Technology is everywhere. From your cell phone to your 4x4, the electronic invasion seems to be ever-growing. And while many of these new tech devices make day-to-day living a little more blissful, wrenching on the new gadget-filled autos can be frustrating.
With stricter government safety mandates in place and an overwhelming push in the U.S. to out-gadget the next guy, the future of automobiles may be more in the hands of the computer scientist than the gearheads of old. In fact, we'd be willing to bet that by 2015 most, if not all, dedicated wheelers' toolbags will be filled with more electronic testers and tuners than ever before.
Although a handheld programmer will never take the place of a tire plug kit, it could be the most important tool you have in your ride. While this reality frustrates many classic car enthusiasts, it shouldn't. For all their seeming limitations and nanny functions, there is a performance Mecca hidden beneath those flashing dash lights. The key to technology is to not fight it, but rather figure out how it can work for you.
To examine how one can manipulate the modern-day auto's electronic controls, we're taking a look at some of the most common tuning features that the modern handheld programmers have to offer. Though it's one of the most common and affordable tuning approaches, the handheld programmer and its array of features and functions are not always well understood. In this article we'll break down some of the most important functions of the programmer and offer a little insight into your vehicle's intricate onboard computer.
On The Average
Modern vehicles are programmed from the factory with a mild performance-based tune. These factory programming parameters are designed to meet or exceed Federal emissions standards and are factored into the life expectancy of the vehicle and its powertrain components. Tweaking these factory parameters can adjust power, fuel economy, and the performance of the vehicle, but will likely void your warranty.
All tuners are not created equal. Depending on your vehicle, one tuner may offer advantages or more features over another. For this article we are focusing mainly on the Superchips Flashpaq handheld programmer. The Flashpaq is a modestly priced tuner that simply plugs into your OBD-II port to access and modify information and parameters such as shift points, tire size, and octane-based performance tunes. Once the tuner is mated to the vehicle, it can only be used on that particular vehicle, unless all the tuning options are returned back to stock.
Part of what makes it possible to tune your ride and access its critical data system easily is the onboard diagnostics (OBD) port. Though onboard computers have been around since the '80s, it wasn't until the mid '90s that the computer-monitored emissions systems became more advance and the next-generation access port (OBD-II) became the mainstay. OEMs and the aftermarket began to utilize the port for more than just emissions data, but as a virtual life plug into the vehicle. These ports (which are generally found on the driver side of the vehicle, below the dash) are capable of uploading and downloading valuable information that's stored on your rig's computer or ECM (electronic control module).
When it comes to programmers, most people buy them with the hope of gaining more power. This power boost is achieved by downloading a performance-based tune. While the names of the tunes vary greatly (race, economy, tow, and so on), each has its own specific parameters. By downloading a preloaded tune, you are modifying air-to-fuel ratios, spark timing, injection pressure, shift points (if applicable), rpm limitations, and a host of other electronically controlled features.