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Can You Tune A Stock Car? Exploring the Realities of Performance Upgrades

Two mechanics tuning a car with a laptop on a dyno.

Whether you're hoping to gain a little extra horsepower, want a more responsive car, or just wondering what else you can get out of your stock car, you may be curious about tuning it.

You can definitely tune a stock car for a little performance boost, but a tune alone won't help much without additional performance parts to go along with it. So you should always have your car tuned by an experienced professional, or you could damage your engine.

Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of tuning your stock car.

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    Two mechanics tuning a car with a laptop on a dyno.
    Two mechanics tuning a car with a laptop on a dyno.

    What Does Tuning A Car Mean?

    Tuning a car is using a computer to change some of the programmed factory settings that the manufacturer initially set.

    Your car is programmed to meet specific standards for fuel efficiency, emissions, and engine noise. The factory also sets your top speed limit and throttle rev limit.

    A tuning specialist can use a programming computer to change some of your car's engine computer settings.

    Your air/fuel intake ratio, engine timing, throttle response, and other measurements can be adjusted during an engine tuning.

    How Much HP Can A Tune Add To A Stock Car?

    A stock car with no other aftermarket performance parts may only see a slight boost in horsepower from an engine tune.

    Anywhere between 5 to 20 extra horsepower could be added to your car's performance with just a tune alone.

    There are several different ways to adjust your preset values in your engine computer, so a lot of the potential gain in horsepower comes down to the technician's skill.

    The unfortunate downside is that the horsepower increase you may get from a tune will almost always cost you gas mileage.

    Can A Stock ECU Be Tuned?

    A stock ECU, or engine control unit, can usually be tuned without replacing it.

    Most ECUs can be connected to a programming computer without additional parts.

    Some ECUs have to have an aftermarket chip installed to be able to be appropriately tuned.

    You can sometimes install these programming chips at home, but it's best to let a tuning specialist install them.

    Tuning a car engine.
    Tuning a car engine.

    How Much Does It Cost To Tune Your Car?

    The cost of tuning your car depends on the work done and the tuning specialist doing the tune.

    An average expected cost of a tune could be between $500 and $1000 for the actual computer work and another $100 to $200 for a dyno run to measure the effects.

    One run on a dyno may not be enough to complete the tune correctly, so you may need two or three dyno runs to ensure everything works perfectly.

    Can All Cars Be Tuned?

    Unfortunately, not all cars can be tuned. Some cars have engine computers that can't be easily adjusted without damaging them.

    Other cars require certain programming to run correctly, and any changes in those programmed values will negatively affect how the car drives.

    Can You Damage A Car From Tuning It?

    As exciting as gaining a little extra horsepower for your car can be, it's good to be cautious about having your car tuned.

    Changing the factory-programmed setting on the ECU can cause problems with your car.

    A car that changes its engine timing can experience engine knock, which is caused when the air/fuel mixture combusts before the cylinder fully compresses it.

    This can cause premature engine wear over time and can lead to expensive repairs being necessary.

    Tuning an engine for power can also negatively affect the transmission since it has to accommodate for the extra torque being put on it by the engine.

    Removing the rev limiter can cause you to throttle your engine too hard, damaging the engine accidentally.

    Several ways tuning your car can potentially damage it, so keep that in mind before you decide to have it tuned.

    Is It Legal To Tune Your Car?

    As long as you still comply with noise and emission standards, it's usually legal to have it tuned.

    A tuning specialist will know the proper ways to tune a car that keeps it street-legal, so this is another reason you should have your car professionally tuned.

    If you attempt to do it yourself, not only could you damage your ECU or your car itself, you could potentially cause legal trouble if it isn't done correctly.

    Another thing to consider is that if you want to sell your car, you will probably need to have the tune removed and restored to factory settings.

    Some dealerships may reject the car because its factory settings were changed, making it hard to warranty the car.


    Most stock cars can be tuned by a professional with experience tuning an engine computer.

    This can be a fun way to add a bit of extra power to your car, but it can also be expensive and lead to premature wear and tear.

    All these things should be considered when deciding if you want to tune your stock car.