Performance Upgrade With Only the Computer: What Is Vehicle Performance Tuning

Looking to upgrade your vehicle’s performance without taking it to the shop? With the right tools and a bit of research, you can tune your car’s computer whenever and wherever you like.

What Is Tuning?

You have various degrees of tuning available to you to enhance your vehicle’s performance. For many tuning procedures, you’ll need help from a professional. Anyone, however, can learn basic tuning on the car’s computer.

Computer tuning targets the engine control unit (ECU). The ECU is like the “brain” of the car. It reads data from a network of sensors to find out things like the temperatures of the car’s components, the speed of each wheel, the position of the accelerator, and what gear is being used.

Performance tuning the ECU is the process of changing the settings and parameters on a vehicle’s computer software. These changes impact both the engine and the transmission systems to alter the way the car operates. ECU tuning is also referred to as “remapping.”

Previously, car computer tuning was commonly known as “chip tuning” or “chipping.” With modern cars, tuning is typically directed at the ECU, as opposed to the chip inside the ECU. If you’re tuning a car built before the year 2000, you’ll need to do a chip tune.

Benefits of Vehicle Performance Tuning

Tuning your vehicle has many benefits. After a computer performance tune, you may notice increased horsepower, increased torque, cleaner emissions, a smoother ride, and better fuel efficiency.

Although computer tuning is not an essential maintenance task, when done correctly, it can greatly improve your overall driving experience.

Tuning Tools

There are multiple ways to tune your ECU. One of the most common is with a plug-and-play application. A popular app is ECU Connect. The app itself is free, but you’ll have to purchase the connection interface to hook it to your car’s OBD (onboard diagnostic system) port. You can then manage and remap your ECU from your mobile device.

You can also download tuning software onto your laptop and purchase a connector to pair it with your car.

If you want just one item for all your car computer tuning, you can get an ECU tuner device. By plugging the device into the car’s OBD port, you can change the ECU’s software. These range in price, but you can expect a quality tuner to cost at least $500.

Another useful tool is an OBD scanner. It reads the data stored on the vehicle’s computer and can troubleshoot problems before you call a mechanic.

OBD Scanner
OBD Scanner

Some tuning tools are only compatible with certain cars. Make sure whatever you choose can be paired with the vehicle(s) you want to work on.

These tools can be quite expensive, so double-check your budget before making any purchases. By comparison, a professional tuning service can cost $400 to over $1000, depending on the type of vehicle.

Before attempting any tuning on your vehicle, make sure you’re fully confident in your skills and knowledge. If done wrong, ECU remapping can cause poor fuel economy, loss of power, increased engine temperatures, and other issues. For more tuning advice, join an online forum for your particular vehicle and/or speak to a professional.

Keeping up a Routine

Simply tuning your vehicle every now and then should not be the extent of your vehicle maintenance. To keep it running in top condition, regularly assess all parts of your vehicle, including checking the oil, rotating the tires, and changing the air filter and cabin filter. You can also keep track of your vehicle’s performance before and after tuning to make note of any differences.