The best electronics car kits ever

Posted on March 13th, 2005 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

I don’t know any way to write this without sounding like an arrogant prick, so here goes!

Over the years of writing for magazines, starting more than a decade ago with paper mags like Fast Fours & Rotaries, Street Machine and Zoom, US magazines like Turbo and High Tech Performance and Sport Compact Car, and UK magazines like Fast Car, and over the last 6 years here with, I reckon I’ve come up with some pretty good modified car DIY projects.

The Intelligent Intercooler Spray Controller is still being bought and fitted by many people, over five years after I invented it; the “Audi” pneumatic boost control is still being newly fitted in many countries and on many cars (in fact just yesterday I read of someone who had fitted it to a turbo Porsche model I’d never even heard of; he was very happy with it); and my articles on intercooling (especially water/air intercooling) seem for many to have become the bible on the subject.

But without any doubt, all those projects – and the hundreds of others I have written about – pale into insignificance when compared to the electronic kits covered in my recently published book, High Performance Electronics for Cars. (The book is published by electronics magazine, Silicon Chip.)

Of course – and I must state in the loudest possible terms – none of the projects would have been possible without the work and intelligence of co-author and electronics engineer John Clarke – none of ‘em! However I came up with all the concepts, laid out the specs and did all the on-car testing and refinement.

The book was two years of hard work – and now I don’t get a single dollar from its sales. (I was paid for my contribution to the book, with no royalties – that’s the deal I negotiated, and I am happy with it.) So in effect, it doesn’t financially matter much to me if the book – and the projects contained within it – are now astonishingly successful… or flop like a deflating balloon.

But as an expert on modifying cars, and especially an expert on the home and do-it-yourself modification of high tech cars, I simply know that these kits give normal people the power to make modifications that could previously never have been done at this price and with these results.

Those are indisputable facts.

So over the last few months I have been watching with interest the emails we – and Silicon Chip – have been getting about the kits. I am not looking for personal praise, but recognition of what these kits can achieve. And some people have been loud and clear in that recognition – “awesome” is one word that keeps cropping up in our communications.

I have also been watching web discussion groups…

Now, those who have been reading my material a long time will know that I don’t think much of web discussion groups – they tend to be places where keyboard jockeys (some of whom never appear to touch cars) gather to loudly dispense poor advice. (And of course, those who used to frequent AutoSpeed forums – until we got jack of the no-brains and shut it down – have never forgiven me. They’re the ones – I should remind you – that said without their presence at AutoSpeed, we’d be broke within a month. After all, they were AutoSpeed, weren’t they? They said that, what?, 4 years ago?)

Of course, I don’t bother regularly reading these discussion groups – why would you? Instead I mostly use the AutoSpeed referrers’ list to backtrack to the links being made in their posts to our articles. Many of the recent threads have been about the new range of kits in High Performance Electronics for Cars – which of course we’re also covering on AutoSpeed. Things like the Digital Fuel Adjuster, Independent Electronic Boost Control, and others like that.

And I have never read so much godawful rubbish in my life!

And no I am not talking about the (quite valid) criticisms that can be made about any of the projects – I reckon I know the shortcomings of these kits better than anyone. I am talking about people who have absolutely no idea passing judgements that are being unquestioningly accepted by others.

So what sort of things, then? Well, I haven’t bothered recording them word by word, but here’s the gist.

“The Digital Fuel Adjuster is no good for our cars because it only works from 0-5 volts.”

That line was written directly below a cut and paste of the specs which clearly shows that it works on 0-1, 0-5 and 0-12V signals! And the Digital Fuel Adjuster typically has the ability to make a saving over other techniques of at least AUD$500…

“The Digital Fuel Adjuster won’t work for us because our airflow meter output voltages drop with load.”

Yes, and John and I thought of that and made provision for it – just change one link on the board. So why not ask us before deciding it’s no good?

“During the development of the project he ran the Digital Fuel Adjuster on a Lexus LS400 – I’d like to know how he did that when we all know these cars run a Karman Vortex airflow meter [which outputs a frequency rather than a voltage] .”

Yes I did, because not all LS400s use a Karman Vortex airflow meter – and hell, this was on a Lexus forum where these blokes proclaim themselves to be Lexus experts!

“Has anyone got this Jaycar Independent Electronic Boost Control to work? I reckon the PIC software is all wrong and I want a copy of it so I can fix the mistakes they’ve made in the programming. I am an electronic technician so I know what I am doing.”

The last one so concerned me that – since I recognised the name as an AutoSpeed reader – I contacted him and offered to help. He double-checked everything in the build – saying there were no problems at all – and so I actually sent him a fully built Hand Controller and IEBC. A few days later comes the email: “Oops, I made a mistake – I put a link on the board in the wrong place.”

And finally I just must quote verbatim from a discussion group. The link was to the article by me showing how you could use the Digital Fuel Adjuster and an airflow meter bypass to completely avoid having to swap-in a new airflow meter, while still getting more flow and voltage headroom. And the post? Here it is…

“but Ill be any $ that it dosent aply one needs to have a load signal & if the load signal that the ECU is programmed for is re scaled the ECU has to be reprogrammed unless they have map sensors scaled the same as the AMMs on the cars they are dealing with I have thought of programming a 2.2 LH ECU to use a map sensor its definatly possible
take care

Honestly, why does anyone bother reading this rubbish? For those of you who have extreme translation skills, Point 1: It isn’t about using a MAP sensor in place of any airflow meter (why would you bother if you can reduce the pressure drop through the standard airflow meter to near nothing?), and Point 2: Just how many dollars are you prepared to bet about that load rescaling?

Of course, there have been some discussion groups where people have bought the projects, fitted them and then got stunning results. And those people are making posts that are genuinely helpful to others – talking about tricks to use building the kits, posting maps of the IEBC duty cycles being used, and so on.

But across the full cross-section of discussion groups, at this stage more than 80 per cent of the threads contain posters who have either not read the detail (they’ve just skimmed, so getting the story completely wrong), have built the projects so badly they don’t work, or completely fail to understand what they can achieve.

I am sure that in due course knowledge will triumph over ignorance. And then the very real disadvantages and advantages of the different projects will be able to be analysed and brought to light. But as someone who knows these projects inside-out, to see so many people on discussion groups getting it so wrong is a sobering experience. (Hey! I know the shortcomings of these projects…. But so far, with one notable exception, I am not reading anything about their true downsides…just pure misinformation.)

Honestly, it doesn’t worry me much whether you read about all these projects, consider their costs and benefits – and then go with another approach. But do your own investigating; don’t rely on halfwits who think slowly and type fast…

One Response to 'The best electronics car kits ever'

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  1. Chris said,

    on August 9th, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Having built and tested a DFA, it does work as advertised thank you.

    OK, it’s not not perfect; mostly the tuning controls are a little cumbersome till you get the hang of it, but for the price it’s hard to beat in my opinion.

    Of course if it had a famous Japanese or American label on it, people would queue up to pay ten times the price, and still whine about it.