Complete Mustang Tune Guide: How to Do Custom Tuning Right

The Ultimate Mustang Tuning Guide: How to Do Custom Performance Tuning Right

When you drive your brand new Mustang off the floor and onto the open road, you can be confident you're behind the wheel of a powerful machine. But regardless of the power, you feel the first time you turn the key, there's always the potential for more, just waiting to be unlocked via Mustang tuning.

By Lethal Performance

Your first instinct is probably to purchase brand-new mods to replace your restrictive stock parts. Great! We're certainly on board for that. But you won't see the kind of performance benefits you crave without a proper tune after installation.

The best Mustang tune is a dynamic and straightforward way to customize your car's performance to your preferred parameters.

But what is custom tuning? What are Ford Mustang tuners? Which custom mods even need a tune in the first place?

Lucky for you, you came to the experts. This guide dives deep into what it means to implement a Mustang tune and which performance parts will benefit the most from custom tuning.

What is Mustang Tuning?

When you give your Mustang GT a tune, you're telling your car's powertrain control module (PCM) to reconfigure the parameters of your stock engine to increase its power and improve performance.

As impressive as your Mustang is straight from the factory, Ford's stock Mustang GT tuning keeps performance within conservative parameters. This holds true for all Mustang models, whether you're driving a brand new EcoBoost, a GT or a Mustang Mach 1. Ford wants to create a vehicle that anyone can drive daily, have good fuel economy and kick the engine into high gear when drivers need it.

When you add Mustang performance tuning modifications like a set of headers or a supercharger, stock settings just won't cut it. After you install custom mods, Mustang tuning becomes necessary. Custom tuning your Mustang provides the internal adjustments you'll need to get the best results from your modifications and improve overall performance as you're barreling down the road.

mustang tuning

What Are the Benefits of Ford Mustang Tuning?

A factory tune is designed to meet the needs of the public – meaning it needs to fit a wide range of driving styles. This can include the casual driver who never cares to take advantage of the horsepower and torque created from the Mustang's 5.0, and the commuter looking for the best mileage they can get. Average, everyday, boring people, frankly. Since Ford wants to sell as many cars as possible, this one-size-fits-all approach is the best tune for Mustang GTs coming from the factory.

For the wide range of Mustang owners, Ford has designed a factory tune to provide balance for various conditions. Custom tuning ignores all this and allows you to dial in the specs to meet your needs and match your driving style to a T.

The main benefits of a Mustang tuning include:

  • Improved Throttle Response
  • More Aggressive Shift Points in Automatic Vehicles
  • Better Fuel Economy
  • Increased Horsepower & Torque

Your Best Mustang Tune Comes After You Install Aftermarket Mods

When you want to make your Mustang faster, more powerful and more aggressive on the road, you turn straight to Mustang modifications. This is where the fun begins. Bolt-on a few upgrades and you'll see, hear and feel your Mustang evolve!

Remember that adding a new cold-air intake or cat-back exhaust is only the beginning of your Mustang performance tuning journey. To get the most from your add-ons, you need to tune your car's parameters to match—to get everything working together.

Components like intakes, headers, throttle bodies and of course turbochargers and superchargers increase airflow to your engine. The optimum airflow is managed by tuning the PCM to take full advantage of the aftermarket upgrade. A tuned Mustang will have the correct parameters that deliver a proper air/fuel ratio and improve your Mustang's capabilities.

Aftermarket Mods That Benefit from Mustang Tuning

The following bolt-on upgrades will be even better following a proper Mustang tune.

  • Camshafts
  • Cold Air Intakes
  • Cylinder Heads
  • Fuel Injectors
  • Full Exhaust Systems
  • Headers
  • Intake Manifolds
  • Nitrous Systems
  • Rear Gear Changes
  • Superchargers & Turbochargers
  • Throttle Bodies
mustang custom tuning

Which Mustang Modifications Don't Need Custom Tuning?

You won't have to do a Mustang tune outside of the Mustang modifications listed above if you don't want to. If you opt to install a cat-back or axle-back exhaust or just a simple body kit, you can continue driving your Mustang as is. That being said, all parts still benefit from a tune. If your entire car or engine is bone stock, an aftermarket tune can still give you a solid increase in power that can range anywhere from 12 to 35 horsepower.

Mustang Tuning: The Difference Between Canned, Dyno and Custom

In the world of Ford Mustang tuning, there are three different tune "types" you'll have to choose from – canned tunes, dyno tunes and custom tunes.

  • Canned Tune: A canned tune is a solid basic Mustang GT tune. It is a generic, preloaded tune (with a handheld tuner) that you can do for any kind of Mustang. You'll see noticeable improvement here, but not as much as if you hone in on each specific component.
  • Dyno Tune: A dyno tune can be considered a real-time tune. You'll get a dyno tune when you take your Mustang to a speed or tuner shop, where they'll connect it to the dyno to dial it in real-time. Typically, dyno tunes are the most accurate, giving you the most power and best drivability. They are also among some of the most expensive.
  • Custom Tune: Custom tuning is written explicitly for your Mustang based on the mods you have installed. Usually, these tunes will be emailed to you once you purchase your Mustang modifications. Custom tuning typically provides the same level of performance as a dyno tune, but it costs about half of the price.

As mentioned, canned tunes work with any Mustang. But when you're doing a custom or dyno tune, make sure you research the company or shop you're getting services from.

How Does Ford Mustang Tuning Software Work?

Mustangs built from 1996 until today require you to simply plug in your handheld tuner into the OBD-II (on-board diagnostics) port. From there, all you need to do is follow the tuner's instructions, and the Mustang tuning software will flash your PCM. Of course, this isn't necessary if you get a dyno tune – it's only needed for custom and canned tunes.

To get the custom tune that's been emailed to you into your handheld tuner, just plug it into a computer and download it.

What is a Handheld Tuner?

We've made a couple of mentions of handheld tuners, so it's best to know exactly what they are if you're thinking about Ford Mustang tuning. Initially, handheld tuners were only available to factory service centers for minor tuning adjustments. But in recent years, aftermarket tuning manufacturers have begun to produce their own Mustang GT tuners – giving drivers a chance to upload custom tuning programs that can adjust spark and timing for maximum performance. Handheld tuners are the most popular option for tuning, and for a good reason. They're convenient, easy to use and can hold up to three custom tunes at a time.

How Does Ford Mustang Tuning Affect Your Warranty?

Unfortunately, having a tuned Mustang will void your powertrain's warranty. This is a big reason why some people prefer to stick with their stock parts and opt not to tune their vehicles.

In reality, whether or not your warranty is voided tends to vary from dealer to dealer, based on their discretion. Some may be strict and operate by the book. Others may be more lenient and won't void the warranty after your Mustang tune. For them, it's a judgment call. This is another area where it's great to do some research.

If you need some warranty work done but are rolling with a tuned Mustang GT, talk to some other car enthusiasts or hit the online forums to see if a mod-friendly dealer is nearby.

Talking to your fellow Mustang enthusiasts either in person or online can give you an idea of what to do. You'll likely be able to learn if the Ford dealer you are considering taking your Mustang to is modification-friendly.

One word of warning: Never try to return to the factory tune and take it to a dealer. Ford can determine if you have flashed your computer with a custom tune thanks to some special proprietary software that will show how many times your Mustang has been tuned and returned to factory settings.

Mustang Ecoboost Tuning

Most of the time when we think about Mustang tuning, we think about wringing every last bit of performance from the classic pony's powerful V8 engine. And while we absolutely adore what can be accomplished by tuning the venerable 5.0 Coyote V8, we'd be doing Mustang enthusiasts a disservice by ignoring the wonderful world of V6 and EcoBoost Mustang tuning.

The Mustang version of the EcoBoost engine is a turbo-charged 2.3-liter inline four-cylinder that, despite its pint-sized displacement (compared to its big brother), still delivers good power right out of the box, boasting 310 HP and 350 lb-ft of torque. And because it's much lighter than the Coyote V8, the EcoBoost-powered Mustang can offer superior handling and doesn't need as much brute force to propel it forward. Connecting an EcoBoost tuner to your four-cylinder Mustang will yield impressive results!

Mustang Tuning FAQs

Check out the answers to some of the most common questions we hear from customers asking us about Ford Mustang Tuning.

What Is the Best Mustang Tune to Start With?

There are many variables here that will affect this answer, including the size and generation of your car's engine. If you're starting from scratch and this is your first Mustang tuning experience, it's probably a good idea to simply tune your stock Mustang. You'll get noticeable gains right off the bat.

How Long Should I Wait Before I Tune my Mustang?

Custom Mustang tuning will void your warranty, so some owners like to wait until the warranty period expires before applying any Mustang performance tuning.

What Does a Tune Do to Your Mustang?

Mustang tuning alters the parameters of the car's powertrain control module (PCM) to improve air and fuel flow, adjust shift points in automatic transmissions and maximize performance across the board.

Lethal Performance Is Your One-Stop Shop for Mustang Modifications & Custom Tuning

If you can look past voiding your Mustang's warranty, then it's time to get to work with some custom mods and a perfect Mustang tune to go along with them. Head on over the Lethal Performance for the best parts in the industry for Mustang models of all types. We've got parts and custom tuning for everything from the Mustang Mach-1 to the Mustang EcoBoost — and of course the GT. All you have to do is navigate to the Custom Tunes section for your year and model of Mustang. We carry custom tuning from only the most reputable brands, like Lund Racing, Palm Beach Dyno, our very own Lethal Performance tunes and many more. If you're the kind of Mustang owner who wants more power and performance from your cars, then a Ford Mustang tune is the only way to go. If you have any questions about Mustang tunes, feel free to give us a call at 1-877-253-8425; our experienced staff is always happy to help.

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