Tuners vs Calibrators: What’s the Difference?


Tuners vs Calibrators: What’s the Difference?


Technology is a wonderful thing when it comes to modifying cars. Oh sure, there are some folks who still revel in the idea of tweaking the fuel mixture with a screwdriver, or changing lighting with some wire and a soldering gun. But then again, maybe those old-timers just don’t know that now those things can easily be done with the push of a button on a handheld device? That’s the way it is with modern cars when you’re using an aftermarket tuner or calibrator. And these wonder gadgets can unlock a whole world of features you might not have even thought possible to modify by any means, much less being able to change them in literally just seconds.

All that said, the world of tuners and calibrators can seem a bit confusing to those who are new to them. The terms “tuner” and “calibrator” are often used interchangeably, but there are actually some key differences between these types of popular devices.


The primary function of a tuner is to modify drivetrain performance. Tuners typically work by facilitating adjustments to various parameters in a car’s power control module (PCM). Although the specific features and interfaces differ between various tuners, for the most part they allow you to quickly change parameters that can significantly affect overall performance, such as ignition timing, air and fuel adjustments, and transmission shift points.

Tuners generally come loaded with preset tunes you can choose from, making it easier to pick specific power levels and driving characteristics based on your own needs and likes. In many cases, these choices are based on the kind of fuel you’re using. This makes it possible to get maximum power by taking advantage of higher-octane fuels. And the ease of loading these tunes means you can quickly switch back and forth between tunes to compensate for what fuel you’re running at a particular time. Other aspects of performance that tuners can typically change are drive-by-wire throttle sensitivity, transmission shift points, and rev limiters.

See Holley’s full line of tuners and calibrators now

Recently, leading European-car performance brand APR introduced a new kind of tuner, which opens up an entirely different way for DIY enthusiasts to unlock more power from vehicles. This new system, called Ultralink, enables users to choose from a wide array of professionally developed tunes, download them, and install them in their vehicle quickly and easily at home.

Rather than a menu-driven handheld device, as most tuners are, Ultralink instead is a compact dongle that plugs into the OBD port. With this unit, users can shop for pre-configured tunes on APR’s Ultralink Marketplace, an online store that offers tunes for popular European-brand cars. Tunes can be purchased through the Ultralink Marketplace, downloaded, and installed in a matter of minutes. In some cases, these tunes can unlock hundreds more horsepower in an engine, with just a few clicks of a mouse.

See APR Ultralink now


Unlike tuners, calibrators are designed to make changes primarily to a vehicle’s body control module (BCM). Calibrators are great for customizing convenience and comfort features, such as interior lighting and engine auto start-stop. Along with these, a calibrator can be used for setting the tire-pressure monitoring system (TPMS) or recalibrating the speedometer for running larger diameter tires.

The latter of these features are vital to those who race or go off roading with their vehicles – for such folks, changing tire size and pressure are commonplace activities. Without a calibrator allowing them to compensate for these variations, driving their vehicle would mean putting up with annoying warning lights or a speedometer that’s way out of whack.

See Holley’s full line of tuners and calibrators

A great example of a calibrator is Superchips Flashcal. This affordable device allows you to make basic changes to your vehicle, such as calibrating your speedometer for different tire sizes. It also allows you to disable TPMS and auto start stop. Along with these features, it can help you configure vehicle options that aren’t normally accessible and clear diagnostic trouble codes.

For off-roaders, Superchips Flashcal for specific truck and SUV models have valuable features such as a unique Crawl Screen. It gives you real time information on your vehicle speed, throttle position, engine RPM, and more. For some vehicles, Flashcal also lets you control the sway bar disconnect. The upgraded Superchips Flashcal+ features an exclusive Tire Wizard, which automatically adjusts your vehicle’s computer settings based on the tire size you enter into it.

Complementing the Superchips Flashcal is the company’s F5 Flashpaq, a tuner that offers a variety of performance levels to choose from, so you can customize the vehicle’s performance to your specific needs. It can improve throttle response, reduce turbo lag, and tweak transmission shift points. In addition, it can also adjust speed and rev limiters.

See the Superchips Flashcal, Flashcal+, and F5 Flashpaq now

So, now that you know the difference between tuners and calibrators, which is right for you? Well, perhaps both. And that’s not a problem, because in truth, many of today’s electronic performance devices are actually a tuner and a calibrator combined into one slick little package.

A great example of that is Superchips Pulsar XT line. These devices allow you to quickly and easily alter engine power levels just like you’d expect from a tuner. But, at the same time, Pulsar XT also lets you change lighting features and disable factory-installed nuisances such as engine auto stop-start systems and honk reminders when you walk away from a running vehicle with your keys.

So, whether you’re looking for greater performance, more convenience, less nuisance features or all of these, tuners and calibrators can give you everything you want from your modern vehicle. Just plug one in, and your ideal driving experience is just a few taps of a screen away.

See Holley’s full line of tuners and calibrators now


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