A Quick and Dirty Dive into Modifying Engine Management Systems

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A Quick and Dirty Dive into Modifying Engine Management Systems

You want to LS swap the world eh?  We’re absolutely with you.  Actually, this post isn’t purely about LS swaps either.  It really applies to any time you’re considering heavily modifying a fuel injected vehicle.

Quick and Dirty look at ECU Tuning and Standalone Engine Management such as MegaSquirt, AEM, COBB, BigStuff, Holley Dominator, MSD and building your own system whether or not you're stock, heavily modified or a full race car with an LS swap or factory drivetrain.

We’re going to break down in as quick and dirty of a way possible, the most common directions you can take to tune your fuel injected car.  These notes apply to OEM applications that you’ve just hopped up or if you decide to turbo LS your golf cart.  We’ll do our best to throw down a few pros and cons in hopes of helping you decide the best way for you to achieve the goal you have in mind.

Quick and Dirty look at ECU Tuning andQuick and Dirty look at ECU Tuning and Standalone Engine Management such as MegaSquirt, AEM, COBB, BigStuff, Holley Dominator, MSD and building your own system whether or not you're stock, heavily modified or a full race car with an LS swap or factory drivetrain.

First, and probably the most common way to handle and tune a modified fuel injected vehicle, is to stay with the stock ECM unit and either have it tuned on the dyno, install a tune with a handheld programmer or for us that run OBD1 cars, have a chip burned for it.

For mildly modified cars, cars with stock drivetrain that have just had a power adder tossed on or just looking to maximize a few attributes of your bone stock daily, this is typically the way to go.

You’ll avoid problems such as wiring an engine loom, losing accessories or creature comforts or the sometimes DEFEATING task of chasing an electrical gremlin when you’re having to heavily modify a stock body and engine harness.

Quick and Dirty look at ECU Tuning andQuick and Dirty look at ECU Tuning and Standalone Engine Management such as MegaSquirt, AEM, COBB, BigStuff, Holley Dominator, MSD and building your own system whether or not you're stock, heavily modified or a full race car with an LS swap or factory drivetrain.

The downside to sticking with what the factory gave you is a lack of flexibility in regards to adding computer control to systems such as boost control, fan controls or various other systems that a highly modified drivetrain may require.  You’re limited to the circuits and controls provided in the OEM ECU.

Quick and Dirty look at ECU Tuning andQuick and Dirty look at ECU Tuning and Standalone Engine Management such as MegaSquirt, AEM, COBB, BigStuff, Holley Dominator, MSD and building your own system whether or not you're stock, heavily modified or a full race car with an LS swap or factory drivetrain.

Next in order of expense would be your DIY systems, such as MegaSquirt.  While very budget friendly to build your own ECU or even pick up one of many PnP systems offered by them, they are not for the new comer to tuning.  You’ll need to understand electrical systems and PCB construction.  ESPECIALLY if you purchase one of the ECU kits and opt to build it yourself. 

These kits can be even CHEAPER than a chip or tune, but very labor intense and require extensive knowledge.  But, if you’re game and have done your homework, the flexibility of these systems at such a low cost for the entry point is hard to beat.

Quick and Dirty look at ECU Tuning andQuick and Dirty look at ECU Tuning and Standalone Engine Management such as MegaSquirt, AEM, COBB, BigStuff, Holley Dominator, MSD and building your own system whether or not you're stock, heavily modified or a full race car with an LS swap or factory drivetrain.

The downsides would be the amount of time/labor you’re going to spend building your ECU and adapting your stock harness OR building a custom harness for it.  This is my personal choice, but I’m a huge nerd with a small budget.  Take that for what it’s worth.

 

Last, but definitely not least in this discussion is full out systems along the lines of AEM Infinity, Holley Dominator, Pro-M, BigStuff, and similar systems.

These systems are full featured and race bred ECUs designed to handle any and all of your wildest dreams.  They typically require that you adapt your ignition system to the requirements of the ECU, but will also come with options to have fully featured harnesses come included in your purchase. 

Quick and Dirty look at ECU Tuning andQuick and Dirty look at ECU Tuning and Standalone Engine Management such as MegaSquirt, AEM, COBB, BigStuff, Holley Dominator, MSD and building your own system whether or not you're stock, heavily modified or a full race car with an LS swap or factory drivetrain.

The price point of these systems are typically quite high, starting around the $1500 mark for an ECU alone and skyrocketing from there.  But, these systems come with tons of support, include features such as self-learning modes and various other super trick features that bring your time spent wrenching down.

 

Well there you have it.  A quick and dirty comparison of the three most common genres of engine management and tuning systems.  We intentionally did our best to keep this short and sweet, unlike most of the manuals that come with these systems.  We hope this gives you enough insight to start your journey with your own project with a little more confidence.


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