What you Need to Know About Power Programmers

Here’s a bummer: your car isn’t putting out its best performance when rolling off the assembly line.  The main reason behind these limitations is due to the car manufacturers need to comply with different standards: EPA, gas mileage and safety.   Also, different marketing techniques designed to push buyers towards more expensive models may also cause limitations to be added to an engine.

Fortunately, there is a quick and effective way to enjoy all that extra power your engine can produce without having to change any internals.  Since today’s vehicles are computer-based, the ECU (Electronic Control Unit) controls most of the performance processes and settings of the car.  By using a power programmer, you can modify the parameters of the ECU to provide better values and thus increase overall performance.

How they Work

By installing a power programmer, also known as performance tuners, you are basically tweaking your car’s computer by providing new settings which have been proven to supply more horsepower (HP) and torque on the Dynometer, a machine used to measure the output of a car’s engine.  Such settings have been custom tuned by companies specializing in this type of upgrade.  Diablosport, Hypertech, SCT, Edge Products and Superchips are a few of the more well-known companies.  Their technicians through trial and error over extended periods of time have attempted to squeeze every last bit of power from the engine.car on dynomter

Unlike other performance upgrades, a power programmer does not require a piece of hardware to remain permanently connected to your vehicle.  Instead, the owner needs to connect the programmer through the OBD-II interface of the vehicle, which is usually located somewhere under the dash console on the driver’s side, and transfer data from the programmer to the cars ECU RAM memory.  Once completed the programmer can be disconnected from the OBD-II port.  The new settings will be memorized in the ECU for further use.  The original settings will be stored on the programmer so if the owner ever needs to revert back to the original settings, routine dealer maintenance, you can simply reconnect through the OBD-II and flash the original settings back to the ECU.

What gets Tuned?

First of all, a power programmer alters the air/fuel ratio of the engine, ensuring you get the most out of every cylinder stroke.  By modifying the amount of fuel and oxygen injected into the ignition chamber, a better firing is achieved resulting in more kinetic energy transferred down the crankshaft and to the wheels.

Since a car’s air to fuel ratio isn’t the sole element responsible for a proper cycle, ignition timing settings also get rewritten.  After getting compressed inside the cylinder chamber, the air-fuel mixture is ignited by a spark plug.  However, if the spark plug goes off too early, it may cause damage known as detonation.  Also, if it sparks too late, valuable kinetic energy is lost.  The power programmer sets ignition timing to provide the highest power output while avoiding detonation.

When you redline on the RPM, meaning that you are pushing the car past its rated performance, the ECU automatically stops delivering fuel to your engine as to preserve integrity while automatic gearboxes up-shift to lower the RPM.  However, a power programmer sets up-shifts at a higher RPM value releasing more horsepower on the way.

When you make your car go faster you obviously need to stay grounded.  For most a set of larger than normal tires are added.  This makes a larger footprint for the vehicle and allows for better handling at increased speeds.  However the ECU was originally programmed with the tire size that was installed at the factory.  This difference in tire size could cause your speedometer to give you a false reading due to the diameter of your tires not matching what the ECU thinks is on the car.  Several of the new power programmers take this into consideration and have programs built into them that will adjust the ECU for tire size.  By doing so, the power programmer will increase the electronic speed limit of your vehicle.

While all performance upgrades sound nice, you don’t want your gas tank to ask for food every 50 miles.  A power programmer can alter other miscellaneous settings which, when tuned together not only enhance power but will also get a better fuel economy.  Your car will run faster on less fuel.  Most of the time though gaining better mileage comes at the expense of added horsepower.  It is a give or take situation.  Some consumers are looking for better mileage while others are in it for the speed.

Warranty issues

Some car enthusiasts will tell you that a power programmer may cause your car to void its warranty.  Fortunately, this is not true at all. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) confirmed that “The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 states that, unless the Dealer can prove that an aftermarket component directly damaged your vehicle, the warranty remains valid.”

However, it is highly recommended not to force untested settings through the power programmer; rising the RPM or speed limiter to a very high value may indeed cause physical engine damage and void dealer warranty.

If you need more information about a particular programmer or what will work on your car or truck, Norcal Auto Concepts has been working with manufacturers since 2008.  A member of SEMA, they operate www.autotuningstore.com, an automotive eCommerce site specializing in aftermarket parts.  They are authorized dealers for a number of popular programmer companies and strive to provide exceptional customer service.

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