Tuning: Canned vs Custom

So you’re ready to get a tune.  What do you get?  Canned or custom?  What are the differences?  Which is better?  There are so many questions!  But the answer to each is, “it depends on your goals, budget and platform options.”

Canned Tunes

A canned tune is a pre-made tune that will provide an overall benefit.  To create a canned tune, a tuner puts the target car on a dyno and spends quite a bit of time building out a tune for it.  Tuning and testing over and over again.  Usually the car being tuned is stock or very close to stock.

Once the tuner is happy with the results, he/she will dial the tune down for safety.
The goal of a canned tune is to be able to work with any stock car or a car with the most common set of basic modifications like an intake and exhaust. This must work in all types of environments from sea level to the Rocky Mountains.  For example, a canned tune from Tuner X will work on your Genesis on the west coast completely stock and will work on a Genesis on the east coast with an intake and exhaust, all the same.

Canned tunes are usually the cheapest option because they never change and are not customized to your car.  This also means the tune will leave power on the table and you won’t be getting the most from the tune or your car.

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Some tuners offer varying levels of canned tunes such as, staged tunes like stage 1 or stage 2, and tune versions like 1.5 etc.  The differences between the different canned tunes will vary from tuner to tuner, but basically they will either offer more aggressive tunes, add additional features like launch control, or may be geared toward a specific set of modifications such as a larger turbo.

Some tuners will offer a power package which includes performance parts and a canned tune designed to work with that specific combination of parts.

Basic canned tunes are not meant to be used with upgraded turbos, larger injectors, or major modifications unless specifically advertised to do so.

Custom Tunes

A custom tune on the other hand, can be setup to handle just about anything and generally provides more power than a canned tune does.

A custom tune starts off as a canned tune and through the process of road tuning or dyno tuning, the tuner will adjust the tune for your specific car with your specific modifications.  Custom tunes will allow you to get every last drop of power from your setup and are usually tuned more aggressively than a canned tune will be.

So which one should you get?

If you only have basic mods or you’re still building your car, then a custom tune might not be the best choice right now.  Since you won’t be able to get the most from your setup, it won’t be cost effective.  A canned tune will offer some gains and will be cheaper.  Once you’ve installed all the mods you want, then go with a custom tune.

Some tuners offer discounts for returning customers which could help with overall cost if you get tuned twice.

If your setup is full bolt-on or you’ve made major changes like cams, turbo, heads, stroker kit, meth or nitrous, then a canned tune is not the right choice for you and you’ll need a custom tune.

Custom tune with stock car?

Sure. It’s important to note that you can get a custom tune without having any modifications, but if you end up changing the car at all, you run the risk of having problems and may need to get re-tuned.

Depending on your platform, the additional gains from a custom tune over a canned tune might not be worth the added cost for a stock build.

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About the author: Dustin Davis

I'm a car enthusiast always learning and sharing with other enthusiasts. My goal is to help novice enthusiast learn the fundamentals so they can start modifying their car the correct way. You can learn more by checking out my YouTube Channel