What Mustang Modifications Require A Tune & Which Don't?

Created by Jay Walling / 15 min read
Date Created: 9/20/2018
Last Updated: 6/13/2023

When adding Mustang mods, you may wonder which will require a tune and tuner. This guide will let you know exactly which mods are going to need special calibration.

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What Mustang Modifications Require A Tune & Which Don


When your Mustang comes off of the factory floor, it is already a powerful machine. But regardless of how much power it has when you turn the ignition key for the first time, there’s always some more that’s hidden away, just waiting for you to let it free. What’s called for is a Mustang tuning.

Handheld tuners have completely changed the way the tuning is done. Mustang owners no longer need to do carbureted tuning. Now it’s much easier to tap into that extra power and take your Mustang to an improved performance level.

What Mustang Modifications Require A Tune & Which Don

What Is a Tune and Why Is It Important After Modifications on My Mustang?

A Mustang tune involves the rewiring or reconfiguration of the parameters of the stock engine to increase power and improve performance. As powerful as your Mustang is when it comes from the factory, Ford provides it with fairly conservative parameters. That’s because they want a vehicle that can be driven every day, get reasonable fuel economy, still have a kick when you need it and provide you with a smooth daily drive.

The point of custom tuning is to provide more power and to ultimately improve the throttle response. If you regularly drive your Mustang, then fuel economy is important and so is how the car feels when you drive it. After you modify your Mustang, tuning becomes very useful and sometimes necessary. It helps provide the adjustments that you’ll need for your Mustang engine's management to get the best results from your modifications and improve overall performance.

What Mustang Modifications Require A Tune & Which Don

What Can I Learn From a Tune and What Are the Benefits?

When you tune your Mustang after you’ve bought it, you will be adjusting many parameters that will provide you with greater power and a more aggressive, in-your-face performance.

Tuning your Mustang provides many benefits including:


  • Better throttle response
  • More aggressive shift points in automatics
  • Better fuel economy
  • Increased horsepower and torque


What Mustang Modifications Require A Tune & Which Don

What Modifications Normally Require Tuning?

You can do numerous modifications to a Mustang, but practically any modification made to an engine besides cooling, dress up or regular maintenance needs, or can benefit from, a custom tune.

Other mods that require tuning include:


  • Camshafts
  • Cold air intakes
  • Cylinder heads
  • Fuel injectors
  • Full exhaust systems or headers
  • Intake manifolds
  • Nitrous systems
  • Rear gear changes to fix the speedometer
  • Superchargers or turbochargers
  • Throttle bodies


What Mustang Modifications Require A Tune & Which Don

Which Modifications Normally Don’t Need a Tune?

When you add aftermarket modifications, a tune is often needed. A stock Mustang definitely benefits from tuning. If your entire car or your engine is bone stock, you will see many performance benefits from doing an aftermarket tune. Tuning your Mustang will give you a solid increase in power that, depending upon the engine and generation, ranges anywhere from 12 to 35 horsepower.

But outside of the items mentioned above, there is little need for you to tune due to any other modifications you have made on your Mustang.

Why Do Certain Mustang Cold Air Intakes Require Tunes and Others Don’t?

It’s a straightforward explanation. In effect, the Mustang's computer can only understand a certain amount of air coming through the MAF or mass airflow sensor inside the intake tube. When you tweak the airflow too much, the engine runs too lean and can ultimately lead to catastrophic engine failure. It’s important to choose the right intake for you to ensure that your Mustang engine has a long life.

The intake tube diameter is what makes the difference. The factory computer is programmed to register airflow using an intake tube of a particular diameter. If the diameter changes, the engine can run lean and idle incorrectly — and cause very serious problems. Some kinds of cold air intakes include an 85-millimeter spacer, which allows owners to keep the stock tune with the new intake. The spacer permits the factory tune on a Mustang’s computer to operate without any problems along with the benefit of freer airflow and some additional power.

If you remove the spacer, however, to expose the entire 105-millimeter bore, you will need to tune the computer to account for the increase in diameter. If you tune it correctly, you’ll get the full benefits of putting a cold air intake on your Mustang. You will probably notice power gains across the entire power band, but particularly near the top.

What Mustang Modifications Require A Tune & Which Don

What Cold Air Intakes Require Tunes?

You can't get the most from a new cold air intake without tuning it correctly. Most JTL Performance cold air intakes require a tune. If you want to reap the full benefits of a new intake, you need a tune together with the mod to complete the job correctly.

What are the benefits of a cold air intake that requires a tune?


  • You'll get maximum power.
  • You won’t have to worry about the engine running lean.
  • Increased intake noise.
  • You'll get better gas mileage.
  • An intake modification and a tune give you improved throttle response.


What About No-Tune Cold Air Intakes?

Even when you don’t want to tune along with a new intake, there remain lots of reasons to switch out the factory air box.

When you add a cold air intake that doesn't require a tune, you’ll still see more power, increased gas mileage and a louder intake noise. These changes will not be quite as pronounced what a tune does for a cold air intake, but it will still give you the changes you want.

Not having to mess with your Mustang’s computer is one good reason to choose a no-tune cold air intake. If you’d like to stick with the stock tune because you're concerned about the factory warranty, but you still want an increase in power, then this is the ideal solution.

What are the benefits of a no-tune intake?


  • Better gas mileage
  • Increased intake noise
  • A smaller but still noticeable bump in power
  • Keep the factory tune and the warranty


How Do I Decide?

If you want to get all the power that you can from your Mustang, a cold air intake combined with a tune is ideal. It allows you to pull every bit of horsepower out of your Mustang with the added intake.

If you just want an increase in power for your everyday car and you don’t really care much about getting the most horsepower from your car, your best bet is a no-tune required cold air intake.

What Mustang Modifications Require A Tune & Which Don

What Are the Differences Between a Canned Tune, a Dyno Tune and a Custom Tune?

Here's a breakdown:


  • Canned tune: Just what the word says it is — a generic tune that is pre-loaded into a handheld device. It’s kind of like a wrench that can be adjusted to fit any size nut or bolt. It’s not specific.
  • Custom tune: One that is specifically written for you based on the modifications you have made on your Mustang. Normally it will be emailed to you. These mail-order tunes often provide you with the same level of performance as a Dyno tune but cost about one-half to one-third of the price.
  • Dyno tune: A real-time tune. You get a Dyno tune when you take your Mustang to a tuner or speed shop where they put it on the dyno and do the tune right there. These are the tunes that normally give you the most power and provide the best drivability, but they also can be expensive.


Canned tunes will work with any kind of Mustang. But when you’re doing a custom tune or a Dyno tune, make sure you do your research. Check on the person or the company who is going to create your tune to get a feel for their abilities, their qualifications to do a tune and how those tunes have performed for others in the past.

How Are Tunes Loaded Into Mustangs?

For Mustangs built from 1996 until the present day, you plug your handheld tuning device into the OBD-II. Then simply follow the tuner's instructions to flash your powertrain control module (PCM). This is not necessary, of course, with Dyno tune, but only for canned tunes and custom tunes. For a custom tune, to get the mail order tune into your tuner, plug it into your home computer and downloaded onto the device.

How Does a Tune Affect or Change the Parameters of My Mustang?

A tune will tweak the following parameters in a Mustang:


  • Ignition
  • Fuel
  • Timing
  • Spark
  • Throttle position


What the Pros and Cons of Handheld Tuners?

If you’re going to do a tune for the modifications on your Mustang, the most popular option these days is a handheld tuner. The pros:


  • Convenience: They are a great choice for most modifications. Their best feature is how convenient and easy they are to use. Just plug it into your Mustang's OBD-II port and follow the tuner's on-screen instructions to send your preferred tune into the computer of your Mustang.
  • Benefits: Handheld tuners have a lot of benefits. You can use them for much more than just loading a tune into your Mustang. All handheld tuners will hold at least three custom tunes, allow data logging and can even read and clear engine codes. Top-of-the-line models can display engine data and some even connect wirelessly, allowing you to keep your interior clutter free.
  • Future updates: But we still haven’t told you about the best feature. When you reach the point that you want to install more mods on your Mustang, you can put them on the tuner yourself using a USB cable.

A handheld tuner's main disadvantage is in how a Mustang's computer operates. It can only hold one loaded tune at a time. So if you want to switch out your current modification tunes, you must plug the tuner into the OBD-II board and repeat the uploading procedure each time. You need to pay attention to this flashing procedure because it involves important key turns and button presses and takes between five and seven minutes.


What Are Some Models of Handheld Tuners?


Late Model Restoration (LMR) offers many handheld tuners that will help give you the power and the improved driveability you want. Here are some examples:

1996-2023 Mustang SCT X4 Tuner

This is a great handheld. If greatly improved performance is what you’re looking for this is the tuner you want. When you’re looking to push your engine modifications to the extreme, this tuner has lots of new software and features that will help you do it. Even better, it has the latest technology including Wi-Fi capabilities. You will no longer have to plug in your tuner to your computer — you merely connect to your local wireless network and you’ll receive device upgrades. It also monitors your PCM data in real time, providing you with immediate feedback on how your engine is performing. You'll be able to read and clear diagnostic engine codes, enabling you to code troubleshoot on the go. And you can use the LiveLink data logging to track the engine’s overall performance.


If I Wanted a Tune, What’s the Right Tuning Product for Me?

The tune you want will depend upon when your car was made and the features that came with it.


  • SCT pre-configured tune: This is your starting point if you’re interested in using tunes. They come with pre-loaded canned tunes and are designed for stock or minimal bolt-on applications. These tunes will give you more horsepower and torque, better fuel efficiency and improve overall performance. They also have adjustable parameters for items like idle RPM, rev limiters and axle ratio. These tunes are good on all 1996 to 2023 models.


These are only a few of the available tunes that you can get for your Mustang. At LMR you’ll find a variety of options from different manufacturers, including Vortech, Paxton, Flow Master, and JTL Performance, to name just a few. LMR has tunes for your Mustang regardless of its year or model.

What Mustang Modifications Require A Tune & Which Don

How Does a Tune Affect My Ford Warranty?

Tuning your Mustang will void your powertrain's warranty, according to Ford’s corporate guidelines. This is one reason that many people prefer a no-tune required cold air intake. In reality, it tends to vary dealer by dealer. Some dealers go by the book and will void the warranty. Other dealers may be more open-minded — perhaps they have a Mustang and have used tunes themselves. For them, it’s a judgment call.

Once again, do your research. If you need warranty work done, but you have tuned your Mustang, talk to your fellow Mustang enthusiasts either in person or visit an online forum. You’ll likely be able to learn if the Ford dealer you are considering taking your Mustang to is modification-friendly.

Trying to return the modified tune on your car to the factory stock tune won't be of much help either. Ford can determine if you have flashed your Mustang's computer with a custom tune. That’s because they have proprietary software that allows them to see how many times your car has been tuned or retuned.

So be careful. Think hard about how you want to use your Mustang and the kind of performance that you want to get out of it. Getting a tune may not make much sense if you’re only going to use your car for street driving or family outings. However, if you’re the kind of Mustang owner who wants power and performance, you’ll probably want a tune. Just be aware how mods could affect your warranty with Ford.

What Mustang Modifications Require A Tune & Which Don

Let LMR Help You Find the Perfect Tune for Your Mustang

Since 1999, our goal has been to supply Mustang owners with the right parts at the right time. Everyone who works at LMR is a Mustang enthusiast, and we understand the passion you feel for this incredible car. Our experience and knowledge from working on all Mustangs — from early models to the latest generation — make our service second-to-none in this field. We believe the best way to grow our business os treating our customers with respect and courtesy. We do our very best to make certain our customers are happy.

Although we are mainly known for restoration products, we have many first-rate Mustang styling and performance products as well. When you want to tune your Mustang, you can find the tune you need at LMR. You can call us at 1-866-507-3786 or leave us your details on our contact page, and one of our talented and experienced staff members will get back in touch as soon as possible.



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About the Author

Jay has written content for Late Model Restoration for over 10 years, producing over 120 articles. Jay has an extensive 25-plus-year background in automotive and is a certified Ford Technician. Read more...