Q: What is vehicle tuning?
Tuning in simple terms is computer programming as it involves changing parameters in the vehicle's ECU program, and the newer the vehicle, the more advanced the programing is, some cars even have multiple computers controlling the engine. Changing these parameters can affect the way other parts of the program works, so every change needs to be tested and other areas of the program adjusted to suit, this can take hours and even sometimes days to perfect.
Q: What is required to develop a tune?
In our opinion a dyno is a minimum requirement when developing a tune. Tuning a vehicle requires the tuner to test the vehicle at a range of RPM, engine load and vehicle speeds, speeds that greatly exceed NZ's speed limits, so the only way to test a full range of engine parameters safely, the vehicle needs to be tested on a dyno. You also need a large investment in software and diagnostic tools to communicate and measure data from the vehicle. Torque Performance has spent over the last 25+ years in business over a million dollars in diagnostic and tuning software.
Q: What’s the difference between a dyno tune, road tune and reflash?
Dyno tune is as explained above, it’s a tune made using a dyno to measure the vehicles output, fuel ratio, boost (turbo & supercharged vehicles) etc. in a controlled way to test what the engine is doing at any given RPM, road speed and engine load. Dyno tuning is also the most accurate way to measure the power output before and after tuning.
Road Tuning is similar to dyno tune except you don’t have the controlled environment for testing the vehicle which is instead performed on the road, hence the name road tuning also no power is able to measure accurately as most use a calculated estimate. The risk with road tuning is that sometimes it’s difficult to create back to back runs when trying to recreate a problem. Additionally it’s almost impossible to tune a car on the road without breaking the speed limit laws, for example, tuning for full throttle, to get the required data generally you would use 3-4th gear and pull all the way to the redline, in most cars this is around 160kmh but in some high powered European cars we have seen above 220km/h, so there is a huge risk involved with road tuning.
Reflash is basically loading a file into a vehicle. This is what most of the tuners around New Zealand offer. These are files made using a dyno and sometimes road tuning but on another car and then adapted to work in another cars ECU (which is about as custom as it gets). The biggest problem is that nearly all files on the market are made overseas on another vehicle, different fuels and different conditions, which means there is a risk that the file may not work correctly in New Zealand or in your car. Also most are also not tested after being written, and some we have seen from dyno runs on cars "tuned" elsewhere are either dangerously rich or lean which will cause long term engine damage, or don’t make anywhere near the claims power output. Some "tuners" in NZ even mislead their customers by explaining that their tunes are dyno made which is correct but imply that it’s made for your vehicle which is not quite correct. Torque Performance recommends that you should always check with the company how they tune their vehicles, and if it’s an NZ developed file, you can always call us as we know what companies use overseas tune files or if they are developed in NZ.
Q: What tuning does Torque Performance offer?
Torque Performance first and foremost is a dyno tuner. We currently also operate the only linked 4WD dyno in NZ which means we can tune the largest range of latest vehicle on the market. Torque Performance also offers a reflash option for some vehicles through our R&D centre in Auckland as well as our reseller network throughout NZ. All our reflash tunes are tested on our dyno to guarantee a power gain and ensure they are safe for NZ fuels and conditions. Torque Performance reflashes are generally made for factory cars only or using an upgrade package that our tune has been developed for, but most modified cars generally have too many variations which we would recommend a dyno tune.
Q: Do you need a license or a qualification to tune a vehicle
No, Vehicle tuning in NZ is an unregulated industry, which is why there are many cowboys in the industry, we even know of individuals that have no mechanical background or automotive industry experience offering tuning services as a way to make a quick dollar. A tuner is not a mechanic nor is he a computer programmer, it is someone in-between which generally needs the skills of both. There are courses available to learn tuning but most skills are gained over many years of practical experience. Robyn van Velden the director of Torque Performance is a qualified technician and was trained professionally in engine tuning in the USA developing tunes for race engines in formula boats. Torque Performance is also as far as we know, the only tuner in NZ that is a member of the MTA.
Q: What’s better, a plug-in tuner or an ECU tune?
First you need to know how the add-on box's work. These add on box's are called various names such as Tuning Box (what we sell), ECUChips plug-in tuner, Diablo box, Burger motorsport JB4 tuner etc. and how they work is by intercepting a signal between the ECU and engine sensors and then changing it to trick the computer to do something different.
The limitation these units have is that they don’t have a huge resolution in what they can change, as they can only add a set percentage onto the signal that is been transferred. For example on a diesel motor, the box generally adds a set percentage to fuel rail pressure or injector timing. Some also plug into electronic boost control and adds a percentage onto boost levels. Where they have limitations is that they can’t change everything, and one of the biggest issues is that modern ECU's have torque limit maps which puts a limit on how much power these boxes can add. Also because of a set percentage they only add a set amount of power across the rev range so you might be missing out on lumps of power at certain rpm ranges.
ECU tuning is superior because it can do everything a box can do plus a ton more. It allows changes at any given RPM or load point, it also allows changes to multiple maps in the car including torque limitation mapping, boost, fuel, timing etc., giving the tuner the ability to develop a tune to get the most power throughout the rev range and also to adjust rpm limits, speed limiters, and other features such as removing DPF filter coding, CAT coding etc. So an ECU tune made right will always out perform a plug in box, the only benefit of a box is that it’s easy to remove and fit, however saying that we do have units that are able to flash the ECU yourself with one our tune files.