Auto Tuning: Beginner's Guide to Performance Programmers for your Truck
Not T-Pain, but Peak Performance for your Truck
Looking for a way to get the most out of your engine? Want to improve your mileage per gallon quickly and without even popping the hood? Just hate that $%#@ing Active Fuel Management system and want a way to bypass it and buck the system? Or just curious what kinds of computer modifications you can do to your ECU (engine computer unit)? You should look into Performance Programmers (& on older models, pre-1996, Performance Chips). Whether you are a computer guy or not, these modifications are easy to install and implement. This beginner's guide to tuning your vehicle will show you just the beginnings of all you and your vehicle could accomplish with a Performance Programmer installed in your OBDII port.
Just in case you read that last line and went wait, what? Here's a pic of your OBDII port. It's generally located under the steering wheel and most of the devices we're about to discuss simply plug right into to this port here and work. Done and done!
Five Primary Functions
While many Performance Programmers can modify and monitor so many aspects of your vehicle's engine that it would be hard to write a single article covering them all, in general the most common uses are:
- Improve MPG (miles per gallon)
- Increase Torque & Horsepower (Vrrroom, vvvrrrrooommm!)
- Bypass AFM (Active Fuel Management) and MDS (Multi-Displacement System)
- Read DTCs (Diagnostic Trouble Codes)
- Reduce Throttle Response or Delay (Gun It, Bro!)
For more advanced uses, you'll have to dive head long into the Programmer community. Or maybe we'll do another advanced tuning article down the road.
Quick note: Tuning/tuner are interchangeable with programming/programmer.
Whether you pick up a top-of-the-line Performance Programmer with a touch screen display or a simple hard button handheld that you store in your glove box, the install is simple and easy. First read the instructions. These will likely tell you to update the device before you use it. For some models this just involves turning it on and connecting to WiFi. With others, you may have to download something on your computer. Once the update is completed, you plug the cord/cable into the OBDII Port under your steering wheel; then consult your Programmer; select your vehicle make, model, and year (or year range); and select the tuning you'd like to do/run. Most tuners will have a list of pre-programmed modes to select from. Looking to improve your gas mileage? Choose the mileage mode. Want to pull a titanic size trailer? Try the towing mode. Looking to crank out maximum horsepower? See if there is a racing or max performance mode. Want to just bypass that pesky AFM / MDS? See if there is a modified stock option or just disable AFM and MDS option. Regardless, it's that easy to use: select the mode you want. Follow the on-screen instructions. And you'll be ready to drive your newly tuned auto in no time. The big point here is it doesn't matter how much you know about computers, programming, or even the mechanics of the combustion engine. If you can plug one of these puppies in and hit a button, you can program your ECU to perform the way you want it to. It's that easy. TL;DR? Watch then as Big Tuna walks through the install of a Diablosport Predator 2 Tuner in the adjacent video!
Protecting Your Warranty
The biggest question we often field from customers regarding Performance Programmers is whether or not use of these products voids your warranty. The quick answer: nope, nada, not at all, no way. But let's say you are still concerned. Maybe you like to take your vehicle into the dealership for service or plan to sell or trade it in at some point and are worried the buyer/dealer will see that you've modded your ECU and freak out. Of course, if you're selling your sweet modded pickup to another truck enthusiast, this "freaking out" may be out of joy because this is exactly what the guy was looking for in his new ride. But let's assume for some reason you want to go back to stock. You can use similar steps to program or tune your vehicle back to stock in about 2 minutes. Done and done, right? Well, maybe you're wondering if the dealer or buyer will be able to tell that someone messed with the ECU even though it is now showing as stock again. Here's what they can determine without you telling them anything: some technical device has accessed the Engine Computer Unit. That's all they know. Keep in mind that this is the exact same code/info that shows up if you hook ANY diagnostic tool into your OBDII. So if you've ever taken your vehicle to a mechanic, or hooked up a diagnostic tool yourself at home or at your local auto parts shop, maybe even if you have one of those insurance provided monitors that tracks your speed and braking--all of these will likely show up in the exact same way, so there is no way to know that you ever changed your programming from stock once you revert.
These cartridges plug into your OBDII port and just do their job without any programming on your end. The Diablo Sprint, shown here, simply plugs in and disables your vehicle's stock AFM (Active Fuel Management) or MDS (Multi-Displacement System), giving you full access to all your cylinders for maximum performance. There are other modules that are designed to maximize your fuel efficiency or towing ability. If you are looking for the simplest of tuners that you really can't screw up as well as the cheapest programming option, check these out.
These tuners are plugged into your OBDII port using a cord. You then select what tune or program to load onto your ECU, modifying your stock settings to a preprogramed mode or a custom load out. You can then unplug the device and store it away in your glove compartment. Shown here is a Diablo InTune I3. Many customers like these handhelds because they offer plenty of customization as well as preset modes, and once you've tuned, they can be stored away from prying eyes.
Monitor or Gauge Monitor
These performance programmers typically come with a mount so you can display the gauge somewhere in your vehicle. These devices plug in using a cord and modify the ECU programming just like the handhelds, except that they continue to monitor various engine functions while you drive, often making minor adjustments to improve fuel economy or maximize torque or horsepower automatically. A popular model, the Edge Insight CTS2, shown above, is a great example of a monitor with a display. But if you wanted a monitor that can also tune, you'd check out Edge's Evolution or the Trinity T2 from DiabloSport for instance or even the Bully Dog Triple Dog or GT.
Increasing your MPGs
While lower end models of performance programmers, like plug-n-play modules and handhelds, often have preprogrammed economy modes designed to increase your miles per gallon by adjusting fuel consumption and improving efficiency, higher end gauge tuners are where this function really shines. However, if you really want to maximize your fuel economy, top-of-the-line fully-featured monitor tuners include a built in efficiency tracker, that teaches you when to drive more economically on those long highway drives, for instance. From personal experience, using one of these efficiency gauges on my own ride, I was able to increase my miles per gallon by about 33%! Looking to add 7+ miles per gallon to your fuel economy? A performance programmer can help. While you think that this increase in MPGs will mean a decrease in horsepower, this isn't necessarily the case. These devices, since they remain plugged in while you are operating the truck, can monitor and make adjustments on the fly. Many customers prefer products like the Bully Dog Diesel GT, above, or the DiabloSport Trinity T2 EX Platinum, right/below, since they allow for this optimized performance and yet at the touch of a button (or on some models, the touch of your accelerator) you can crank out the much needed horsepower you want to gun it off the line (or the stoplight, the second she turns green). This versatility gives you the ultimate amount of control over your vehicle--giving you what you want when you need it.
You can see how over time a device like this pays for itself. And we haven't even talked about the ability to diagnosis DTCs yourself and make repairs in your home garage.
Maximizing Torque & Horsepower
We already mentioned the ability to program into a maximized tow mode. Again on these gauge tuners, not only is this possible, but you can also monitor additional elements of your vehicle such as engine and transmission temperatures. Some models, like the Bully Dog GT Diesel or Edge Insight CTS2 Programmer, will even automatically shift into the appropriate tow mode, for instance, when you're pulling your boat and suddenly you hit that really steep hill. This helps to prevent unnecessary strain on your engine, increases fuel economy, and adjusts torque and horsepower as necessary. Want to go off-road or just like to really get on it like an amateur street racer? You can adjust into a mode that maximizes horsepower and torque.
Throttle Response Time Minimized
Speaking of, if you hate that second it takes for your truck to start to move when you put your foot on the gas, most tuners offer a mode or setting, such as Bully Dog's Low End Power adjustment, which minimizes Throttle Response Time by increasing your throttle sensitivity. Like to be pressed into your seat when you accelerate? Try this setting out!
Bypassing Active Fuel Management and MDS
All of these functions bypass the dreaded AFM and MDS. While you may think that preventing your engine from kicking down to 4 cylinders from all 8 will decrease your fuel economy, this is not necessarily true. After all, if you are accelerating a lot, this downshift may actually decrease your MPGs, since 4 cylinders just aren't powerful enough to give you that get up and go feeling or to push you up a hill. Disabling AFM / MDS may increase fuel economy for you.
Diagnostic Trouble Codes
An additional feature of most performance tuners is that they can also read DTCs. If you've ever had that pesky Check Engine Light come on, then you know the pain of paying your mechanic or running over to your local auto parts store just to get the code only to find out you're low on windshield wiper fluid. Fun times! Now you can check these codes yourself as soon as the warning light kicks on and decide if this is the kind of maintenance or repair you can take care of yourself in your own home garage or something more serious that requires a trip to the dealer or mechanic. This could save you some much needed cash on repair and diagnostic costs, especially if you consider yourself an amateur (or pro) mechanic or do all of your vehicle maintenance yourself. Furthermore, you can use these devices to reset certain warning lights and alarms. For instance, you could use your Bully Dog Triple Dog GT Gas to program your lights to a Police Mode that allows your exterior and interior lights to be off when the door is opened or make a certain buzzer go off when you are trying to lock the door wirelessly if one of the doors is still open. Or if you are like a certain friend of mine, it may even be possible to turn off that annoying buckle seatbelt alarm and warning light, though we would never recommend you do such a thing here at Midwest Aftermarket. Seatbelts are the law, after all. And we would never recommend you do anything that doesn't comply with local law enforcement. Then again, it is your truck...
If you live or plan to move to California, this part could be important. Turns out that the California Air Resource Board (or CARB, for short) takes issue with certain vehicle mods involving adjustments to your ECU. In other words, not all Performance Programmers are legal in the State of California. This is due to Cali's strict air emissions laws regarding vehicles. If a product is not CARB certified, we can't sell it to you if you live in California, and trust us, its nothing personal. Just following the rules and regulations. However, we offer a wide variety of CARB Certified Tuners. When in doubt, if you are a Cali resident, give our friendly customer service team a call and ask if the programer you are considering ordering is CARB Certified. Once you get your Programmer, you should keep your CARB Certificate, provided in the box, in your glove compartment or displayed somewhere on your vehicle so you can produce it if ever necessary. Compliance (or was it ownership) is 9/10ths of the law, right? Or something like that. Oh, & remember that "Protecting Your Warranty" section above. Yeah, read that section over one more time, just for funsies!
A Brief Introduction to Tuning
What a mouth-full, I mean, long-winded piece, er... beginner's guide! Hard to believe that after all that, we've still barely scratch the surface of what some of these Performance Programmers can do. Want to play with when your interior lights come on? Wish you could have your daytime running lights on all the time--even at night? Wish all your vehicle doors unlocked from the key fob when you pressed the "unlock" button just once? Chances are there is a tuner out there that can do all of this and more. With the increased electronic components of your modern day vehicles, the adjustments made possible via a Performance Programmer grow each and every year. Most of our customers initially buy their first Tuner for one of the reasons discussed above, such as improved gas mileage, increased torque/horsepower, the ability to disable AFM, access to DTCs, and/or increased throttle sensitivity. But once you get started, you may find that the ease of using a Tuner leads you to a desire to further modify not only your ECU but also the rest of your vehicle. No matter what you plan to mod next, we've got you covered here at Midwest Aftermarket. Get started with tuning your auto today! We've got everything from a simple module to the CTS2 performance gauge tuners.
Custom Tune your Ride!
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