Introduction to tuning with EcuTek
Tuning with EcuTek can seem daunting at first, depending on your experience with other products it may be an easy task to learn the new suite or it could be quite hard to get started. It’s common for us at the support desk to be asked for the ‘exact method that you would use to tune “X” car with “X” exhaust and intake’, while we don’t offer direct training on best tuning practices or safe limits of each (we make software not tune cars) there are many great organisations and people around that do.
One of the best ways to get training like this is to complete an official course on tuning, companies like HP academy have organised online training that you can do at your speed using EcuTek software (HP Academy - Practicle Reflash Tuning) and are always well worth the cost. With about 13 hours’ worth of video tutorials using their dyno and at local tracks there is enough information starting from basics to the more advanced to guide you through the complete process.
There are also tuners who have started offering personalised training using ours and other software (Tom Van Dyke through Custom Import Arts Custom Import Arts - Tom Van Dyke) so if you want training like this it pays to look around the tuner network. Each tuner also has different workshop and dyno set up (some don’t even have a dyno) so everyone’s training needs are quite different. In this article we will try to cover the very basics of starting to tune a car, with a view to giving a tuner who is new to flash based programming of OEM ECU’s a little heads up.
In its most basic form you will need to
- Get yourself set up and prepare the basics of the ROMs
- Tune fuel the delivery so your target AFR matches the actual
- Optimise the tune using the ignition, fuel, boost and cam targets for power and torque delivery
- Add the special features to the tune
- Test and confirm the tune on the road/track
Getting yourself organised.
When starting out with a tune it important to get as much information about the car as possible before you even start the job. As with any other sofatware you need to know what has been done to the car i.e. exhaust, intake, injectors, turbo kit, atmo BOV etc. and if at all possible as much info about these changes as possible, this includes things like injector latency data, MAF housing sizes / types, MAP sensor scales and so on. If you don’t get this information you may find yourself trying to fix a problem that is created by to many minor or unknown modifications fighting each other. This will also allow you to predict any DTC’s that might come up so that you can disable them if necessary i.e. the Cat has been removed so you expect the P0420 codes to come on, you may not need to disable it but be ready to wen you do.
One other thing specific to EcuTek software is to know what CAL ID ROM is in the vehicle, this is important as some ROMs don’t have enough spare space to fit certain features in (like the newer DIT cars) sometimes you can make a good guess using a model and year but others you may need the exact Cal ID to know what options are even available to offer and sell to the customer. It can also be good practice (though not 100% necessary) to make a copy of the ECU if retuning so that you can return to previous tune if you find you don’t have the information to complete the tune half way through. While we don’t allow reading of other tuners ROMs from ECU’s if you are to make a ROM dump we may be able to send it back to you locked so you can return to last tuned state if required. Knowing what has been done to the car and what the client expects from the tune is the basis to good tunes, if the owner has a stock car and want a little more horse power you likely don’t have to start planning for major ROM changes.
The OEM ECU is set up for a very specific hardware configuration so when you come across something like a NASP car that has been fitted with forced induction or a FI car with major changes to the FI system with much larger expected performance, you may have to take into account expanding the resolution of map axis’s to allow you to accurately tune the car at the new power levels. You can sometimes see example ROMs that already support different configurations in automatically downloaded ROM trough EcuTek update, however, EcuTek do not supply Off the Shelf tunes or tunes to use as a base file as we don’t have the ability to build and test all of these ROMs. There are tuners out there who do supply OTS maps and some who offer base maps for certain cars so once again it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the tuner network.
In the end you should have the following
- Understanding of what’s been done to the car prior to you starting
- Know what the customer expects
- What you want to do with the car when its on the dyno
- And have a ROM to start with or at least an idea of what ROM to start with
- A copy of the tune (if possible) or ROM dump or read saved in case.
Starting your tune
When starting your tune you will want to have everything organised and correctly and working as it should, this means things like have your Det cans ready the wideband in place, the dyno fans positioned and the laptop ready and charged with a licence on the dongle (if you need one). Being prepared will solve a lot time if you run into issues half way through. Things to look out for that can catch people out are
- Improper cooling allowing the charge air temp to increase above what you would see when actually driving
- Dyno fans blowing straight onto intakes affecting the MAF scaling (keep in mind when driving airflow around the engine bay will be significantly different)
- Wideband sensors that are not in the exhaust gas stream properly giving false readings.
The first part of the tune would be to configure the ROM so that it is basically what you expect, this includes applying patches, changing the injector scaling and sensor scaling values to match what you have found or installed in the car. If you are expecting much greater airflows loads and horsepower you should consider adjusting the axis of ignition and fuel maps to support the new expected performance. Also if you are converting to FI you might find the maps that reference manifold pressure fueling compensation to make sure they will adjust for the positive manifold pressure (see BRZ manuals). Things like adjusting the timing so that that are sensible full load fuel targets and ignition timing values would be done here as well they may not make good power but it should be safe.
Once you have the Base file configured to your expected situation you can try to program the car, make sure to keep the programming progress as safe as possible (things like chargers and staying in the seat are good practice). The first flash is usually the most risky, and the software has some built in recovery procedures in case something does go wrong.
Once the new base file has been programmed in you can start the car and commence tuning. Generally getting the car started is OK but there are cars like the BRZ that are very sensitive to MAP sensor scaling and won’t start if it improperly scaled. If the car is not starting check injector settings cranking maps (sometimes independent of injector scaling) and MAP & MAF sensor scaling and change things to get the result that you need. Once the car is started check the idle values for coolant temperatures, timing, fueling, load and airflows are all what you would be expecting and then you can start on the dyno runs.
The next step is usually MAF scaling or at the very least a fueling check (if it’s a stock setup) and will require you to run the car on the dyno comparing AFR target to actual with reference to fuel trims, the intent of the exercise is to get your AFR actual (and wideband AFR) to hit your AFR target with no positive or negative trims for the entire load and speed range. If your running MAF you would make sure to log MAF voltage and AFR parameters and correct he MAF scale for an discrepancies, if your tuning the SD map the same principle applies but you have to tune each cell of the SD map to adjust the airflow the engine is seeing so that it can apply the correct amount of fuel. The process will involve flashing a tuned alteration in and then doing steady state or power runs to verify that you have improved the accuracy of the scaling / map. We don’t have living tuning so you cannot adjust the maps live like many aftermarket solutions, you will have to program the car do some runs log them and review the logs to see where the changes need to be made, make the changes and then program the new revised ROM into the ECU repeating the process until you are happy. Its up to you and your setup to decide whether you want to do this in steady state or power runs or on the road etc.
Its always best to start at lower power levels and extrapolate the adjustments out into the previously un-tuned regions, that way when you actually get to these regions it should not be to far out. Once again you will have to make iterations of the tune and flash them in to see the results of your adjustments. Lean fueling can kill an engine as quickly as over advanced timing so be prepared to abort the run to save the engine. If you are struggling to get the actual to meet the target or to keep the trims in line the first things to look at the logging parameters for injector open time, injector duty, fuel pressure, MAF voltage and the airflow values to see that they are about at your expected value and aren’t wildly oscillating. If you are hitting things like load limits or voltage limits they should show up as flat lines in the logging parameters and you can look for ways to address these in the ROM. Physical checks for air leaks and low fuel pressure are also useful, if you systematically rule out possibilities you will likely find the issue, it may take some time but with experience the usual culprits will be ruled out quickly.
Tuning the ignition timing of any car is risky, most of our more modern supported ECU’s have quite good knock detection systems installed and some complex and quite interesting functionality and equipment to go with it. You will have sorted your base map when you started your initial configure if you were converting to FI the timing values you would have used would have been much lower than the OEM NASP values. The process should be similar to the fueling adjustment but you will be using your knock detection systems (DetCans) and the factory knock detection logging to show you where the engine can not take any more timing (knock limited) or when the dyno tells you that no more torque is being produced for the same ignition value. Small steps (1 or 2deg at a time) are necessary to keep things safe as the consequence or heavy detonation can be engine destroying quite quickly.
Map access can help here as well as ECU Connect with its adjustable custom maps but it still requires you to do some driving and logging analyse the data make some adjustments and program the new ROM into the car. You can view the live data and ow with ECU connect set alarms for knock (and others). Depending on the types of modifications that have been done to the car you may be making small simple changes and other you may need to give the ECU more freedom to reduce the timing if it sees a knock event.
Different ECU’s have different ignition timing strategies and for the precise way each of vehicle strategies work you will need to review the user manual for the product. Subaru’s generally use a base and advance map, OEM Nissan is sometimes a calculated value based on octane adjustment maps, EcuTek usually overwrites these with simplified ignition timing maps so that its much simpler to tune. The new Mazda’s use an MBT and an knock limited map (chooses the lowest value of either) while fords have a borderline spark maps and learning factors that will learn more timing based on the knock response. Generally advance maps will be changed for smaller adjustments but if the modifications are heavy the advance maps may need to be changed to allow the ECU more space to learn and pull timing if needed.
Due to the complexity and differences between the strategies used in OEM ECU’s to decide the overall ignition timing with corrections for detected knock and other running conditions it makes the systems generally fairly robust however a backup set of ears to listen for knock can quickly confirm its doing the right job. The knock detection systems generally have some form of sensitivity adjustment and this can be adjusted though for most cars its not necessary and for some there are other ways to eliminate phantom knock. There are also usually knock learning ranges at which the ECU will ignore the sensor if it goes above a certain RPM and load these can be extended if needed.
EGT is another method to monitor the performance and safety of fueling and ignition some cars now have EGT sensors fitted (VR30) as standard and others estimate the temperature based on the operating conditions (Ford and Mazda) these ECUs tend to set limits to protect against high EGT’s as well
Modern ECU’s now mostly have some form of driver demand translation, the strategies range from Subarus simple torque demand map based on accel position to the fords HDFX driver demand through Mazda’s linear acceleration river demand maps. In short these maps will relate to many other functions in the ECU usually boost and throttle targets are effected but they can also effect the way the gearbox controller (TCM) works as well. For the details of model specific torque demand strategies the manuals must first be reviewed and the help text in ProECu can also be useful. Generally increasing the torque demand will request more of everything, in Subaru the boost target is based on torque demand and in the Mazda Nd the ECU will retard CAM and ignition timing to try to reduce the torque when the demand is low. If you are having an issue with the throttle not opening or closing through the run its likely related to torque demand in some way, so it would pay to look at limits and filtering maps if they need to be modified.
Nearly all engines now days utilise variable valve timing in some way, it as been shown that advancing and retarding the cams can greatly improve midrange and top end performance. Tuning the cams is done once again with a similar method to the Fuel and ignition table however you will be using the dyno to check what the changes do to the HP and torque and each load and ignition point and you would find the optimum advance or retard by a series of tests and logging the data while reviewing the torque output on the dyno. Keep in mind that changes in cam advance will change the way the engine consumes air so you may find that you need to adjust the fueling of an engine after you change the timing, the same can be said for ignition timing it may be that the cam timing can sufficiently alter the combustion charge enough to create or remove knock so you should at least pay attention to knock retard values and optimise further if you think the engine will prefer this.
Valve overlap can cause blow through of combustion charge, some ECU’s use this to their advantage and other need to limit the airflow to control the AFR. An awareness of the fact will help you with issues in the future, generally advancing the intake cam during low RPM high load assists in cylinder charging and power gains can be made however depending on the types of modifications results form the same changes can vary. The exhaust cam generally follows the intake however usually to a lesser extent and generally at peak RPM the cams are reduced to a smaller advance value. When tuning the cams you should always pay attention to AFR and knock in case the changes you make drastically effect either.
Idle control can be difficult on some cars especially with significant modifications, generally with idle on OEM cars there is a separate idle airflow target that needs to accurately represent the airflow required at idle otherwise it will become unstable. Other things that might help are using MAF instead of SD, increasing the idle speed target and running slightly richer AFR target to try calm the idle speed. Overrun maps are also usually available and sometimes require tuning at the bottom end to open the throttle a little more when slowing to a stop but be careful to not ask for too much creating a surge.
On factory turbo charged cars there will be a strategy to control the boost, these vary in complexity and effectiveness and usually are only set up for the exact combination of intake, exhaust, cooling system, control valves, restrictors, control plumbing and turbos that the factory fit. If you make changes to any of these you will likely have to alter the standard boost control setup. In cars that are NASP converted to FI you may be able re-purpose an ECU output to allow you to drive a boost control solenoid (usually CPC). The boost target is easily set, with the boost limit (if its available) set up to the safety margin above what you think the engine can handle, from there most closed loop OEM boost control systems use a proportional and integral factor to change the output wastegate duty cycle based on the error between actual boost and the boost target. EcuTek often re write the boost control method to keep this simple as OEM methods often have quite complex strategies involving things like estimated and measured turbo compressor/turbine flow and shaft power.
There are also usually wastegate duty maximum maps which will prevent the WG duty from exceeding a given value and usually the corrections have some thresholds to exceed before they start to work. If the car has an EcuTek boost control strategy it will usually use the OEM target tables but use EcuTeks base and Max WG duty, it will also have corrections for temperature and barometric pressure as well as activation's for the corrections and the correction values themselves. If you are to set up a closed loop style boost control in custom maps you would follow the same basic principles.
Tuning them requires setting the targets and logging the actual outputs for boost and WG duty (or the custom map parameters) this may be added by reducing the corrections but its essentially making sure that your base WG duty gives the target boost with minimal corrections being applied. For cars like the VR30 which has an electric wastegate you can apply the same principles but with different values. In some cases like ford which have a complex control strategy with multiple control functions the canister pressure targets are the maps to use to effect the final duty cycle but looking at the ford information will guide you through this.
Some physical issues that do pop up more that you think are suction hoses sucking closed when under full boost, leaking BOVs causing many issues over over-boost and rich running. In some cases (high power GTRs) the throttles will blow closed with the increased volume of airflow. Other things are restrictor pills being removed or added to the incorrect size and physical waste gate size (boost creep)
Special features and DTC’s
Once you are happy with the fuel ignition cam and boost control you can then think about adding in the special features, this is things like the FFS auto blip, E85 tunes, custom map for traction control, fail safes or nitrous activation and correction. They may require that you go through further testing to ensure that the fueling and ignition timing are acceptable or testing to see that the triggers and outputs are activating (at a lower safe value) and deactivating as you want them to. If you have been seeing DTC’s that wont clear and they is not clear solution, i.e. you have removed the TGV’s and the DTC’s are active, if you haven’t already disabled them as part of the initial configuration steps you would disable them now, keep in mind that a DTC are included to detect problems so if a DTC comes up don’t just assume it should be disabled.
Confirming the tune on the road
Road testing is a necessary test to make sure all the hard work you have done on the dyno relates to the real word and that there are no areas of the tune that you have not encountered on the dyno. This will highlight anything that the customer may pick up and dislike causing further or repeat work. It is also a good way to confirm that DTC’s don’t occur and throw the car into a limp mode while on the trip home.