Summary

For the novice tuner, it can be challenging trying to decide what options you should be using for tuning a specific car. In some cases we may have the option of plug & play or wire in aftermarket ECUs, as well as a range of open source and commercial reflashing options. In this webinar we’ll discuss the best ways to research the available options for your car and how to decide between them.

Transcript

- Hey guys it's Andre from High Performance Academy, welcome along to another webinar, and in this webinar we're going to be discussing a really important aspect that you're going to need to consider. And that is how to select the correct tuning option for your particular car or your particular application. And this is an area that is becoming increasingly more confusing as we're seeing more and more competitors come to the market with offerings in both the form of standalone aftermarket ECUs as well as packages that allow us to alter the tuning information that's held inside your factory ECU. Now I think one of the most common questions I get is what software do I use to tune my car? And I think particularly for those that are new to the industry, those who are just coming into the tuning industry, there is a misconception that there is one overall universal piece of software that we can use for tuning any engine for any car. Now unfortunately that would be great if it was the case but unfortunately that isn't the case, there isn't one overall universal piece of software, and this is where it can get confusing even for those who are pretty familiar with the options out there and the sort of cars that are on the market.

So broadly these break down in two options such as reflashing software, so here I've got our HP Tuners interface here. We're gonna talk a little bit more about all of these options, I'll just cover off a couple quickly. We've also got our EcuTek tuning bundle here, again for reflashing a factory ECU. We've got a standalone aftermarket ECU that can be wired into any engine here in the form of Adaptronic's modular series ECU. Another one that's basically a very similar system here from Haltech, and then we've got something we don't see too often these days, this is a plug and play replacement ECU from APEXi in the form of their Power FC.

Obviously we've got a few other options there but this sort of covers the rough range of what we're going to be looking at. So the best option for you is going to depend on a variety of parameters. So there isn't one overall best option that's gonna suit everyone, it's gonna depend on you, it's gonna depend on your budget and it's going to depend on your car. So in terms of this, the things that we need to consider, we're gonna go into more detail on this, and of course as usual, we'll have questions and answers, so if there's anything I talk about you want me to delve into in a bit more detail, or anything related to today's topic, please ask those in the comments and we'll deal with them later. So you need to consider what car you're tuning and a really big factor here is how modern that car is.

We'll see why that's important shortly. Then you also need to consider what are you gonna be using that car for? Requirements for a typical street driven car are gonna be quite different to a serious competition car that's built purely for the likes of circuit racing or maybe drag racing. We also need to consider a really important aspect here, what is your budget? It's pointless looking at a top shelf ECU from a very expensive supplier, if your budget simply doesn't match. You may possibly be able to stretch to buying the ECU but in terms of getting your car up and running on an aftermarket ECU, the cost of the ECU is actually only part of what you're going to need to factor in. You've got the installation, you've got the tuning, you've got all of the supporting hardware and components that you're also going to need to factor in.

So budget is really really critical there, and you do need to be quite serious about making sure that your budget is suitable for what you're trying to do. You also need to consider what your current level of knowledge is, or competence. And this really comes down to of course if you are considering taking on the tuning yourself. And why this is important is that if you are just starting out, you're a novice you don't have a lot of experience, it's reasonable to understand that you may need a reasonable amount of hand holding and documentation and help along the way. So if you're going to need that sort of level of support, you wanna make sure that you're dealing with a product where the manufacturer or whoever's selling you that product is happy and capable of supporting you along the way.

OK so with that out of the way, those are our first broad considerations, again we're gonna delve into each of those in a little bit more detail as we go through today's webinar. What I want to do is just break down our broad options when we're looking at a tuning solution for our car. And really I'm gonna break these down into an aftermarket standalone ECU, a reflash package, and also a piggy back option. We're going to start with piggy back because this is gonna be a pretty short discussion 'cause in most cases I really don't recommend them. So a piggy back ECU works by intercepting the signals into or out of the factory ECU and allows you to manipulate those signals and then make tuning changes.

In most instances I've said it's not something I'm going to recommend, but there are a few occasions where I have ended up getting pretty good results in a cost effective way. So the only way I would recommend a basic piggy back ECU is on a very lightly modified car. A good example of where I have had good results with piggy back ECUs is the likes of a relatively mildly modified naturally aspirated four cylinder engine. Let's say for example the likes of a Honda B16A or B18C. Maybe you've got headers in an exhaust, maybe you've got an intake system.

The factory tuning is already pretty close and you just need to make small manipulations to fuel and ignition. Under those conditions the piggy back ECU can sometimes get you pretty good results. They are very limited in their capabilities though when you're starting to get more serious with your modifications, and this is an area I see a lot of people make the mistake. They either start out in that situation with their lightly modified car, but of course we all get greedy for more power. And then they try and stick with the piggy back ECU but now they've fitted ** cams, maybe a turbo or a supercharger kit and a larger set of injectors, and frankly the piggy back ECU, nine times out of 10 is just not going to give you a consistent result and it doesn't give you repeatable tuning control over that package.

So generally it's going to end up in a disaster and it's gonna cost a lot more than the person thinks they're saving. So the other thing to consider is that if you are fitting a piggy back ECU to a more modern car, often our current crop of factory ECUs are actually pretty smart, they often will run in closed loop control for fuel delivery, right through the entire engine operating envelope. They've also got pretty sophisticated knock control capability. So what this means is that they are essentially an adaptive or a learning ECU and often they'll end up over riding the tuning changes that you've made using your piggy back ECU. So let's forget about the piggy back option.

We'll move into the mainstream options that I would recommend. First of all we'll talk about a standalone ECU and we'll talk about what exactly that is. So what I'm talking about here is a universal aftermarket standalone ECU. So the likes of the ECUs we've already looked at. We've got an AM Infinity here.

And these are designed by aftermarket manufacturers as a universal solution that's capable of operating just about any engine. So it's got universal software, universal capabilities that can be adapted then to suit just about any engine. They are available from a really wide range of manufacturers. There are probably upwards of 100 different aftermarket ECU manufacturers all around the world. Obviously some of them are much more popular, much more recognised names, but there are also some really obscure manufacturers out there who don't see a lot of recognition maybe outside of their home countries.

So in order to fit an aftermarket standalone ECU this requires your factory ECU to be removed from the car and it requires some way of adapting the aftermarket ECU in to your existing wiring harness. These can be further broken down into universal wire in ECUs or plug and play replacements. So this is sort of two examples here, we've got our Adaptronic modular ECU which has just a generic Superseal style connector and we can then wire this either directly to our engine or we can wire it up and adapt it into our existing harness. Or we've got our APEXi Power FC here, which is a programmable ECU but it shares the factory header plug from the car that it was designed to go into, so it makes it a real easy installation. We'll just unplug our factory ECU, plug in the Power FC and we're essentially ready to go.

We'll get into that in a little bit more detail but at the moment I just wanna go through a high level understanding of these options. Then we move into reflashing, so this is something that we've seen become much more prominent with later model cars where it is becoming harder to fit an aftermarket standalone ECU. So reflashing is a technique which allows us to basically tune the factory fitted ECU that came equipped in your car in much the same way as the factory calibration engineers do this. So this allows us to download the stock tune data out of the ECU using a hardware interface, something like our HP Tuner's MPVI dongle here. And then using software on our laptop we're able to find the particular maps that we need to adjust and we're able to visualise those, view them graphically, using the software on our laptop, we can then manipulate them and then we can load that data back into the ECU, this generically referred to as reflashing and we're good to go again.

So this, as I've said is something that is becoming much more common on late model cars. And it does normally require you to purchase a hardware interface, so something that's going to interface between the diagnostics port on your car and the USB port on your laptop. So that's the MPVI dongle for an example that we've just seen there. When it comes to reflashing, these can be broadly broken up into commercial packages so this is from a manufacturer such as HP Tuners EcuTek, COBB, EFILive just to name a few. There are also open source, often these are freely available or very cheaply available solutions such as RomRaider, EcuFlash et cetera.

So we'll again talk about the pros and cons of those two different options shortly. Alright so now that we've sort of got a broad understanding, we've talked about piggy backs, we know now that I'm not a huge fan of those. We've talked about aftermarket standalone ECUs and we've talked about reflashing. That in itself can also be confusing because often we may have the option of any of those solutions for our particular car, particularly if we're dealing with a late model car that's really popular, there's a good chance that that platform is going to be supported by a wide range of options. So we need to now have a way of breaking down and deciding what option is going to be best for us.

So we're gonna have a look at a few scenarios which I think will probably cover sort of a wide range of people's situations. And the first situation we're going to look at is where we've got a late model car. So by late model I'm talking probably a car from maybe 2007, 2008 onwards. That car is also fitted with maybe an electronically controlled automatic transmission or maybe a dual clutch or DSG style gearbox, and it's relying heavily, as most late model cars do, on CAN communications, to send data between the different electronic modules in the car. So what I'm talking about here is between the engine control unit, so the computer actually controlling the engine operation, the transmission control module, maybe the ABS system, maybe the power steering, maybe even the gauge cluster in our car.

So a good example of a car that falls into that category would be, most of the late model GM vehicles that are fitted with the very popular LSV-8, also the Ford Mustang, be it V8 or Eco Boost. With those cars, you're almost certainly going to be best to go with a reflash package. Now the reason for this is that, first of all as I've kind of touched on, it is very very difficult, although not impossible to remove that factory ECU and use an aftermarket standalone ECU. The reason for this is because all of those modules rely on signals being sent and received from that factory engine control unit. So as soon as we remove that from the system and we try for example to fit our Haltech Elite 2500, yes we may be able to get the engine up and running, but we won't be able to drive the car, the transmission won't shift gears, maybe our air conditioning won't work, we won't see RPM or engine temperature on our dash.

So the whole thing kind of falls over when we remove that factory ECU. So we're definitely better to look at a reflash system for that particular application. When we're looking at reflashing as well, a lot of people think that we're going to be limited. So maybe we've got a naturally aspirated car, it would be fair to assume that we will be limited to running that engine naturally aspirated. That's really not the case these days and particularly with the commercial reflash packages, there are a lot of modifications done to the factory code that allow us to do just about anything you could think of.

So it's really common practice to fit superchargers or turbochargers to engines that were naturally aspirated. It's also common to include some motor sport style functionality such as traction control and launch control, that were never there in the factory system. Maybe support for flex fuel, really the list is just about infinite. So there's not a lot that you can't do by reflashing the factory ECU, provided you're using a capable reflashing package. OK so the caveat there though is if you have got that style of car, and you're building it up not as a road car but as a serious competition car.

In this case you could still use a reflash solution, but this is the point where you may be better to start considering moving to an aftermarket standalone ECU. Obviously it's gonna depend how extensive your race car build is going. But if we're talking about a bare shell rebuild where all of the factory components and factory wiring harness have been removed, often for a motorsport application, we may be going with a specific motorsport gear box, differential et cetera, maybe the ABS has been removed or an aftermarket motorsport style ABS system is being fitted. This gets us away from that requirement of retaining the CAN communications so it frees us up and at that point we can basically fit any ECU that's capable of controlling he ECU, it really opens up our options. And particularly for a serious motorsport application, one of the areas that reflashing often falls a little bit short is that we can find that our datalogging is quite limited.

And in terms of improving the car and the driver in a motorsport application, data logging really is key. So this is where moving to an aftermarket standalone ECU may be your best option. There are also some options that kind of go in between. So for example here one application we were involved with just recently was for a mach five Volkswagen Golf race car. And this is quite a complex engine.

It falls into that late model category, there's a lot of CAN communication going on. The car is also fitted with a DSG gearbox which is a dual clutch style transmission. So again the DSG transmission control unit relies on those signals being sent and received to the factory ECU. In this case we were able to actually move to a standalone ECU in the form of a Syvecs S8 plug and play ECU. But here Syvecs have done all of the hard work in terms of decoding the factory CAN messages and the replicating them with the S8.

So this makes sure that everything is still operating happily and this is why if you are going to consider this, you do need to look at a kit that is suited and developed for your particular car. Alright so we'll move onto our next scenario which will probably suit some of the cars that fall into the maybe 2000s through to late 2000s sort of era. And this is a car where both reflash and standalone options exist. So again there are a really wide variety of cars that will fall into this. However just a couple that I personally been involved with would be the late model Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.

So I'm talking here about Evolution seven, eight, nine, 10. All of those models, there are a variety of plug and play aftermarket ECUs but there are also a variety of options available for reflashing. And likewise the same exist for the Subaru WRX and STi around that same era so there we're talking sort of 2001 through to maybe 2006, 2008. So in those instances we can choose either and this is where we need to start making some choices. So all of the information that I've already talked about still stands.

Everything I've mentioned still stands, there's points that you need to consider. It is almost always going to be more cost effective to go with a reflashing solution rather than fitting an aftermarket standalone ECU. One of the big advantages here is all of the hardware to run the engine, you already own. You're going to simply be modifying the tuning data held inside your factory ECU. Of course there is the cost to consider for the reflash package, and we'll get into that a little bit later.

But in terms of hardware, this is normally going to be the most cost effective solution. The other thing that is often overlooked when weighing up between a standalone aftermarket ECU and reflashing your factory fitted ECU, is the aftermarket standalone ECU is universal as we've already discussed. It's designed to be able to operated literally thousands of different engines. So it is very universal. And all of the code and functionality in it is again very universal.

Compare this to a factory fitted ECU where the engineers have a massive budget and they've been able to develop that ECU and the code inside that ECU to do the best possible job of operating that particular engine. So it's reasonable to understand that a factory developed ECU can often do a better job of operating your engine than even a well tuned aftermarket standalone ECU. So that's something that you do need to weigh up in your decision. The only time that I would really seriously recommend moving to a standalone aftermarket ECU in these sorts of cars where we've got both options, is if the car is being developed for motorsport use, kind of like we've already talked about, or you're really considering going all out on very very high levels of modifications. So perhaps you're taking a factory Mitsubishi Evo eight that might have produced around 300 horsepower flywheel and you're building that into a drag car and you're expecting it to make 1000 wheel horsepower.

Now I'll be very clear here, yes you can definitely achieve those aims, and there's a lot of people who have done that on the factory ECU, would I personally do it, probably not. I'd much prefer to fit an aftermarket standalone ECU in there. We've got a lot more control, we've got a lot more precision and most importantly for that sort of application we've also got some really sophisticated data logging which I've already touched on is gonna help us monitor everything and help us develop the car, make it go faster as well. OK the last of our three scenarios that we're gonna delve into here is where we are running an older car, so what I'm talking about here is a car prior to the point where CAN bus communications really took hold. So probably early 2000s or older.

Or maybe you've got one that is less popular for modification. Now in this case, fitting an aftermarket standalone ECU may be your only option. It's quite likely that f you've got an older car, there is no potential for reflash support, particularly with older cars if you were to do modifications to the factory ECU this might come down to actually removing a chip and changing the data on an EEPROM and replacing the chip that has all of the tune data on it. So in this instance standalone is most likely your best scenario. You do need to be careful though here if you are dealing with an older car that is fitted with an automatic transmission.

Often the automatic transmission will still have a transmission control module, or a little computer that essentially controls the transmission, and even in these older cars there is some communication or reliance on the factory ECU to be in place. This is probably one of the few scenarios where we can still get around this with a form of piggy backing. Although this is nothing like the earlier form of piggy back ECU that I mentioned. What we'd be doing here is wiring a full aftermarket standalone ECU, maybe such as the Adaptonic just for one example, and that would be completely controlling fuel, it would be completely controlling ignition, and the factory ECU would be completely disconnected from those outputs. However what we would be doing is retaining enough signals going into the factory ECU to keep that factory ECU happy, thinking that it's still actually in control of the engine, and then that will still be able to communicate with the automatic transmission and keep the TCM happy and operating.

Alright so we've got a few scenarios that we've looked at there, what we're going to do now is break it down further and look at the fact that you've decided on one particular option for your tuning, and see how we can jump in and find out what within that particular solution family we need to choose. So let's talk about reflashing for a start. So when it comes to reflashing we've already talked about the fact that there is open source which is often either cheap or even free solutions for tuning your car, and then there's commercial software packages, the likes of our EcuTek or HP Tuners SCT for example. What you need to do is start by researching what options are available for your car. And the options are going to depend on both the age of your car as well as the popularity of your car.

This is one of those areas where while it's hard to stand out from the crowd if you're driving the same car that everyone else is, chances are if you are dealing with a car that's incredibly popular in the tuner market, it's actually gonna make your job a lot easier because you've got a huge wide range of options and often the range of options that you've got will also be much more cost effective. So let's say for example you have the option of a commercial reflashing package or an open source package, there is a big cost difference often between these options. But there are also some big differences in the capabilities and the support. So you really need to understand that. The whole basis of reflashing involves downloading a raw hexadecimal file out of the factory ECU.

Now that hexadecimal file in itself, unless we're pretty clever, we're not gonna be able to make much sense out of that. So we're relying on the tuning or reflashing software in order to find the maps that we're interested in within that raw hexadecimal file, and then display them to us in a manner that we can make sense of. And this is done with what's referred to as a definition file. So the definition file essentially says for a particular ECU, what addresses to look for, for a particular map, then it'll say what size those maps are. So it allows us to display all of that data in a way that we can make sense of and then manipulate.

So what we'll find is that particularly for a lot of the open source reflashing solutions, these solutions are developed by the enthusiast community. And often what we find is that the definitions either aren't complete, or maybe completely non existent. So particularly for some of the less popular brands within that particular ECU family for example, we may find that the definitions are much less complete than for some of the really common ECUs that we'll see for example in the US domestic market. We'll see a lot of support for those particular models and the definitions are going to be more complete. Now from our perspective, what this means is if we don't have a complete definition that's accurate, we may not have access to all of the maps we need, or worse still, we may have access to what we think is a fuel map and it may not actually be having the effect that we expect it to have.

The opposite though is true for commercial software packages. Obviously these are developed by companies that really are relying on being able to give you very accurate definitions so that you can do your job. If they don't give you accurate definitions, they're not going to be well supported by tuners, they're not gonna sell many of these packages so it's in their best interest to be able to provide more accurate definitions. So this is really one of the big advantages of commercial packages, often their definitions are more complete and are more defined. The other advantage is that with a commercial package, if you aren't that confident with tuning, you're going to have the option of support from that manufacturer.

So this may come in the form of phone support or email support. So if you get stuck, you don't understand what a particular parameter does, or a map does, you actually have the option of jumping on the phone to someone and getting some first hand information. Likewise with the commercial packages these will usually come with relatively complete documentation. So this can even go as far as to give you a step by step tuning guide or procedure to follow. So for those just getting started, then the commercial reflashing package is often a much more attractive solution.

The downside though is that the cost of some of these commercial packages may end up being prohibitive as a one off. So obviously there's a big difference here if you are running a tuning workshop and you're looking at investing in a tuning package and you know that you're probably gonna be tuning three to 10 cars every month using that package, it's quite easy to kind of write off the initial cost which may be in the range of $3000 to $5000 quite easily. You can write that cost off over a range of cars. Obviously if you're just a home enthusiast and you're looking to tune just your own car, it's gonna be pretty hard to justify spending $3000 to $5000 just to buy that package before you even factor in dyno time. So one of the questions we get asked is how do we find what options are available in that reflashing market for your particular car? Really there is no silver bullet here.

You're going to have to spend some time on the internet and the first place to start is to spend some time on enthusiast forums for the particular vehicle platform that you are tuning or interested in tuning. You're going to see quickly on those forums what options are available, what ones are popular, what ones maybe aren't quite so well supported, and the other advantage here is you're going to be able to discuss with those enthusiasts who are using the platforms that you've already narrowed down and find out what the pros and cons are for those platforms. One of the really key things to ask there if you are talking to enthusiasts using different platforms is what the support was like. Again I can't stress this enough, it's really really helpful if you can get some support for the product you're using. When it comes to the open source community, that support can be a little bit trickier.

Yes there is a huge amount of support out there but this normally comes in the form of enthusiast forums and you can literally spend hours trawling through these forums trying to find the specific information that you actually are looking for. Alright so we've covered there reflashing options, let's now talk about our aftermarket standalone ECU. When we're talking about aftermarket standalone ECUs, I mentioned that these can also be further broken down into universal wire ins, so that's where we've just got a header plug like this, or a plug and play ECU which is gonna plug directly into our factory wiring harness. And that's one of the first things we're going to need to consider. Generally in my opinion, if there is a plug and play option that exists for your ECU, then that is going to be your most cost effective option.

It costs a surprising amount to wire in an aftermarket ECU. Particularly if you are relying on a professional workshop to do that work for you. So you do need to factor that in. Yes a wire in ECU is probably going to command a slight premium over the universal product but often that will work out cheaper in the long run, if you do go for the plug and play. Now a lot of people think that once we've gone with a plug and play ECU, because we are stuck with the factory header plug, then this limits our ability to expand the capabilities of that ECU at a later point.

Now in some instances there may be some truth in that but generally the ECU manufacturer does think ahead and there will be some options for expanding the capabilities. This may include some on board connectors where you can connect expansion looms, so you can add in additional sensors that weren't considered necessary by the OE manufacturer. Or you can also re use other pins on the factory header plug that aren't being used in your particular engine, and function them for different tasks. So one thing that you do need to consider here, and this particularly is important if you're dealing with an older car, it's quite common that in an old high mileage car, the factory wiring harness may be starting to deteriorate. This is really common particularly in the early Nissans, maybe the Skylines, Nissan R32 GT-R's a good example here.

The wiring harness particularly for the coils that sits down in the valley, that degrades really quickly, all of the plugs become brittle, and what you can end up finding is that the factory harness is no longer reliable and this can cause you some really big diagnostic problems later down the track. So if you've got a harness that is no longer in serviceable condition, then it may make sense to swap to a universal wire in ECU. And at the same time obviously if you are considering an engine swap in your particular chassis then again you'd probably be better off looking at a universal wire in ECU. Likewise for an all out competition car, normally what we'll be wanting to do is strip our every factory wire inside that car and start from scratch, this allows us to build a harness that is going to be lighter and more reliable, it's only going to include the aspects that we need inside of that harness. So a few considerations there to take into account.

Alright we are going to be moving into some questions and answers really shortly so if you do have any questions, this is a great time to add them in. What we're going to do now is go into probably one of the more controversial topics which is how do we decide between different manufacturers. And this is regardless if we've decided that reflashing is for us or we've decided that an aftermarket standalone ECU is for us. So what we want to do is start with a list of our requirements. This is the key point we need to start with.

We need to list out everything that we want our ECU to do. So the key point to start with here would be how many cylinders does it need to control? Have we got a six cylinder, a four cylinder, or a V12? Also how many ignition outputs do we need? So that's probably one of the key starting points because that will really quickly eliminate a lot of the available ECUs. Particularly if we are looking at 10 or 12 cylinder engines. There are a limited number of ECUs out there that can natively support those sorts of engines. Likewise we also need to consider other functionality that the ECU will need to support.

So for example does our engine use variable valve timing? Does it have drive by wire throttle control? Does it have multiple drive by wire throttle bodies on it? All of these considerations will need to be accounted for in the ECU that we are choosing. Then we also need to consider any functions that we want for that particular ECU. Do we need for example, on board data logging, do we need traction control, do we need anti lag, do we need launch control? All of these sort of motorsport functions, we need to make sure that if that's something that we're going to be developing in our package, then we want to be able to have an ECU that will support that. Another one that would be worth considering there is flex fuel control, or an onboard wideband lambda sensor controller. Now these days we're finding that probably most of the common options out there in terms of aftermarket standalone ECUs, probably will tick most of these boxes, so there are a few more considerations we need to keep in mind.

I've already mentioned you need to consider your budget, so we'll just reiterate that again here. Budget is really important but remember it's not just the budget for the ECU, you also need to factor in a budget for any auxiliary hardware that you're going to require, maybe some pressure sensors, maybe a boost control solenoid, maybe coils et cetera, and you also need to factor in the cost involved with the tuning as well. It's also really important to give some really serious consideration to future proofing your purchase. And what I mean by this is it's quite common if you're really on a tight budget to look at an ECU that will cover just what you need for now. But of course if we're developing a project car, and maybe it's something that we're considering we're gonna keep this car for a reasonable amount of time, obviously our requirements may change over time.

So if it still fits within your budget, it's probably a pretty good idea to maybe purchase an ECU that has a Little bit of additional input and output capability, something that maybe you don't need right now, maybe it's got some functionality that you're not gonna be using right now, but may be handy in the future. This can end up saving a lot of money down the track where maybe you develop the car further and find out that you've outgrown your particular ECU. OK so once you've got to that point, you should have a reasonably good list of all of your requirements, all of the inputs and outputs that you need, all of the functions you need and you've also got your budget in mind, and this is where you can start short listing the different ECUs from the different ECU manufacturers. Now this can still end up with a relatively long list of ECUs that tick all of your boxes. It's gonna do everything you need it to do and it's gonna come in under your budget.

Now I'll just actually quickly jump across to my laptop screen here. And this is a hardware comparison grid from Motec. You're gonna find that most of the mainstream ECU manufacturers offer something similar. And this is comparing their M1 range of ECUs. So we've got the ECU range across the top here and then we've got all of the inputs and outputs so you can really quickly at a glance see what's what.

So for example we've got the injector outputs, this also breaks down into whether or not they are direct injector capable ECUs or port injector only ECUs. Then we've got the number of ignition drives. So at this point by the time you've gone through injector and ignition drives, this has sort of broken down the main important aspects for your engine control and you need to obviously be able to control the number of injectors and ignition coils that the engine has fitted. Then we've got the auxiliary outputs. So you'll need to consider this for all of the outputs that the ECU needs to control, maybe cam control solenoids, maybe drive by wire throttle bodies, maybe fan control relays, the list is obviously just about unlimited.

And then likewise we've got the list of inputs and the list goes on and on. So basically by going through one of these kind of comparison grids here, you should be able to quickly see from each particular manufacturer, what within their product range is going to fit your capabilities. Alright I'll just head back across to my notes now. OK so once you've got a shortlist of different products, you're going to still need to choose between them. Now if you are using a professional tuner, the fact that you're watching this webinar chances are you're probably considering tuning it yourself, but I'll just cover this anyway.

If you are using a professional tuner, I always advise that you go with their recommendation on products. Now chances are they're not trying to recommend a particular product because they make more money selling it to you. They're probably going to be recommending a product that first of all they know will fit your requirements but also a product that they know really really well. You'll find that most professional tuning workshops will have maybe two or three ECU brands that they know and support and they'll choose between those brands and the sub brands, or sub models within those brands based on the particular application. Now what I'm getting at here is there's no point taking a very very expensive very sophisticated ECU which on paper can do an absolutely perfect job of running your engine, taking that ECU along to a professional tuner who's never dealt with that brand before, doesn't understand it, doesn't know all of the intricacies of that brand, and then expecting them to do a perfect job with it.

Chances are it's gonna take them a really long time to tune it and chances are because they don't know all of the ins and outs of that particular ECU, they're probably not going to be able to deliver you as polished a final product as if you'd gone with their recommendation and used the ECU that they are using day in and day out, they know it like the back of their hand and they're gonna be able to finish your tune much faster, save you money, and get you better results. So that's a consideration if you're using a professional tuner. If you are going to be tuning yourself then there are some other aspects that you need to consider. So one of the aspects here is the ability to get manufacturer support, and I've kind of already mentioned this before but I wanna jump into a little bit more detail. No matter how good you are or how much you know about tuning, there's still gonna be a time where you get stuck with a certain function or something's not quite working how you expect and you're going to need to contact the manufacturer and find out what you've done wrong or why it's not working how you thought.

And this is going to be a problem if the manufacturer of your ECU is on other side of the world. There's nothing worse than having a car on the dyno and it's 10 o'clock in the morning and you know that you're not gonna be able to get answers to your questions until maybe 10 o'clock at night so you're gonna have that car stuck on the dyno all day and you're not gonna be able to fix whatever problem is there until the next day. So this is a really serious thing to consider. Now of course a lot of the popular brands of the ECU, they may come from a particular country, let's look at Haltech for example. Obviously it is manufactured in Australia.

However they also have local support in the US market. So just because your ECU manufacturer may come from the other side of the world, provided that you are able to purchase it through a local distributor who has good technical knowledge of that product, doesn't mean that you're not gonna be able to get the sort of support that you need. But it is something that I know a lot of people overlook and I can't stress how important that is. The other aspect that you probably can use to help fine tune your final selection is by talking to enthusiasts that are running that particular ECU. Now again this comes back to what I was mentioning before, get involved with enthusiast forums that specialise in your particular model of car, you're likely to find enthusiasts on that forum that are using all sorts of different brands of ECU, and you can get in touch with some of those people running the brands you're interested in.

Start talking about the pros and cons, find out if they had any issues, find out how smoothly the tuning went, what the support for the product was like, and that can help you fine tune your final selection. Now the other aspect to consider here as well is if you are going to be running a performance workshop, when you are choosing an ECU brand to support, it's really important to consider everything that I've just talked about, but it's also worth making sure that you've got a ECU manufacturer that's prepared to support you. Obviously if you're buying one ECU from that manufacturer, you're not probably gonna be getting any discount from them. However if you are setting up a shop and you're gonna be maybe buying five or 10 ECUs a month from them, you wanna really be able to make sure that the ECU manufacturer's going to be able to support you, they're going to be able to give you a good discount on that ECU so that you can make money. Obviously you're doing this for a living, and you also want to make sure that they're prepared to support you and promote your business as well so those are a few considerations there.

Alright we'll move into some questions and answers and of course if you do have any more questions, please continue asking them. OK our first question comes from Ben who's asked what do you think of the Haltech Elite 2500 ECU and dual wideband as I'm having issues with mine with the O2 control correctly in both banks. We use the Elite 2500, that's one of the ECUs we have set up basically as a plug and play that we can swap in really easily in our Nissan 350z. So you'll see that a lot of our course content and a lot of our webinars in our 350z are presented on the Haltech Elite. So we use the Haltech WB2 wideband controller that sends the wideband data through to the ECU via CAN.

I've found the O2 control to be absolutely excellent, particularly with the long term learning capabilities with the Elite. I really have found it to work very well. There's a range of potential problems you may be having but it is really important to make sure that you have the correct wideband sensor apportioned to the correct bank, otherwise of course the ECU ends up chasing its tail and going the wrong way and both trims will go in the opposite direction and you end up with an engine that's running really poorly. Not sure if that's your problem but it's a possibility. Louis has asked, what kind of tuning software did you learn on when you were first starting? No tuning software at all.

My first tuning experience was actually on a very very old Link ECU, which is a locally produced brand. And at that time it was a hand controller so certainly not something that I enjoyed doing, I still wake up in cold sweats sometimes remembering all of the horrible experiences I had with hand controllers. But for some particular reason they were actually quite popular back in that era, I'm probably talking here about the, maybe the early 90s. They were reasonably popular with a wide range of manufacturers. Thank god everyone's moved on now and we've got laptop tuning software.

Gustavo has asked, what's the best data log for Mitsubishi, Kia, Hyundai, Toyota and Subaru? Right so can't answer your question specifically but this is a great place to say that this falls into the answer that there isn't one piece of software that I can think of there that's gonna cover all of those particular models. So yeah there really isn't universal software. You will probably need, if you are planning on working with a wide variety of vehicles, you will probably need a few software packages to be able to scan all of those different products. So for example there on Mitsubishi, I use EvoScan. On Subaru I actually also use EvoScan there but it depends often if I am using a software package like EcuTek, they will have their own built in scanner.

So really it depends what you're actually using there so sorry I can't be a little bit more specific there. Louis has asked, have you written your own tuning software using decimal, binary or hexadecimal? No absolutely not, I must be very clear that I am a tuner, I am not a programmer. And I think this is an area that a lot of people get confused in. And this particularly comes into some of the euro tuning market where people are reflashing. A lot of the software that is available commercially for reflashing european vehicles, Volkswagen, Audi, for example, there is a limited amount of information in the definitions that are available.

So most of the tuners that get involved in that market at a very high level are actually developing their own definitions so they're using software like WinOLS to actually find maps in that raw hexadecimal file and writing their own definitions so they can adjust those maps. Now that is in my opinion probably beyond maybe 95% of tuners out there in the market. So you really do have to have a particular interest in programming to get into that level. What I have done with one of our development cars, we have a Motec M150 ECU, we have a development license for that and I've written my own firmware for that particular ECU to provide functionality that Motec didn't provide. For example there we've added flex fuel capability which was available, or we wrote before Motec had their commercial option available, rolling launch control and a few other aspects there.

That's just for my own interest's sake though, not a commercial project I should add. Martin has asked, FuelTech FT500, FT600 knock controllers outside the box, we need a special outside knock box. I'm sorry I have got a FuelTech FT600 sitting here but at this point I have not had any personal experience tuning on the FT500 or FT600 so I don't know how their knock control is operated and I can't give you any feedback there I'm sorry. What I'd probably do is suggest that you jump onto FuelTech's website and have a look on there, they would be able to tell you if that is contained within the unit or not. Paul has asked, what are the GM ECUs limited to tuning wise? It's a pretty broad question, the reality is in most instances with the later model GM ECUs, there really is just about no limit.

There's plenty of guys out there using the likes of EFI Live and HP Tuners, making 1000 plus wheel horsepower using the factory ECU. Using custom patches which is basically where the commercial software manufacturers have rewritten parts of the factory ECU's operating code, basically there are almost no limits to what can be done and it's possible to take an ECU that in factory form relies on a mass air flow sensor, remove the mass air flow sensor, run it on a speed density system add turbos or supercharges to engines that were naturally aspirated, increase the engine capacity, run it on alternative fuels, really the sky is the limit. Louis has asked what about chip burning? OK so that's really not something that we've touched on here and it's not something that we do. This is what I kind of touched on very briefly, a technique that was used in older ECUs where they had a physical EEPROM fitted on the board. Now we have the ability with our later model factory ECUs to do all of that from the comfort of the driver's seat using the onboard diagnostics plug.

So chipping ECUs or burning new chips for ECUs, something I've never been involved with and I think the world's probably moved on now. Craig has asked, do I have any experience with the Bosch Motorsport series of aftermarket ECUs? Unfortunately at this point, no I do not. Allan has asked, so is Hondata a standalone or a piggy back? OK actually that's a good point. As I was talking about the piggy back style and standalone, the Hondata system actually did pop into my mind and Hondata is a system that kind of straddles a fine line. It's hard to really pigeon hole it as one particular style.

But what I think it really fits into best is actually a reflashing package. So the Hondata system, particularly the S300 and the KPro system, basically introduces a daughter board that makes the factory Honda ECU reprogrammable. And in the later systems these were live tunable as well. So really I treat it like a reflash system we are altering the factory code inside the Hondata ECU. It is definitely not a piggy back, it does a much much better job than you could ever get with a piggy back.

James Beal has asked, are there any standalone ECU solutions that maintain the OBD2 function such as to pass emissions in emission controlled states or countries? That's a really good question there James. I know that there are a few that are replicating the OBD2 data stream. Link introduced that with their G4 Plus. It's not something I've delved into too much because we're quite lucky here in New Zealand that emissions testing isn't something that we need to pass. So I can't give you a firm answer on that.

I would suspect that that might be borderline a little bit sketchy for the ECU manufacturers to get into just because if you're purposefully tricking the emissions testing agencies, I think you'd probably be opening up a huge can of worms in terms of legal liability. So yeah don't know too much more about that sorry. Pierre has asked, I have a PDM15, I'm scared to go with anything other than an M130 just because of the CAN communications from the PDM to the ECU. Is it easy to find the codes to have a Haltech or AEM fully in communication with my PDM15? OK so yeah I understand your point there, the PDM15 coming from Motec obviously works really well with the Motec M130, it's all nice and seamless. The aspect with the PDM however is that it is a universal product.

And the CAN communications in the PDM15 is quite easy to program. It isn't a very complex CAN system compared to some but it is configurable by the end user. So what this means is that you can make it work with basically any other aftermarket ECU that has a CAN communication protocol. With the Haltech though you've talked there you do need to be a little bit careful, or actually Haltech and AEM, both of them send out a CAN data stream but it isn't end user configurable. So this makes it a little tricky because anything you need to do does need to be done inside the PDM15.

To be able to answer in much more detail I'd really need to know a little bit more about exactly what you're trying to do and that probably is a little bit beyond that scope of today's webinar sorry. Diana has asked, I'm having a hard time finding software that will tie into my auto trans TCU, have you come across any? I have a 1999 Eclipse with a black box ECU. No I'm sorry I'm not gonna be able to give you anything specific on that there. I don't deal a lot with vehicles with automatic transmissions where we've gone to a full standalone ECU. I did mention the piggy back option there, keeping the factory ECU in there and using an aftermarket standalone to just run fuel and ignition.

But again without knowing a little bit more about what you've got there, I can't really answer too much more. Paul has asked, what are the limitations and pros and cons on the GM ECU being tuned by HP Tuners? Similar to an earlier question, really the answer is there is no limitations there, you can just about do whatever you want with that GM ECU these days. Neelan has asked, are you familiar with any CAN converter modules that mimic factory CAN messages when switching to standalone in a late model car? Not overly, I have actually just been involved in the tuning on a Lotus Elise that has a mach five Volkswagen Golf two litre GTi engine and DSG gearbox fitted into it so that's being run with the Syvecs S8 ECU. And it uses a CAN gateway to send data between the Syvecs ECU and the Volkswagen transmission control module. But yeah haven't really had much to do with actually programming them sorry.

Shon has asked, can a Haltech run tunes for fuel and ignition individually per cylinder? Yeah absolutely, you'd be hard pressed to find a modern standalone aftermarket ECU these days that doesn't have functionality to allow individual cylinder and fuel trimming, very very common option. Matt has asked, what programming language does the Motec development environment use? OK so again just remembering I am not a programmer. So it is bespoke to Motec however from my understanding, anyone who is familiar with C++ would be able to adapt very very quickly to the Motec build platform. Alright that brings us to the end of our questions, a huge number of questions in there. I hope that today's webinar has been useful to those of you who are on the fence there trying to decide what ECU to choose.

As we said right at the start, it can be confusing. Hopefully today though I've given you some tools that you can use to help break down your decisions and make a better educated decision on what's going to give you the right functionality, the right capabilities at the right price point for your particular car. As usual if you do have any questions, please ask those in the forum and I will answer them there, if you've got any questions that you didn't get a chance to answer here in the webinar I should say. Alright thanks for joining us, and we'll look forward to seeing you all next time.