Tuning programmable management on the road

Posted on September 23rd, 2014 in Driving Emotion,Electric vehicles,Engine Management,Hybrid Power,testing,Turbocharging by Julian Edgar

Never have I had such fun when playing with a car! So what am I excited about?

Tuning programmable management on the road.

Regular readers will be aware of our Honda Insight series. As you’d expect, the publication of the articles in that series lags well behind where I am actually up to with the car. (I don’t want to run into a problem and have a big gap in the middle of the series, so it’s best from a publishing perspective that I take this approach.)

So I am around three months ahead of the series in what I am actually doing – so explaining my recent tuning of the MoTeC M400.

In the last month I’ve been tuning crank and start, fuel, ignition, idle speed control, turbo boost, exhaust gas recirculation, acceleration enrichment, wide-band closed loop feedback and lots of others.

All has been done in my shed, driveway or on the road.

It has been an immense learning curve – I’ve never before tuned a programmable management system – with some problems to overcome along the way.

But what I have found so rewarding is the degree of control that you can have over how the car drives. Tuning an interceptor (that I have previously done) or making minor tweaks to factory ECU inputs and outputs allows you to do lots of things, but tuning programmable management allows you to do so much more. (The same would also apply to factory ECUs where the software has been cracked – not the case with the Insight.)

Having so much control means that you can stuff things up absolutely mightily. I am not talking about blowing the engine (though that of course isn’t difficult with wrong timing or fuel figures) but how the car can be made to drive so badly, so easily.

Or, more positively, you can tweak and tweak and tweak until you achieve things that appear initially impossible.

The Insight is running without its hybrid electric assist at this stage, so the bottom-end torque normally provided by the electric motor is missing. With just a 1 litre engine, very high gearing (especially in first and second) and 4800 rpm peak torque, getting the car tractable around town has been no mean feat.

That’s especially the case when no ‘start-up’ map exists for this car – the MoTeC has had to be programmed literally from scratch.

The excitement of activating and then mapping exhaust gas recirc that boosted part-throttle low-rpm torque to a major degree was sensational; getting acceleration fuel enrichment sorted so the turbo boosts much more quickly after a throttle movement was fun; mapping the control of the water/air intercooler pump so that the pump works only when needed was intriguing; and designing the boost table in three dimensions to give exactly the boost behaviour I want was exciting.

I can now see better why a friend of mine years ago talked about driving to work each day, laptop on the passenger seat and making tuning tweaks at every set of traffic lights! With literally thousands of data points able to changed, and often interacting with each other in the driving, getting the perfect tune could be a lifetime pursuit.

But in the mean time, it’s a helluva lot of fun.

2 Responses to 'Tuning programmable management on the road'

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  1. Rob said,

    on September 24th, 2014 at 10:43 am

    You are not wrong there.
    I have had Kalmaker on a virtually bog standard Holden V8 for about 13 years now … and I still fiddle with it. There always seems to be some subtle behaviour that you think you can improve upon. It might be just something trivial like an occasional high idle that happens for no apparent reason. Well, there will be a reason and given time you can usually find out why and put a stop to it. Another might be optimising the lean cruise so that it does actually lean cruise at the load conditions that you normally cruise at. It goes on and on.
    It can become a bit of an obsession, but it is good fun and you learn a lot.
    Also, as an aside, thank you for introducing me to Kalmaker, I am pretty sure I read about it in your 21st century book when that first came out. I couldn’t believe my luck. I had wanted to have a go at full engine management, I had a Holden V8 and here was some kit that allowed you to manipulate every parameter in the actual factory calibrations via a slightly modified delco ecu. Couldn’t be a easier starting point.

  2. Nik said,

    on September 30th, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    WHile I have never had any experience in tuning a car electronically, (only minor touch-ups to carbys) a friend of mine recently turbocharged his 1990 MX5, and my lord has ECU technology come a far way.
    His ECU came with a base tune, pretty much enough to start the car and run, but what intrigued me was that his ECU has an ability to “autotune” which absolutely fascinated me. Instead of having to sit with a laptop every light, all he did was tell the ECU a few basic parameters to aim for (AFR, Timing) and the ECU then made the adjustments as he drove.

    Basically, he just drives, and each time the ECU reaches a new situation (high load for example) it will make changes on the fly.

    When I drove it the first time he had only put in the ECU the day before, and it was a pig of a thing to drive. 3 weeks later I drove it again, after he had been driving around with the ecu auto-tuning, and my god it was a night and day difference. The car felt about 95% of how it did from the factory (except for the now doubled power…..) he said that as the ECU keep tidying up it’s own tune it gets better.

    Even more unexpected, his ECU wasn’t a particularly expensive one, it’s an open-source one that you solder up from a kit (he paid somebody else to do that part, since his electronic skills are about zero)