Gone are the glory days of pulling your truck into the shop where the mechanic gets to pop the hood to troubleshoot problems one by one. We live in the plug-in generation where computer diagnostics spit out the problem within seconds. There are pros and cons to both scenarios. Problems are easier to diagnosis, but factory settings on things such as fuel consumption and horsepower are harder to bypass. This is where a good tuner comes in. But first, let’s go through the history of onboard diagnostic devices.
Onboard Diagnostic (OBD) systems are in most trucks on the road today, primarily to meet EPA emission standards. Their early predecessors came about in the '70s as manufacturers started using electronic means to control engine functions and diagnose engine problems. Through the last few decades, onboard diagnostic systems have become more advanced. The OBD-II is a new standard, which provides almost complete engine control and also monitors parts of the chassis, body and accessory devices, as well as the diagnostic control network of a truck. All automotive vehicles built since January 1, 1996 will have OBD-II systems, as it is required by law.
Early models of the onboard computer systems had chips that could be replaced to adjust engine parameters for extra speed and power. While the OBD-II systems are now sealed and do not allow chip replacement, they do provide a real time data acquisition system that is useful to tuners. Power loaders can actually reprogram the performance parameters of the OBD-II system to accommodate performance options. At the current time the number of models they can service is limited, but the range is being extended.
Overriding the factory-programmed settings is one of the first modifications diesel truck enthusiasts make because it’s one of the easiest. Sometimes called downloaders or programmers, these handheld tuning devices work by connecting to the vehicle's OBD-II port or Assembly Line Data Link (ALDL) under the dash.
Tuners download information directly onto the Powertrain Control Module (PCM), which makes the power output the main focus of the truck. It will override settings that manage efficiency, emissions and drivability. Tuners are programmable to do lots of different things. They can increase injection timing, adjust injection pressures, pulse width, boost, and the peak operating range. Some can even raise the top speed limiter, recalibrate the speedometer to accommodate larger tires, firm up transmission shifts and read diagnostic trouble codes (DTC).
Spend some time researching your tuner because each will work differently. Some can be quickly adjusted while others can only operate on one setting at a time, which means you will have to download a new program every time your needs change. Standard tuners that are equipped with pre-loaded tuning will give your truck a lot of power over the stock codes. Tuners that are equipped to handle custom tunes can unlock serious amounts of power. Several tuners can be updated regularly by updating software over the Internet and improved tunes can even be sent directly to your email.
Six-Gun Tuner from Banks Power
Calibrated for racing and sport, the Banks Six-Gun Tuner delivers power gains of up to 155 hp and 385 ft./lbs. at the rear wheels and has six change-on-the-fly power levels. Using CleanTune technology, it has the ability to adjust timing and fuel pressure. Many tuners reduce fuel delivery as exhaust gas temps rise, but they ignore the powertrain. Banks finds the limits of the engine and powertrain, and then adds mission-critical ActiveSafety safeguards to Six-Gun so it won’t exceed those limits. As with all Banks Tuners for 1998-2010 Ford, GM and Dodge diesel pickup trucks, the Six-Gun is covered under California Air Resources Board Executive Order numbers (CARB E.O. #s), making it legal for use in all 50 states.
“At Banks, we have always provided ‘Clean Tune’ technology. I believe that in this day and age of emissions regulations, it is in my best interest and the best interest of my customers for me to sell clean products,” said Gale Banks, president of Banks Power.
This tuner retails for $685.53. (888-857-2353/www.bankspower.com/am3)
Triple Dog Gauge Tuner from Bully Dog
The Triple Dog Gauge Tuner is four products in one remarkable unit: a vehicle engine tuner, monitor, gauge and diagnostic device all in a single unit. It will transform the utility of your vehicle by increasing horsepower, improving fuel economy, and providing a comprehensive set of monitoring features and diagnostic functions. The Bully Dog GT Diesel has the widest range of vehicle applications from a single tuning product. With tuning that works on Ford, Dodge and Chevy diesel applications, all in the one unit, this is a great performance tool for any diesel truck owner. Bully Dog also has the 50 state GT diesel available which now features tuning that works on 07-10 Ram Cummins 6.7L applications with an EO for the state of California. This tuner retails for $699.99. (www.bullydog.com)
Mini Maxx Street from H&S Performance
The Mini Maxx Street tuner combines high performance tuning with a complete set of digital gauges. With the flexibility of shift-on-the-fly tuning, plus the safety of automatic de-fueling, the Mini Maxx Street tuner has you covered. With the touch of a button you can adjust the amount of horsepower you’ll need. Whether you wind up on a slick road or need help pulling that loader to the job site, the Mini Maxx will quickly accommodate. By precisely calibrating the engine’s computer for optimal performance, the Mini Maxx helps your truck access up to 200 additional horsepower, depending on the make and model of your truck. This tuner has a great display that puts everything at your fingertips. With the touch of a button you can set your own limits to ensure your engine stays within a safe and optimal range. If you live anywhere else besides California, you can pick this tuner up for $849. (888-628-1730/www.hsperformance.com)
Insight CTS from Edge
The Insight CTS is an easy-to-install, stand alone, multi-gauge display. With what would otherwise cost thousands of dollars and take hours to install, the Insight CTS provides inexpensively and instantly for any vehicle 1996 or newer, with an OBD-II connection. Most recently, Edge Products introduced its 12 Volt Kit. The 12 Volt Kit converts any Insight CTS into a digital gauge for any 12-volt powered vehicle without an OBDII connection. By connecting to a key switch power and ground source, the Insight becomes a digital gauge display for anything. Using the EAS system, customers can monitor EGTs, pressure readings, temperature readings, and much more. On 2001-2005 LB7 and LLY Duramax engines you can now change the power levels on-the-fly created by your EFILive custom tuning software with your Edge Insight CTS. Simply use your EFILive software to change your DSP5 Switch Type from “hard wire” to “serial.” Once you are set up to support serial communication, simply use the up and down arrow buttons on your Insight to adjust EFILive tunes on-the-fly. This tuner has a price tag of $419.69. (888-360-3343/www.edgeproducts.com)
Trinity from DiabloSport
This tuner has a wide range of tuning options, everything from economy and tow tunes to “Hell Raising” extreme tunes. The Trinity is one of the most advanced devices of its kind, featuring full reflash/reprogram capability, advanced data acquisition and customizable gauges. All of this is displayed and controlled on a color touch screen and housed in a slim, custom-styled, easy-to-use device. This tuner shows data in real time, but records logged data for hours at a time. In addition to the extensive tuning support, it's loaded with other features like the programmable shift lights, gauge display, virtual drag strip and data logging. You can see why the DiabloSport Trinity becomes the last tuner you will ever have to buy. Available straight from the company website for $599.99. (561-908-0041/www.diablosport.com)