Your Car?

If your warranty period is over and you are serious about performance, then tuning is highly recommended.

You cannot escape tuning when searching for performance. Installing any major mods like exhausts, headers and turbo definitely need tuning. Which means, sooner or later you will be tuning your car.

I recommend tuning your car only after you have installed these major mods. Don’t waste money by tuning your car for every minor mods like cold air intake or filter (you won’t see any difference).

Tuning a completely stock car is also an option (if you prefer). You could go for things like:

  • Remove rev limiter
  • Remove top speed
  • Adjust engine torque map
  • Improve throttle response
Ifandi L.

Ifandi L.

Passionate about everything mechanical. Ifandi has been involved with motorcycles and cars since the old days - in his family's auto parts shop. Want to keep in touch? Scream "STRAIGHT PIPEEEEE" at the top of your lungs and Ifandi will show up.

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