Tuners vs Tooners

It has been a while since I’ve posted a good rant as I have been busy hitting the ground running in 2017. Kevin’s 9th gen Civic Si is alive and laying down some solid power with our MoTeC programming and we’ve done a lot of testing (lots in the background beyond the power/tuning figures I posted) on the new CivicX platform. We also have a project I’m really looking forward to coming into the shop soon — a certain yellow Chevelle we’re converting to fuel injection and building a MoTeC ECU for a twin turbo 76mm setup. More 9th and 8th gen Si’s coming in for MoTeC installs as well…

More on that stuff later as it progresses… on to the rant.

My Tuner Is Legit

You know we’ve all heard this one — but when they tag their tuner, no one’s ever heard of that one.

Not to say that automatically implies the said person isn’t a magician at their trade. But the reality and years in this business has made me a skeptic. I’ve been sent plenty of datalogs to review where the owner thought the car “drove fine” where in reality it was not even remotely close and was improved on significantly. It just exemplifies the ignorance when it comes to what a “properly tuned car” is. And really, the average enthusiast/car owner/racer shouldn’t really have to care or worry about it — it is in fact not their job to set the ECU up properly. They are paying for it to be done right.

Tuning

I feel like a broken record on this one point, as this argument comes up a lot. Tuning isn’t just about power. YOU CAN ALWAYS MAKE MORE POWER. Either with better parts, better fuel, or running the motor harder (the “tune”). In some of those scenarios you’re in a situation where you are going to trade off “more power” for reliability. And a dyno is a tool — it was not invented so we can go around racing the dyno sheets and arguing about “making power”. It’s a tool designed to let the operator run tests and make CONSCIOUS DECISIONS about how they are going to CHOSE to run a motor — and this will vary depending on the venue the car is used in.

The “basics” of tuning an engine, any engine, is mostly the same from platform to platform, car to car. Fuel injection is fuel injection, whether it’s port or direct — there are some differences, obviously, but the concepts of fueling & ignition timing (then throw in cam timing) do not really vary from engine to engine. If you can tune one engine on one platform, you can tune another engine on another platform.

Can’t Be That Hard Then?

So where does the complexity arise? The ECU’s themselves. This is where the platforms start to vary and the actual work, experience & knowledge start to come in to play. The way Honda does things in the ECU is different from how Ford does it which is different from how Subaru does it which is different from how Toyota does it which is different from how Chevy does it, on and on. I work on a large variety of platforms, the ECU’s can be wildly different.

This is where someone that is only familiar with one way of doing something because that is the only platform they work on (or mostly work on and see something else very rarely) will stumble and produce results which are not the best.

Tuners

You can literally spend weeks if not months figuring out how to setup a calibration (the “tune” file) properly to get the ECU to do what you want it to do not only repeatedly, but safely.

So what have we done to figure out what strategies to employee to run the motors with the factory ECU’s? Well — either I work closely with a friend/customer that has a certain platform or we have purchased and own (or have owned) our own cars to test on. This way I have a car readily available to not only test parts on — but to test different strategies on and figure out what the ECU is actually doing with the input in the exposed tables in the software and whether the results are good or bad and something underlying in the ECU needs to be changed.

This is a hefty investment in not just resources — but time. And largely this investment isn’t appreciated or is under appreciated as no one is really aware of what has gone in to get a certain platform to where it is today.

Tooners

I’m going to be very blunt here — there’s a million of these guys. Anyone with a $150 laptop, some free software and a base file or two can pass off as a “tuner”. This doesn’t just apply to the Honda market — I’ve watched it grow and repeat in the Subaru, Ford, Chevy and even some stand alone ECU markets. I’m sure it happens on anything that you can “tune”.

So what actually happens? It’s very simple — on most solutions it’s virtually impossible to protect your work. So after a car has been tuned and is out in the “wild”, either the owner takes it to a dyno day or the car is sold and the next owner takes it to someone… and something as basic as this happens: plug into the ECU/device and click “Download”.

Done, you’ve pulled the calibration (“tune”) off the device or the ECU, and from there on they can claim it is there’s.

You are now a legit tuner and I’m sure the car(s) the calibrations are being recycled on even drive alright.

Who’s going to know it wasn’t your work, right?

Guess what, I know. Anyone that’s developed a calibration from scratch on any platform will know when their work has been ripped off and recycled.

Some are doing it so flagrantly that literally the whole calibration is 99% identical to what was ripped off the device/ECU. Not even changing any notes or comments. They have absolutely no clue what they are looking at but making a buck off someone that is oblivious to what is actually happening is just easy money. Hey it drives fine and the owner of the car is happy, so screw it?

Then there is the other crowd — they are pulling/ripping the maps, and then analyze them to figure out what you did and they duplicate it in their own calibrations. This is known as “R&D” (read & duplicate). They understand the basics, but when it comes to the platform, really have no idea what they are looking for beyond just that — the basics (fuel/timing). As long as they can duplicate it to get the results, they are happy and their customers are oblivious.

In both situations I’ve watched the tooners and their “fans” defend them tooth and nail. In situations where I absolutely know this “map hijacking” is happening. They will, of course, deny it til they are blue in the face. Can’t admit to it, ruins their credibility right? Lol, what credibility?

Really, it is flattering, I guess?

But what stems from this is having to wade through oceans of bullshit.

So How’s This Happen?

Not only is the ease in which maps (“tunes”) can be pulled, but the tactics they use, are really disgusting. I’ve witnessed maps get pulled off cars on dyno days where the car was just there for a baseline and the laptop had no reason to be near the vehicle. A certain customer of mine had his VTEC Killer tune ripped off his laptop via a remote “support” session (lol?). One even had a map ripped from him under pretenses of “making the tune better”, which when comparing the “changed” calibration (99.9% identical to what he had to start with anyway…) was leaning the car out to something ridiculous like 13.88 A/F under WOT — so in reality he actually paid someone $50 to rip the map to use as their own. Yes this actually happened — I was dumbfounded when I was told about the situation (I was down in SoCal on a trip and he swung by to have his car retuned in person for the S/C he was having a friend’s shop install on his car while I was in town).

In fact, the most common ways the maps find their way into the hands of tooners is under pretenses of “making more power”. It’s disgusting and I can only hope people do their research and understand that very little in tuning is about just making power and getting a number.

It really is a vicious cycle — I’ve personally witnessed this happen over the 10 years in the Honda market. As the 8th gen Civics and 9th gen Civics got older more and more tooners were popping up out of the woods offering “tunes”. They were absolutely nowhere to be found when the platform was in it’s infancy and just starting out. And they are still nowhere to be found in any of the circles that are trying to advance the platform in one way or another.

Some of the names I even recognized from customers who had paid me to tune their own personal vehicles — are now proclaimed legit tuners. Gee I wonder where they got their maps?

I’m sure recycling cooking cutter bolt on and light F/I (basic s/c and such) maps is one hell of a market. I’m sure it is a hell of a lot easier and much less of an investment than having to devote countless hours/days/months of your time to actually developing the platform, arguing with the company developing the tuning software to get improvements added and figuring out what’s what.

Oh well, back to the grind I go, I guess.

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?