Black Ridge Customs
Customizing and Accessorizing Your Cars  Since 1998
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Car Tuning Then and Now

ECUs Revolutionize Modern Car Customization

     Car customization can assume many levels, from tricking out the exterior with shiny wheels, spoilers and the like to going nuts in the cabin with navigation and entertainment units and every creature comfort you can imagine. With varying degrees of complexity and sophistication, those kinds of augmentations have been around for years. The real advances in customization that present a marked contrast from thirty years ago, involves what happens under the hood. Although he hasn’t disappeared completely, that magic, greasy mechanic who stood, ear cocked to the sound of the engine while making minute adjustments with a wrench is all but obsolete. (You know him, the guy who put that pleasing roar in your engine while dooming any chance you ever had of getting low cost car insurance?) We now live in the era of the programmable engine control unit (ECU) and it’s a whole new ball game for the aspiring gearhead.

In reality, an ECU can be essential to achieving maximum performance after the addition of other after-market add-ons like tires, rear-end ratios, or non-stock wheels. Plugging a programmable scan tool into the vehicle’s diagnostic port, the ECU lets the car owner reprogram the ECU with accurate control over such items as:

• maximum horsepower and torque
• the top speed limiter
• the RPM rev limiter
• fuel economy
• fuel injection pulse width
• cooling fan on and off temperatures
• shift points and firmness
• ignition timing
• variable valve timing
• boost level on the turbocharger
• exhaust functions
• conversions for alternative fuels

Paired with a laptop via a serial or USB cable, or a scantool, the ECU allows for real-time adjustments while the engine is running, with the ability to save "profiles" of engine performance that can be reloaded according to need. You may have one profile for the track on the weekend and another for the street on Monday, for instance. Some units produce spreadsheet-like reports allowing for detailed data analysis over the life of an engine, making maintenance more predictive. Evidence of potential component failure can be anticipated and addressed under controlled conditions.

Back in the mid-1980s when the first generation of this technology appeared (essentially analog units that measured data and compared it to "look-up" tables on a ROM chip), many old school mechanics grumbled about the ruin sure to ensue over the heresy of sticking a computer in your engine. However, as the units have grown progressively dynamic, real-time monitoring has revolutionized car tuning and given enthusiasts unprecedented control in that never-ending quest for optimal performance.




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