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Tuning / Diagnostics -- engine and transmission Tune and diagnostics for engines and auto transmission.

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Old 01-12-2012, 03:11 AM   #1
bluetorp
 
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Tutorial: Can I tune my own vehicle?

The short answer is yes, but that you probably shouldn't. That answer might seem counterproductive in light of the fact that I'm putting together tutorials about tuning, but view it as a caution rather than a discouragement. Tuning is well within the grasp of the enthusiast, but it does take specialized tools and, more importantly, specialized knowledge. Be aware that getting into tuning is going to require a fair bit of effort and dedication on your part to acquire that knowledge, and once you get past simple tweaks, the learning curve can be quite steep. I've known more than a few people who have purchased HPT or EFI Live only to turn around and sell it within six months because they became overwhelmed. Do not underestimate the investment that comes with learning to tune, but if it's something that you're interested in doing, don't be intimidated, either.

Don't be discouraged by those who would have you believe that tuning is some kind of black art, and that until you've gone to a six week course and sacrificed a virgin to the gods of EFI, any car you try to tune will be at risk of demon possession and most likely spontaneously combust. In this tutorial, my goal is to try to clarify just what learning to tune entails, so that you as an enthusiast who might be interested in tuning can hopefully make a more informed decision about whether or not such an edeavor is right for you, as well as a little bit of what I think is a good approach to learning.


What do I absolutely, positively have to have in order to tune?



1.) A car
2.) Tuning software (HPT, EFI Live, etc.)
3.) A laptop
4.) Patience
5.) A willingness to spend a lot of time reading


What's really nice to have, but not necessarily required?



1.) A wideband
2.) Dyno access (An eddy current or brake dyno [like a Mustang dyno, for example] is best)


You mean I don't have to drop a few thousand dollars on a training course?


Nope! All of this knowledge is public domain. You do not need to spend thousands on a course, hundreds on books/DVDs, or even sacrifice that virgin. When I was learning, things like books/DVDs and tuning courses were very limited or non-existent. I learned by doing and exhaustively reading forums, as most enthusiast tuners did (and still do). That being said, the availability of resources like these is much, much better now. I think pretty much any enthusiast tuner could benefit from a good class or book or DVD series, but it's not a requirement.


Okay, okay! But I'm still not sure what this all means. Can you break it down for me?



Sure thing. Let me start off by relating it to how I started tuning, and how it was a less than ideal situation.

I bought a 2002 T/A (my first late-model performance car- everything before that was carbed). When it started feeling slow, I bought a fairly healthy cam from TSP (233/233, .589 lift, 112 LSA), long tubes, and true duals. I installed everything in my garage over a long weekend. It fired right up, but it wasn't really a happy camper. If you revved it a bit it would usually die when letting off, it hunted for idle, and it wouldn't start at all when hot. By drilling out the idle air bypass hole in the TB, and adjusting the set screw a bit, I got it to where it would start easily cold or hot, and not hunt for idle nearly as much. At this point it was completely driveable, but a bit of a pain. It would still occasionally die when returning to idle at a stop, there was significant low RPM surging, when coasting in neutral the RPMs would usually shoot up to 2k until coming to a complete stop, and it was throwing DTCs for the MAP sensor and rear O2's (they were gone, along with the cats).

I knew the next step was getting it tuned. I've always done all the mods on my vehicles myself- that's where most of my enjoyment comes from. So, I decided I was going to tune it myself, and bought HPTuners. It wasn't until it arrived and I installed and opened the program that I realized what an undertaking it was going to be. I had at this point never read a thing about tuning. Having a good handle on how an internal combustion engine works, I figured it would be immediately intuitive, but it was anything but. For the next several weeks, I pretty much lived in the tuning forum at LS1Tech and the HPT forums. I read as much as I could find about how the PCM controlled engine operation. I read all the tutorials. I read thread after thread after thread of what different people were tweaking and the results they were having. Then, I started modifying things.

In the first couple days, I killed the O2 DTC's and CAGS (easy). I desensed the MAP sensor so it would stop throwing a code from the low RRM intake port reversion from the cam (easy). About a week later it was strapped to the dyno, and the WOT tuning was done (fairly easy). Over the coming weeks, I tackled the MAF and VE to get the fuel trims in line (easy to medium, mainly time consuming- lots of data logging, adjustment, and more data logging). Then, it was time to iron out all the driveability issues that cam from the cam. THAT was hard. That took about six months of forum warrioring and tweaking and trial and error, but in the end I had learned a lot and the car was running beautifully. I would eventually move on to a full heads/cam/bolt-on car; I bought a wideband, I removed the MAF and ran a full speed density, open-loop tune. I played around with my tune pretty much all the time. Not because I had to, but because I enjoyed it. I started answering tuning questions on forums instead of asking them, I started writing guides instead of reading them, and I started tuning the odd car here and there, locally and over the internet.


Zzzzzzzzzz.....



TL;DR- I kinda jumped into the deep end when I started tuning. I didn't drown, but I wouldn't really recommend it as a path to success. I had to tread a lot of water before I was really able to start swimming.


So, what would you recommend?



Start small. Baby steps, as Bill Murray would put it. If you're interested in tuning, I would say ideally start with a completely stock car. You won't have to deal with any of the driveability issues and weirdness and parameters being thrown wildly out of whack that major modifications produce. The stock tuning on a stock vehicle will be in the ballpark- now, perfect it. Really get those fuel trims dialed in. Get those extra horses from getting the PE spark and fuelling tables exactly where they should be. Learn the building blocks on a forgiving platform. Read, read, read, read.

Once that's under your belt, you should have a firm understanding of the tuning software, what the PCM is doing, and a good handle of the tuning process. From here, start adding mods! Optimally, start small (baby steps, again) with things like a cold air intake, TB, etc. Ideally these mods will be added one at a time, and the tuning finished before the next mod is done. It's not absolutely necessary, but it will give you a better idea of how individual mods effect tuning, and make it easier for you to tune combinations of mods in the future.

From here, you can take it as far as your inclination and aptitude will allow. Big cams, stroker motors, F/I, custom operating systems, etc.



So, we've talked a fair bit about taking the plunge and getting into tuning as a general concept. Now let's take a look at some of the underlying specifics.

Turning off codes is easy. Correcting the speedometer for wheels/tires/gears is easy. WOT tuning is relatively easy, but will require a dyno with a wideband, or better yet, your own personal wideband plugged into your tuning interface. There are methods of ballparking WOT tuning using your stock narrowband O2's, but it's a strictly "at your own risk" endeavor.

General diveability tuning can be anywhere from easy to painstakingly difficult based on your mods and experience, but even if easy will probably require a lot of logging and tuning and more logging, at least until you start getting a few tunes on different setups under your belt and can start ballparking things like MAF and VE tables/coefficients before you even start logging.

General driveability tuning can be done 100% on the street using the stock narrowband O2's. This is NOT, however, the best solution. Narrowband O2's get inaccurate when moved from the stock location because they are very temp sensitive. Throwing them at the end of long tubes throws off their readings to a greater or lesser extent. This makes tuning with a wideband a much more accurate (and better) way of doing things. It's also very beneficial to do driveability tuning on an eddy current or brake dyno. These dynos allow you to hold the car in a particular load cell. This you cannot do on the street or on other types of dynos. The biggest benefit of this is that it allows you to really accurately tune the spark table.

When tuning spark on the street, many people just add spark everywhere until they start getting KR, and then back off the timing in those cells. It's a really half-assed way to do it. On a steady state dyno, you can lock the vehicle into a load cell and then tune the spark advance in that cell until you reach the highest torque value. That is the proper way to tune the spark table, and you can't do that without a steady state dyno. You can also tune your trims on a steady state dyno very easily, but doing that on the street is perfectly acceptable, and probably more convenient for most people.

While on the subject of dynos: find a good shop with a dyno, and cultivate a positive relationship with them. Chances are you'll be wanting to use their dyno quite a bit over time, and a good relationship is key. A good shop is key, as well: I've found that many performance shops will refuse to let you use their dyno for tuning unless you use whoever their resident tuner is, or will charge you ridiculous sums of money for the priviledge. Shop around. A good shop will have no problem with you doing your own tuning, will not rape you with dyno fees, and their tuner will most likely be willing to give you some free advice or help you a bit while you're in there doing your thing.
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Old 01-12-2012, 03:23 AM   #2
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Reserved.
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Old 01-12-2012, 03:24 AM   #3
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As always, comments, criticism, and questions are welcome.
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Old 01-12-2012, 07:24 AM   #4
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Your whole post is a TL;DR. Let's see some details, links to threads and sites that you used, examples. I'm interested, just don't really know where to start.
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Old 01-12-2012, 07:38 AM   #5
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No offense, but if you don't have the patience to read that post then you don't have the patience to learn how to tune.

I referenced the two main forums I used when I was learning how to tune. This isn't a how-to thread, but if you want details I have a couple of other more specific posts up. This is a thread aimed at those who might be interested in tuning, but aren't sure about what's involved.
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Old 01-13-2012, 06:13 PM   #6
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You can get tons of tuning info from hp tuners and efi live forums... LS1tech forum has some nice tuning info also. Google is also your best friend. There's also plenty of tuning course DVD's. Find a friend who use hp or efi and learn hands on if you can.. Even if you don't tune yourself it's always nice to know what your tuners are doing to your 20-30+ thousand dollar camaro.

Two of the most important things you need is common sense and basic car knowledge. Just for an example, if I ask you what are fuel trims and you have no idea then you might need to start learning.

Good info bluetorp
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Old 01-13-2012, 07:12 PM   #7
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Good writeup. I admit I skimmed, but I'm not ready to tune yet. I love that more tuning info is becoming available on C5.

I know when I'm ready to learn to tune I'll end up having to go to other forums for the info I need, but these posts give a good idea of what is involved.
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Old 01-14-2012, 05:13 AM   #8
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move the wideband up to need to have equiptment.

And keep a spare O2 sensor with you. Im tuning several cars today about an hour away. I have to bring the normal tuning gear, and extra wideband, O2 sensor, Bungy cords, tail clamp if the car doesnt have a header bung and car to laptop charger.
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Old 01-14-2012, 10:25 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tampa Tuning View Post
move the wideband up to need to have equiptment.

And keep a spare O2 sensor with you. Im tuning several cars today about an hour away. I have to bring the normal tuning gear, and extra wideband, O2 sensor, Bungy cords, tail clamp if the car doesnt have a header bung and car to laptop charger.
At this point I wouldn't tune without one, but it's not something I'd consider absolutely necessary, especially when you're just starting to get your feet wet. I would definitely recommend that if someone doesn't initially invest in a wideband that they at least get the MPVI Pro interface (for HPT, or whatever the EFI Live equivalent is) so that they can add one in the future without having to send their old interface in for an upgrade.

Agreed on spare sensors. My LC-1 ate 5 in 2 years.
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Old 01-22-2012, 07:43 PM   #10
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Another great write up. I appreciate you taking the time.
Really newb question but were can I learn about what a wideband is and what they run. I am learning the basics of tuning. I don't want ti do it any time soon but i want to get a really good knowledge sso I get a jumpstart for later on.
Thanks again
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Old 01-23-2012, 06:41 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluetorp View Post
No offense, but if you don't have the patience to read that post then you don't have the patience to learn how to tune.

I referenced the two main forums I used when I was learning how to tune. This isn't a how-to thread, but if you want details I have a couple of other more specific posts up. This is a thread aimed at those who might be interested in tuning, but aren't sure about what's involved.
I was saying that this whole post was a summary. I was looking for more. I guess I didn't realize that this was the intro to a series of how-to's. I've read your subsequent threads and really enjoyed it. Keep 'em coming!
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Old 01-23-2012, 07:04 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by geaux_tigerss View Post
I was saying that this whole post was a summary. I was looking for more. I guess I didn't realize that this was the intro to a series of how-to's. I've read your subsequent threads and really enjoyed it. Keep 'em coming!
Yeah man, no prob!
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