The Tooner Phenomena

Now I am sure this is going to ruffle some feathers and some might even dust off their pitchforks — so be it. It has to be said — living and breathing cars, modifications and tunes day in and day out you see some outrageous things come your way. I am going to break it down into two simple categories — food for thought and enthusiast beware.

The Expert Tooner

This is the guy that has a shop or works for a shop — they have a dyno and you would think they would know how to use it. In fact, some of them do know how to use it very well, and the break down begins with the fact they understand very little, if nothing at all, about EFI tuning and/or the engine management software they are using. Hell, they might even be working at a shop that has a stellar reputation!

They are able to post up amazing numbers on said dyno, but the vehicle will just run terrible either the moment it leaves, or a couple days later. When the car comes back to them — they cannot figure out the source of the problem and will at times chase mechanical gremlins that do not exist.

One prime example of this is a customer with a 2012-2015 Civic Si — said customer had some work done at his location and the vehicle posted up absurd power figures on pump gas (93 octane) — nearly 500hp. Anyone who has any experience with that platform will raise an eyebrow — maybe it’s possible? Highly unlikely with how knock prone those motors are. But hey, the customer was initially quite happy with the numbers — and then the bad news. After a couple of days the car would be completely gutless, and any attempts to have that behavior remedied kept failing.

He finally got a hold of me and we went over what was going on — turns out he was an existing customer of mine that had a tune for his car whnegative_timingen it just had bolt ons. After reviewing his turbo datalogs, it turns out it was running 17-18psi of boost and -2 to -6 degrees of timing (yes, NEGATIVE). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out this does NOT make power. In fact — it makes about a whopping 200 horsepower with all that boost, not anywhere NEAR the claimed dyno figures.

And yet it continues to get worse — part throttle closed loop feedback was disabled, the primary O2 sensor completely disabled, VTEC point untuned, VTC mapping completely untouched. No excuse for any of these items to be the way they were — so where was the break down? Upon inspection of the actual calibration — the tune file was basically nothing more than the calibration for his vehicle with simple bolt on parts. Quite literally the injector scalar (how big the fuel injector is) was adjusted and the fuel map was roughly skewed upwards in boost — nothing else in the calibration was setup anywhere close to how a turbo calibration should be done to get a reliably running vehicle. You read that right — he was running MY N/A tune on his car with a turbo. You can imagine how well that works.

So how did it make power on the dyno? Quite simply — with every flash of the ECU its “learned” parameters were reset and under boost the motor was seeing effectively naturally aspirated ignition timing. Wait, won’t this cause detonation? Absolutely — this platform does not have active knock feedback logic, only having a very slowly learned correction (which works poorly on modified vehicles to begin with) and the motor will definitely make power.

So the sum of his “expert” tune was nothing more than a couple of hits on the dyno with a calibration that was ripped (stolen) off the FlashPro when the vehicle came in for work to be done.

But a couple days later — the ECU goes limp mode to protect the engine. In this case — the owner of the vehicle was very lucky. We dialed the boost back to 11-12psi and tuned the car properly and it hasn’t had a problem ever since.

The Noob Tooner

You know who I am talking about here — they are all over social media and online forums. They will make you promises and whisper sweet nothings via private messaging systems to get your attention and make your wallet a little bit lighter. I have seen examples of them even claiming:

  • Tune just like “so-so” (enter tuner name here) for the same amount of $$$.
  • It’ll be just as good or better than “so-so”.
  • “So-so” is terrible and they’re better.

What skills, experience and accomplishments do they actually have? Well it’s quite simple:

  • They purchased a laptop.
  • Downloaded some free software.
  • And in many cases: stole a base file they are now using as their “source of truth”.

Yup — that’s right: all it takes to claim to be a tuner extraordinaire on the internet is a laptop and the ability to transform drivel that would normally flow through their lips into text via their fingers rapidly clacking away at their laptop keyboard.

Even better — in many cases they’ve even purchased a tune for their own vehicle from an established tuner. This has happened so many times I have lost count — I am more than happy to share examples with the reader privately.

But you bet they will be all over the internet trying to snag their next victim — sometimes advertising their services, sometimes trying to stay under the radar and snag their victims via the amazing stories they like to tell via private message.

And at the end of the day — they have little to no experience (you will see stuff like “I tuned my car”, “I tuned all my friends”) and no accomplishments of any kind. Of course they will claim that they “have to start somewhere”. Anyone sign their vehicle up as R&D when they paid for a tuning service?

Amazingly enough — they will always have someone “vouch” for them and their “skills”.

So What?

This is a vicious cycle — I’ve seen it so much that I just shrug and let our business and our work speak for itself.

But be warned — the tooners of the world will throw timeslips, dyno sheets and vouches at you all day long and in their minds it gives them completely credibility. Sure — going fast and big numbers are fun, but it paints a very poor picture of any experience or ability to tune a car properly to do anything beyond that. When you have a vehicle you need to drive day in and day out, there is a lot more that goes into setting up a tune than dyno numbers and time slips.

The goal is to hopefully share some insight with the reader and maybe prevent another case of Tooner Attacks. Ultimately it is up to every enthusiast to do their own research — and I encourage you all to do so.

2012+ Honda Civic Si RBC Intake Manifold Test

Introduction

There has been an ongoing debate about the pro’s and con’s of swapping the 8th gen Civic Si intake manifold onto the 9th gen Civic Si without any real concrete testing. Just butt dyno reviews, bromancing and numbers being thrown around with no context. So basically your average day on an enthusiast discussion board.

We’ll be having none of that here — I requested a 2012+ Civic Si that had a Full Race exhaust and Full Race 3″ catless downpipe, running the stock intake as our “base” to start from. We also got the the PRL SRI for the stock IM & RBC so that testing would stay consistent — and we tested the PRL SRI before installing the RBC IM.

So in short the testing involves:

  • PRL SRI on stock intake manifold.
  • RBC intake manifold w/ PRL SRI (to see difference over stock manifold).
  • ZDX throttle body.

Now the ground rules are simple:

  • The vehicle must be fully retuned after each major modification change on the vehicle.
  • No “snorkel modding” the intake out of the engine bay to artificially reduce intake air temps (reducing air temps will indeed increase HP — the goal of this test isn’t to show you this). The goal is consistent and realistic testing (particularly to demonstrate differences from mod to mod).
  • Two to three pulls are done on the “final” tune to ensure the engine has “settled” and the pulls are consistent between attempts — maintaining this requirement ensures comparisons between the various mods we are testing are consistent.

Long and productive Saturday: eight hours without the car leaving the shop dyno and over 70 dyno pulls later, we had concluded testing.

Now on to the results.


 

Stock tune vs VitTuned

stockintakeThis is how the car came in today. Equipped only with the Full Race 3″ Exhaust and Full Race 3″ catless downpipe.

stock_vs_tuned_stockintake_im

I baselined the car on the stock tune and we got just shy of 180whp (the dyno baselines 162-165whp for a bone stock 2012 Si). Not bad at all for two simple exhaust bolt ons. The stock intake had been retained and this example demonstrated why I recommend keeping the stock intake if you can’t afford FlashPro/Tuning yet — the car actually runs mostly OK with the factory airbox on the vehicle. Obviously doesn’t make “best power” for the mods, but the car drives and performs well day to day.

I proceeded to fully tune the car — and the power went up nicely with a cleaner power curve throughout the rev range, stopping just shy of 190whp — with gains of 11-14whp through the top end over the factory tune.


 

Stock intake vs PRL SRI

prlsri_stockimI proceeded to install the PRL Motorsports short ram intake (SRI) on the vehicle. Fitment was perfect and install of the SRI was a breeze — requiring only a couple of basic tools.prl_sri_vs_stock_intake_stockim

Back to the laptop I went and more tuning commenced. I was pleasantly surprised by the solid low end gains from 1700 rpm til 2500 rpm — as much as 12 ft lbs of torque to the wheels will definitely be something you can feel during normal stop and go driving. Slight loss from 2750 rpm to 3000 rpm though — nothing major. And no real gains until after ~ 5700 rpm, with a maximum of 4.5whp was had from 6750 rpm til 7000 rpm. Not a bad gain for a simple mod — I’ve seen much worse performance from some intakes on this platform (worse than stock intake at times).


 

And now the RBC intake manifold!

prlsri_rbcimOn to what we’ve all been waiting for! I dug back into the engine bay and worked on installing the RBC intake manifold PRL graciously supplied for testing — as well as their adapter for the kit. This install is a bit more involved than the SRI and required a larger variety of tools — and about 2-3 hours of shop time to install.

Once the intake manifold was on, the RBC IM version of PRL’s SRI was bolted up and the coolant system was burped. This step is very important — the coolant system must be properly burped. I’ve had customers send me datalogs with 280 degree Fahrenheit coolant temps after doing work on the car that involved draining the coolant system — which just guarantees a blown head gasket and very costly repair. I recommend using this kit, or something similar, to assist with purging the coolant system of all air: Spill-Free Funnel.

Back to the laptop I went for another session with the Hondata rbc_vs_stockim_prlsri_on_bothFlashPro. And here are the results!

  • Below 2100 rpm there is as much as 12 ft lbs of torque lost when using the RBC intake manifold.
  • From 2100 to 3500 rpm there are minor torque gains (1-6wtq) when using the RBC intake manifold.
  • From 3650 rpm until 5750 rpm there is nothing but bad news when using the RBC intake manifold — as much as 15 ft lbs of torque lost!
  • After 6200 rpm is some good news — we begin to see minor gains, based on “peak” numbers, we only got a 6whp gain using the RBC.
  • At ~7150 rpm there is a 7whp gain.
  • At 7500 rpm there is a 11whp gain.

So what can we gather from this? There is a hefty trade off when using this intake manifold on the 2012+ Civic Si. You are basically sacrificing a lot of mid/low end for a powerband that carries better after 6000 rpm.

So pick your poison: what are you using the car for?

Racing? Then technically speaking this car will be a bit faster when keeping the revs above 6000 rpm.

Daily driven stop and go “fun” car? The torque with the stock IM might benefit you more.

The choice is yours — as with everything in life, we do what we do with our toys for our own pleasure and enjoyment.


 

Wait, let’s make a joke and put a huge TB (ZDX/J37) on the car and see what happens?

zdxtb_on_rbcimNow I really have no idea how TB swaps got so popular on bolt on motors. The simple fact is this — items like throttle bodies, injectors (yes I’m looking at the guys claiming RDX injectors are necessary with an RBC IM swap), etc, are nothing more than SUPPORTING modifications, and ONLY benefit you when the motor has a flow requirement that is now surpassed by the items on the car. To say the stock 9th gen throttle body is a restriction on a bolt on 9th is simply a JOKE. The following comparison demonstrates as much. For the marginal gains (1hp) that is had up top with the TB, as much if not more is lost in the mid/low end.

But so and so put a TB on and it pulls so hard…. sorry, please schedule an appointment to have the butt dyno re-calibrated.

Hopefully this has been an insightful test for us all.


 

What’s all this cost?

  • RBC Bored to 70mm for ZDX and CNC Bored for 9th gen injectors – $420
  • PRL RBC Adapter Kit – $135
  • ZDX TB (when purchased as kit option from PRL) – $220
  • PRL SRI – $200
  • Shop labor (if not installing on your own) — 3-4 hours ($240-$320 here)

 

I’d like to give a big thanks to PRL Motorsports for supplying us with all the goodies for this test.

Thanks Ernesto for supplying the test vehicle — enjoy the mods and the tune!

K Series Mapping: Why so many revisions for a proper map?

A question I get very frequently here at VitTuned. The short answer is very simple: do you want it done right, or do you want it done fast (and lazy)?

For the long and descriptive answer, let’s take a look at an example of a Hondata FlashPro (same idea with Hondata KPro and KTuner maps) map. The heart of the tune is the ignitcammapion, fuel & cam angle mapping, with the proper VTEC point being the final slice of pie.

The following graphic depicts these basics — but the thing to note is there are actually *10* ignition and *10* fuel maps, at various break points. So now at the very heart of the tune are 10 of each of the “big ones” (ignition/fuel) that need to be properly mapped for the vehicle & its modifications.

Now we can begin to understand why so much work — not only do you have to do all the individual mapping, you then have to combine it for a “final” fully tuned map, adding in any further tweaks necessary to smooth out the motor’s operation as well as doing any necessary part throttle tuning whimapsle the power tuning has been going on.

To the right is a screenshot of how many “revisions” a proper all motor map involves — this was a tune done in person on the shop Dynapack dyno. Every log is either a WOT pull or load based part throttle mapping while the vehicle was on the pack. Took about 34 “revisions” (IE, changes to the tune before more logging & testing was done).

This is how I do every tune, every single one. Whether it’s your basic stock K series vehicle or highly modified turbo built motor beast. Do it right, or don’t bother doing it at all.

I’ve seen some claim they tune like I do — short story is they may try to duplicate, but they can never replicate.

Let’s dig a little bit deeper.

The most important thing to note is the fuel mapping — on a setup that breaths very well there can be as much as a 30-40% difference in fueling between the 0 degree cam break point and the 50 degree cam break point. Even if you set up the cam angle map to have a mostly “fixed” cam angle map — guess what? The cam still moves, it’s a simple mechanism that’s powered by oil pressure — not to mention the phasing between the high cam and low cam (VTEC on and VTEC off) maps. Then what happens if the ECU ever limp modes for any reason? It will default to the 0 degree maps in the ECU during fail safe scenarios.

So let’s take for example a map where every single cam break point is the *exact* same, they are identical or very nearly so. Or fuel maps that were put together with no thought — I have yet to see a single K series motor that will demand the exact same fuel at every break point. In three words — it is impossible. As the cam angle moves, the VE (volumetric efficiency) of the motor changes, and as a result the fueling demand drastically changes which is then depicted in a map with properly tuned fueling.

Now what happens in this scenario? The cam will phase, the motor’s fueling demand will change, and you’ll start to experience some drivability concerns — some hesitation there, some weird lag here. What if the ECU limp modes? You’re left with a potentially undriveable (if not unsafe to drive) vehicle.

I’ve heard several excuses for lazy K series mapping — “AEM doesn’t  do it like this” (or insert “Blah blah stand alone doesn’t do it like this”) or “you’re obviously getting your information from someone who’s never seen anything but Hondata”. That is by far some of the worst excuses I’ve seen for laziness on this specific platform. And to break some hearts — I tune over a dozen different engine management systems. Simple fact is — you tune Hondata like Hondata, AEM like AEM, SCT like SCT, HPTuners like HPTuners, etc. Every EMS has it’s intricacies — you learn them all, or in my opinion, don’t bother touching it if you don’t have the motivation to do it right to begin with.

So I’ll leave you with that — you can have fast & lazy, or done right (but takes a bit more work). Ultimately it’s the customer’s money paying for the work & experience they’d like to receive.