ECU Tuning

There are many different ways to increase power through ECU tuning. The simplified explanation is that most manufacturers will leave some room in their tune. Sometimes this is because of not wanting to encroach the mechanical limitations of the engine. Other times it is to meet certain emissions requirements or even for “political” reasons. ECU tuning involves modifying the fuel and spark maps of an engine. Many modern engines also have controls for camshaft timing and many other items that can affect power output. RRT has partnered with the premier tuners in the country to deliver to you an increase in horse power and torque.

There are many different methods required to tune a vehicle properly. Older cars used chips. With these, a computer chip is literally loaded with data and physically installed in your engines computer. The next generation of controls can be as simple as a software flash. Your vehicles diagnostic port is connected to a laptop and the software is uploaded to the car. But as vehicles get more complicated, most current vehicles require some type of outboard ECU in addition the factory one to handle the processing needs of the engine. We will try to explain what is involved in these methods and the benefits of them below.

ECU Tuning

Dyno graphs can be good indicators of a good tune. However, there are many things to look out for when looking at one. Scaling can be adjusted to make the graph appear to ramp up faster than it really does. Also, without A/F number super imposed, it is difficult to tell if the tune is “safe” or not. One thing that is easy to see is the basic curve of the graph. if it is a nice smooth flow then the car will drive smoothly. If the graph shows huge ramp up in power, then the gas pedal can act more like a switch than and adjustment unit and you may find it difficult to drive the vehicle in traffic or other slow conditions. We can help show you the differences and explain where you can make the most benefits.



We will begin with chip tunes and flash tunes. It is easy to put them together because they are very similar in design. Both involved a tune being created on a computer based on the needs of your car. This ECU tuning software package will typically advance ignition timing and then adjust the engine’s fueling to account for it. This software file is then loaded into the car. The only difference between the two is that the flash tune can be loaded directly into the vehicle while a chip has to be installed into the engine’s ECU. After either one of these is done, they are again similar in that you don’t have to do anything else. Simply drive the car and you will experience the increase in power. Dinan Engineering and VF Engineering both are excellent examples of reliable and safe flash tunes that are available on the market right now.


You might have heard the term “Stand Alone Fuel Management System” or just a “Stand Alone”. These system entirely replace your factory computer and most time the entire wire harness. These systems have great capabilities, but are very labor intensive to install and setup. Generally these are only used for highly modified vehicles and full out race cars. A properly setup stand alone system can range anywhere from $4000 -$40,000. RRT is capable of installation and setup of these systems, but it is very rarely needed given the modern capabilities of factory ECU’s.


The newest generation of cars have vastly more complicated computer systems. The amount of data that an engine’s ECU processes per second is astounding. On top of that, many manufacturers have encrypted their software making very difficult to modify. We actually heard from one of our customers who was attending an IT security conference that one of the speakers was using a BMW DME as an example for what they should strive for. The number of items that need to be controlled have also increased. Multiple camshafts with variable control, turbos, direct injectors and coil on plug systems all increase the need for computing power.

Many tuners have implemented outboard ECU’s as a solution to modern ECU tuning needs They program their software and adjust the fuel and spark timing of your engine. They do this by installing an interceptor harness that splits some of the signals from your engines sensors and directs them to the new ECU. They information is then processed and directed back into the factory system to the components that need controlling. The base process is the same as a chip or a flash tune, but the data needs to go through many more steps to reach the same goal. Dinantronics ECU’s are an example of topline piggybacks. 


There are also different methodologies in ECU tuning when creating the new maps to control an engine. There are cars out there that we refer to as “dyno queens”. What this means is that they can put out some very big horsepower numbers but are otherwise undriveable. This is not to say that every high horsepower car can’t be driven. But many tuners only focus on the peak gains and squeezing every last pony out of the engine. But a proper tune will take into consideration mid-range power which is where most of us live while driving about our daily lives. Not too many of us live at redline as one would on the track. By creating a smooth mid-range and power band, the car can be a much smoother and better driving vehicle than with a peak power tune. Of course RRT is known for racing and our race cars get their own special tune. Don’t let someone try to tell you that you should put a race tune in your street car. By getting the proper software for you application RRT will deliver a more satisfying result.


For most street cars, when comparing some companies piggyback ECU’s to a product such as a Dinan Dtronics ECU, many websites and shops only quote advertised HP increases as the basis for a sale. But when you look at both of these products with a critical eye, the differences can be astounding. The inferior brands trick the factory programming into performing tasks it was not originally meant to. They do this by bypassing factory safeguards without providing their own. Physical differences in the harnesses show another place where they “saved” money. A Dinan harness, utilizes factory weather sealed connectors wrapped in factory style loom, made for specific vehicle, not a universal-cut-to-fit version. Some of the cheaper brands utilize wire nuts to connect wiring. Wire nuts are for home construction, at RRT we build performance driving machines and we believe they have no place in a car. The Dinan Dtronics unit is shock tested against any vibration that a vehicle can transfer to it. Its processor is just as powerful as the factory unit. Why? Because they have taken the time to rewrite all the needed software to properly provide an ECU Tuning solution for BMW’s. Anything less would be a compromise. As far as power is concerned, much of the additional power obtained by some companies is done so at the expense of reliability. 

Maintenance is generally increased and related drive train components fail more often. That is because, when the envelope is pushed to reach that HP number other systems need tuning. That is where most companies do not want to spend the money. Dinan tests vehicle after vehicle in a variety of torture tests that are designed to mimic not only all of the possible circumstances a vehicle might encounter, but also to analyze all the ancillary items in a vehicle and tune the system as a whole. These extra steps in the development process do cost a more money, and thereby adding to the cost of the product released. But they also ensure that as a whole your vehicle will function as well as a factory vehicle for many years and many tens of thousands of miles saving you frustration and money in the future.