RANT: Get what you paid for!
This is going to be a brief rant on the aftermarket performance industry in general. I pretty much write these blog posts off the top of my head, so I'd imagine we're going to wander pretty far down the rabbit's hole, but I'll try to keep it short. This example, although not something in my normal repertoire, embodies a lot of the poor qualities I see going on in the industry on a daily basis.
This car belongs to a long time friend of mine so it hits near and dear to my heart. Now, GM products are not something I would say I "specialize" in, although I have tuned a fair amount of them. As most of you know, I can normally be found in the dyno cell with a Subaru, GTR, EvoX, and the occasional Porsche. My buddy Justin came into my shop with his newly modded C5 Corvette, ready to sell it. He once loved this car and now wanted to burn it the ground. He had recently seen an internet deal for a Cam / Tune package by a local shop. The staggeringly low price was too good for him to pass up. So let's get down to it...
The car was tuned via Speed Density (fueling is calculated by intake manifold pressure and RPM) rather that using the factory equipped MAF sensor (fueling is calculated by measuring the mass of air entering the engine). Which struck me as odd given that these cars seem to run just fine on the MAF especially for only a bolt-on set up. The car had very poor low speed drivability and would buck and hesitate while cruising; stop lights we're a nightmare of heel-toe-ing the brake pedal and gas pedal to keep the car from stalling; and fuel economy was a very faint memory that drifted off into the night like a viking funeral. So, this should be simple, right? Simply properly tune the car and he'll be on his way...not quite. During the PDI (Pre-Dyno Inspection) many intake leaks were found and it was clear why the car was tuned via speed density. It was tuned in this manner because the many leaks in the intake tract wouldn't matter any more (since speed density tuning is only concerned with what is going in the intake manifold). So after we replaced a few components and got the intake system sealed tight, the intake manifold also had many leaks that needed immediate repair. So the tuner's work-around was actually not a work-around at all. One item would lead to another and after spending quite a bit of money on parts and labor repairing someone else's work, we were finally ready to tune the car.
After spending only a few hours in the dyno cell, the car is dialed in just as it should be. No changes to the set up were made, we simply took the time to fix any mechanical issues and cared enough to do the job we were getting paid to do. The time was spent dialing in all aspects of the car from cranking to wide open throttle and all the bits in between that normally get "overlooked".
Overall, we picked up a bit of power. The car averaged a gain of 15whp and 15wtq across the entire power band. This is nice, but doesn't tell the full story. Most tuners can make power with a car. What sets apart a good tuner from just a guy with a laptop and maybe a dyno, is the rest of the tune - the 99% of the time when you don't have the throttle hammered to the floor. It's ability to simply cold start, hot start, drive smoothly, achieve an acceptable fuel economy for the set up, shift correctly, and so on...you see where I'm going here. It should drive as close to "stock" as the set up allows. Now, not all parts can offer stock-like driveablity, but in some cases it comes with the territory.
The gains can be seen on this before and after graph. The dashed line is how it came in before (after repairs were made) and the solid line indicates how it left. As I said before, the gains in power are only part of the story here. You can notice the black line on the bottom (air fuel ratio) is a fairly solid line, and doesn't wander from excessively rich at the start of the pull to excessively lean by the end of the pull, like the dashed line.
Now, the point of this rant isn't to say that one tuner is "better" than the other. This is a great example of laziness, apathy, and in some cases thievery. How a car can leave another facility stalling, with poor driveablity, etc and be deemed acceptable is beyond me. This rant isn't to call out a shop either. This is a trend we see a lot in every platform. From GTR, to Subaru, to Evo X, and everything in between.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?
DO YOU RESEARCH! I don't mean run to the forums and see who's the flavor of the week or who just cracked off a fast pass. I mean do your research.
- Get first hand referrals. Get in touch with people that have actually had experience with the tuner you're interested in working with. Drive their cars, etc.
- Contact these tuners. See how easily they are to get in touch with. There may be times where you need customer service or tech support from your tuner / performance facility. Be sure that you can get a hold of these guys and that they take your concerns seriously.
- Credentials. How long have these tuners been tuning engines and how much experience do they have with YOUR specific platform. While most tuning is the same no matter what the engine, a tuner with more experience in your specific platform will be in tune with the small nuances that really make the overall difference.
I'm sure there is more to talk about here, but I'm not a "blogger" by trade and I've reached the point in the story where I'd rather be doing other things than typing in front a computer. The moral of the story...do you do diligence. There are A LOT of great shops out there, not just us. But for every great shop, there are 25 shops that will leave you with an empty wallet and a less-than-stellar experience. We strive to go that extra mile for our clients in every aspect, and it seems as of lately, just getting what you paid for is the extra mile to some.