If you're tuning a modern engine, there's a lot of information you'll need to know in order to make educated adjustments and avoid trial-and-error guesses. Keeping track of air/fuel ratios, fuel pressures, boost pressures, and rpms is difficult at speed, and trying to commit them all to memory is almost impossible - assuming you even have readouts for these items. Maybe all you need to do is closely watch how temperatures and other things are affected by stop-and-go traffic. Or maybe you take your vehicle on track runs. If so, you already know splitting your attention between gauges and driving just causes you to lose focus on both. Because you can't take notes while driving, we offer a practical and effective solution for the tracking of engine data - recording it electronically for later playback.
Since you can't take notes and drive at the same time, the best solution is to hook up a device that can tap into and record a wide range of engine data that your vehicle's main engine control computer (ECU) is monitoring at all times. In this article, we'll look at driving monitors and data loggers we offer that perform this valuable function. Plus we've even got one unit that lets you reflash your vehicle's ECU with updated software programs from your vehicle manufacturer - correcting factory glitches that may exist.
Once connected to your vehicle's ECU, monitors and data loggers will automatically see and record anything your vehicle's ECU tracks. This typically includes details such as engine rpms, vehicle speed, ignition timing, air/fuel mixture, engine knock, temperatures for oil and coolant, and more. Your vehicle may or may not track other things such as turbo boost pressure, mass airflow, engine load, or air intake temperature just to name a few. For these things not tracked by your ECU, auxiliary sensors running from the data logger can be installed almost anywhere to measure temperatures or pressures of liquids, gases, and more.
Measuring air intake temperature is important because as heat increases, air density decreases - throwing off the consistency of your tune. Knowing the difference in temperature change can help you make more consistent calibrations. Liquid temperature readers can measure oil and coolant temperatures to see if any heat-related issues exist, and catch problems before failures occur.
And if you've got a turbocharger, measuring pressures in locations before and after your intercooler will let you see drops in pressure that may indicate if your intercooler is working efficiently and is sized correctly for your needs. Liquid pressure sensors can measure oil pressure, fuel pressure, or even detect irregularities in cooling pressure that would indicate if your cylinder head gasket has become compromised by an aggressive engine setup.
Tracking exhaust temperatures will paint a picture of how aggressive you're getting with your tune. It will help you check for cylinder uniformity, and safeguard against excess heat. Exhaust temperatures are particularly important on diesels, because excess heat in the exhaust is a good indicator that deeper engine problems exist.
When it comes to data recorders, we'll start with the AEM AQ-1 Data Logger - a small box that's compatible with any OBD II vehicle. It's installed under the hood, then wired into the ECU and various sensor points. Once connected, it records data and stores it on a removable memory card that can be easily transferred to your laptop or PC. So there's no more need to sit in a hot racecar reviewing information.
The AQ-1 is equipped with a built-in 3-way accelerometer that measures G-forces during acceleration, cornering, and braking. So when you're reviewing a run, you can graph things to see if fuel or oil supply dropped during any tight maneuvers or curves in the track.
The Innova OBD I and II Carscan Diagnostic Interactive Scan Tool can also be used with any 1996-later OBD II vehicle, plus it's equipped with OBD I capabilities for the most popular 1981-95 models from General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, and Honda. In addition to retrieving stored fault codes, it can record, play back, and graph OBD II data as well as perform live tests for evaporative emissions and O2 sensors. Individual green, yellow, and red "system status" lights on top of the unit signify the likelihood of your vehicle's exhaust passing emissions tests.
Perform Factory Software Updates To Your Vehicle
Sometimes, getting your vehicle to the correct tune is simply a matter of getting rid of software glitches inherent in your vehicle's original factory programming. When vehicle manufacturers realize such deficiencies exist, it's usually not long before software reflashes are created to correct known issues. Dealership service departments will provide these software updates, but there may be a cost to you if your vehicle's new car warranty has expired. And even if you would be covered, maybe you've already made other modifications you'd rather a dealer not see.
Determining whether there's a software update that applies to your year, make, and model is as simple as searching the internet. If an update exists, you can purchase it from the manufacturer directly, then download it to your vehicle using the OTC Reflash Scan Tool. This programmer does not read fault codes or record data, because it's sole function is to serve as an interface between the software update you've loaded on your PC and your OBDII vehicle.
The Edge Insight Monitor offers the ability to monitor and record vehicle data, and features a choice of color display screens in 4.3" and 2.4" sizes. The Insight Monitor will read and clear diagnostic trouble codes, and it features a drag strip measuring function that automatically records speeds and times for quarter mile and 0-60 sprints. And if you've got a turbo engine, you'll really appreciate the "turbo timer kit" that automatically keeps the engine running until operating temperatures cool down to a certain point. This unit should not be mistaken for a power programmer (see below).
Units With Other Additional Features
We've got units that record data and perform a host of other functions that any car enthusiast would find useful. Because they have the power to interface with your vehicle's ECU and actually revise air/fuel mixtures, timing, and other engine functions, these are described as "programmers" or "tuners". For information about these products, please see our related article "Are Superchips Really Super?"
Once you consider how much less time it will take to get the tuning results you want using a data logger, you'll begin to realize that other equally important vehicle projects can be started and finished in the same amount of time it would have taken without the logger. Should you prefer to make any adjustments down the road, the process will be quick and easy. Plus, there's a good chance you'll save money by spotting small problems before they become big ones - because you won't need to buy parts or pay someone else for repair labor. Time and money is what you'll save, while being proud of saying you did your own auto analysis with a data logger!