5 Tools You Need to Tune Your Own Car (and Where to Get Them)

If you want to electronically adjust and customize the settings of your vehicle’s computer with the goal of optimizing your vehicle’s performance, you are going to need to have the tools required to tune your vehicle. Unlike the tips for cleaning your vehicle’s interior, tuning your own vehicle can be difficult for novices and should only be done by experienced and auto-savvy car owners. Although it is generally best for most people to have their vehicle professionally tuned to improve performance, if you are capable of overcoming this task, it is a very rewarding project. The following are 5 tools you are going to want to have for tuning your own vehicle:

1)     An ECU Reflashing Tool

When tuning your vehicle, you are trying to alter your vehicle’s engine control unit (often called your vehicle’s ECU) so that you can “tap” into the additional power that the ECU is limiting. Your engine control unit is a type of electronic control unit that reads sensors from your vehicle’s engine bay, interprets it using performance maps, then adjusts your vehicle’s engine’s various actuators based on the results.

Generally, the ECU will have an Electronically Erasable Reprogrammable Read Only Memory chip (also known as EEPROM), limiting alterations made to the ECU. If you have one of the top 5 upcoming cars in 2021 and want to enhance its performance, you will need to bypass this chip somehow. This is where the first tool on the list comes in. An ECU reflashing tool, sometimes also known as an ECU piggyback, can be used to erase the EEPROM and replace it with a new engine control map. This new map will alter how your vehicle responds to sensor readings so that you can get the most out of your vehicle.

 On the other hand, others completely replace the original ECU. There are many ECU reflashing tools on the market such as Cobb Tuning, Motec, and ECUmaster’s reflashing tool. Before purchasing an ECU reflashing tool, be sure that it is compatible with your vehicle since many are not universal. You can readily find ECU reflashing tools on performance parts websites.

2)     A Dynamometer

To avoid the dangers of testing on the road, a Dyno, short for dynamometer, should be used to test your vehicle’s performance. With the use of a Dyno, you will be able to test your vehicle’s torque, rotational speed, and other things to establish how much power your vehicle’s engine has. It is also able to inform you of your vehicle’s top speed without having to test it out for yourself and risking getting a ticket or worse.

Although the readings provided by a Dyno are extremely important for tuning your own vehicle, you likely will not be able to purchase one for yourself since they cost tens of thousands of dollars. Since you are only trying to simulate driving on a road and getting the readings, renting out a Dyno is a great idea. You can rent out a dynamometer by the hour or day. There are various places in the Los Angeles area that provide this service such as Los Angeles Calibration in Carson California.

3)     Gauges

When tuning your vehicle, you are going to want a slew of properly functioning gauges to ensure everything is going well and to help guide you through the tuning. Some examples of gauges relevant to tuning your vehicle include a wideband O2 gauge, exhaust gas temperature gauge, and oil pressure gauge.

When tuning your vehicle, you want to get the clearest and most complete picture of your vehicle’s performance, and each one of these gauges, along with the Dyno, will help do this for you. As the name suggests, a wideband O2 gauge is meant to measure air to fuel ratios over a broad range of operating conditions unlike narrowband O2 sensors which can only measure between about 14:1 and 15:1 air/fuel ratios. They give a much more accurate reading, and an exhaust gas temperature gauge (also known as EGT) can help confirm the measurement obtained.  You also want to have an oil pressure gauge on hand to help identify if things are going wrong.

4)     Laptop

The next tool you are going to need to tune your own vehicle is a laptop to install the required software on. The laptop you use does not have to be an expensive, top of the line laptop. Instead, you likely have a computer already that is very capable of getting the job done.

Just make sure that the laptop you choose to use has a good amount of memory first. Although it is possible to use a desktop, you would have to have it set up near your vehicle so that the wire will reach the USB port and that is not very feasible most of the time. 

5)     Car Tuning Software

Lastly, you are going to need car tuning software. Many ECU reflashing tools or piggybacks will come with the software required to tune your own vehicle. Some examples include TOAD PRO, Viezu K-Suite, and EcuTek. If the reflashing tool you purchase did not come with software, you can locate effective ones from the software’s corresponding website. Like with the reflashing tool, ensure that the software is compatible with your vehicle. 

Not only do these programs allow you to tune your vehicle, but they are also capable of various other tasks. TOAD PRO, for example, can be used to perform a health check on your car and diagnose common problems, and edit your vehicle’s engine control unit data values to enhance your vehicle’s performance and optimize fuel efficiency. Other features include comprehensive CO2 emissions readouts, 0-60 second speed capabilities, and dynamometer analysis.

Wrapping Up

 Even though tuning your own vehicle is more difficult than following the tips for driving a lowered car, it can be a very worthwhile endeavor for many car owners. Before you begin, make sure you have an appropriate ECU reflashing tool and corresponding software, laptop, gauges, and access to a dynamometer. 


After tuning your car, it's time to make sure it's protected. For information on the features, benefits, and pricing of skid plates, click here, alternatively, use our interactive map to find an authorized installer near you. If you enjoyed this article, check out our blog.