I’m The Best Tooner In The World!

Because I made X amount of power or I made Y amount more power than Joe Bob Smith!

Now that I have your attention, it’s time to get serious.

This blog has been a bit quiet since I’ve been busying moving into the new shop, getting the new 4WD dyno setup operational and all that MoTeC development (more on that another day… you guys following our FB, YouTube & Instagram have probably seen some of it)!

What I wanted to discuss and address today is a small scope of what “tuning” is and what role “making power” plays into it — with some practical examples.

What is Tuning?

A lot of people bring their car in or buy a tune and want to make more power. I have to break it to you — this is the lowest form of tuning. A trained monkey can run a car on a dyno, smash on their laptop and make the dyno graph go up. None of this is any indication the actual calibration (“tune”) was done properly or any intelligent decisions were made.

That’s the biggest part of it — using the dyno (or datalogs, or street, however you’re doing the tune) as a TOOL to make intelligent decisions about how you are going to leave a motor running long term.

Today’s example is brought to you buy a 2013 Civic Si w/ just a Takeda intake. The vehicle runs quiet enough that you can very easily distinguish any scary situations (knock especially) and isn’t so radical that pushing the motor a bit too much will cause damage from a few test pulls (the Honda community has long been spoiled by very strong motors that take abuse for a long time before going BOOM).

Making Power

Something I’ve iterated to people over and over — parts make power. The tune wraps it all up and an intelligent tune will leave the car running SAFE and reliable for a long time. Can a tune make power? You bet. Will a tune make power? Sure. Will the tune make power SAFELY? Um…

I love having our Dynapack at my disposal — I can make minute changes in the tune and see the difference. So let’s take a look at a practical example of making power safely.

All the fueling and VTC were already tuned up to this point and we’re in the “sweet spot” here. On this initial graph we also found a power curve (for the sake of a concise discussion we’re just sticking to the top end of the power curve) t1_morehat’s what we can call “clean” — dyno says the curve is clean, ECU is reporting no knock, and your senses are telling you all is OK. This is the solid curve in the next two graphs and we’ll call it our “baseline“. So let’s try a minuscule change — 1 degree more ignition timing. Hm.. looks like we found 2-3 more hp (dashed curves). But wait… it also knocked on this pull, not only via the knock detection in the ECU — but your ears hear it too. But it’s making power — sure not a lot, but it’s making power!1_less

Well, let’s go the other direction — let’s try 1 degree less. Interesting — now we’re making 2-3 hp less (as much as 4hp less) than our “baseline”.  So if we factor in the “gains” we saw in the previous test, that means we’re now down about 5-6hp on “max power”. Hm… how about we go back to our “baseline” and 1_less_finalgive it a short cooldown (as the engine got a little heat soaked during tuning — this is normal and expected during a session). We’ll compare this pull to our “1 degree less than baseline” pull which arguably for most people is “safe” (more on that later…). and what do we see now? Well crap, we’re down like 6-8hp in some areas. This is a lot of power N/A, especially for a car with just an intake!!! Right? RIGHT?

Wrong.

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.

This is were some intelligence and decision making comes in. Effectively what we’ve found with just those three pulls is the knock limit, actual audible knock and a spot just under the knock limit. We’ve also proven that you can absolutely make power  while knocking, or at the knock limit, and a small cooldown will make a few more HP.

Keep in mind this is all done in a controlled environment — our conditions have not changed during the session. We’re not seeing varying loads or acceleration rates (someone doing a hard pull getting onto the freeway or down the straight on a road course…). We’re definitely not seeing extreme weather swings (super cold to super hot). What makes “best power” and is “clean” on a dyno today, may be beating the motor up tomorrow… what about if it gets to triple digits outside and the intake is pulling charge temps into the 140*F? Does this change how the motor runs? Does this impact how the tune should “adjust” or “adapt” to these conditions? Absolutely — in fact I have yet to see a single ECU that doesn’t let you build in compensations to ensure the engine runs safe in all conditions. Does this affect the power the motor makes? Absolutely, you can see radical swings in power!

So ask yourself, where SHOULD you leave the motor running? Should you leave it right at the knock limit simply because it didn’t knock in the datalog and your ears didn’t hear any (not every car will be quiet enough for you to hear detonation…). Or is a safe point going to be somewhere that might be what we consider “leaving a lot on the table”?

Hell I only showed the difference two degrees makes… and this may not even be the “safe” spot to leave the car at long term. What if it’s 3-4 degrees of timing under absolutely max power? How much are we “leaving on the table”? Is this necessary to ensure the motor is safe for what the owner of the car is going to be doing?

My job as a reputable tuner is to leave the car running safe for years to come — in all the elements and any conditions. So I know what I would do, and I know exactly why I do what I do.

The Dyno Phenomena

This brings up an interesting point — people get blinded so much by peak power figures on a dyno sheet that they forget what tuning is for. A dyno is a tool and not there so you can race your dyno sheet — it’s a tool to get a job done. You can always “make more power” when loading a car on the dyno, any dyno. Only an incompetent tuner will leave a car running on the knock limit. But hey, if they do — a little while later it was just “bad fuel” that got you, right?

There’s a difference between a proper and correct tune — and “making power”. You’re not uncovering Egypt’s secrets by “making power”. So sad, right?

Bro You’re Running Rich!

I love this topic — it’s probably one of the most common online aside from people racing their dyno sheets online and arguing about “bro that’s low you should be making X power”. LOL.

Yes, LOL.

Although there IS a point where it’s too rich — all motors have a “sweet spot” they like to run in as far as fueling under full load (dependingfueling on fuel). Here’s an example that shows the motor run at 12.2 AFR, 12.8 AFR and 13.5 AFR (roughly). Note the torque curves on the left… almost identical. Fuel curves on the right graph. The timing map remained the same on all 3 pulls, as did VTC. Only variable changed was fueling used. On the orange plot (13.5 afr) we had some light ping — which again did not affect power output.

So what fueling would you run?

Trolls Go Round And Round

What appears to be the one absolute and unsurprising fact in this industry — someone is always out to try to take a bite out of you. Or try to get their friends to come after you so they are not seen as participating. What is surprising (or maybe amusing?) is how they like to come at you at times. It would be a much more entertaining read if they had some understanding about the things they were frantically smashing into their keyboards. Unfortunately — it’s quite clear they have little to no experience in anything but slinging mud. I cannot help but just shake my head and go back to helping my customers paying for my time.

Fortunately, I had the time and opportunity to bring up a few examples — had a 2014 Civic Si on the dyno to tune and it turned out to be a chance to touch base on the results of tuning a stock 9th gen Civic as I still get asked about it a lot.

Oh That VTC Mapping Is Such Shit!

This one really gets me. When someone doesn’t understand why something in a tune was done the way it was — it’s clearly shit. Their first reaction is to grab their pitchforks and torches when it should be to pause and analyse why something was done the way it was.  I see this attitude frequently and can only wonder if someone like this would ever take any advice or constructive criticism thatuned_vtct could help? If something is truly “shit”, lay out why in intelligent fashion — and no, not just a dyno sheet or 3hp. Or switching gears on the dyno and claiming you made power with your “tune” when all you’ve done is introduce another variable that just made any use of the baseline invalid. We’ve made 6hp on some 9th gens just by letting it sit and cool off . Not even the best troll attempt I’ve seen — but cute, I guess?

A truly good example is a tuned VTC map — particularly the low cam (non-VTEC). Low cam was tuned to determine the best cam advance, and then high cam was tuned to determine the best cam advance. Finally the transition was optimized to provide the best curve possible when going into VTEC during a full throttle pull. Optimal power at 5000 rpm out of VTEC was with 5* VTC — however it was 35* VTC in VTEC at 5000 rpm for optimal power. So what happens when VTEC engages and you have such a large VTC transition? The VTC system is still at 5* and the motor makes less than optimal power until the cam has a chance to move to 35* VTC. As a result the transition was optimized by a very short and quick snap from 8* at 4900 rpm to 32* at 5000 rpm while VTEC is still off — a very smooth transition when at WOT and no loss of power is seen or felt. If you don’t see this difference on tvtec_diphe dyno — time to replace your piece of shit roller (hah, I just went there).

What does this look like on the dyno? The graph at the left illustrates this. Solid lines are horsepower and torque with the VTEC “pre-phasing” trick done, dashed lines are without. Pretty obvious torque dip at VTEC, right?

Wait, if this is so good, why are you telling everyone about it? Because this is not a secret. When the K series first came out Hondata pioneered this trick and published it publicly for EVERYONE to use. The irony here is — very few use it, and even less understand why. It’s a better idea to just go on the Internet and make it obvious you’ve done like two Honda K series vehicles and now you’re an expert? More like wet behind the ears.

Hold on, it gets better… you know even *Honda* uses this trick now? Juhonda_vtcst look closely at the stock Honda 9th gen tune. For the two seconds it takes to see it — it’s not tough. They didn’t use this on the RSX’s or the 8th gens — and their use of it is very subtle on the 9th gen.

I’ll be Mr. Nice Guy — to the right is the stock 9th gen VTC map. Note the values at 5000 rpm at full throttle — they go back up slightly in anticipation of the VTEC crossover (which is 25 at 5000 rpm in VTEC on the stock Honda tune) — the only difference is they didn’t use a 4900 RPM break point as they really don’t care if the car loses 4hp across 500 rpm worth of power from running 7-9 degrees too much VTC (I guess they haven’t met the experts on the internet yet?). Yes, Honda intentionally mapped the motor this way — there is absolutley no reason to bring the VTC back up in an area it naturally wants to taper down to keep making power on the low cam.

Shocking, I know.

I Did Such And Such And Made More Power

LOL.

Let me repeat.

LOL.

Tuning is about so much more than making power. I have customers with 150k+ miles on their turbo vehicles. I also have a dyno at the shop readily at my disposal. I know what makes power — in fact I use the dyno not only for tuning customer’s vehicles and builds at the shop, but as an R&D tool and apply what I discover into our eTunes to help deliver reliable cars for customers around the world.

Part of tuning is making decisions and judgement calls that will ultimately determine a setup is reliable long term — or not. In varying conditions year round — that the tune has to take into consideration and adjust for. This is why people go to reputable and experienced tuners, instead of a random guy offering you tunes for $50? Right? Maybe I’m wrong, what do I know?

So About That Stock 9th Gen?

I’ve posted several comparisons of stock 9th gens. I always answer — yes there are benefits, it will make a bit more power, and the power will be more consistent.

Here is the simple and visual example of this. The engine coolant temps (ECT) where 185-188 degrees F and intake air temps were 59-60 degress F on the stock tune baselines. Yes, I made sure these were consistent to avoid any extra variables when doing the comparison — if you’re paying someone 60 bucks for 3 baseline pulls I can tell you with absolute certainty they are not paying attention and simply don’t care. Yes it does matter — I’ve had customers datalog their baselines and in some situations there’s not even a dyno fan on the car — I’ve seen 20-30 degree difference in ECT (180 and 210…) and even a 30-40 degree swing in air temps between pulls. If someone thinks it “doesn’t matter” — they should not claim to be any kind of EFI tuning specialist.

Astock_comparisonnyway… stock pulls. Three pulls with consistent conditions. Left graph is torque, right graph is horsepower. Quite the difference on the top end right? 10-12 HP swing in some spots. Yes, the stock Honda tune is very inconsistent in it’s power delivery — and no it is not the “knock control” as some would make you believe. The simple answer is just this: emissions.

Ncomparisonow four (yes four) pulls with consistent conditions — 185-188 degree ECT and 68-70 degree IAT. A negligible .5-1.2hp swing. Virtually nothing. This is on a dyno that is accurate to .1hp (no, a roller dyno does not nearly have this kind of accuracy — having a wheel/tire on the car can cause a 2-4hp swing).

finalAnd as every tuner in the world loves to do and not tell everyone… we overlay the highest “tuned” graph with the lowest “baseline” graph. This behavior should come as no surprise — as a ton of “tuners” make a living off nothing more than the way their dyno reads (big numbers sell tunes and that means you’re the best right? Hm… I’ve got some graphs I can post… no, I probably shouldn’t go there).

final_bestWhat’s it look like if you overlay the best “tuned” and the best “baseline”? Pretty good gains still.

And now I’ve run out of thinks to rant about…

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.

Tested: Full Race Catless Downpipe for 2012+ Civic Si

A frequent question that gets asked is “What downpipe makes power on my 9th gen?” I have gotten in the habit of simply directing people to Full Race Motorsport’s website as we use their catless downpipe & exhaust on our supercharged vehicle, and I know the setup makes power.

Now here’s empirical evidence that it does.

Philippe was down at the shop and had us install the Full Race catless downpipe before I tuned his 2012 Civic Si. The vehicle came in with the following modifications on it already:

  • Invidia Q300 Exhaust
  • HPS Intake Hose
  • K&N Drop in Filter

Now from previous baselines of completely stock 2012 Si’s, I know they do about 160-164whp on our shop Dynapack. Before we installed the downpipe we baselined the car as it arrived. Sure enough, it did about 162whp with the power curve I’m used to seeing on a stock 2012 Si. This leads me to make the following conclusions:

  • The HPS intake hose and K&N drop in filter do absolutely nothing. Pretty pointless modifications and honestly a rip off (spend your money elsewhere).
  • The Invidia Q300 is a nice sounding exhaust, as always, but does not make any power, at least not without a tune. Maybe this will change with a tune?

We installed the catless downpipe, and put the car back on the Dynapack and randp_vs_nodp a couple more baseline pulls on the stock tune. The results are as follows — solid line is with the downpipe installed, dashed is before the downpipe.

We netted as much as +10whp and +10wtq from simply installing the downpipe. That’s a sizable gain for a simple modification.

tuned_dpNow let’s throw a good tune on the car… and the results are as follows. Solid line is fully tuned, dashed line is our baseline with the downpipe installed. The tune netted as much as +12wtq in spots and as much as +18whp on the top end.

dp_tuned_vs_nodpWhat’s this look like over the original baseline before the downpipe was installed? Here you go. Netting almost +30whp in spots with a downpipe and tune on the top end. Sizable gains, the part worked well and the tune brought it all together.

How does the exhaust factor into the power curve? Until I do a fair comparison of an exhaust swap on the car I can’t say with absolute certainty. However, we do know what other parts do make power already — A CAI nets 4-5whp, which would put this car around ~190whp, which is about 3-4hp shy of what the average 2012 Si maxes out with using bolt ons on this Dynapack dyno. So to make an educated deduction — an exhaust may net 3-4hp and maybe some mid range torque due to the ability to adjust the variable valve timing on the motor. It also seems that a 3″ exhaust would be the way to net any power at all, and anything smaller may not net any gains. With the integrated exhaust manifold design on the 9th gen cylinder head, the gains we’re used to seeing with a 3″ exhaust on previous K series engines don’t really hold true on the K24Z7.

Safe to say — if you want PROVEN performance, a good catless downpipe (Full Race works well as I’ve shown) and a good tune will get you 95% of what you’re going to get N/A with bolt ons. A cold air intake will net some power as well — and the exhaust is a wash at this point it seems.

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.