If you’ve come to this page, you may already know what a tuner is and the benefits of installing one on your vehicle, but not everybody knows just how beneficial they are and what the heck they really do. Well today, I’m going to explain what exactly a tuner does, what the benefits are, and the reasons why you’re crazy not to have one!
I’ve gotten used to the question from friends and family when I tell them about my career “what the heck is a tuner?” In fact, I’ve gotten so used to it that I usually just tell people that I work for an e-commerce site selling auto parts to prevent the confusion from even beginning. Odds are that if you’ve landed on this page you already know that a tuner is used to plug into the diagnostic port on your vehicle to remap the computer settings to optimize engine/transmission performance and usually fuel mileage as a result of that, but do you know how it does those things? I’ll just scratch the surface today, but look for a post in the future that gets more into the details of performance tuning. The major changes a tuner will make are fuel, spark, and transmission (and turbo settings on turbocharged vehicle). For fueling, the tuner will alter your wide open throttle air to fuel ratio for increased power (the cruise A/F ratio remains the same as stock for optimal fuel mileage/safety) as well as the conditions for taking the vehicle out of closed loop mode and into power enrichment mode. Spark timing is usually increased throughout the entire throttle range which will lead to increased power and throttle response. The only difference between different octane tunes are the amount the spark timing is increased; since higher octane fuels can handle higher spark timing without pre-detonation the tuner will increase the timing higher for those fuels which is the sole reason why you see better power numbers on 93 octane tunes vs 87 octane tunes. Transmission settings are also altered such as shift pressure and speed as well as the shift points. Some tuner companies will also alter torque management in their tunes which will result in a noticeable difference as well.
The benefits to a tuner are huge and there’s really no negatives to having one. People always seem to automatically ask things like “So what’s the catch?” but there really isn’t one when it comes to these tuners. You’ll experience power gains of 10-40HP on gas engines and 75-200HP on diesel engines and anywhere from a 1-5 mpg improvement. You’ll also notice things like improved throttle response and more responsive shifting. There also may be dramatic improvements in random things like the delay to get into power enrichment mode. One example of this is a lot of GM trucks have a huge delay after the throttle is pushed (10 seconds or more on some models) before power enrichment mode is enabled. GM did this to prevent people from going into a mode where gas mileage isn’t optimal but when you want the power, it really is not enjoyable. I have seen the Diablosport tunes where they have removed this delay entirely, which is what it should be since you want the power right away!
So now my final point for today, which is why you are crazy for not having one of these. In the previous paragraph, I said that there is no catch…well, I guess the cost of a tuner could be the “catch that” prevents people from purchasing one. We have plenty of cost effective options for most vehicles for under $200 and there’s few vehicles we can’t provide a tuner for under $300. But the cost is really more of an investment, and you’ll end up getting it all back. First of all, the value of these tuners is very stable. In fact, looking at some of the tuners we first sold when we started in 2006 for $240, we’re still selling the exact same model for $180. We frequently sell 20 year old tuners for $150+! What this means is that you can tune your vehicle today, drive around for a few years until you decide to get a different vehicle, then sell your tuner (after returning your vehicle to factory settings of course) and recover most of the initial costs of the tuner. However, one of the side effects of having improved power in your vehicle will be that you will most likely see a gas mileage improvement. From what we’ve heard from our customers throughout the year, a 1-2 mpg improvement is pretty common on gas vehicles and diesel vehicles will usually see an even better improvement, especially during towing; we’ve had reports of diesel towing mileage improving from 12 mpg to 20 mpg, that’s an 8 mpg improvement! So, what do these mileage improvements mean in terms of dollars? Well, I’ll give you a few examples of what you’ll see driving a very typical 15,000 miles a year with gas at $3.00 per gallon (which is right about the average price of gas over the past 5 years):
Example number 1:
For example number one, I’m going to go with one of the simplest examples, a 1 mpg difference using an 87 octane tune on a vehicle getting 15mpg with the stock tune. Driving 15,000 miles per year a gain of 1 mpg would equal a savings of 62.5 gallons which at $3 per gallon comes out to $187.50 per year. Let’s say you drive that vehicle for 5 years, you’d see a 5 year savings of $937.50!
Example number 2:
For the second example, I’m going to use a premium tune instead of an 87 octane tune. As stated earlier, the spark timing for premium fuel will be significantly increased which will improve power and mpg even greater than the 87 octane tune. So, although the cost of premium fuel may be greater, you’ll use less fuel which will result in that cost being offset. Let’s say this vehicle was getting 18mpg with the stock tune and since the premium tune will see better gains, let’s assume a 2 mpg improvement. With that improvement in fuel mileage, you’d use 83 gallons less per year if you drive 15,000 miles. Even if the premium fuel costs 25 cents more than regular, you’d still see a $62 savings per year which equates to a 5 year savings of over $312.50!
Example number 3:
For the final example, I’m going to use one of our past customers who purchased a tuner for his diesel truck that he was using to tow his camper all around the country. He saw a massive improvement while towing going from 12 mpg all the way up to 20 mpg! Since the haulers of America are putting on a whole lot more than 15,000 miles per year, I’m going to use 40,000 miles per year for this example. In this case, the 8 mpg improvement would result in a 1333 gallon savings which equates to $4000 per year! The 5 year savings would be $20,000!
Now, are all of these results typical? Of course, you may not see the same results, maybe you won’t even notice any difference. But from what we’ve seen, the majority of people do see an improvement. All of our employee vehicles have had cold air intakes and tuners installed and seen a 1-2.5 mpg improvement. And that was all while getting a huge improvement in power and drivability. I’ll end this post with once again saying, you’re crazy if you don’t have a tuner!