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Everything You Need to Know About Tuning Your Mustang

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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.

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). 

NOTE: Each SCT device locks to the vehicle the tune is installed on, so you can't use one device for multiple Mustangs. However, if you return your Mustang to the stock / original factory tune using the SCT device, the SCT device can then be used on a different vehicle.

What are the Benefits of Tuning My Mustang? 

Tuning your Mustang will provide you with:

  • Increased horsepower and torque
  • 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.

If you're looking at a tune to increase your gas mileage, be sure to explain this to your tuning professional of choice. Tunes for performance can lineup with tunes for MPG, but not always. Depending on your mods, tuners can generally net you a 5% increase in gas mileage. Other mods for gas mileage include cold air intakes, skinnier tires, and fuel injectors with better atomization.

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 generation).

Will Tuning My Mustang Void My Warranty?

According to Ford’s corporate guidelines, tuning your Mustang will void your powertrain 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's a mail order or dyno tune, you will want to research the person/company you have write your tune to get an idea of their qualifications and their 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

Raw performance tunes can decrease gas mileage, but it ultimately depends on the tune and build. More often than not you'll see a 1-2 MPG boost after a tune. The main determination of gas mileage after you tune your Mustang will be your right foot and how much fun you decide to have on the track. 

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 forth 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 to 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 how 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.

Review & Install of BAMA Flash Tuner

Which Tuning Program is Right for Me?

SCT Pre-Configured Tune: This will be your entry-level option within the tuning category with pre-loaded “canned” tunes designed for stock or minimal ‘bolt-on’ applications – no tunes for off-road exhaust, long tube headers, E85, Nitrous, or camshafts. Tunes will improve horsepower, torque, fuel economy, and overall performance. They even have adjustable parameters like idle RPM, axle ratio, and rev limiters. They will work on all 1996-2019 Mustangs.

Bama Performance Tunes: This is your “High Value” option with Free Tunes for Life – as you modify your vehicle and add more parts, Bama will send out new custom tunes at no additional charge. This will be your "best bang for your buck"/high-value option. Bama provides industry leading customer service with the fastest delivery times including phone and email support combined with an online self-help center.

Available for all 1987-2019 Mustangs from stock, bolt-on, E85, and nitrous. Bama tunes are truly customized for modifications and specific driving styles. These tunes have been in-house dyno tested and will dramatically improve torque, horsepower, throttle response, and fuel economy.

  • THREE Bama Custom Tunes for 1987-2004, 2005-2010 V6 Models: Street (87-93 octane), Performance (87-93 octane), Race (91 - 93 octane) (not recommended for daily driving)
  • TWO Bama Custom Tunes for 2005-2015 GT, 2011-2014 V6, 2007-2014 GT500, 2015 EcoBoost Models: Performance V2 (87-93 Octane), Race V2 (91-93 Octane, *Unleaded Race Fuel, **E85)(not recommended for daily driving)
  • Free datalog reviews to ensure maximum horsepower and torque, engine safety, and reliability!

 

VMP: Available for the 2015 GT only, VMP is the premium tuning product for the Mustang GT with leading horsepower and torque and improved drive-ability best used for E85, nitrous, fuel injectors, and nitrous cars or forced induction/heavy mods. VMP offers three different “levels” that can be purchased with the X4 tuner or by themselves for existing Bama/SCT tuners or those who have already purchased a tuner.

Stock or Bolt-On:

  • Bolt-On parts are considered cold air intakes, intake manifolds, h/x pipes, wheels and tires

E85, Nitrous: 

  • Fuel Injector changes, mass air meter swaps, fuel pump swaps, nitrous/methanol

Heavy Mods/Supercharged: 

  • Any aftermarket forced induction such as turbo or supercharger, camshafts, cylinder headers

Unleashed: Available for the 2015 Ecoboost only, Unleashed is the premium tuning product for the Ecoboost Mustang with leading horsepower and torque and improved driveability. Best used for cars with E35/E85 fuel, aftermarket wastegates, blow-off valves, or turbo upgrades. The Unleashed X4 can be purchased with two tunes or three tunes or for existing Bama/SCT users or those who already have a tuner. The tunes can be purchased without a tuner.

Cobb: Cobb is another Premium tuning product for the Ecoboost Mustang available with three tunes for stock or EcoBoosts with cold air intakes (87, 91, to 93 Octane) with exclusive flat foot shifting, burnout rev control, and tunes that can be changed on the fly without flashing the vehicle. 

The Accessport V3 also accepts custom tunes from outside tuning shops for more heavily modified vehicles.

EcoBoost Tuning

Turbo cars are phenomenal when it comes to tuning. With proper, documented changes to the stock programming, you can add massive amounts of power without touching a bolt on the engine. Things you can expect when you tune your EcoBoost:

  • Increased horsepower and torque: gaining an additional 40 horsepower and 40 ft-lbs of torque across the powerband is considered elementary
  • Boost control: increase, decrease, or limit turbo boost. Furthermore, if you get a digital controller (some tuners come equipped as such), you can control boost on the fly without have to turn the car off
  • Throttle response: the new EcoBoost Mustang uses a fly-by-wire throttle assembly. The motion of pressing down on the pedal is converted to a digital signal, sent to the ECU, which then opens the throttle accordingly. Remapping the throttle table will increase pedal sensitivity and response times
  • Speed limiter: remove the stock speed limiter
  • Transmission control: for automatic ‘Stangs it's possible to revise the factory shift points and overall shift firmness to get the trans to shift to your preference

Special Notes on Tunes Offered for Specific Model Years

2003-2004 Cobra 2007-2014 GT500 2015 GT & EcoBoost
Tuner or Chip Tuner only Tuner only
2 Custom tunes 2 Custom tunes 2 Custom tunes
Free Bama Tunes for Life Free Bama Tunes for Life Free Bama Tunes for Life
91 & 93 octane 91 & 93 octane Performance Tune V2, Race Tune V2
Fitment includes: 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, GT, V6, Cobra, ShelbyGT500, Mach1, Bullitt, Boss, LX, SVO, EcoBoost, ShelbyGT350