ECU Tuning our JK – Increased Power and More

There is something about modern vehicles that just doesn’t work. Manufacturers are always putting limits on performance, adding nanny controls that limit wheel spin, limit rotation, and take away those smiles per gallon a more analog vehicle has. 

We have all fell victim to the traction control system overreacting and limiting forward progress. There have been plenty of times trying to drive in the snow where I simply could not get forward momentum due to the wheels wanting to spin and the nanny aids limiting peak TQ, the engine limits spark, and the brakes are applied to try to regain traction. When you drive a Jeep and can’t move in the snow it’s the most embarrassing thing imaginable.

Another limitation is the systems ability to compensate when you lift the vehicle and add larger tires. The calculations built into the Jeep’s computer allow for a very small window of speed deviation between the wheels and also limit the amount of body roll based on factory dimensions. All of that means that the nanny systems are more prone to activating and decreasing the fun factor.

So what’s a proud owner to do?

At the time of this writing, there is not an over the counter retail purchasable tuner that will correct or modify your traction control, or stability control. The closest you can get as a home hobbyist is the VCM Suite from HP Tuners. Prepare to drop $700 to $800 plus getting your ECU unlocked if you own a 2015 or newer.

The better option and certainly more cost-effective is to go to a professional tuning shop and work with them to tailor your vehicle to your wants and needs.

Tuning Tech by Frank Smith

It took me the better part of two years to find someone who understood what I was trying to accomplish and had the experience to do it properly. Frank has been tuning cars for over 20 years and although these days it’s more of a hobby than his full-time business he’s still at the top of his game. You can check them out here TTFS.

What we did.

What I have wanted to do, dreamed of doing, and needed to improve were several areas.

Firstly I wanted to reduce the amount of interference from the traction control system. The goal was to have it only intervene during the worst case scenario moments and to allow it to still assist off-road. I was willing to sacrifice the minimal assistance it offered off-road to make the on-road performance safer and more at my control.

Second, we reduced the intervention of the stability control. Lifted vehicles have more body roll, they also often have better performing suspension and tires. In our case, we have a very sophisticated air suspension from Off Road Only and dual rate sway-bars that keep the Jeep level and under control. The factory stability control calculations could not keep up with the lift and the larger 37-inch tires. The window that was allowed was too small and the system activated in situations that made it more dangerous to drive than if it was off entirely.

Last we removed the anti-stall feature and other aids that are great for people who are learning to drive a manual or don’t have the experience of driving older manual vehicles. For me, it was always counteracting what I wanted out of the throttle. The Jeep now works more like a cable operated system. Throttle goes down, clutch lets out, Jeep moves. No extra mumbo jumbo. Life is good!

These changes have transformed the Jeep into a more controlled, better performing, and more fun to drive vehicle. We still have some off-road testing to do but if the current characteristics translate from on to off-road I will be one happy camper.

Oh by the way.

After all the other tuning was done we decided to try and add some power to the stock motor. I made it more difficult by mandating that the Jeep still run 87 octane fuel. This prevented us from adding a ton of timing. What we discovered is the 3.6 Pentastar motor in the Jeep Wrangler wants more fuel, and more timing and the more you can give it the more power it makes. Not just a little power but it has significant gains stuck in that lump.

So with my ridiculous demands that we keep the Jeep economical, Frank and the guys were able to pull an additional 20 lb-ft of torque at peak and 14 lb-ft of torque across the entire curve. HP gains were smaller but once again you can see the gains across the entire rev range. I wasn’t searching for HP it was a happy by-product of trying to boost torque down low and flatten the curve allowing the Jeep to perform better off-road.

Cost.

One of the cost drivers for this modification is getting the ECU unlocked. In order to get this first one done, there was some R&D needed. Going forward everyone who has the service done will benefit from us blazing the trail.

ECU unlock $150. The custom tune cost will vary but expect to pay between $300 to $400 depending on what you want changed on your vehicle.

If you own a Jeep and want to unlock the full performance it already has give Frank and the team a call at 443-482-5197. Make sure you ask for the 4WAAM tuning service!

 

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William Connor

As the Editor, William is responsible for all the good, the bad, the ugly and the indifferent that happens at 4WAAM. William brings a wide range of experience to this role having been a cook, a painter, a machinist, part time mechanic, computer programmer, and writer. He also wields a freely shared opinion on just about everything., just ask him.

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