Car Tuning: What Do You Need to Know?
What Is Tuning Anyway?
We can’t tell for sure when the notion of modifying cars was born in the consciousness of car enthusiasts (it was probably right when the first four-wheeler lifted up city dust), but thing is certain – the wish is still very present, advancing an entire industry of products and services that aim to satisfy our primeval need to stand out from the crowd, to show that we can do better, to be noticed.
Car tuning can be understood in many ways in terms of the domain of modification. For some people, tuning means changing parameters on a chip, for some it means installing spoilers and xenon bulbs, and some see it as building a racing car. In essence, tuning means improving the performance of a car that came down from a production line in the very same configuration as millions of units before (and after) it. Can’t the factory do better – you might wonder.
Generally speaking, serially produced cars come in rather basic versions, meaning that they can offer much more than what they currently do. Why? The reason is that the aim of the car manufacturer is not to offer you a car that you cannot afford or maintain, but to achieve an ideal balance between economy and performance. This is where tuning comes in.
Before we dive in deeper into this topic, we would like to explore the financial aspect a little bit further. Even though you are ready to pay for tuning services and replacement parts, bear in mind that greater stress on these parts means they will wear out sooner. Beside the already mentioned potential increase in fuel consumption, a more severe use means you will need to shorten every service interval. It’s up to you to do the math.
Who Can Tune a Car (for You)?
Motives, expectations, wishes and possibilities are different for everyone. So are the levels of complexity and cost of tuning. In the context of this series of articles dedicated to tuning, our projected reader is does not fit into one profile. Our readers are “urban fighters”, enthusiasts as well as racers. We will make sure to highlight which level of tuning fits these profiles.
When it comes to the person to whom you can entrust the modification of your four-wheeler, you can always turn to authorized tuners or tuning workshops which belong to the car maker. But these options are rather expensive for the conditions we live in, so most people decide to do it in a private arrangement. However, it’s no secret that many terrible wrecks happened due to poor level of expertise or wrong calculation… Tuning is a demanding and expensive hobby. It can cost you time, money or - in some extreme situations when not done properly - your life. Therefore, be very cautious and make sure you collect all the necessary information about the qualifications and the experience of the person you plan to entrust this demanding task.
Which Cars Are Best for Tuning?
Generally speaking, any vehicle that has an internal combustion engine, and in recent times an electronic control unit (ECU), can be tuned. But first, let us differentiate cars run by ECU, and those run by “pure mechanics” (an older generation of vehicles). Both types, of course, can go through modification, but vehicles containing mechanical parts only demand a more complex approach.
When it comes to the engine type, you can tune the diesel as well as the petrol type. While gasoline engines are being tweaked on a regular basis, we did witness a serious increase in the number of remapped diesel cars with turbocharged engines in the (not so distant) past, which was due to the fact that turbocharged engines were easier to rework than the atmospheric ones. However, many diesel engines (especially the turbo kind) were destroyed by the hand of amateur tuners who had either remapped them the wrong way, or evaded the fact that certain engine parts were not designed to handle the increase in power and therefore had to be replaced.
During the last decade, many global players tried to enter the world of racing via diesel engines. Although the diesel engine dominated the scene for a while, the interest dropped dramatically when the construction of turbocharged petrol engines surpassed their diesel counterparts.
What Is the First Step?
The easiest, cheapest (hence the most popular) way to boost horsepower is the so called chip tuning. Chip tuning is basically changing parameters inside the ECU by means of a computer, or replacing serial production maps with those from a higher class. By increasing engine power, you switch from a fuel-economy mode (determined by the car maker) to a fuel-consuming mode, so you need to be ready for this cost. Moreover, for some cars this kind of modification can be quite evident, meaning that you will need to think about replacing tires and brakes for safety reasons, which raises the initial cost.
Although chip tuning is considered to be the simplest way to draw maximum horsepower from an existing engine configuration, unfortunately it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have it done the right way. Lack of expertise and pirate copies of maps can make pistons, piston rods and entire engine blocks break. Therefore, it’s critical to leave the job to professionals.
Being that all tweaks are done electronically, you don’t need to dismantle the engine in order to perform chip tuning. The next step would be changing the technical features of the vehicles.
What Does the Process Look Like?
The process of tuning, logically, begins with increasing engine power by performing interventions on the cylinder block, the cylinder head and the ECU. We say process because anyone who wishes to take part in this exciting adventure should be aware that tuning is never done partially, meaning that its segments are dependent on one another. For example, when increasing the engine power, it’s necessary to pay attention to the suspensions and brakes in order for the entire system to endure higher speed and better performance. It would be wise also to lower the car in order to enter curves more easily. You’d also need tires that secure better contact with the surface and reduce swaying. In accordance with greater power, the springs and shock absorbers should be replaced with those of higher quality. The next level would be tuning elements of transmission that optimize the transfer of engine power to the wheels via the gear shift and differentials. Professional car tuning means adding safety features, like strengthening the body frame, installing safety cages, ergonomic seats and custom belts that improve safety and make it easier for the driver to endure the force of gravity at higher acceleration. And so on…
Fasten your seat belt and follow this section because we will be paying special attention to each of these segments in the months to come.