Sometimes as a driver you may not be fully satisfied with what your car can provide you. If this is actually the case, the best way to resolve this problem is to try some car tuning.
Car tuning overall is an improvement of specific car parts in order to achieve better vehicle’s performance in general and to meet your personal needs that you have as a car user.
When you speak about tuned car you usually speak about the car that has several parts changed so it can go faster and perform better.
Mostly every vehicle that has been modified for performance reason is called tuner regardless of the model.
Of course, you can tune your car not only when there is a need in peaking engine acting or anything like that but also when you are a little bit tired of your vehicle because this modifying can help you to make your ordinary car better without spending a lot of money buying new car.
So, we have tuning that is about physical changes that you can make to your car, also there is a thing called programmer that is a kind of hardware used for managing and optimization performance of your engine, and the performance chip that is a part of this hardware that directly tells the computer when and how to adjust different car’s indicators.
The problem is that most manufacturers have been trying to make them more reliable. Cars come from the factory with a bunch of stuff designed to make it run a certain way.
Have you ever thought about what is tuning a car? How do you make it faster? What are a tuner and a programmer? Exactly, engine tuning and a tuning software.
Tuning is trying to get the right mix of variables for peak engine performance. Back in the day, it was actually quite similar to tuning a musical instrument. You tweak some screws and you`d listen. If it sounded right, you did a good job tuning. And if not, you`re at least will require some help from shrink.
How to understand it all better?
We will start with talking about body tuning. Usually people think that tuning can be applied only to engines but it is not true, there are several areas in your car that you can change and adjust to your needs. For example, one of such kinds can be body tuning.
It can be useful in order to transform the way how your vehicle looks as well as to make the aerodynamic performance better.
Improving aerodynamics is mostly done by replacing the hoods and rearview mirrors with lighter-weight components, or by lowering the gravity’s center through suspension modifications, or by increasing the wheel track width via wide body kits and spacers. The improvement in appearance can be done by widening arches or lowering the car beyond its optimal ride height.
The other kind is tuning of tires. A lot depends on the type of tires you choose to your car, correctly chosen tires can be a very cost effective way to meet your driver’s needs. There are several kinds for various road and weather conditions. You can choose what you really need considering the cost, service life, rolling resistance and other components. Talking about tires appearance, you can add tire lettering to make them look more aesthetic.
Next is suspension tuning. It usually involves modification of shock absorbers, springs, anti-roll bars and other related components. As an example, you can choose shorter springs that can give you greater stiffness and a lower center of gravity changing the suspension geometry in not desirable way at the same time.
To improve dynamic weight shifting during cornering stiffer shock absorbers with shorter internals can be used. Stiffer sway bars similar to stiffer springs can improve handling response due to faster weight shifting. You can also add strut bars which can help to make the body stiffness better and to keep correct suspension geometry during cornering.
Truck drivers should also pay attention to lengthening the suspension travel if they want to install larger tires that are useful in increasing ground clearance, providing additional cushioning, decreasing ground pressure and travelling more smoothly over rough terrain.
Low riders in their turn can use another type of suspension tuning – hydraulic or pneumatic suspensions in which the height of each individual wheel can be rapidly adjusted be the system of rams.
Also we can mention audio system tuning which can be about using better wiring, amplifiers, subwoofers or speakers of higher quality.
And, of course, **engine tuning ** – the process of changing the operating characteristics of an engine. In standard engine there are different components such as the intake manifold, mass air flow and spark plugs. Nowadays, most engines use the engine control unit that provides the best balance between emission and performance.
As a part of tuning you can add or replace some mechanical parts, for example forces induction systems like turbochargers or superchargers. It can also be adjustment of the carburetor idle speed and the air-fuel mixture, replacement of different filters, adjustment of valvetrains and other.
The main difficulty with tuning the engine is that it has to be done by professional because incorrectly made modifications can cause components to fail, that can not only lead to very expensive repairs but also be dangerous.
The whole process mostly meant as tuning a carburetor. The carburetors where the air and the fuel mix before they go into the engine. Too much gas and not enough air make the engine run rich. Too much air and not enough gas makes the engine run lean. So it'll either rev to high or idle or it'll sputter out if it's not tuned right.
The degree to which flaps in carburetor can open and let in air, is determined by a screw. And the chamber where the gas and air mix is also tweakable on a car. A tuneup meant that a mechanic would make sure your timing belt was adjusted properly, your ignition is happening at the right time, and that the right mix of air and fuel is getting in the engine.
The new configuration you meant had to tune the engine to work optimally at this point, thanks to the new hardware. Same thing with adding a blower. You have to tune the engine to get the right air/fuel mix into the engine because you're changing another variable away from how it was set at the factory.
Next tool that we will talk about is power programmer. As it was said above, programmer is a kind or hardware that is used for operating your vehicle. It is able to alter the factory setting of the vehicle and adjust the tune of the engine to your specific needs. Programmer is small electronic device that does not require any messing with electronic contacts or wires. You will have just to install or download it directly to the vehicle’s ECM through the OBD-II port under the dash.
The programmer has new data that modifies the ECM calibrations so that the original signals are being transformed to incorporate the desirable effect generated by the new tune. Then the new signal is sent out to the electrical parts of car’s engine where it changes the efficiency of the engine. Programmers are generally purchased as an aftermarket device and they can be installed very easy.And the last thing that we have to talk about more is a performance chip.
Firstly, it is important to understand what a regularly factory chip is and what it does. The factory chip in your car contains a thing called “lookup table”. This lookup table contains some data that regulate the way how engine responds and operates in various situations.
For example it is responsible for the amount of gas that has to be sent to engine or for adjusting the timing. In a factory chip all these parameters are prescribed by the manufacturer considering all the standards.
By installing the performance chip you are able to change the lookup table and adjust the parameters to your needs without regard to emissions or fuel economy.
As an example, if you need to improve your gas mileage, performance chip will do it by improving ignition timing and air-fuel ratio and as a result the engine will have to work less to generate the power during combustion that leads to improving of fuel mileage because your car creates more power and at the same time uses less fuel.
So, performance chip tuning is basically modifying or changing an erasable memory chip in vehicle’s electronic control unit that allows achieving better performance, cleaner emission or better fuel efficiency.
Chips function by receiving and analyzing data and then making adjustments to the restrictions based on the programmed standards. In order for them to work in the most efficient way they have to be specially programmed considering model and year of your car.
Chips can be installed in several different places on a diesel vehicle, it means that you can choose almost any place in between the ECM and at least one electrical component that the ECM is connected with, depending on the effect that you expect your chip to have. There are chips with pre-programmed performance levels and their benefits lies in the fact that there is no need in any tuning adjustments and the process of their installation is very simple – only thing you have to do is to remove a cover under the dashboard, take the factory chip out and replace it with the performance chip.
If compare the chip and programmer, we can say that they are very similar because they function that they perform are almost the same. But it is important to mention that sometimes programmer can give you some advantages that you will not have using a chip.
Some tuners are able not only to boost your torque or horsepower but they can also alter your rig computer and give you the possibility to modify various settings on your vehicle. As for programmers, they are all about increasing power and gas mileage to the maximum and monitoring the vital engine functions at the same time.
Back in the day
And again, back to the history, particularly in 70`s-80`s.
Manufacturers were tuning down engines to make less horsepower and get better fuel economy. And to stop people from tuning their own cars, they put little caps on top of the carb adjustments. And to make sure the air fuel mix was staying efficient, they used: (E)lectronic (C)ontrol (U)nit.
Early ECUs mostly measured oxygen, going into the engine and coming out. They used signal to control a solenoid that would determine how much the car would open or close and how much fuel would be getting mixed with the air. They're effectively taking the tuning out of the hands of the owner. If you wanted a different air/fuel mix, you had to either trick the computer or reprogram it.
ECU, TCM, PCM … a bunch of letters.
This is when tuning as we now know it started taking shape. It also opened the door for computer-controlled variable valve timing and computer controlled ignition timing. Shocking isn`t?
By the way, an ECU`s is the same thing as an ECM, or an (E)ngine (C)ontrol (M)odule.
The ECU really only controlled fuel mix in the early days. But it started becoming more important as fuel injection started getting refined. And later on, manufacturers added (T)ransmission (C)ontrol (M)odules.
But what does PCM mean? They started putting them together with the ECU in the same chip, which makes it a (P)owertrain (C)ontrol (M)odule.
But forget all this alphabet soup. Most people now just refer to the whole thing as the ECU. Now, we know that the ECU`s is a little computer that gathers information from sensors placed all around your car. Then it gets sent in from wheel speed sensors, engine sensors, O2 sensors, zero flow sensors, temperature. Oh dear… there's so many of them.
The ECU takes all of it and does millions of calculations every second to determine how to control everything from the air/fuel mix to transmission shift to the engine's redline. The ECU also identifies problems while it's sorting through all that info.
As ECU's became more common, engine and emissions equipment became increasingly electronic and complicated, car manufacturers started to put in diagnostic ports to make it easier to figure out exactly WHY the engine light was on. But there was no industry standard.
So they use whatever kind of port they felt like. To figure out why the lights on, you might have had to connect some pins to the port, or gently caress it, tiny screw on the ECU. Then you'd wait for the warning light to blink out of code. And then you'd look up the fault that that code corresponding to.
Or maybe you could buy an expensive proprietary scan tool, and/or computer to make things a little easier on yourself. But every manufacturer had their own idea what these ports should look like.
The government mandated that all cars came with a standardized (O)n (B)oard (D)iagnostic system, so they can better monitor emissions. And keep a car running clean. So from the 1996 model, every car is equipped with a universal OBD-II port.
But why are we point out on OBD`s? Because an OBD tuner can tell you ALL about the little things going on inside the engine and that can help you tune your car.
We mentioned all the things that go into tuning a car: valve timing, ignition timing, air/fuel ratios and more. And now, these things are determined by a computer. Tuning programs the computer to optimize engine performance by changing any or all of these variables.
Now, because so many things are controlled electronically and valve timing can be varied we can change things like ignition and valve timing without changing hardware and make it better at different RPM. With OBD programmer, we can achieve peak performance from about a fifty RPM range to a 400 RPM window. That's…pretty good.
An OBD-II programmer can also cue you into things that are hurting your performance outside of the tune. If one of your sensors is malfunctioning or clogged it's going to screw up your performance, because the ECU doesn't have an authentic picture of what's going on.
You don't use these OBD sensors to tune in the car. You need a separate computer for that and big brains. But an OBD-II sensor with a good interface will let you know what's going on inside of it from the tune.
Changing engine performance
The spark in the cylinders kind of like a wave. It got more force as it gets going. We wanna make sure we're getting the most force to the crank when we've got the best mechanical advantage. As the speed of the engine changes, the point where this optimization occurs changes as well. And that is why ignition timing can be so important.
In the early days of electronic tuning, people had to figure out what meant what in the ECU coding. So they've changed half the values in the ECU and see if it changed safe fuel. If it didn't, they changed the other half of values and it would change fuel. Then they just keep changing half and half and half again and again until they found the value that affected fuel.
Nowadays, all that legwork`s been done. And it's easier to know what to change your ECU's coding to change what you want in the engines performance.
Other ECU tweak seek out performance without adding physical mods would be raising rev limits. Fiddling with launch control settings and removing undefeatable traction and stability control programs. But don't screw around with these things unless you really know what you're doing.
You shouldn't tune your engine unless you're a professional engine tuner. If you wanna try around with a car you're not gonna drive, do it as a hobby. There are guys who have been doing it since the early days of ECU and they're still learning stuff.
But what about those chips? They`re claim, they can eat you out an extra 25 or 50 more horsepower without doing anything else. Look…most car companies are factory tuning their cars for optimum performance about a wide powerband.
They want you to have a well performing car. Unless you're adding some hardware like a blower or maybe NOS injection, there is no way you're cranking out an extra 50 horsepower for ECU alone. If you have hardware like intakes, an exhaust, headers or injectors, well, the engine`s gotta be recalibrated and that is where tuning comes in.
What are your options?
Of course, there are plenty of performance tuners and programmers to choose from and most of them are really good. But some of them are considered to be best of the best, for example **Superchips Flashpaq F5 Tuner **that is high-end tuner with a large amount of functionality - it is able to increase the torque, horsepower and throttle response of your vehicle in a matter of minutes.
If you own a pickup truck with a small towing capacity you might need power boosts to your engine and this tuner can give it to you. In addition, it provides you with information on your engine’s vitals and improves your fuel economy. You might need not more than ten minutes to install this small handheld device and there are no special tools required.
And with the HD 2,8” screen you will not have any problems in using it every time you need. And one more thing about it – usually this kind of tuners has two years of warranty on powertrain and entire system that makes it reasonable to pay a little extra over the majority of other cheaper tuners that do not have as much of functionality as this one. So, it is good choice for your car at reasonable price that can add plenty of extra performance to your car.
Next one will be Bully Dog GT Platinum Tuner, it provides the same functions as other basic tuners but you can also find some special premium features as speedometer calibration and ability to read and erase diagnostic trouble codes while checking your engine vitals. You also have the access to virtual gauges to monitor live data while you are driving.
This tuner will be great choice for the owners of oversized tires as it allows recalibrating the speedometer for actual reading. As other tuners this one is easy to install, it also comes with full-color display and night driving mode and provides you with one year warranty. In general, it is very efficient universal tuner that might appeal a little bit expensive for somebody, but it actually worth to pay a little extra for the amount of features it provides.
And the other one is DiabloSport Predator P2 Tuner which is considered to be one of the best tuners available in the market, with the great balance between value and usefulness. It supports both domestic gas and diesel vehicles. This high-performance tuner offers advanced data-logging capabilities and various adjustable options such as those connected with tire size, gear and shifting.
It is able to increase the horsepower and improve fuel efficiency, it also can work as a diagnostic tool to remove error codes and look up log car’s data. In addition, the tuner itself looks good and has perfect match with Windows and iOS via WiFi connection. DiabloSport Predator P2 Tuner has a limited one year warranty.
As we talk about programmers, the first one that is important to mention is Hypertech Max Energy high-performance programmer. Having this programmer on your vehicle will allow you to gain more power boosts and as a result you are able to experience quicker acceleration and improved drivability.
It is a great choice for everyone who needs tire size adjustments and it can be installed easily even by the average tech intelligent driver. There are three different versions of this programmer that means it can satisfy needs of every user.
The first kind is Max Energy that can be used by drivers who have vehicles with regular fuel. The second one is Max Energy 2.0 that can be used both with gas and diesel vehicles also it has some extra functions that account cold air intakes. And the third kind is Max Energy Sport and it is a great choice if you have compact sport vehicle and need to increase its power and MPGs. And in addition one of the highlighted features of Hypertech Max Energy Programmer is that it comes with a lifetime warranty.
Another programmer that we will talk about is high-end Edge Evolution Performance Programmer that is also aimed at increasing the performance of the engine by altering the original program of your car. Because of this alteration you can have power boosts and rising torque and horsepower of your vehicle. The installation is also not difficult – you connect it to the car’s computer through OBD-II to the port and as soon as connection has been formed you can upload the stock files to it and replace the recalibrated custom tuning of the Edge.
There are three power levels available with Edge Evolution Performance Programmer so you can get the most from you engine setting the programmer for overall performance, towing or fuel economy. It has simple design with fully touch screen but another feature is a backlit LED that transfers engine vitals and data of 24 different parameters. The main reason for relatively high price for it may be the ability of staying connected during the driving process and to see engine’s data in real time. Edge Evolution Performance Programmer has one-year warranty and is considered an efficient investment to your car across the United States.
One more programmer is Jet Performance Programmer. The good feature is that this one is not expensive and at the same time it is full of various features so everyone can find what he needs. This programmer gives you the possibility to change your original program as much as you need in order to achieve the result that you want. Jet Performance Programmer allows you to change and modify various features in your vehicle, it also allows you to calibrate your speedometer and access, read and clear diagnostic codes. The programmer has one-year warranty.
The other option that you have is STC Performance Chip with “plug and play” set-up. It downloads updates through WiFi without plugging into your computer. Once downloaded, you are able to select one of the tuning programs that have been pre-loaded. This chip works well both with diesel and gas engines increasing torque and horsepower. It also fits to a wide variety of models but you have to keep in mind that it can work with only one vehicle and in case you want it to unpaired with your older car you will have to buy a new chip. In addition, STC Performance comes with a one-year manufacturer warranty.
Range Technology Active Fuel Management is something you have to pay your attention to if you are the owner of high-load vehicle. It works disabling the four-cylinder mode that allows your car to operate at V8 mode, which gives you the extra torque and power when there is the greatest need in it. This power chip works through plug and play installation making you free of spending time under the hood. And one of the most important features is that is does not affect your warranty.
One more programmer that will not affect you warranty is the Pedal Commander Throttle Response Controller. As usual, the process of installation is simple with the plug and play system, so you can start your work right away. You have the access to four pre-programmed adjustable modes that can be easily changed to any of 36 other configurations available according to your personal needs. Also, there is a mobile app which can help you to control the output and efficiency of your system even easier than before.
What is it important to consider while buying power programmer or performance chip?
The first thing of course is compatibility. The chip you choose must be suitable to the model and make of you vehicle. Not all the programmers are universal that’s why you should check with the manufacture’s manual about the cars that the device can work with as well as the age range. Many chips include a lot of functions and if your car is not the right fit it can struggle in using all the features that the device has.
**The second thing you should remember about is the type of fuel used in your car. **Some chips are not able to work with both gas and diesel. Standard gas parts are different from diesel performance parts, so in order to achieve the maximum safety you have to be completely sure in what kind of tuning system you need.
Then, you also have to consider the set of pre-loaded programs available on your tuner. In case you are not fully satisfy with what you need to check if it is possible to alter and create your own tuning programs. It is important to pay special attention to it if you are looking for some specific feature that you want to improve.
The way how you would like to check your data is also an important criterion while choosing a tuner. Depending on your tastes you can choose a full-color monitor that gives you the information about every aspect of your vehicle or you can also choose a monitor of small size that you will have to access only during the tune-ups.
What to do if I am still not sure that I need it?
As you can see, it is not that difficult to modify your car and you have several options to choose from but if you are still not sure if you need it or not, here are some advantages and disadvantages of tuning your car.
- You can set you engine’s settings to any desirable way (increasing or decreasing fuel to air ratios or increasing boots in turbo charged engines);
- It is relatively affordable. Even if the tuning sometimes may be not very cheap and rather even very expensive, if you think about tuning the cheap vehicle and making it to perform some of the functions of expensive vehicle, the idea of tuning ma become very appealing to you;
- You enjoy your driving more than before having all-around performance of your car improved.
- If the tuning is done correctly, you can potentially get more safety while you drive;
- In case the mechanical work and cars are something that you really like – there are plenty of tuning options to do and you always find the job for yourself, not to mention other people with the same passion for cars that you can meet while discovering the tuning.
- The procedure of tuning can have an impact on your warranty - if the changes are being made with the manufacture’s original engine you may potentially void your warranty;
- Because of your car being tuned you may experience cost of your car insurance coverage increased;
- The value of modified vehicle usually is less that the value of stock example. The reason for it is that you usually tune your car considering your own needs and desires that may not match with the specific tastes of potential buyers of your vehicle;
- The negative impact may be made by increasing car’s emissions and reduction in fuel economy;
- If there is an outside tuning, it can cause problems by making your car very noticeable to police and thieves.
What to do if it is not something that you expected?
Sometimes you may not feel good about the performance that your car shows that’s why another question that might be important to discuss is whether it is possible to get back to original settings after installing the performance chip.
And the answer is yes, the chip can be easily unplugged from your onboard computer and you will have your factory settings back without losing any of them. Your original settings are kept in the internal memory and in case you need them you just access and upload them to the computer.
Maybe one tuner is not enough for me?
Another thing that is important to mention is stacking. Basically, it is the process of combining two tuners on one vehicle.
The main point that you have to remember while doing it is that you can combine or programmer with chip or two chips together, it is not going to work if you try to stack two programmers with one another.
Stacking has to be done properly, because sometimes it is risky to connect two devices that are programmed to work independently. It is a usual thing that you run into communication conflicts between two devices, the can write over each other or even completely block all the communication. That’s why it is better to choose one device that will straight away satisfy all your needs.
How tuning will affect your wallet?
And also, the question of money – is it expensive to tune your car and how does if effect the cost of maintaining? As there are a lot of ways that you can modify your vehicle, there is no direct answer how much it is going to cost you. Talking about power programmers and performance chips they are electronic devices and as any other electronic devices you should not expect them to come cheap.
Depending on the type that you chose, they can cost anywhere between $200 and $500, as expected the tuners of top brands are going to be more expensive. If there is a question about cost of maintenance, usually tuners work for your benefit in this area.
Most the of tuners used today are performing their functions in order to make you feel safe in your vehicle. They can provide you with safety alerts while reading and clearing diagnostic trouble costs that helps you to cut down the maintenance cost. They also are able to check vital engine signals that can help you as a driver to respond to any crucial repair in time and not to allow the excessive damage.
As a conclusion it is possible to say that car tuning was always something that some people just loved and appreciated while other people just did not accept at all, saying that if the tuning was a good thing, factories would have done it in the first place, but the reality is that the factories have to follow the principle of standardization and they are tending to have the optimal balance between quality of what they produce and amount of money that they invest in this production.
So, most of the time tuning is not aimed to cause any damage to your vehicle and the reason why factories do not do it is that it is not cost-efficient enough for them.
As for the car owner it is always up to you – to stay with your factory settings or do some modifications to get the most of your vehicle.
Car tuning can significantly improve performance, capabilities and the look of your vehicle. Physical tuning, power programmers, performance chips – you can choose anything that can help you to feel great while driving.
You are able to do body tuning to improve aerodynamics, to change your shock absorbers to stiffer ones in order to make the dynamic weight shifting during cornering better or to choose any performance chip that you like for increasing your vehicle’s horsepower and having all the information about the condition of your engine that you might need.
Considering all pros and cons you are able to make the best choice without wasting your time and money. Keep in mind that there is a point of modifying your car only if it is in a good condition.
While thinking about tuning do not forget to check if the modifications that you would like to make are fully compatible with the model of car you have. Taking all that was said above into account it is even more than possible to find something that can be the right fit for you and that will satisfy all needs and wishes that you have.
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