From The Vault – EC Who?
Street Commodores – 12/6/2008
ECU technology has come along leaps and bounds in the last 10 years and along with it came the need to modify the ECU to meet the demands of various modifications performed by the aftermarket community. In Australia the Commodore community where among the first to have access to this revelation of tuning with programme’s like Kalmaker giving tuners the ability to remap early commodores using their laptop. I wanted to discuss this phenomenon of remapping your factory ECU and the impact it has had on our industry today, but first a history lesson…
In the mid 1980s if you wanted to make adjustments to your car’s ECU you would generally be forced to install a new standalone aftermarket ECU. Alternatively you could use an interceptor but these gave automotive enthusiasts limited control over the factory ECU. Interceptors were generally sold under acronyms such as ITC (ignition timing controller), EVC (electronic valve controller), FCD (fuel cut defender) and AFC (air/fuel controller).
The first generation of interceptors worked by just that intercepting a voltage signal from the factory air flow meter (AFM) or mass pressure sensor (MAP) and adding or taking away voltage to trick the ECU. This type of device was particularly popular when the VT Gen 3 Commodore came out with its airflow meter (AFM) and was used by many workshops in the early days prior to LS1 Edit being readily available to lean out mixtures and add ignition timing all with the twist of a “trim pot”.
As time went on car manufactures needed more powerful computers to run all the systems built into the modern day motor vehicle and so they developed faster processors and the next wave of technology known as Flash memory, unlike the early Commodore ECU which used an EPROM or “Chip” the next generation started to use Flash memory to store the ECU’s programme. At the same time the Internet was providing a new means for car enthusiast and techno geeks to share information and in turn produced a number of forum groups and companies with the sole intention of cracking the manufacturer’s codes and making software and hardware available to be able to tune this new technology.
Today the aftermarket tuning software & hardware industry is massive and worth 100’S of Millions of dollars a year worldwide. In Australia we have seen some companies entrench themselves in the Commodore tuning scene and they are continuously working on upgrading and releasing software to keep up with the car manufactures, for example when the VE commodore was released it had a new ECU, running a different operating system and for the first time there was no Volumetric efficiency (VE) table which had been a major parameter when tuning earlier model Commodores. In the new operating system the manufacturer had used many tables that where part of a calculation to provide a virtual “VE” table, this provided challenges for the tuners but it was only a matter of time before the software companies developed ways around it giving the tuner back the “VE” table.
See the object of the software companies to make the software, interface and hardware as user friendly as possible and there is no doubts the good ones have achieved that. The benefit to the consumer is if you are prepared to go and purchase a single user license and you can use windows based software, by following a few simple instructions you can quit easily re-flash your vehicle’s ECU. I guess this is my concern and something that in one fowl swoop strengthens our industry while at the same time undermind’s the companies that support and use these tuning products.
With the massive growth of the tuning industry we have seen competition and software becoming very affordable and for under $1000.00 anyone can be up and tuning in no time! But there lies the problem. The software companies are obviously keen to sell product and I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the instant tuning experts appearing on the forums and in magazines that have absolutely no formal training and experience and in most cases little to no real understanding of mechanics.
Being a good engine tuner requires an intricate knowledge of all facets of the car not just the ECU and tuning software, you actually need to understand how an engine works and what it requires. If you look simply at making peak power then tuning probably isn’t that hard, get your mixtures correct and add in ignition timing until you have peak torque and you are probably close to the mark, the problem is we don’t drive at full throttle all the time, in-fact most of the time remapping an engine is spent at part throttle and various load and RPM points optimizing fuel and spark not to mention the other 100 or so tables that we review during a custom tune including idle, torque management, air temp compensation etc.
Another phrase I have heard being banded around is road tune! I am definitely not a fan of road tunes! Sure we check our tune on the road after we have finished on the dyno but it is that, only a check. It is my opinion a dyno is an essential part of tuning an engine correctly. A dyno gives you the ability to control the engines RPM and load to ensure you have mapped all aspects of the fuel and ignition maps. It is not uncommon for us to see road tunes from other tuners with ugly fuel tables that have only been tuned in very specific areas of the map and they simply have forgotten about the rest.
I am not trying to scare enthusiasts away from getting their car re-mapped, in-fact it’s quite the opposite. I believe re-mapping your vehicles is one of the greatest upgrades you can do and provides our customers with a faster, more fuel efficient vehicle while giving us the ability to tune the engine to suit forced induction, big cams and larger capacity engines. All I ask is if you want to get your car re-mapped you do your home work and make sure the company you are trusting your car with is professional and has the necessary experience and equipment to do the job properly.
The reason I raise these points is simple. I believe in the future of this industry and I am certainly not in it for a quick buck, unfortunately some people are, and when they burn a fellow enthusiast, sometimes that person is lost to the industry for good and that’s not good for my business or the Industries future.
So use your head and do your homework and remember in life you only ever get what you pay for!
See you at the track..Rob Vickery