120 | Selecting a Suitable ECU For Your Application
Choosing the right ECU can be a tricky task and getting it wrong can waste a huge amount of time and money. In this webinar we will go through what you need to consider when planning out your project. In particular we will look at the required inputs, outputs and special functions and see to use this information to narrow down our choices. For this example we will be using our Nissan 350Z as the application and considering products from the link ECU range.
It's Andre from the High Performance Academy. And in this webinar, we're going to be covering one of the most common questions that we frequently get asked at High Performance Academy. And that is, which is the best ECU for my car? Now, that obviously, for those who are a little bit more familiar with the ins and outs of ECUs and aftermarket ECUs is a fairly loaded question. And, of course, there is no simple, clearcut answer. So rather than specifying which particular brand of ECU everyone should be going for, obviously an impossible question to answer, what we're going to do in this webinar is focus on the process of selecting an ECU.
We're going to be focusing on what you need to understand, what you need to be considering, and what you need to be looking at when you're faced with selecting an ECU for your particular application. Now, again, I just want to reiterate, this isn't a situation where we can make an across-the-board decision and say one particular ECU is the best. And this is the kind of question, or the kind of answer, a lot of the people approaching us are expecting, that there is just one overall supreme brand. And that's just simply not the case. And a great example of this is that even a really advanced ECU may not provide specific support for some types of engines.
So we do really have to make our decision based on our own particular application, what we're actually trying to achieve. Now, one of the reasons why we do need to spend some time at the start of a project on this decision-making process is that it can become a very expensive, not to mention frustrating, exercise if we purchase an ECU for an application and find out later that it actually doesn't have enough inputs or outputs, or the functionality that it has won't support what we actually want it to do. That's obviously going to require us to replace that ECU with potentially another model or another brand of ECU and go through the installation, the setup, tuning process all over again. So, no one wants that. I've been in the situation many times with my old business where exactly that has happened, although more often than not, that's come from a situation where the scope of a project has grown over a period of perhaps two or three years.
And, all of a sudden, an ECU that was ideal at the start of the project no longer really cuts the mustard when we start wanting to use more advanced functionality or increase the power that the engine was making. So all of these things are really beneficial if we can make these decisions and understand the applications right at the start. Now, I just want to just mention right here that we are going to be predominantly looking in this webinar at the world of aftermarket, standalone ECUs. I'm not really delving into reflashing. But it is worth just discussing that differentiation, because, as we've moved into late-model cars, what we find is that reflashing the stock factory ECU is becoming a much more common and often a much more cost-effective method of adjusting your tuning.
And if there is a reflashing option available for your car, then often this will be the most cost-effective path to go down. For me, personally, after running a performance workshop for the better part of 13 years, and sort of doing everything from simple bolt-on exhaust and air filter jobs through to fitting superchargers and turbochargers to naturally-aspirated engines and just about everything in between, it's difficult to draw a line in the sand of where a reflash option will kind of be surpassed by a proper aftermarket standalone ECU. Often there's no sort of horsepower limitation, so we could make, for example, a 1,000-wheel horsepower or more on an LS V8 using HP tuners or EFI Live. But if, depending on what you're actually using that car for, that still may not be the best option. Even though you can potentially do it doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be the best option for you.
So, in general, my guide was that I would reflash for street-driven cars or mild to moderate levels of modification. If I was starting to get really serious, and by that I'm sort of talking at two or three times the factory horsepower level, or I was building a dedicated race car, in that case a standalone aftermarket ECU would typically make the most sense. The only other consideration you have here is that with a lot of these late-model cars now, it is getting increasingly more difficult to fit a standalone aftermarket ECU because of the CAN bus integration and the CAN bus messaging between the different electronic systems. So, even sometimes when we're building full-on race cars, this can cause issues unless you're replacing literally all of the electronics package within the car, perhaps fitting in aftermarket, racing-style gearbox and an aftermarket dashboard. Obviously, at that point, you've got the ability to do what you want.
So this has just been a short discussion about the decision between reflashing and standalone aftermarket ECUs. And for the rest of this webinar, we will be focusing on aftermarket ECUs only. So when it comes to aftermarket standalone ECUs, really they're broadly grouped into two different groups. And I call these plug-and-play or wire-in. So the plug-and-play, as their name sort of suggests, they're a replacement for your factory ECU.
They share either the header plug for your factory ECU or sometimes an adapter harness or an adapter box. Makes it very, very easy because they literally require you to unplug your factory ECU and plug in your aftermarket ECU. And in some cases they're also configured with a base map that literally will let you start the car and get up and running. So, in that respect, it couldn't be easier. We don't need to, excuse me.
Sorry about that. So, in that respect, it couldn't be easier. All we need to do is unplug the ECU, plug in our new standalone ECU. We don't need to break out the soldering iron or any wiring equipment. We're ready to go from there.
However, there are some considerations with a plug-and-play ECU or some limitations that may come in with a plug-and-play ECU. So my normal rule of thumb is that if a plug-and-play ECU is available for your particular application, then these are normally going to be the best and the most cost-effective solution for mild through to even moderately modified vehicles. And these are the most cost-effective solution is because we don't need to go and create an aftermarket custom wiring harness, although we will need to factor in the case where more often than not a plug-and-play ECU will tend to be more expensive than a standalone universal ECU. Now, one of the considerations is that if we want to get the best results from any ECU installation then we need to be 100% certain that our wiring loom is sound. The integrity of our wiring harness is really critical, and this is one of the most common scenarios when we're trying to find a sneaky little problem that's coming in.
So it may be an intermittent misfire or something like that which is playing havoc with your tuning. Quite often, obviously assuming that the calibration and the configuration is correct, more often than not the most common scenario for that would be a wiring problem. And this obviously starts becoming more frequent as you start dealing with older and older cars where the looms may be starting to suffer from fatigue damage and some of the connections may not be as reliable as they were when that car was brand new. So, in this situation, the plug-and-play ECU, we really need to carefully consider the age of the car and the condition of the harness. And particularly if you're starting to deal with cars that are maybe in the late '80s or early '90s where there's often really good support from a wide range of manufacturers with plug-and-play aftermarket ECUs.
And I'm thinking here the likes of, Nissan is a really good example as well as Subaru. You may need to consider your wiring harness situation there before you really make your final decision. The other situation when we're dealing with a plug-and-play ECU is that understandably that ECU is going to be very carefully configured and spec'ed to the factory engine and the factory wiring harness. And this may in some instances limit what we can do outside of that factory specification. What I'm meaning here is that it may be difficult or in some instances impossible to add additional sensors.
It may also be difficult if we're dealing with an engine that perhaps runs a distributor or a waste-spark ignition system from stock. It may be difficult to upgrade that and instead run individual coil-on-plug ignition. So you'd need to consider what the factory specification is of your engine and how the plug-and-play ECU deals with that. Many of the aftermarket plug-and-play ECUs do keep this in mind. And it is possible to either use an expansion harness that plugs directly onto the PC board or, alternatively, to re-appropriate some of the factory wiring, the factory harness wiring in order to incorporate some of those additional features.
So that's something that you need to keep in mind if you're considering veering a long way away from the factory configuration. And this is where we sort of get to the point of, if we're starting to do very serious modifications, potentially the plug-and-play ECU may become limiting for you. The other consideration with a plug-and-play ECU, and this comes back to what I was mentioning with reflashing factory ECUs is that usually with the later model cars that are supported with plug-and-play ECUs the ECU manufacturer has gone to the trouble of decoding the factory CAN bus, and all of those messages that the factory CAN bus requires for correct operation will be replicated by the ECU. So this again makes our life very, very easy on some of these more sophisticated engines or sophisticated vehicles. Your gauge cluster is still going to work.
Your air conditioning is still going to work. And if you're running an automatic or a DSG-style transmission, it's still going to change gear. So it's probably as the cars move past about the year sort of 2000 or thereabouts, some are a little bit later than that, and CAN bus started becoming more and more common and the OEs relied more and more heavily on CAN bus messaging between the electronic components, this becomes really essential. So this is a nice way of adding full standalone aftermarket ECU support to a vehicle which would be otherwise very difficult to achieve that with using a universal wire-in ECU. Okay, so that covers really the advantages and limitations there of the plug-and-play type of ECU.
With the wire-in, so these I would consider normally the best choice for a race car, an all-out race car or a really serious build or obviously any application where plug-and-play models aren't available. I'll just actually mention that as well. Obviously, plug-and-play ECUs aren't available for every brand and model of car. The ECU manufacturers obviously need to be a little bit sensible on where they're going to sort of focus their energies and their resources. And understandably they'll do that with the cars that work out to be the most popular for modification in the aftermarket.
This means that they know that they're going to be able to sell a good number of those ECUs and recoup their investment. So, if you're running something that's quite unique, perhaps not so popular for modification, there's a very good chance that you're going to have no options for support with a plug-and-play ECU anyway, which leaves you very little choice. Now, one of the things with the wire-in ECU is that they are understandably more versatile. We're talking about an ECU here that really can be configured to run just about any engine and you can do what you want with it in terms of what sensors you're going to be incorporating and also what outputs you're going to be using that ECU to control. So you've got a lot more choice and a lot more flexibility.
And understandably you are now not locked down to or limited by that factory wiring harness. You've got the freedom to make your own custom wiring harness. And this obviously deals with the problem that I mentioned just before. If you've got an older car with a wiring harness that's of questionable condition, this gives you the opportunity to start from scratch with new wire, new connectors. And that way, you're going to be confident that the integrity of your wiring harness is up to spec and that's not a problem you're going to be chasing later on.
So, in terms of a standalone ECU, the ability to have various inputs and outputs is only going to be limited by the actual ECU itself. And we're going to be talking about the number of inputs and outputs very shortly and how to choose the correct one. I'll just cover off again that if you are dealing with one of these late-model cars then CAN support can be quite tricky. Often that's going to be impossible for an end user tuner to decode and actually use an aftermarket ECU to replicate. So this is one area that you need to be very careful with if you are dealing with a late-model car with a CAN bus where all of these modules are talking together.
This really does narrow down your options. It's not to say that you have no options. Some of the ECUs, and I'll just use Link as an example, do offer a dedicated CAN template for some of the OE applications that they've decoded in house. Now, I think the late-model Mini is one of the examples there. So if you are going to fit a standalone aftermarket Link ECU into an application like a Mini, then you can still do that.
You can make your own wiring harness, and then you can select the Mini CAN template, wire up the CAN bus and everything would work. So it just does add another element of complexity there, and you do need to be very careful that you understand your options, because there's nothing worse than getting to the end of a long and relatively expensive process and finding out that you're gearbox won't change gears or you now need to spend another $2,000 or $3,000 on an aftermarket dash cluster, because the factory dash cluster will no longer work. So always a good idea to know exactly what you're up for right from the get go. Okay, so I just want to talk now about some of the considerations with choosing a wire-in ECU. And then we're going to go through the steps that I use when I am trying to decide on an ECU.
These are the steps that I generally recommend that most of our HPA members go through as well. And the reason I do this rather than recommending a specific ECU again comes down to the type of ECU or brand or model of ECU that will suit a particular application is going to vary. And depending whereabouts in the world you are, you may have access to a different range of ECUs and a different range of cars than what we see here in New Zealand. So I can't make an across-the-board recommendation for everyone. So rather than doing this, I feel it's much more important to give our members the tools so that they can make their own assessment and decisions on what is going to suit them.
Okay, so the first consideration, and this is really the best place to start, is, is your engine even supported? Now, this isn't normally a problem with any engine that's been around for awhile and particularly it's unlikely to be an issue on any engines that are popular in the aftermarket. Most of the aftermarket ECU manufacturers are gonna jump on board with new popular brands of engine that are out there in our tuning market pretty quickly and offer support very, very quickly. And when I say, is the engine supported, what I'm talking about here primarily is the trigger pattern for the trigger information that tells the engine, the ECU, what the engine speed is, what the engine position is, what the cam shaft positions are if we've got variable cam timing. So all of that is really critical. And the last thing that we want to do is find out that our engine isn't supported and then have to either go to a different ECU brand or start modifying trigger inputs so that we can actually get the ECU to communicate and understand what the engine's doing.
Now, most of our ECU manufacturers that I deal with, though, do have solutions around this. And often it's as simple as taking a trigger scope pattern from the factory pickups, saving this and sending that via email through to the ECU manufacturer. And then if they judge that there's sufficient demand for that particular engine, then often they will add a trigger mode for their engine. The main thing that's really important here is that if you are running a late-model engine with variable cam control, and particularly if you want to maintain that variable cam control, this is an area where the trigger mode is much more critical. Of course, if you're running a relatively basic engine without cam control, then we've got the ability to run our own trigger modes if we want, our own trigger discs if we want.
But if you want to run variable cam control, then it's going to be very closely tied into the way the factory trigger system works. Okay, so once you've confirmed that you've got your engine that you actually want to run is supported, then we can move on. And the next step that I look at is looking at what inputs and outputs we're going to need. And what we want to do here is write a list so that when we're comparing against different ECU models or brands, we can tick off and see exactly what we've got and whether the ECU will support what we want to do. When I talk about inputs and outputs, I'm going to break these down and talk about them individually, and we're going to start by talking about the injector drives.
Pretty straightforward here. We need obviously the injector drives to control the injectors, but what we do need to consider is how we're going to drive those injectors. So obviously if we want to run a full sequential injection, we're going to need an individual injector drive on the ECU for each of the injectors fitted to the engine or the number of cylinders that we have on the engine. Often there will also be a consideration if we want to run staged injection or whether we're going to run a peak and hold or a saturated drive injector. This has become less of a consideration in current years as the larger crop of our current aftermarket injectors are often based around the Bosch EV14 injector, which is a saturated, or high-impedance, injector.
And this makes it very easy, because we don't need any sophisticated injector drives inside the ECU to control those. If you're dealing with a low-impedance injector, though, your option is to either use a ballast resistor pack coupled with a saturated injector driver or, alternatively, if your ECU can support them, you can run them directly using a peak and hold injector drive. It's also important to know this, because if you run a low-impedance injector on a saturated injector drive and you don't use a ballast resistor, you can end up damaging the injector drive and the ECU. So we want to make sure that we can support the number of injectors that we need to drive with our ECU. Once we've dealt with that, we're going to move onto the next aspect, which is the ignition drives.
Now, much the same there. We obviously need to understand what the ignition system on the engine is, and that comes down to, is it coil-on-plug, is it waste spark, or is it running a distributor? Now, on top of that, just because our engine may start out as waste spark or perhaps with a distributor, is that what we want to run? We can obviously modify that. We can move from a distributor to a coil-on-plug system. And most ECUs, although I won't say all, tend to match the number of injector drives to the number of ignition drives. Understandably, if we're running a six-cylinder engine, we're going to probably want six injector drives.
And likewise, if we're running coil-on-plug ignition, that will also require six ignition drives. So that's not always the case. There are definitely a few key exceptions there, but that's quite often the way an ECU manufacturer will sort of dedicate their hardware with the same number of injector drives as ignition drives. The other thing to consider there, although not specifically an aspect for your ECU, is whether the ECU will be driving a coil that requires an external igniter module or whether it's going to be driving a coil with an internal, built-in igniter module. Now, a lot of the late-model Japanese engines that I typically deal with, by far and away the most common technique is to use a built-in ignition drive, igniter module, inside the coil.
It makes it really easy from our perspective with wiring. There are some notable exceptions there where you will need some extra hardware. One of the engines that I did recently was a Ford Coyote Boss engine, and those use an external-igniter-style coil. So we need to supply our own igniter module. And the Ford ECU actually has these built in.
So what this means is we need to understand that because we're going to need to also purchase an igniter module, if we try and drive the coils directly with the ECU, they're simply not going to work. So now we've covered off the injector and the ignition drives. The next thing we're going to talk about is our trigger inputs. Now, I've already touched on this insomuch as we obviously need to know that there is a trigger mode available for our particular engine. And there's generally going to be two dedicated trigger inputs to the ECU.
Depending on the ECU manufacturer, these may be labeled as trig one and trig two. They may be labeled as ref, or reference, in synchronization, or something of that nature. However, where I'm going with this is, if we are running a variable valve-timing engine, we're going to typically have more cam position sensors so that the ECU doesn't just need engine speed and synchronization. It also needs dedicated inputs to tell it what position each of the cams is in so that it can control the advance and retard of the cams. Now why that's important is that, if, for example, we're running a quad variable cam control engine, which isn't uncommon, a lot of late-model Subaru engines will be like this.
In that case, we will need a cam position sensor on each of the cams. Now, we need to consider this because we need to know how that's going to eat into our inputs available on the ECU. Quite often, once we've gone through the dedicated trigger inputs, any additional cam position inputs for variable valve timing will be dealt with by using digital inputs. Now, that on the face of it might not seem that important. But, again, if we're running a quad-cam, variable-cam control engine, that's potentially up to four digital inputs that we're going to have dedicated to cam position and we aren't going to have available for any of the other digital functions that we may have already wanted to run.
So you need to keep that in mind. Okay, so we move on now, and we're going to deal with the analog inputs to the ECU. And these are generally broken down into analog voltage inputs and analog temperature inputs. And the difference really here is that an analog temperature input will include a pull-up resistor to five volts internally inside of the ECU so that the ECU can directly read from a negative temperature coefficient thermistor. So this is the sort of sensor we use for intake air temperature and for coolant temperature.
And we'll see that these sorts of sensors are only a two-wire, and they work by a variable resistance, where their resistance varies in response to a change in temperature. So the pull-up resistor is essential there so that the ECU actually sees a variable voltage as that resistance changes with temperature. So what we need here is enough, first of all, analog temperature inputs for our engine coolant temperature and our intake air temperature sensor. Those would be a minimum. These are the two key inputs that we're typically going to be using in every installation.
They're key inputs to our fuel model to allow us to do warm up enrichment and correctly compensate for changes in our inlet air temperature. However, we may also want to measure a range of other aspects that may not be directly related to our fuel tuning or our ignition tuning. However, we may want to monitor gear box temperature, maybe oil temperature, fuel temperature, diff temperature, and maybe air box or ambient temperature. Now, what we're going to do with those is really up to the individual. They may just be there for monitoring, for display, or for data-logging purposes.
However, it's also quite possible to use an input such as a gear box or diff temperature sensor into a table to output and control a pump, to turn on a diff or gearbox cooling pump, in an endurance application. So, again, I can't possibly sit here and come up with every possible scenario of how we may use these sensors, but it's really important right at the outset of a project to really carefully think through anything that you may want to use and make sure that you've accounted for that when you're selecting your ECU. It's much harder to do this later on when we have decided we want to add some of the sensors, but we're all out of inputs. Now, I've mentioned that the difference between the analog temperature and the general analog voltage inputs is that internal pull-up resistor. However, if you are out of analog temperature inputs, and you still want to use some negative temperature coefficient thermistors for temperature inputs, it is still possible to do this on some ECUs by adding an external 1K pull-up resistor to five volts.
So this just needs to be incorporated in your wiring harness. And now, one application now, I just want to talk about the pull-up resistor. This is a fairly unique application where you're wanting to use a standalone aftermarket wire-in ECU in a piggy-back application. Now, if you're using it in a piggy-back application, you do need to be very careful with your analog temperature inputs. If your ECU has a dedicated pull-up resistor on those channels that you can't deselect, then you're going to need to add additional sensors for engine coolant temperature and intake air temperature.
You won't be able to share the signal from the existing factory sensors, because essentially there's going to then be two pull-up resistors in the circuit. A lot of the ECUs, though, out there will allow the pull-up resistor to be turned on or off. And if you disable, then you can share that signal. So that's, again, quite a unique application but something to consider. So once we've gone through our analog temperature inputs, we will still need to consider how many analog voltage inputs we want.
So these are more generic, and we're going to use these typically with a three-wire sensor where we're supplying a sensor ground or zero volt and we're also supplying a dedicated voltage output, a controlled voltage output such as a five-volt output. So these sort of sensors that we may be wiring up here may include a manifold absolute pressure sensor, although we do need to consider as well when we're looking at the number of inputs we need, many aftermarket standalone ECUs will actually incorporate an on-board map sensor, which means that we need to run a vacuum line straight to the ECU case. But it also frees up all of the pins on the header plug for our own purposes. Other uses for the analog voltage inputs may be something such as throttle position, oil pressure or fuel pressure, maybe crank case pressure. Really, again, there's no limit to what you can really come up with here or what you want to measure.
And, again, these can be used for safety functionality in the ECU. Or they may be used for logging purposes or driver warning. The other thing we may be wiring up to one of these analog voltage inputs may be a map selection switch or a potentiometer for something such as traction control, launch control, or boost control tuning. Now, we do need to be careful when we're analyzing how many of these analog voltage inputs we need. A really easy trap to overlook is if you're running an engine with drive-by-wire throttle, this really vastly multiplies the number of inputs that we're going to chew up with the control of that drive-by-wire throttle, because typically when it comes to drive-by-wire, we're going to end up with two analog voltage inputs dedicated to accelerator pedal position, and we're going to have another two dedicated to throttle position.
So this is for the safety backup or redundancy system that the drive-by-wire throttle motors use and the way the ECU ensures that the drive-by-wire and throttle pedals are in fact doing what the ECU thinks so that it can bring in a safety mechanism if something goes wrong. So what I'm saying here is, if we've gone from a conventional cable-style throttle body with a throttle-position sensor, in that application we would only be using up one analog voltage input. If we've gone to drive-by-wire, all of a sudden we've gone from one to four. So that makes a big really difference to how quickly you're going to chew up those analog voltage inputs. And, of course, if we're running an engine with dual drive-by-wire throttle, that's just gone and doubled everything again.
So it's really easy to start using up a lot of these inputs. Moving on, the next thing we're going to look at is digital inputs. So these are switched inputs that basically move from a high or a low state. And here we can use these digital inputs for switches for driver control, so perhaps to switch between maps or boost set points. They're also, as I've already discussed, used often as cam position sensors for variable-valve timing control.
We can also have them used for wheel-speed sensors or turbo-speed sensors, because, as well as looking at just a switched input from a driver control, they're also able to look at a frequency or a pulse width. So another application there is if you're using a fuel composition or flex-fuel sensor, this would be connected to a digital input and that digital input is measuring both the frequency from the fuel composition sensor, as well as the pulse width to deduce ethanol content as well as the fuel temperature. Now, we do need to be careful. Again, this is ECU-dependent. We do need to be careful on the maximum frequency that can be measured with some of these digital inputs.
There will be a limit on some ECUs. Well, there will be a limit regardless. But you do need to consider this. It can be an aspect that may be a problem if you're using a very high-tooth count sensor such as an ABS wheel speed sensor for wheel speed input. And you may find that if you exceed the frequency that you end up flat-lining your wheel speed at something that may still be a relatively pedestrian speed.
Okay, so at this point we've covered our inputs to the ECU, so at this point we should know how many inputs to the ECU we need. And we should have written all of these down. So we've covered our ignition and our injector drives. We've covered our analog temperature, our analog voltage inputs. We've looked at our trigger inputs.
And we've looked at our digital inputs. Now we can move on and start considering our auxiliary outputs. So these are the outputs that the ECU actually uses to control the functions. Again, there's just such a broad range of these, it's just sort of up to your imagination as to what you could use these for. These outputs can be switched.
So they simply turn on or off, something you might use perhaps for a thermo fan, to turn on a radiator fan through a relay. Or they can also be pulse-width modulated where the ECU can actually control the frequency and the pulse width being supplied to their output. These can be used for aspects such as idle speed control solenoids, boost control solenoids, or cam control solenoids. Another area where we do need to be a little bit careful here because it can chew up your outputs very quickly is if you have an engine that is running a stepper motor idle speed control. Often these will use up to four of your auxiliary outputs.
So you need to be careful with how you're using those outputs. And often you'll also find that the ECU manufacturer will dedicate certain outputs for those functions such as idle stepper control. So you need to be careful and make sure that you are using the correct outputs when you're wiring the ECU up. Otherwise, you're going to find that you're not going to have that function working how you expect. Lastly as well on our outputs, there will often be on late-model ECUs, late-model aftermarket ECUs will have a bridge output for controlling something like a DC servo motor.
And this is essential for drive-by-wire throttles. So these are actually quite a high-current output, and they are a dedicated output. Often for drive-by-wire throttle, we're going to need one of these full-bridge control outputs for any drive-by-wire motor. And that will actually consist of two half-bridge outputs so that the ECU can drive the DC motor in two separate directions. So, again, this will come down to whether or not you're running drive-by-wire throttle.
And if you are running drive-by-wire throttle, how many drive-by-wire throttle bodies you're going to be wanting to control. And this will be one of the key aspects in the ECU's capabilities when you're looking at it anyway. The ECU manufacturer is going to note whether or not it will handle drive-by-wire throttle control, and if so, whether it can handle one or two drive-by-wire throttle bodies. Okay, so now we've got the basics covered here. We've got the basics, and we know that we have a list of everything that we need the ECU to be able to have wired up to it and everything that the ECU needs to be able to control on the output.
So, at this point, we can probably shortlist a range of ECUs that will suit that particular list that we've created. However, there are a couple more aspects that we want to consider before we get to that point. And this comes down to the sort of features that you want and need on the ECU. And I do recommend that, unless you've got very deep pockets, that you are pretty brutal with this and you separate this down into what you actually need the ECU to be able to do. So these are the bare bones.
This is what you could possibly get away with. These are the bare minimum functions that you need the ECU to be able to do. So, for example, if you're running quad-variable cam control, obviously the ECU needs to be able to do that. Likewise, if you're running dual drive-by-wire throttle bodies, then unless you're prepared to convert to cable throttle, then the ECU understandably needs to be able to do that. Then we get into aspects that maybe you don't specifically need, but they might be nice aspects, such as motor-sport functionality, anti-lag launch control and traction control, maybe onboard data logging as well.
Certainly, I find that as the ECUs and the engines get more sophisticated, that data logging is becoming one of the features that I rely on more and more for optimizing my tuning. So that's both useful on the dyno as well as out on the road or the racetrack. Next consideration, as well, is, does the ECU that you're looking at have a configurable CAN bus? Is this something that you would like or need with the ECU? In particular, a configurable CAN bus can make it very, very easy for the ECU to interface with other modules. The beauty of a CAN bus that's configurable is that it doesn't lock you down to only using products from that particular ECU manufacturer. CAN, being a universal protocol, means that you can take, for example, a Link G4+ ECU and it can communicate really nicely with a Motec PDM or a Motec Dash, and vice versa for that matter.
So that's something you really need to consider there. Then the other thing that goes along with that is, what are you going to do for a wide-band oxygen sensor, a wide-band lambda sensor? Do you need an ECU that has wide-band lambda on board? Or are you considering using an external wide-band controller that's going to communicate to your ECU? Now, the reason that you need to consider this as well is this does make a difference in your price point. Often you'll pay a little bit more for an ECU that has onboard lambda control. But then you're not going to need to pay for an external module to do that job. Of course, if you are going to be using an ECU that incorporates onboard wide-band control, this will probably also eat up some of your auxiliary outputs for heater control to the wide-band sensor as well as inputs in the way of analog voltage inputs that'll be dedicated to the wide-band input as well.
So you need to understand that. Lastly, flex fuel. Do you need to have flex fuel support? And do you require an ECU that uses volumetric efficiency tuning or injection-time tuning? Personally, I don't really see either of those as being an essential. We're seeing a lot of aftermarket ECUs these days incorporate volumetric efficiency tuning. But of course it's equally possible to get a perfectly good result on an ECU that uses an injection-time fuel model.
Really, a lot of this, I believe, comes down to personal preference and what you're most comfortable with. But if you do want one or the other, then this does need to come into your consideration. Okay, so we're at the end now, and we've now got a list of all of our requirements for our ECU. So we should have a really good blueprint at this point of what we need our ECU to do. And at this point we get to the point of actually compiling a list of ECUs that match our criteria here.
Now, what I'd do is limit your ECU list to those ECUs that support your required inputs and outputs and your needs list. Consider the aspects that you've put on your want list, or, in other words, "this would be nice" list, things that you'd kind of like to have. And then what you need to do is to trade off those functions or features against the price point premium that you're likely to be paying for that particular feature. Now, you're likely to find at this point that most of the mainstream ECU manufacturers, certainly the ones that we deal with on the day-to-day here through High Performance Academy are likely to have a suitable product that matches all of your criteria. And then the next step really is to match that criteria and compare it to, the price point to your budget.
Now, we're going to be moving into some questions and answers shortly. This has been a fairly in-depth and slightly different angle to our normal webinars. Because this is quite a common topic we get asked about, I'm expecting a fairly good number of questions here. So please remember, for this webinar only, please ask your questions via the customer service message system rather than the checkbox. You'll find that in the bottom left-hand corner of the web page.
Please click on that and ask your questions in there. Okay, so at this point we've got our short list of ECUs. We're obviously going to have some considerations now. How are we going to choose? We may quite likely have three, four, or even more ECUs that match all of our criteria and maybe still fit within our sort of preferred price range as well. Okay, so these are the considerations that I have.
First of all, how quickly can I get the ECU? Now, this is really coming from a professional workshop standpoint. If I'm running a professional workshop as I used to, I need that product straightaway or as quickly as possible. I definitely need it at least the next business day. I don't want to be waiting two or three weeks for that ECU to come from overseas. So, straightaway, that's going to limit me to, unless I've got a very specific reason, that's going to limit me to ECUs that I can source within my country.
So I'm looking at locally-produced product, or I'm looking at product that has a good, local distribution network. Now, obviously if you're doing this for your own personal project and your timeframes aren't quite so critical, then your own criteria may be slightly different to mine. This is, again, really a situation where, why I can't tell you what the best ECU for your particular application is. It really needs to be a decision that you make based on your own situation. One of the really key, most important aspects, and really this doesn't matter if you're a professional tuning workshop or you're doing this as a one-off for the very first time, can you get local support for the product you're buying in your time zone? Now, that doesn't necessarily mean, can you drive around the corner and talk to the ECU manufacturer? For most people out there, that's not a very likely scenario.
We're not going to be living next door to the manufacturer of your ECU. However, with the world we live in with email and phone support, it should be as easy as picking up the phone or firing off an email with a question. And we want to be able to get fast and accurate answers to those requests. Now, why I say this is, if we're dealing with an ECU manufacturer on the opposite side of the world, we're obviously at the bottom of the Southern Hemisphere, we're dealing with someone in Europe then our time zones are almost completely 12 hours out, it makes it really, really difficult to get answers. It's 10 o'clock in the morning perhaps, I've struck a problem.
I've got to wait all the way until the next day to get answers, and I can't pick up the phone straightaway when I get stuck and get help with the problem. So that's something to keep in mind there. Next thing as well is, do you need to pay for unlock codes for certain functions in your ECU? This is somewhat controversial. Some ECU manufacturers offer their product completely open and unlocked. You get every function that their ECU is capable of when you purchase it.
Other ECUs will use unlock codes that you have to pay for to provide the functionality that you need. There's arguments both ways for which is the better way of going. And obviously I can't really get into the details on which is the best business model. Some ECU manufacturers have chosen to go down a certain path. But for you as an end user you do need to understand that, because it can have quite a large impact on the amount you're paying.
If you pay perhaps upfront maybe $1,500 US for an ECU, but then you need to purchase another $1,500 US worth of codes or unlocks in order to get the functionality from that ECU that you need, that puts you in a completely different price point. So you just need to understand that at the outset, so when you're doing your due diligence on pricing that you actually are comparing apples with apples. Okay, so you're still probably at this point going to have a number of ECUs on your shortlist. Next thing we're going to consider is the functions that you need or the functions that you want. And it's important to understand that not all of the functions are created equal.
So, in some of the cheaper brands of ECU, for example, the launch control functionality may not be as advanced or give you as much control as the launch control functionality in a higher-priced ECU. This goes also for aspects such as traction control, maybe boost control even. And this is why, for a more advanced motor sport orientated application, often this justifies the higher price point ECUs that have more advanced functionality around these sort of aspects. And really when it comes down to it, the actual control of the engine, the ability to control the fuel and ignition delivery to the engine, often most ECUs can do an adequate job with that. Certainly the range of ECUs that we surround ourselves with here at High Performance Academy can all do a really adequate job of controlling the engine itself.
So often the actual decision of the driver on which way we're going to go, whether brand or a particular model, comes down to those auxiliary functions such as the motor sport functionality. Okay, so once you've got your shortlist complete, it's also worthwhile actually performing some research. And what I recommend here is talking to some of the customers running the ECUs that you have shortlisted. Talk to them about their experiences. Have they had any issues with the ECU? How easy did they find the installation and tuning? How easy was the configuration process? One of the particular points that I always highlight is, how easy was it to get support and how easy was it to get answers for your specific questions when you were looking for support? So at this point you've gone through, you've got a shortlist of ECUs, and you've been able to find perhaps one or two models of ECU that are going to fit your criteria.
So at this point you can actually make your decision, and you know that you're going to be buying an ECU that is going to live up to your expectations, and it is going to be able to control your engine. And it's going to be able to offer all of the functions that you specifically need. Now, at this point you also need to consider what your intentions are in the marketplace. If you're an individual and you're only looking at doing this for your own particular application, then you can choose your ECU, go about your business, and you're done. As a professional tuner, often what you're going to find is that you're faced with a variety of ECUs coming through the door.
And in this situation it gets a little bit more tricky, because it's difficult, if not impossible, to be an expert or a master in every brand of ECU out there. It's just too difficult to have that level of deep thorough knowledge on every brand of ECU out there. And what I generally find here, this is how I dealt with it in my business, is we ended up focusing on two or three core brands of ECU that met the requirements of our customer base and also those three brands of ECU, or two or three brands of ECU that we were dealing with, would also meet the different price point requirements of our customers. All right, it looks like at the end of that we don't actually have any questions, which is a surprise. Hopefully, this has given you some really good insight into the process I go through when I am trying to select an ECU for a particular project.
Of course, as always, if you do have any further questions, please feel free to ask those in the forum, and I'll answer them there. Thanks for joining us, guys. I look forward to seeing you all next week.