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Everything You Need to Know About Tuning Your Mustang

Regardless of how much power your Mustang makes from the factory, there is always still some performance left on the table, waiting to be tapped into. Handheld Mustang tuners have revolutionized Mustang tuning—long gone are the day of carbureted tuning. This guide will go over everything you need to know about tuning your Mustang.

American Muscle

What Is Mustang Tuning?

Tuning is the process of rewriting/reconfiguring the stock engine parameters for increased performance. Mustangs come out of the factory with fairly conservative parameters for a well-rounded vehicle that can be easily daily driven, get alright fuel economy, have power when you need it, and to be overall smooth when driving. An aftermarket tune will adjust a wide set of parameters in order to get more power out of your Mustang and to give you overall aggressive performance (much more fitting for a ‘Stang). 

What Are the Benefits of Tuning My Mustang? 

Tuning your Mustang will provide you with:

  • Increased HP and TQ
  • Improved throttle response
  • More aggressive shift points (automatic Mustangs only)
  • Increased fuel economy

Ultimately the main goal of adding a custom tune to your Mustang is to make more power and to improve the throttle response. If your Mustang sees street driving, then fuel economy becomes a factor (albeit a small one) and overall drivability. Tuning is incredibly useful (and often necessary) when you modify your Mustang as adjustments need to be made to your Mustang’s engine management to get the most out of your mods as well as to get everything to work properly.

2011 GT Mustang Cruising Down the Road

What Mods Typically Require Tuning?

Mods that often need or benefit from a custom tune are:

  • Almost anything engine related besides dress-up, cooling, and maintenance
  • Cold air intakes
  • Superchargers/Turbochargers
  • Camshafts
  • Cylinder heads
  • Intake manifolds
  • Throttle bodies
  • Fuel injectors
  • Nitrous systems
  • Rear gear changes (to correct the speedometer)
  • Full exhaust systems or headers

Outside of that, you don’t need to tune your Mustang for anything else.

Should I Tune My Completely Stock Mustang?

While tuning is often needed and done when adding aftermarket mods, tuning a stock Mustang definitely offers a lot of benefits. Even if your engine (or even the whole car) is bone-stock, you will still see huge performance benefits from an aftermarket tune. Tuning a stock Mustang will give you all of the benefits outlined above and provide you with a solid bump in power that can range from 12-35 HP/TQ (depending upon engine and gen).

Will Tuning My Mustang Void My Warranty?

According to Ford’s corporate guidelines, tuning your Mustang will void your powertrain’s warranty. However, this tends to really vary on a dealer by dealer basis as they are the ones to make the judgment call if your warranty is voided. If you do tune your Mustang and need warranty work done, you should talk to other enthusiasts either online or in person to find out if the Ford Dealer you are considering is “mod-friendly”.

2015-2017 GT Mustang with a Cold Air Intake & Tuner
S550 GT with Cold Air Intake & Tuner

If I Return My Tune to Stock Will Ford Be Able to Tell?

Unfortunately, Ford is able to see if you flash your Mustang’s computer with a custom tune. Their proprietary software allows them to see how many times the car has been tuned/retuned, making it hard to hide.

What’s The Difference Between a Canned Tune, Custom Tune, & a Dyno Tune?

A Canned Tune is a generic, preloaded tune that comes with the handheld tuner device; think of it as a “one size fits all” tune. A Custom Tune is a tune written specifically for you based off of your mods and is usually emailed to you. It can also be referred to as a mail order tune. A Dyno Tune is created by going to a speed shop/tuner in person with your Mustang, putting it on the dyno and having the tuner dial it in in real time. 

Custom mail order tunes should be data logged in order to get the tune as accurate and on-point as you can. Dyno tunes typically yield the most power and provide the most overall drivability, but they are the most expensive. Mail order tunes can provide the same level of performance as a dyno tune and are typically about ½ to a 1/3 of the price. No matter if it is a mail order or dyno tune, you will want to research the person/company you have write your tune to get an idea of the qualifications and ability to tune.

Cold Air Intake & Race Tune Review & Installation

What Parameters Does a Tune Change/Effect in My Mustang?

When your Mustang is tuned the following parameters are tweaked:

  • Spark
  • Timing
  • Ignition
  • Fuel
  • Throttle Position

How Do I Load a Tune onto My Mustang?

For all 1996 and newer Mustangs, all you have to do is plug your handheld tuning device into your OBDII and follow your tuner’s instructions to flash your PCM. To get the tunes onto your tuner, you will need to plug your tuner into your computer and download the tune onto the device.

What’s the Difference Between Chips and Tuners?

  • Chips: Multiple tunes at the flick of a switch
  • Chips: Easy to switch back and fourth on the fly
  • Tuners: Robust functionality including the ability to hold many tunes and data-logging
  • Tuners: By far the most popular option for 1999-2004 Mustangs due to vast functionality and ease of use
Mustang Tuner Comparison Chart

The Mustang SCT 4 Bank Chip in Detail

Pros: Before handheld tuners came on the market, there was the tried and true SCT 4-Bank Eliminator Chip. While it may seem outdated, the chip has one major advantage over the handheld tuners: access to multiple tunes at the flick of a switch rather than having to spend several minutes flashing to a new tune. For example, if you have nitrous on your Mustang, you’re only going to be using it for short bursts of time. With the chip, you can switch to a nitrous tune and flip back to a regular tune when you’re done. With a handheld, this process takes a bit longer.

Cons: The chip is designed to be plugged directly into your Mustang’s computer. This means that the first time you install it, you’ll have to disassemble a few interior parts to get to the computer, take the computer out, install the chip, route the switch to an interior location, then put it all back together. It’s not all that complicated to do, but it’s certainly more work than a handheld tuner.   

Another point of inconvenience stems from the fact that there is no way to connect to the chip through your computer. That means if you add another mod to your Mustang that needs tuning, you’ll have to take everything apart again to remove the chip and mail the chip back to our Bama Team so we can reflash your new custom tunes onto the chip for you. If you’re constantly making upgrades, this can get pretty tiresome.

1987-1993 5.0L Mustang 4-Bank Eliminator Chip
Foxbody ECU Chipped

Mustang Handheld Tuners: Pros & Cons

Pros: Handheld tuners are definitely the most popular option for tuners these days and are a great choice for most situations. The biggest benefit with a handheld tuner is how convenient they are to use. You simply plug them into your Mustang’s ODB-II port and follow the on-screen instructions to flash your preferred tune to your Mustang’s computer.

Handheld tuners can do a lot more than simply load a tune on your Mustang. They can all hold three custom tunes, come with data logging, and even have the ability to read and clear engine codes. Higher end models can also have the ability to display engine data in a visual gauge format or even connect wirelessly so that you can keep your interior clutter free.

Perhaps the best feature of all is when you install more mods on your Mustang, you can upload the tunes to the tuner yourself with the included USB cable. Of course, if you purchase your Tuner from Bama, you’ll be enrolled in the free Tunes for Life program and the new tune(s) you download won’t cost you a penny.

Cons: The main disadvantage of a handheld tuner comes from how a Mustang’s computer works. The computer can only hold one loaded tune at a time. Because of this if you want to switch out your tune, you’ll have to plug the tuner into the OBD-II port and go through the flashing procedure each time. The flashing procedure involves several key turns and button presses, which usually takes about 5-7 minutes.

1999 Mustang ITSX Tuner
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