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How Tuners Increase Your Tacoma’s Power

Written By: Connor MC

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A tuning device can be anything from a simple plug and play throttle enhancer, to a touch screen computer the size of your phone plugged into your Tacoma's brain. The more complicated of the two devices are designed to compensate for large increases in power, speedometer corrections from installing larger wheels and tires, and many more. You'll want to consider a tuner if you know you're going to extensively modify your truck's engine.

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Modern vehicles with electronic fuel injection are governed by the engine CPU, which is responsible for interpreting the sensor readings in the entire vehicle. Similar to the human brain after reading a good book or learning a new skill, tweaking the settings in the CPU is an easy and hassle-free way to increase the engine’s power, improve the fuel economy, or enhance the throttle response of any Toyota Tacoma. The stock engines are designed to run with a stock tune, meaning the CPU calibration leans more on the conservative side of the spectrum. For enthusiast drivers, modified trucks, or off-road/towing applications, the stock tune does leave extra performance on the table that can be unleashed by uploading a custom tune to your Tacoma.

What is a Tuner

A tuner is a handheld device that connects to the OBD2 port in your Tacoma (located under the dash below the steering wheel or above the parking brake pedal). Depending on the type of tuner, it can either be a touchscreen device similar to a smartphone or a simple electronic gadget with a smaller LCD screen. Power tuners or flash tuners can load a custom tune, diagnose engine trouble codes, adjust the transmission shift points, and provide on-screen monitoring or data logging functions - the latter of which can be transferred to a laptop for further analysis.

Tacoma handheld tuners will come with either pre-loaded, customized, or downloadable tunes to alter the injection timing, fuel pressure, ignition timing, valve timing, throttle sensitivity, and other settings in your truck depending on what the purpose of the tune is. For example, Tacoma owners that want to squeeze more performance from their trucks will use a performance-based tune that will make the ignition, timing, and fuel cycles more aggressive than stock in order to produce more horsepower and torque.

If you are thinking about buying a tuner to enhance the performance characteristics of your Tacoma, make sure to specify the make, model, and engine size. This ensures a smooth and problem-free tuning experience. If your truck is running modified parts (such as a larger throttle body, forced-induction mods, or larger off-road wheel and tires), it is also best to contact the manufacturer so they can create a custom tune that is compatible with the mods in your truck.

What is a Throttle Enhancer?

Similar to a tuner, a throttle enhancer is a kind of electronic device. But instead of altering the CPU tuning, the throttle enhancer is designed to modify the signal in the electronic throttle system. If you have a newer Tacoma, the throttle pedal is not connected physically to the throttle body via a cable. Rather, the Tacoma throttle body is an electronic version that receives a signal from the ECU and opens the throttle blade (via an electric motor) accordingly. Installing a throttle enhancer in your Tacoma will eliminate the sluggish feel in the gas pedal by increasing the rate at which the throttle blade opens. You can do it without altering the stock tune in the vehicle CPU.

How Off-Road Vehicles Can Benefit from a Tuner

Simply put, a vehicle tuner will allow you to customize the performance and behavior of your truck. The stock tune is only applicable for normal applications, such as puttering in the city or piling up speed on the highway. But when the roads get rough, it’s a different story altogether. As you climb a muddy and slope with a full load of passengers and gear, it wouldn’t hurt if the engine can produce a bit more low-end grunt to make the job easier. The same goes when towing heavy loads or when transporting cargo in the truck bed. For example, the latest 3.5L V6 Tacomas can see as much as a 20 horsepower, and likewise in torque, when outfitted with an aftermarket ECU tune.  

With the above in mind, a tuner can also adjust and recalibrate the speedometer settings. If your Tacoma is equipped with bigger wheels and tires, the tuner will ensure the speedometer settings are correct based on the larger diameter wheels. Another area that a tuner can help with (for automatic Tacomas) is shift points and shift firmness. A flash tuner will allow overriding of the factory shift points and firmness, which will make your Tacoma more responsive and require less throttle input when navigating a trail.

Furthermore, handheld tuners serve as a vehicle diagnostic tool, capable of retrieving and displaying any stored error codes. If you push too hard and illuminate a Check Engine Light, a tuner can immediately pull the code and give you an idea of which system has detected a malfunction. 

Why Should I Purchase a Tuner for My Toyota Tacoma?

For stock applications, a vehicle tuner might be unnecessary. But if you’re planning to install a couple of engine mods for off-road driving, you should definitely consider an in-vehicle tuner. Even if the engine in your Tacoma is bone stock, upgrading to bigger wheels will also necessitate the services of a tuning device. The same holds true if the truck came with a modified differential, running gear, or transfer case. 

For example, changing the rear differential from the stock 3.727 to a 4.10 or 4.56 gear ratio will significantly affect the fuel mileage of your Tacoma, especially if the truck is also equipped with larger wheels and tires. A tuner can help solve this problem by adjusting the peak torque curve of the motor depending on the intended application.

Should I Tune the Vehicle Myself or Should I Let the Professionals do the Job?

The answer will depend on a variety of factors. Is your Tacoma running a stock set-up? Are you looking to squeeze out more performance when towing or carrying heavy loads? There is no problem with tuning the vehicle yourself. That’s what tuners are supposed to do! 

But if your Tacoma came with a plethora of aftermarket engine and drivetrain mods (such as revised camshafts or engine internals, taller gear ratios, etc.), professional tuning is the better option. In some cases, dyno tuning is necessary to determine the type of tune that is ideal for your truck. 

We all use our trucks in a different manner from other drivers. Vehicle tuners have the potential to unleash more horsepower and torque or improve fuel mileage in normal driving. These clever devices can also monitor the sensor readings and scan for trouble codes if there’s a check engine light on the console. Simply put, there is no easier way to customize and improve the performance of your Tacoma than by having your own tuner.

Fitment includes: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, Pre-Runner, X-Runner, SR, SR-5, TRD-Sport, TRD-Off-Road, Limited, TRD-Pro