126 | How to Choose a Reflashing Platform
Reflashing the factory ECU in your car is becoming more and more popular with late model vehicles. There’s a wide selection of options on the market for these popular cars though and it can be tricky to decide which one is best for your application. In this webinar, we’ll talk about the pros and cons of commercial vs open source software, what to look for in a system, how to get support, and how to decide what’s best for you.
It's Andre from the High Performance Academy. Welcome to this webinar where we're going to be discussing what you need to know in order to choose a suitable reflashing package for your particular use. This is a complex task. There's a lot to understand. There's a lot to know, and there's also a lot of options, so hopefully today's webinar is going to give you some insight into the world of reflashing and what it is you actually need to understand in order to choose the best option for your particular tasks or application.
As usual, we will be having questions and answers at the end of the webinar, so if there's anything that you want me to elaborate on or anything that I don't discuss that you want me to dive into, please ask those in the chat and I'll deal with those at the end of the webinar. I'm gonna rewind and I'll start for those of you who aren't really up to speed with reflashing. We'll start with the very basics of what exactly reflashing is. And this is a technique that's become more and more popular as our cars have become more complex in the electronics package, and reflashing is a process where we retain the factory fitted ECU, or PCM as it's often referred to, and we download the stock tuning data out of the ECU. We can then modify that tuning data in exactly the same way that the factory calibration engineers do so, and then we can reflash that new tuning data back into the ECU.
So it's simply a different process of achieving our tuning aims. One of the big advantages of this is that we don't have the expense of an aftermarket ECU, wiring, etc. We are working with the factory fitted componentary, and in a lot of cases we don't need to do anything other than plug into the OBD2 diagnostic port. So it's a process that is applicable to a lot of cars that were produced after about the year 2001 albeit it as I'll discuss in a little bit more detail shortly. Not every single car that's on the market is able to be reflashed, so we do need to understand what options are available for the particular models that we are interested in.
So initially with the reflashing, reflashing market, often we were limited to what we could change, what we could get access to, and it wasn't probably a comparable technique to the aftermarket standalone ECUs that were available at the time. Now of course this technique has been in common use since 2001, so we're getting onto sort of 16 years of development in that market. The companies and individuals that are supplying reflash software or reflash options have become much more astute, their packages have become much more advanced, and of course at the same time we've seen the factory fitted ECUs in cars and the electronics fitted to cars also become much more advanced. So in this day and age with our current crop of performance cars and some of the current popular reflashing options often there is no limit to what we can do in the aftermarket, and this includes obviously tuning an engine just to suit some basics bolt on upgrades, maybe an intake, maybe some aftermarket extractors or headers And an exhaust system, but we can go much further than that as well. It's common now to add superchargers or turbochargers to engines that were originally naturally aspirated.
Large cam upgrades, removing mass air flow sensors and running on a speed density system instead, as well as adding additional functionality, motor sport functions such as launch control, traction control, flat shifting, basically the sky is just about the limit, so these current systems really do rival all but the most advanced aftermarket ECU systems. And one of the really nice features here, and this is really why there has been such a drive for reflashing in the aftermarket tuning industry is if we look at the latest cars that are coming out, it can be very, very difficult and hence very, very costly to completely remove that factory ECU and fit an aftermarket standalone ECU, and that's simply because as our cars have become more advanced the electronics in the cars and their communications between the different electronic modules have become much more complex. What this means is that when we remove the factory ECU often the gearbox won't change gear, maybe the ABS system won't function, the dash cluster may not work, and often even the air conditioning won't work. So all of these modules, all these electronic sub systems inside the car rely on communications backwards and forwards with the engine control module, and as soon as we remove that we're sort of thrown into chaos and it's very difficult to get everything up and running. So that's why we're seeing the drive now for reflashing systems.
So if we're interested in reflashing cars, we've come to the conclusion that the model of car that we're interested in tuning is supported by some kind of reflash system, what are our options here? Well, basically when we break it down there's a few different categories that reflashing systems sort of can fall into, and one of the simplest, and I'm really gonna brush over this quite briefly, because it doesn't allow a lot of control for a tuner, and this is the master slave type of tuning system where we might buy into a franchise. Something in the name of Superchips might be a common one. We have some reflashing capability, but what we're doing is downloading a map out of the ECU, sending off to a master tuner. Often that will be offshore overseas. They are then providing us with a tuned map and we're flashing that into the engine control module.
So I don't really call this tuning. We're really relying on a base file. Our ability to make specific changes to suit what we see on the Dyno, really it's non-existent. We're really just relying on that base file, and often these sorts of tuners won't even bother with a Dyno. A lot of them are mobile.
They just drive around in a van with a bunch of laptops and some hardwares, dongles, and reflash cars like that. So it's not really what High Performance Academy is about. We don't have a lot of control over the process, and if something isn't to our liking often there's no ability to change that. So I'm not really going to deal with that style of reflashing product too much further. The next two sort of categories that we're going to delve into in some depth here are the commercial and open source reflashing packages, and this is where we're going to be spending most of our time.
So commercial packages, these are made by a commercial entity who are obviously doing this in order to make money from us reflashing cars. So a couple of examples of commercial reflashing packages would be the likes of HP Tuners, COBB, ECUtek, SCT. There's a fairly long list of these depending on exactly what models of car that we're interested in tuning. And we'll talk in a little bit more detail shortly about how these commercial packages work. Moving on from that we also have open source software, and these open source software packages are developed by some individuals out in the greater tuning community.
So often these guys also have day jobs and they're doing it as a passion. So a good example of this, which we'll have a look at really shortly, is EcuFlash, a very common piece of software that's popular for reflashing in both the Mitsubishi and Subaru tuning markets. Okay, so the other last option, which again, I'm not gonna delve into too deeply, but you need to understand that it is an option, is we have got a hardware interface that allows download or extract the raw data out of the factory ECU, and it's important to understand when we're doing this it's just a raw hexadecimal file, which on face value is completely useless and completely meaningless to us. Most of us as professional tuners will need a user interface, a graphical interface, that allows us to view the data from that raw hexadecimal file in a form that we're familiar with. So what I mean by this is a visual fuel map or ignition map that we can then manipulate and make changes to where the numbers make sense and the axes that we're viewing that data on makes sense.
Now the other option though is if you're a lot more advanced than that, particularly if you're technically inclined, it is possible to download raw hexadecimal files out of ECUs and then find your maps, find the maps inside that raw hexadecimal file yourself. Now this is quite advanced, and in particular, not that we deal with it a lot here in New Zealand, we see and we hear about this a lot in the European tuning market. And it appears from this side of the world, as I say, the European reflashing market is not one that I've been strongly involved in, but it appears that the support for a lot of these European vehicles is not quite what we see with the JDM and US domestic market models, and this often requires a lot more work on the part of the tuner to actually find the specific maps they want to change, also understand what those maps actually mean and how they interact, and then finally make those changes. So that's the options that are available, and really today what we're going to be focusing on is the commercial and the open source software packages. Now before we move on and discuss those options in a little bit more detail, there's two terms that I just want to delve into a little bit further, actually three terms I want to delve into a little bit further.
The first, I've already used this term is the ROM file. So this is the raw data that we're downloading out of the ECU, and as I've already discussed, on its own that particular raw data file is of little use in that we're inclined where we can go about reverse engineering that and finding maps inside that ROM file. So for the rest of us, what we need is some way of turning that ROM file into graphically represented data that makes sense, like I've already mentioned, and this is done with a second term I wanted to talk about, which is a definition file, and the definition file in essence does that conversion for us. What it does is it provides the addresses inside the raw hexadecimal file for each of the maps, it defines their size, it defines their axes, and then using that definition file, it's kind of like a road map to the hexadecimal ROM file and allows us to view and then make our tuning changes. So for me particularly that's an essential element.
We need an accurate definition file so that we can provide our tuning changes. And the last term that I just wanted to talk about, depending who you're dealing with, what software you're dealing with, you may hear the term software patch. You may also hear this referred to as an operating system upgrade, and essentially what we're talking about here is some of the more advanced functionality. Obviously we're dealing with a factory ECU that's designed to operate the engine in a specific way. It's got fuel maps, it's got ignition maps, and chances are thousands of other maps that are in there to operate the engine in a specific way as intended by the original equipment manufacturer.
Probably with a naturally aspirated engine there's a good chance that that O.E manufacturer never really intended to provide for forced induction. So often what we're going to need to do is actually rewrite some of the factory ECU code to allow it to read higher air flows into positive boost. Likewise, we may want to remove a factory fitted mass air flow sensor and rewrite the ECU so that it now takes input from a map sensor and runs a speed density system. Also, if we want to add additional functionality that may never have been included, such as perhaps closed loop boost control on an engine that was originally naturally aspirated, this is again going to require some of the factory code to be rewritten, and this is done through what's referred to often as a patch file. So this just allows some additional functionality to the factory ECU that was never available in stock form.
Okay, so hopefully now we've got a rough idea of what's going on. We're going to start by delving a little bit deeper into to start with the open source software market. So as I've said, the open source software is generally developed by enthusiasts in the market. So one of the advantages here is that often open source software is cheap or even free, and often the software is free and we just need to purchase a hardware interface. What we'll do now is if we can just jump across to my laptop screen for a second.
I'm just going to give you a really quick tour of one of the pieces of software that I'm personally quite familiar with. This is the EcuFlash software package, which I've already mentioned is very, very popular for reflashing late model Subaru and late model Mitsubishi engines. So what we've got here is our raw HEX file that's been loaded up, and we can see at the moment, I'll just turn that on. We can see at the moment that the ROM file that I have open at the moment is from a Version 7 Subaru STI. And we can see all of the information down in this pane here available for this particular ROM file.
So this is what our definition has done. It's provided us with the maps that we can see. First of all, we have some information about the ROM, or this particular ROM file. We can see it's from a Subaru Impreza STI. It's also JDM market.
One of the really key pieces of code here though is the Internal ID. So this is the ROM identifier, and this is what, this is the definition that we need in order to view this particular file and make sense of it. So once we've got that, obviously at this point we do have a definition loaded up that is fairly well, fairly accurate, and fairly thorough, and then we get access to all of the maps we're interested in, and what we can do is load up any of these maps and make them available to see, and then at the moment we can see we've got two maps that are open. We have our primary open loop fueling A, which we can see here. So this is our open loop air fuel ratio targets.
We have engine load in grams per revolution on the X axis is our load axis, and we have engine speed and RPM on our vertical axis. So at this point looks relatively comparable, makes a little bit more sense to anyone who has already tuned a standalone aftermarket ECU. Moving down we've also got one of our base timing maps. So this is base timing A, and again, we've got those same axes. We've got engine load and we've got engine speed, and this is our base ignition advance.
So we can go about making any modifications to that, and then we can use EcuFlash to then flash those changes into the ECU. Now there's some pros and cons with the open source software. As I've already mentioned, often it's cheap or even free, so it's a very cost effective way to get involved with reflashing cars. It also offers typically very, very good support for cars that are immensely popular in the tuning community, and the reason for this is because it is open source it is developed by the tuning community. Obviously it's just a numbers game.
If we have physically more people that are interested in tuning and developing a particular model of car, there's more of those people are likely to be sort of interested in the coding aspect and writing software and decoding, reverse engineering factory ROM files, so we get a lot more people working on that particular project. So for popular models generally we find that the open source software is reasonably good. So my examples here, again, obviously Mitsubishi Evo, and Subaru WRX and STI. Very, very popular cars all around the world for modification, and we find that they are very, very well supported generally in the open source community. The ability to tune these cars though, as I've already kind of touched on, is really dependent on the definitions that we have available.
Without a definition, unless we're in a position where we can develop our own definition, we're really blind and we're unable to use the software to make any changes. And what I find is that the thoroughness and accuracy of the definition files does vary quite dramatically from one market to another, and again, just from a numbers perspective we see that the larger support in the open source community understandably comes from the US market. So again, understandably what we find is that the US domestic market models of Subaru and Mitsubishi Evo, for example, generally are much more developed in terms of their definitions. And here in New Zealand we more often than not will be dealing with Japanese domestic market models, and while these again are fairly popular and well supported, quite often what we found was that the definitions were a little bit lacking, maybe not as thoroughly developed as what we saw for the US domestic market models. So that's one consideration there.
Depending on what market of car you're dealing with, the ability or the thoroughness of these definitions can vary quite dramatically. The other big problem is here when we're dealing with this freeware piece of software, this open source piece of software, there's really no guarantees about any of these definitions. Remember again, a lot of these definitions are simply put together by enthusiasts out there in the market, and when we're using one of these definitions that's not to say that the definition is going to be accurate. It may be defining the wrong address for a certain map. They may be defining a map that the person developing that definition believes does one thing when it actually does something completely different.
And what we find is these ECUs, it is important to understand, these ECUs that the open source community are reverse engineering are incredibly complex, and Mitsubishi and Subaru don't, as a rule, provide a handbook to the open source community saying, "Hey look, this is how we do everything. "Here's where all the maps are. "Here's how big they are. "Go for gold." It's not like that. This is really the enthusiasts on their own back are doing this work.
So the accuracy and thoroughness of these definitions can sometimes be questionable, and with some of the less popular models we may not get access to all of the maps that we really need in order to thoroughly tune the car, so that can be quite limiting. There's no guarantees about exactly what we're going to get. Now, just touching on going into a little bit more detail on something I've just touched on already as well with there's often no understanding of what a particular map does, what that also means is that when we're dealing with an open source product we're typically going to have no support. So we're able to download the software, we're able to download some definitions, and at that point we're just about on our own. There's not a nice convenient help file.
There's not a nice convenient set of documentation that comes with this software. Now yes, there is a huge community there to support you. Again, if you're dealing with a popular car these communities are massive for open source tuning. One of the really big popular platforms or forms for support there would be EvoM Forum for the Mitsubishi reflashing using EcuFlash just for one example. However, we're in a situation now where we may need to spend hours trawling the Internet, trawling through these forums trying to find answers to our specific problems, and at that point we're again in that really awkward situation where often we also need to kind of decode the answers we're getting and sort of sort between fact and fiction and decide what's accurate and what's true, sorry, what's untrue.
So this can influence our results. Now, I don't wanna make out like open source is sort of all bad news. It's obviously a very cost effective way of making modifications to our tuning, and as I've said, if we're dealing with popular cars then often the definitions will be pretty thorough and we can do a reasonably good job. But, if we do get stuck, if we do need a little bit of hand holding along the way and a little bit of support, often that will be lacking. Lastly as well, there are a number of software patches developed by the open source community.
This goes for both Subaru as well as Mitsubishi. Some of these are pretty advanced. There's valet modes. There's full speed density tuning options allowing the mass air flow sensor to be removed, switchable maps, the list goes on and on, even live tuning in some instances. However, often applying one of these patches or software modifications can be a little bit daunting to those of you who may be fresh to this sort of work.
It does require you to actually add some code into the ROM file, and that can again be a little bit daunting. There's no nice, easy, clean way of doing that often. Now that's actually one thing I just want to touch on before we move on and talk about commercial software as well. I've just talked about live tuning. For those of you who have come from an aftermarket standalone ECU tuning background, you'll be very familiar and used to making your tuning changes live.
And in most instances when we're reflashing a factory ECU this is not possible. More often than not what we will be doing is we will be logging what's going on inside the ECU while we're running it, then we'll shut down the car, turn off the engine, we'll make our changes based on the scan data, then reflash the ECU and test again. So it's a slightly different technique to our tuning, and again, for those coming from a standalone aftermarket ECU background that can seem a little bit unusual. Okay, so we've touched on open source. We've talked about the good.
Obviously very cost effective. We've talked about the bad, sometimes inaccurate or incomplete definitions and a lack of support, a lack of documentation, and a lack of a help file. So we'll move into our commercial software now, and obviously the first thing we need to understand is when we're dealing with commercial software there is going to be a cost involved, and often that cost can be quite significant. These commercial manufacturers, they're obviously there to make money out of doing so, and us as end users for that software will be paying them for that privilege. There's a few ways that the manufacturers can go about making a commercial software package.
Often there will be an upfront cost initially. So you're going to be paying a certain amount of money for the software required for making the tuning changes and the privilege of being an end user for that particular software package. This can vary from sort of a few hundred dollars through to several thousands, so it does vary quite significantly across the market depending on what software platform you're talking about and what cars you want to tune. Once you have made your upfront purchase cost for the package there's also typically an ongoing cost, and this is dealt with in two different ways. The first way would be through a license fee.
So essentially what we do here is for every car that we want to tune that particular ECU will have a unique identifier or code, you can think of it as a serial number, and we need to license that particular ECU so that we can make tuning changes to it. Now once we've licensed that ECU it's a one off cost and then we can make as many changes to that ECU as we'd like, so it's a one off cost. So a software package is not too limited to it, but software packages that work on this basis include HP Tuners, they also include ECUtek and UpRev, just a few that are on my mind there. The other way of dealing with this is where we buy a hardware interface or a hardware dongle for each of the cars we want to tune, and this is where the manufacturer recoups their ongoing cost. They're charging us for each of these hardware interfaces.
Now, I've got an example of one of these hardware interfaces here. This is a COBB AccessPORT. So we need one of these COBB AccessPORT hand controllers or hardware dongles for each car that we want to tune using the COBB AccessPORT system. Another software package or manufacturer that uses that technique is SCT, which are very popular in the Ford tuning market. So there are some advantages and disadvantages with both of those, and I just want to touch on that first.
Okay, the biggest advantage with the licensing system is generally, at least in my own experience, this tends to be a cheaper option. We may be paying somewhere in the region of maybe between 100 and maybe three or 400 US dollars to license a vehicle. As I've said, that's a one off cost and then we can tune that vehicle as many times as we want. Commercially we would simply add that, or I say we, what I mean is we know with running my own tuning workshop I would simply add that cost and then pass it on to the user, the end user, or customer, for the first time I tuned their vehicle. So that's a cheaper option, but if we look at the hardware interface or dongle system, then there are some advantages there.
While it is normally a little bit more expensive, the end user or customer ends up with that hardware dongle staying with the car. This is a nice upsell really for the customer because those hardware dongles often give the end user a few advantages. First of all, quite often we'll be able to store multiple tunes on their hardware device, and the end user can then program those different tunes into their ECU themselves. So it would be great, for example, if we wanted to provide a pump gas tune and then racetrack tune for a car that might go to the track. We can provide both of those tunes and then the customer can swap between them as they see fit.
Often the hardware dongle will also provide the ability to read and reset diagnostic trouble codes. So, that means that the end user doesn't need to come back and bother you if they have a check engine light. They'll be able to check into that diagnostic trouble code, find out what that is, clear it, and also report it back to whoever did the tuning so we can decide whether that's an issue or it's nothing to worry about. The last thing that's really handy with these dongles or hardware interfaces is often the end user can also provide or perform their own data logging. So a great use of that is where we're providing tunes for a customer that is remote to us.
What we can do is provide a tune, get the customer to upload that tune to the car, then perform some data logging, send us some log data, and then we can go through that and make any changes, confirm that the tune is doing everything we want. So as I said, advantages and disadvantages of both. You need to weigh those up when you are making your decision. One frustrating problem that I've come across a few times in my career though is where a car has been tuned using a hardware interface, it's been sold, gone through a few hands, and then that hardware interface somewhere along the line has been lost. That does become quite complex and a little bit more costly, because often the hardware interface will need to be repurchased in order to tune the car.
Okay, so another thing with the commercial software is, and this is really a critical aspect, is often you're going to end up with a fairly thorough integrated scanning software package provided to you. Again, just going back to what I mentioned before, when we're reflashing a factory ECU, more often than not we're not going to be able to make our tuning changes live, so we really, we really need to see what's going on with the ECU's parameters while we're running the car in order to figure out what was happening and what changes we need to make, so that scanner is a critical element. So if we can just jump across to my laptop screen here for a second. This is probably one of my favorite scanning packages which comes from HP Tuners with their VCM Suite software. It's a very, very thorough scanning software package.
We can see on the left hand side a number of channels that were being scanned for this particular data log. Then we can see in the middle of the screen at the moment we've got our chart VS time recorder, so we can see any of those parameters as we're running the car. We can move through this and see exactly what was going on. And then really one of the most powerful advantages I find with the VCM scanner software is the ability to create these histograms so we can see exactly what was happening with a large amount of data. So without getting too tied into this the particular histogram we're looking at now is looking at the error between the commanded air fuel ratio and the measured air fuel ratio relative to manifold pressure on the vertical axis and engine RPM on the horizontal axis.
Now the power of this is that we can scan a huge amount of data. We don't really need to be concentrated on the laptop. We can just drive the car. Once we've got all of that data scanned we can then use this data and apply changes directly into, in this case, the VE table in the ECU. So a thorough and advanced scanning software package is really critical.
It's one of the most important aspects, and we will normally find that the commercial software packages will come out with some really good integrated scanning software, whereas the likes of EcuFlash, our open source software that we just looked at previously, EcuFlash itself doesn't do any scanning, so we're going to need to integrate a third party piece of software in order to do that data logging or scanning. A good example there that's popular in the Mitsubishi community is the software package EvoScan. So this is nice though because it's all integrated. We know exactly what we're getting. The other thing that's really important, and this is probably one of the key aspects here with why you would purchase a commercial software package if you have the option of an open source software package is that you get a support network to fall back on.
You're going to get proper, thorough definitions. We've got a company that is dedicated to developing and reverse engineering these ECUs, and in general the definitions, the quality of the definitions, the accuracy and thoroughness of the definitions is going to be much better than what we'll get in the aftermarket. Likewise, we're also going to get proper documentation and help on the software that we're using. So again, when we're learning if we're not that up to speed with a particular software package this can be an absolute life saver. And let's just jump into my laptop screen again.
I just want to show you this is the ECUtek software package for the Subaru BRZ Toyota 86, and if we come up to Help, we look at Help Files here, we've got a huge amount of information that is all available within the software. And then for this particular package is the BRZ-FT86. We have all of the information specific to the BRZ and 86 package, so everything that we need to know there. For example, if we load up the tuning guide this is a very, very thorough tuning guide. So every single aspect and function inside the ECUtek package for the Toyota 86 is thoroughly defined, thoroughly described.
And of course, if you still get stuck and you need further help beyond what's available in the help files, then you'd have manufacturer support. You can either email ECUtek in the UK or you can ring ECUtek if the time zones work for you and get support. So that's really, really important. The other thing is, again, while these commercial packages are likely to be much more accurate, much more thorough in their definitions than an open source package, remember again as I have touched on, the manufacturers of these cars aren't exactly handing over all of their hard work to the likes of ECUtek, to the likes of HP Tuners, and telling them exactly what maps are there and how they work. These are very, very complex ECUs.
There's literally thousands of tables and parameters held inside the ECUs, and these companies are reverse engineering and finding these tables, and also working out how they interact, how they operate. Now, the advantage of working with a commercial reflash manufacturer is that they're actively working to improve these definitions, and they're also working on coding fixes if there are problems. They're adding new tables, adding new parameters. A classic example of this is a common problem that GM tuners were having with late model LS V8s, and the problem was that we noticed that after a reflash the air fuel ratio would go massively rich for a period of 10 minutes or more, and no one really had an answer for what that was. And about 12 months ago I'd say it was now HP Tuners actually came out for a fix with this.
They found the problem, which was a modeled parameter called injector tip temperature. They found that, they added it into the definition, and then we had a fix for it. So it really is quite valuable when you've got that kind of support. The other aspect with the commercial packages is often if we want to make operating system changes or patches those become incredibly easy. So again, let's just jump to my laptop, and we'll go into what ECUtek referred to as RaceROM.
So RaceROM essentially is a patch, and if we come down to the very bottom here, or actually for a start we'll click on our RaceROM tab, and this particular tune, this particular ROM file that I have open already has RaceROM, which is ECUtek's suite of advanced features added in. But, we can, if we don't, we're opening a factory ROM file we can simply choose to add that RaceROM file. It's as simple as a couple of clicks and that will be added in. We'll move back across to maps, and once the RaceROM patch is applied we can see right down at the bottom we have our ECUtek RaceROM maps. I'll just scroll down so we can see this, and this is a series of options that we now have available.
For example, we can now have access to multiple fuel maps, which can be selected via the customer while driving in a variety of ways. We can, oops, we can also change our ignition timing in exactly the same way. We have multiple maps for our ignition timing. One of the features that is pretty advanced with the ECUtek package is their, what they refer to as custom maps. So what this does is allows us to develop and to find our own custom maps, which we can use for a range of functions.
So this could be used, for example, to repurpose an output on the factory ECU for the likes of boost control. Then we have also some RaceROM special features, which I'll just scroll down, which include Accelerator Trim. We've got Auto Blip, so the ECU will automatically blip the throttle on a downshift. Flat Foot Shifting, Launch Control, etc. So all of those are incredibly easy to apply.
Let's jump across to the HP Tuner software. And I've just got a calibration open at the moment, but if we click on the Operating System tab here, this is where we have the ability of making code modifications. So for example, with this particular option we've got here at the top is the Speed Density - Enhanced or real time tuning option, which allows the ECU to be modified to work on a speed density system as opposed to using the mass air flow sensor, and for this particular PCM we have the option of making any tuning changes in real time. So that's as easy as with of these commercial software packages for making these sorts of changes. Now, I do also need to mention that in some instances some of these commercial software packages are not available to end user tuners.
So if you're an enthusiast and you're interested in just tuning your car, often that's not going to be possible with some of the commercial tuning packages. ECUtek is a good example here, but they're sort of starting to bridge the gap. Originally this was a pro-dealer only product, so you had to be a professional tuner. The cost also was quite high for purchasing the ECUtek package, and there was no end user support. Recently on some of the more popular models, the Toyota 86 BRZ is one of those examples, there is now the ability for the end users to tune a large number of the maps but not quite all of them.
Okay, we're going to be moving into questions and answers shortly, so if you do have any questions this is a good time to get those into the chat. I can see we already do have a few in there. Now we want to sort of finish this off with what you need to decide on to decide what option is right for you. So remember here, we're really talking about the option between open source and the option between that and commercial software. So first of all, just to reiterate it's important to understand regardless of whether we're dealing with open source or we're dealing with a commercial software package, just because a car was manufactured after that sort of line in the sand about the year 2000, it doesn't necessarily mean that your car can be reflashed.
We need to again just understand why that is. Regardless of whether we're dealing with a commercial package or the open source community, there needs to be enough demand for people to want to develop that software, develop the reflashing option for that particular car, and if you're dealing with some really obscure brand there's really no desire, not enough desire, in the aftermarket for people to do that. So really if you're dealing with something that is a popular brand for tuning then you're probably going to find you'll have numerous options for reflashing that. The caveat that I want to add there is that when a brand new model of car comes out, particularly if it's a brand new lineup for a manufacturer, often there will be some delay in reflashing options coming to market. The Toyota 86 BRZ was a classic example of this released initially in 2012.
I forget now, but I think it was around about eight to 12 months before ECUtek came to market. They were the first to offer a solution for reflashing that particular car. Sometimes it will be a little bit quicker, particularly if the new ECU is based on an existing model it can be a lot quicker, and sometimes it can take a lot longer. On that note as well, I should've probably touched on this already, it's important to understand that regardless of whether we are dealing with a commercial reflashing package or an open source reflashing package, what we're looking for in the data, the data that we have access to in that factory ECU is the same. This is obviously assuming that we're not dealing with a patched ROM file where we've made modifications.
But, the fuel table for example is going to look the same on a Version 7 Subaru STI in EcuFlash as what it looks like in ECUtek or any other software package commercially that supports that, and this is because what we're really dealing with here is the maps are defined by the O.E manufacturer. They've gone through and decided how they want to run that particular engine and what maps they need in order to do so, and the software manufacturer that we're dealing with, either open source or commercial, is simply downloading those maps and graphically displaying them. So regardless of what option you go through, the way we go about tuning the engine and the maps that are available to us, these really are defined by the factory or O.E manufacturer initially. The next thing you need to do is decide what cars you want to be tuning. And this is really important, because there is no universal system.
This is a question we so frequently get, and I wish there was a universal solution for tuning every car. It's simply not like that. So for example, if you want to focus on tuning GM LS V8s, then you've got a range of options available to you in that market. EFI Live and HP Tuners would be two of the most popular players in that market. However, if you want to tune a Subaru STI, neither of those software packages are going to be of any use or any relevance to you.
You're going to need something along the lines of EcuFlash or maybe ECUtek for example. So what we're going to find is that depending on the models of car that we want to tune, we may need multiple software packages. But, it's important to understand this before we start looking, because quite often we will find that there is a crossover. So for example in my old tuning shop we dealt a lot with Ford and GM vehicles, and it turns out that HP Tuners offer support for both of those platforms. So obviously that gives us an advantage.
We can use one software package and tune both GM and Ford vehicles. The other thing you need to really focus on here is where you're at in the tuning market. Are you a professional, are you looking to do this for a career, or are you a hobbyist? Now often some of the commercial packages may be a little bit difficult to justify for a hobbyist tuner, particularly if you're only tuning your own car some of these software packages can have initial purchase prices that are in the range of three to 5,000 US dollars or even more, so that's really hard to justify if it's only for your own car. The other aspect though is for a commercial operator time is money, and often it is more cost effective for you to buy a commercial package with all of that support network to fall back on, rather than buying or downloading a freely available open source software package and then wasting hours and hours of your time trawling the Internet trying to find answers or solutions to the tuning problems that you have. So, you need to be very practical here, because really I think a lot of professional tuners overlook how valuable their time is, and you can certainly waste a lot of it in the open source tuning market trying to get everything working or find out why something isn't working.
This really leads into the next question as well is where would you put your current level of knowledge? Now if you're a novice tuner you're likely to benefit from a software package that gives you a lot of support. You're likely to have a lot of questions, and it's likely that you're going to need to discuss these questions with the manufacturer. And in this case the commercial software package is going to be an advantage, because you're going to be able to deal directly with the company that is providing that reflashing package and get the accurate answers to your questions. In the open source community on the other hand, again as I've mentioned, you can spend hours trawling Internet forums trying to sort fact from fiction. If you're a more advanced user on the other hand, you're experienced with tuning, perhaps you're already relatively experienced with reflashing, you already know what you're doing, in that case the open source software package may make more sense to you, and you're already going to be a little bit ahead of the eight ball when it comes to actually finding those answers in forums, as well.
The next thing is well is how many cars you're going to tune? Again, this really comes down to the cost factor. So if you're going to be looking at purchasing a commercial software package, again, looking on the face of it it might be three to 5,000 dollars of an investment, so you need to factor in how many cars you're going to need to tune before that sort of level of investment is going to make sense for you. And often when it comes down to it if you're running a commercial shop this is a really big consideration that you need to make. It can make a lot of sense to specialize in one niche market. So what I mean by this is for example if you can specialize in just tuning GM vehicles this is going to give you two big advantages.
First of all, you are going to only need one software package, so you you can really focus on that particular software package, keep your cost down. The other thing is that you're going to obviously become much more familiar with that particular software package. You're gonna be dealing with it all the time. You're gonna learn its idiosyncrasies, and you're also going to become familiar with how the factory PCM operates and the sort of common problems that you're likely to see. So that's great if you can do that, and in some markets, particularly we see this is very common in the US where there are tuning workshops that only specialize in one particular brand or even one particular model in a manufacturer's line up.
Here in New Zealand when I ran my old workshop that simply wasn't possible. We live in a small country with only four million people. My city at the time had about a half a million people. If we had tried to specialize in one brand of car we simply wouldn't have been able to put food on the table, so we were forced to support multiple models, multiple brands, and this of course increases the expense because we need multiple software packages. It also increases the sort of load on the tuner if you like because the tuner has to be familiar and understand several different software packages and several different ECUs, how factory ECUs work.
Lastly, I wanna also just mention that we've talked here about downloading the ROM files, and I've briefly mentioned using the on board diagnostic OBD2 port, and it's a really nice way of doing things. And this fortunately for me has been the option that has been available for everything that we've been reflashing. I did just want to mention that a lot of the late model cars in particular seems applicable to European cars. This isn't a technique that we can use for reflashing. The manufacturers know that people are doing this and they've made it more and more difficult, so in a lot of these late model European cars we actually physically need to take the ECU out of the vehicle, cut it open, and bench flash it.
So it adds another layer of complexity there and makes the whole tuning process much more complex. The other aspect that's really critical just when you are looking into software options that are available, because for these popular models of car you're likely to find that there may be two, three, or even more software packages, reflashing packages, that are available. So it's really important to know exactly what you're going to be getting. First of all, we want to stay away from, if we want to make our own tuning changes, we want to stay away from those master slave type deals, which I discussed briefly at the start of the webinar. We want to make sure that we can physically make our own tuning changes to the calibration in the ECU and we don't need to rely on a master tuner in order to make those changes.
And at the same time we also want to make sure that we are purchasing a package where we'll be able to download the ROM file out of the ECU and straightaway view the maps in a way that makes sense to us. A lot of the packages that are out there available in the aftermarket, particularly again for some of these European cars, just really give the tuner the tools to download the raw hexadecimal file and then some tools to actually help find maps in that raw HEX file, but it's still the end user's job to actually find those maps. And while there are definitely tuners out there who are capable of doing that, I find that's more advanced and those tuners fall into a fairly small percentage. Okay, so hopefully that's given you some insight into the options available for reflashing and some of the things that you need to understand in order to make an educated decision about the right package for your particular situation. We'll move into some questions now.
Our first question comes from Alex who's asked, "Open source software EcuFlash, "can it support Subaru Forester SG5 2002 JDM?" You know what, I couldn't tell you. It's one of those situations where you would have to first of all find out what the ROM ID in the ECU is and then find out if you have a suitable definition. And this is really one of the challenges is often with some of these slightly less common models, such as a JDM Forester, you're actually going to need to read out of the ECU and find out what you've got to deal with before you can find out if you've got a definition file. Obviously with open source it's not a big deal because your total investment in the software is zero, so if it doesn't support that particular model it's not the end of the world. However, a commercial problem there that often crops up is if you are relying on open source software for commercial tuning purposes you've got a customer that's booked their car in for a tune, they've come in, you put the car on a Dyno, read from the ECU, and all of a sudden you find that you don't have a definition for that particular car.
Well, it's not life or death. The car can still be driven out of the shop in the same form it came in. It can be a little bit embarrassing because you're basically giving the car back to the customer after wasting their time with no changes being made to it. TDEChamp’s asked, "What vehicles do have live changes "when using factory ECUs?" Quite variable. I couldn't honestly give you a list, and it's really gonna depend a little bit on the software that you're dealing with as well.
A lot of popular cars have live tuning options on some software packages and on other software packages they don't. I believe, and I'm not a software or hardware engineer, so take this with a grain of salt, I believe that some of the limitations are based on the ECU architecture and how the ECU is developed. Essentially my understanding here is for live tuning all of the calibration data is held in read only memory inside the ECU. In order to make live tuning changes some of the key maps that we're interested in changing, let's say volumetric efficiency table, maybe our ignition tables, are temporarily copied into RAM where we can make tuning changes in real time. Once the tuning changes have been completed and we're happy with them then they need to also be copied across and flashed into ROM.
So I can't really give you a thorough answer to that unfortunately, Tyler. There's just so many options. The early GM LS1s for example on HP Tuners could be real time tuned. The late model ones can't be. I will point out though, because for those of you coming from a standalone tuning background this does seem like a real massive downside to reflashing, and the reality is it simply isn't.
The reality for probably greater than 75% of my reflash tuning is that we will be focusing solely on the wide open throttle ramp run area of our tuning, and we can almost completely disregard the idle cruise everywhere that the ECU is running in close loop. And when we're doing our wide open throttle ramp run tunes on the Dyno on the road then the process is exactly the same as what we do with an aftermarket standalone ECU. We'll perform ramp on the Dyno. We're not making changes during that ramp run. We're simply looking at the data.
And then after the ramp run is complete we'll look at our scanned data, decide what changes need to be made, apply those, reflash the ECU, and repeat the process. So it's really very, very similar. ADV Auto has asked, "The talk has been on software mainly. "What about the hardware required?" Actually, that's a really good point. I haven't really dealt with the hardware side of things too much.
So again, really my experience here and what we're talking about is based around being able to read and flash the ECU via the OBD2 port. So the hardware that we're going to need is going to depend on whether we're dealing with a commercial or open source package. And when we're dealing with a commercial package the required hardware will be provided to us, and this in general terms is going to be an OBD2 cable that goes to an interface and then through to a USB connector on our laptop. So that's the hardware that's required there. In the open source community, as I've kind of touched on, typically the software is going to be free, often free, sometimes there will be a very small donation required, and one of the most popular hardware interfaces that's used along with these open source packages is the likes of the Tactrix OBD2 to USB adapter.
There's a couple of models of the Tactrix cable depending on whether you're dealing with an early model car or a late model car which uses CAN. I will just briefly mention when we're talking about bench tuning, this requires, where we actually have to cut the ECU open and connect directly onto the PC board, there are fixtures available for doing this, so the hardware there becomes much more involved. Bathurst Bully has asked, "Would it be possible "to replace the factory narrow band O2 sensor "with a wide band O2 sensor "and calibrate it to work on something like HP Tuners?" Well, that's not strictly impossible. Quite a common way of doing what you're talking about there. Some of the wide band controllers will do what's called a narrow band simulator.
So they will fit a wide band sensor in place of a narrow band. This gives us then the ability to read wide band air fuel ratio data. Then they also out of the controller will output the zero to one volt that the factory ECU is expecting to see from a narrow band input. So in terms of doing what you're directly asking though, calibrating the wide band to work with HP Tuners, no, that's not really possible. The factory code for the ECU is all set up and based around a narrow band input and that narrow band sensor, regardless of how we calibrate a wide band to simulate that is only ever really focusing on stoichiometric, so it's only looking at whether we are slightly rich or slightly lean of stoich and allowing close loop changes to be made based on that.
Just because you have mentioned HP Tuners though, with the HP Tuners software, or hardware interface I should say, we have the ability to interface a wide band controller directly into that so we can then get that data into the scanner, or alternatively we can with some wide band controllers take the serial output from the wide band controller directly into our laptop and read that into the scanner. Alright, looks like that's taken us to the end of our questions. And again, just thank you all for joining us. Hope that it has been beneficial. Hope it's expanded your knowledge on reflashing software packages, reflashing hardware, and the differences between commercial and open source, the advantages and disadvantages of both.
There really is no one right answer for everyone, and as a commercial tuning workshop I used and relied on both commercial and open source tuning packages depending on exactly what it was I was tuning on the day. As usual, if you do have any further questions please ask those in the forum and I'll be happy to answer them there. Until next time, thanks for joining us and we'll see you all next week.