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Gauge/Tuners Enable Pickup Truck Drivers Custom Control of Horsepower and Fuel Economy
Affordable and simple to install, the latest tuners allow drivers to control, automate and monitor engine performance to dynamically suit their changing needs.
The average pickup truck today is often required to perform a variety of multi-tasking duties, ranging from basic transportation to rigorous towing, yet is somewhat inflexible as far as torque, horsepower and fuel economy are concerned.
This puts many weekend warriors who haul or trail loads such as RVs, boats and horse trailers in a quandary: Do they opt for a pickup with heavy-duty power and suffer the added purchase and operating cost consequences . . . or simply accept the performance and mileage limitations of their 300 HP-range pickup when under load and/or climbing long grades?
Many of today’s pickup owners are opting for a viable, variable solution, the use of programmable tuners to monitor and control basic engine performance in terms of torque and horsepower, fuel economy and some engine safety parameters – without modification to engine hardware. (This is essentially the same basic mechanism that is used by many operators of heavy-duty trucks to achieve the same benefits.)
Engine performance tuners, known more generally as programmable “gauge/tuners,” are electronic devices used to manage engine performance. Consisting of a compact, dash- or windshield-mounted control panel with wire leads, gauge/tuners are connected to the engine’s control module to regulate and monitor performance parameters according to vehicle load requirements and the operator’s desires.
Using a gauge/tuner it is possible to increase typical diesel or gasoline engine horsepower up to 25 percent, or to boost fuel economy significantly. Generally speaking, a variety of horsepower settings (e.g. Stock, Tow and Performance) are available to accommodate various driving conditions. The selected setting is controlled and monitored by the gauge/tuner, offering the vehicle operator not only more power or economies, but also improved vehicle control via heads-up display of critical engine performance factors (e.g. water temp, oil temp, boost pressure).
With some of the more sophisticated gauge/tuners, both horsepower and fuel mileage can be optimized simultaneously.
“I have always liked horsepower, so I have been using Bully Dog gauge/tuners on my last two pickups (a 2011 Ford Raptor 6.2L and 2006 Duramax 6.6L turbo diesel),” says Kevin Johns of Hymark Farms, Aberdeen, ID. “Both are used for hauling and trailing a 5th wheel RV and a big snow mobile trailer. I love the enhanced performance, the added torque and horsepower,” he says. “Also, both vehicles tow better, shift better, and run a little cooler under load. What is surprising is that no matter how high the horsepower setting, using the gauge/tuner I have always got a little better fuel mileage, too, as much as 8 to 8-1/2 percent more even climbing grades with heavy loads.”
More advanced systems
Using the most advanced gauge/tuners, users of vehicles powered by gasoline or light-duty diesel engines can get even more enhanced operational features and benefits.
For example, Bully Dog’s Triple Dog GT offers advanced programming and monitoring capabilities, including the ability to easily change settings, even on-the-fly while driving diesel vehicles. This system is the equivalent of four products in one: a vehicle engine tuner, function monitor, performance gauge and diagnostic device, all in a single unit. In addition to significant horsepower and fuel economy gains, the GT provides a set of monitoring features and diagnostic functions for enhanced driving and safety.
For example, if someone is running in high horsepower mode, and engine coolant or lube oil temperatures begin to overheat, the GT gauge/tuner will automatically recognize the condition and begin to lower the horsepower until the situation is corrected. The gauge/tuner will also alert the driver with a message on the panel display that notifies the driver what is happening and why (e.g. Engine overheating, horsepower lowering).
Chris Russmann, president of performance parts distributor Cyclone Diesel Performance (Farmersville, TX), says that advanced, programmable gauge/tuners such as the GT monitor for four different engine operating levels simultaneously.
“This protects the truck and driver,” Russmann says. “For example, let’s say you forgot to put it in “tow” mode and hooked onto your travel trailer. The gauge/tuner will automatically monitor engine operating conditions such as overheating or excessive boost (in the case of a turbocharged engine), and automatically shift to the “tow” performance level. This not only protects the engine, but also ensures that the vehicle will operate efficiently and provides a more enjoyable trip.”
Russmann adds that although gauge tuners such as Bully Dog perform comprehensive performance tests on their units, such as dyno and fuel consumption testing, part of the beauty of using these electronic devices is that each driver is able to control his own performance parameters according to load and desired operating conditions.
What to look for
When selecting a gauge/tuner, there are several criteria to consider. These include ease of installation, availability of a model that matches your vehicle’s engine, automated monitoring and control features (e.g. that provide maximum vehicle control, and the capability to “dial-in” performance adjustments such as horsepower output on-the-fly).
Bully Dog gauge/tuners, for example, are installed quickly and easily by attaching leads from the control panel to the engine’s control module. Then vehicle-specific (Dodge/Cummins, GM or Ford in the case of these models) software is downloaded to a laptop or tablet computer via the Internet, and transferred to the gauge/tuner via a standard cable. The gauge/tuner monitor prompts the installer through the procedure, ensuring that software installation goes smoothly. After that, the user simply dials in the operating parameters that are required whenever desired.
Monitoring capabilities may be important to many vehicle operators, such as those with commercial applications or who frequently tow heavy loads. To ensure reliable, optimized performance, the more powerful gauge/tuners will monitor turbo boost pressure, engine RPM, transmission temperature, air flow, fuel rail pressure and other operating parameters.
Another key thing to look for is location of the gauge/tuner. Some models locate the control panel under the hood in the engine compartment. This exposes it to heat, cold, humidity and vibration, which can potentially cause a malfunction or even failure. On the other hand, cab-mounted control panels are protected from those stresses and can be easily accessed for on-the-fly changes.
To ensure that performance and fuel economy are maximized, Bully Dog has a tool called Driving Coach available on some gauge/tuner models. Driving Coach is an on-screen feedback system that gives drivers specific tips on how to improve their driving habits in conjunction with their gauge/tuner capabilities to enhance fuel conservation while getting more efficient performance. This feature may prove highly valuable to commercial drivers with changing loads as well as those who use their pickups to tow an RV on weekends.