How To Tune Your Car

SCT® Livewire Vision™ Touchscreen OBDII Gauge Monitor 1996-2020 Ford

Ever considered engine tuning before? If you have ever driven a new car off the lot and wondered whether or not you could get more torque or horsepower out of it, then chances are, you’re going to benefit from learning how to tune your car!

Car tuning is all about tapping into the ECU, or the central control panel of your vehicle (sometimes referred to as PCM or ECM). It’s here where the magic happens, quite literally – your car’s various components learn how hard to push themselves, and more often than not, the engine parameters aren’t exactly working at their most efficient.

That’s not to say all cars roll off the lot as vastly inferior to what you expect! However, what you can expect is a world of potential in your machine that you might not otherwise have thought possible.

Tuning a car can be complex, so consider this to be a beginner’s guide – let’s dive in.

What is Car Tuning?

Tuning a car is all about looking at the individual parts and mechanisms of your vehicle and understanding the roles the play in overall performance. Making your car run faster, become more fuel efficient, or increasing horsepower isn’t always a case of switching parts out. More often than not, you can grab hold of a car performance tuning kit to upgrade your vehicle’s central computer module, without needing to swap out any physical components.

Car tuning normally requires a piece of kit that directly connects to your car’s ECU, which, again, is the ‘brain’ of the operation. If you want to know how to tune car ECU based on your exact make and model, you’ll need to refer to your manufacturer – but luckily, leading manufacturers in these products will give you plenty of support and guidance.

Engine retuning, car performance tuning, you name it – it all refers to releasing a handful of blockades in your ECU that might be holding things back. Ultimately, tuning a car could save you from having to completely gut your vehicle for new parts. That’s going to be plenty of time and effort saved!

How to Tune Your Engine

Tuning your engine is as simple as booting up a car tuner and plugging into your ECU – the best units will have on-board controls and displays where you navigate your way to the elements you really want to tweak and adjust.

Naturally, there are going to be different ways for you to manage your car tuning depending on the vehicle you drive. Therefore, consider this to be a bit of an opening guide to the different components that your average engine tuner unit will give you access to.


Efficient fuel ignition can do more to speed up your vehicle than you might imagine. This tends to be a little bit of an after-thought or even the cherry on the cake when it comes to ECU tuning. However, if you’re not so keen on changing the spark plugs, it’s well worth tweaking the ignition in your settings. Most tuning devices have pre-loaded ignition timing configurations that have been meticulously designed and tested to extract maximum performance for specific fuel octanes.

That said, this may be one of the more appropriate avenues where a physical upgrade may be more worthwhile – in our experience, it’s worth plugging in a tuner to get the most out of your ignition regardless.


Induction is all about making sure that your engine takes in an additional heft of air – where possible – improving its efficiency. Making full use of induction is one of the key features you’ll find available on most ECU tuners, meaning if you feel your engine really could be doing more to claim that last bit of HP, it’s worth tweaking. Many ECU programmers have a setting which optimizes the power curves and ignition timing for different types of air intake assemblies. That said, only very specific engines and types are safe for forced induction.

Air Filtration

This is where things start to get really interesting. Air filtration, believe it or not, is often pretty restricted when your car rolls off the lot. That’s largely as a safety measure – after all, unfiltered air reaching your engine is going to cause more problems than improvements.

However, a car tuner can encourage your ECU to filter in more air before it reaches ‘dangerous’ levels. Specifically, it’s about taking your car’s filters beyond the ‘default’ option. There’s a way you can go before you need to switch to new filters necessarily, too.

Fuel and ECU Mapping

Believe it or not, ECU mapping can even help you to change the air-fuel ratio in your engine, too. It’s entirely possible to claim a bit of extra horsepower just by altering this ratio just safely enough. Of course, the only way you can do this safely is to make sure you have a leading car tuner to hand. The pre-loaded tunes that come on most ECU tuners have preset air-fuel ratio settings which have been tested and configured to make sure your vehicle’s engine produces the most power possible without putting strain on engine components.

Fuel injection is one of the first go-to options tuning enthusiasts opt for when they first plug into the ECU.

What Are Some of the Best Car Tuner Manufacturers?

If you’re keen to get the best out of your car but are unsure where to start, it’s always a good idea to look at tuners and ECU mapping kits available through Total Z Parts. We’re proud to partner with a wide variety of top makes and brands, each of which have their own selling points and unique kits.

For example, car tuners from the likes of Edge and SCT are widely available through our store. We’re also pleased to be tuning retailers for the likes of Bully Dog and Diablo Sport, both of which we are closely partnered with.

When dealing with something as sensitive as car tuning, you must make sure that you buy kit or equipment from a reputable brand. Otherwise, you may run the risk of actually doing damage to your engine.

Take it from us – you’ll want to invest in an engine tuner that’s simple to get started with, and which will really help you wring every last drop from your vehicle’s horsepower!