To tune or not to tune? That is the question… The answer to that question is quite simple. Get a tune. That’s really all there is to it so thanks for reading! Okay, maybe there is bit more to it than that…
In fact, there are a few options out there when it comes to tuning. For starters, if you have a modern turbocharged four cylinder car, you have probably heard about Cobb Tuning and their Accessport or another similar device or flashing software. For those of you that haven’t, the Cobb Tuning Accessport, and other similar devices, is an ECU flashing device that allows the user to change ECU maps for higher power, better economy, or even certain modes that protect the car when someone you may not trust to drive it has the keys. The typical ECU flashing unit is the key that unlocks your ECU to the possibilities of tuning.
So what different types of tuning are there?
Well first of all, there are going to be Off-The-Shelf (OTS) Maps available from Cobb that will allow you to run several different configurations of performance parts for your car including intakes, downpipes, and even some intercoolers. Most of these configurations are tailored specifically to Cobb Tuning’s own parts, but they will still work well with other parts from other brands.
Next is Pro Tuning. Pro Tuning is when you take your modified car to a Licensed Pro Tuner and have them perform a full dyno tune based on your conditions and all the parts currently installed on the car. OTS Maps are good to keep you running around while you wait to have a Pro Tune, but they don’t cover everything. There are situations that will cause you to need some sort of custom tuning before you bring your car into the dyno, in order to drive it there. For example, you might be changing to a different size MAF housing, changing to higher rated MAP sensors, or using a different boost controller method. Some of these are able to be ran without custom tuning and some aren’t. In some cases you can get a base map from the dyno shop that will allow you to drive the car to the dyno appointment, but this is not always available. Another thing to be aware of is the cost of a full Pro Tune. You are going to be paying for the tune and dyno time and prices can range from $400 to over $600 depending on what you are having done and how much the tuner charges. However, the benefits are obvious. You have a professional with hands on your car tuning in a controlled environment. This is definitely something to consider. Enough cannot be said for the amount of time a dyno tune will save you and it’s also a much safer environment to do wide open throttle pulls in.
Finally, there is the E-Tune. An E-tune is just the cool way of saying Email or Electronic Tune. When you purchase an E-Tune, you will most likely receive an email with a base map and instructions on how to proceed with data logging. You will send these logs to the E-Tuner and they will look over them and send you back a revised map. It will take several revisions to dial in but when it is done, you will have a fine tuned car at half the cost of a Pro Tune. Often times Pro Tuners will also do E-Tunes in order to expand their reach beyond the realm of their dyno.
So which is best?
It comes down to what is best for you. Some people do not have any access to a Pro Tuner with a dyno and will need to go the E-Tune route in order to dial in their car. Others do not have a safe place to do street tuning and will have no choice but to go with a Pro Tune. Regardless of which one you think is best, I don’t imagine anyone will disagree with me when I say that both are leagues better than any standardized OTS map. In the end though, it is impossible to say which option is best for you because of your personal preferences and circumstances. Many people believe in strictly dyno tuning or street tuning. There are benefits to both and neither is a bad.
Assuming you chose the E-Tune…
If you decide the E-Tune is the tuning method for you, then you need to know what to expect, as well as what is expected of you. With dyno tuning, you can sit and watch and drive away happy when it’s all over. With an E-Tune, you are just as much a part of the process as the E-Tuner.
Choose a Tuner
Selecting an E-Tuner is the all important first step. So make sure you get on facebook and make a post asking who the best E-Tuner is.</sarcasm>
Don’t go on facebook asking who the best is! If you have repeatedly seen a name used over and over again without negative connotations before or after it, then they are probably a pretty decent E-Tuner. You can even find some of these listed on Cobb Tuning’s website as Pro Tuners as they offer Pro Tuning as well. If you have a different tuning device, many times the company that manufactures the device will have a directory to certified tuners. Any decent E-Tuner gets popular for two reasons. One, they make good power on lots of cars. Second, they have good customer service. And a good possible third, is that they don’t have a large number of blown motors in their back pocket. So as long as you see a good amount of people recommending them, it is a good bet that they can be trusted to tune your car and tune it well. Remember, good amount of people is not 1 or 2.
Your best bet in this case is to call or email the available tuners for your platform and ask a few questions about the process. Based on their response and their response time, you should be able to deduce for yourself which ones you’d feel comfortable with tuning your car.
What will be expected of you?
Once you have chosen a tuner, you should have purchased the E-Tune and given some of your information. They may send an email to get more info regarding what aftermarket parts you have, what fuel you have access to and are willing to use, and even what aftermarket performance upgrades you are planning for in the future.
Something to note is that your own power goals should not really come into this. A good tuner will be able to extract the most out of your particular setup in a safe and reliable way. Every car is different and every location is different and these variables come together to make predictions nearly impossible. For instance, if your goal is 300whp and you get to 290whp, you should be happy because your tuner got you to a place where your car with your setup can safely and reliably make good power all year. Just because your friend in a different state with the same mods made 310whp doesn't mean that he has a better tune or tuner. Every car is different. This isn't even considering different methods of power measurement. Bottom line is, don't get tangled up in a number. Your car is going to make the power it's going to make.
Another thing that will be expected of you is that you should be able to take consistent datalogs. Consistent logs are achieved when you use the same spot every time for logging your runs. This helps account for discrepancies that could be brought on by bumps or dips that the tuner would not know about and therefore could possibly attribute to something else within the operation of the car. While this is ideal, it is not mandatory, just make sure the tuner knows that you can’t always log the same spot.
You will also be required to do pulls on the street in different gears that will allow the tuner to see the complete range of information that comes across the rpm band during a full throttle pull. The tuner will give you instruction on how to do this and what to log as well because they know what to look for and what they will be needing to see.
Last but certainly not least is the mechanical soundness of your car. You will be expected to have a car that has no air or fluid leaks or mechanical issues going into an E-Tune. The E-Tuner can see a lot of info through a datalog. But in the end, they can only make an educated guess at what might be wrong with your car. Get fresh spark plugs, change the oil, do a boost leak check, and then you won’t be spending a lot of money later on or wasting your tuner's time trying to figure out what might have gone wrong. So make sure your car is in perfect condition in order to maximize your E-Tuning experience.
What you should expect
You should NOT expect the base map to be incredible. It will be different, often times smoother and the car will probably run better (if you have picked a good tuner). The incredible part comes as the tune is revised and dialed in to fit your car. Boost is raised, fuel is dialed in, and then timing is optimized for your fuel. Do not ask your tuner how much more power he thinks is going to be made after doing a base map datalog. Please reserve your judgment until the tune is done.
You should expect to get used to the new power a few weeks after the tune has been completed. The car might feel slow again but that doesn’t mean it is. The reason a lot of tuners have time limits is because a lot of people don’t understand when the tune is done. There isn’t another 10 to 15whp hiding in a slightly leaner afr target or another fourth of a degree of timing advance. And you can “just one more psi” your way to a blown engine real quick. So when your tuner says that’s all, you should believe them.
So you have purchased your E-Tune and things are going good. You’ve received a few revisions and it's getting dialed in. Don’t be afraid to tell the tuner if something weird is going on. There are some things that can occur with the car that won’t show up in a log and you communicating the physical differences you notice will go a long way towards getting the car dialed in properly. You are the one in the driver’s seat so make sure you tell your tuner what you are feeling.
All in all, E-Tuning is a great and inexpensive way to get your car running better and with more power and torque. If you are interested in inquiring about an E-Tune, make sure you check out some of these popular E-Tuners!
Ford Focus ST and Fiesta ST
Subaru WRX and STI