The Shocking Truth
The universally dreaded Electronic Control Module (ECM) which runs your entire vehicle from within it's tightly sealed metallic fortress, was always looked upon as some evil beast keeping the backyard tinkerer from tweaking the engine with the proverbial screwdriver. In many cases, that pointy tool did more harm than good unless in the hands of a skilled and seasoned professional. And even then only a mere few ponies could be extracted at best, with economy usually being the victim. With the advent of the ECM, after market companies have manufactured computer-reprogramming modules more commonly called "chips". These magical plug in wonders look at various sensors on the engine such as manifold vacuum, coolant temperature, throttle position and R.P.M. while processing this information and adjusting spark timing, air-fuel ratio and other parameters according to the tables stored in the modules memory. By recalibrating these tables, the engine can be tuned for maximum performance under various driving conditions, not only just during wide-open throttle. Performance improvements and sometimes an increase in fuel economy can be enjoyed at the same time just by plugging in these little beauties. An average of 15 to 25 horsepower and a 1-3 mpg can many times be seen, however, the gains coincide with the type of vehicle and computer on board, along with driving conditions and other features installed on that vehicle. Pretty cool stuff just by plugging in a little box, and a lot better than hours under the hood with a feeble screwdriver! According to Allen Gilmer at Hypertech, the thought that these new computer chips need to take time to work up to their maximum because the computer needs to "re-learn" these new codes are nothing more than old wives tales. The instant that chip is plugged in, it's working up to it's full capacity.
Now, even though lower than expected dyno numbers were reported on our tests (at only 9 hp), in real world scenarios it takes a lot more than only 9 hp to raise our speedometer from 35mph to 55mph while towing a 16,000 pound load, up an 8% grade at 12,000 foot altitudes in the Colorado Rocky mountains. And that's exactly the difference our chip made! So while numbers can be helpful, real world performance has the final say. And that's why we took Project MPG all over the country to do tests in real world situations. Most computer reprogramming modules also do not void manufacturers vehicle warranty's since the U.S. Government states that "if an aftermarket device is emissions legal and rated by the California Air Research Board (CARB), then the vehicle manufacturer must honor the warranty on their vehicle." Pretty good all around deal for only $150-$300.
(Photo of Computer Box Diagnostic Port): According to Hypertech's Allen Gilmer, the ECM's access port on our Ford, or "diagnostics port" as it's more commonly known, is actually nothing more than a test port used at the factory to confirm the operation of the unit before it's installed into the vehicle. Then the connections are typically glazed over with a clear lacquer or grease, never to be used again. These very thinly laid circuits were designed to be used once only, however this is where the computer-reprogramming module needs to tie in. Since our connections appeared to be extremely thin, Hypertech advised us to send our ECM in to have them re-tin the connections to insure a positive contact with the module plug. We sent ours in on a Wednesday, and got it back Friday, with no labor charge.
(Photo of scraping computer test port terminals): If you don't have yours re-tinned, it's important to insure that any protective coating be removed from the terminals where the module connects to. Here we removed the grease with a cotton swab with a solvent on it, then gently scraped the copper terminals with a jewelers file to remove the clear protective coating we found on our ECM. Hypertech uses the diagnostic port to connect their reprogramming module to on our application, making it an easier and cleaner application than connecting it in-line under the hood.
(Photo of Computer Chip): Yes, it looks like there's nothing to it, but then again, smaller devices run the navigation systems on nuclear missiles. Computer modules can read sensors as well as optimize ignition timing, fuel delivery curves and transmission shift points, all based on the current operating conditions. Light throttle allows you to conserve fuel, and the opposite commands maximum performance. Our Hypertech module is 50 state emission legal and we were told to expect a 9-24 hp increase. These modules also boast a lifetime warranty and do not void the vehicle manufactures warranty either.
(Photo of installed Computer Chip in computer box): Our original computer module did not work, and after several tries and several models shipped to us, they still didn't work. After contacting Allen Gilmer at Hypertech, he requested that we send our ECM box in (main computer). After extracting the code from our ECM, Hypertech discovered our box was an update from Ford, therefore requiring a unique code. According to Allan, due to all the variances and different computer codes out there, this happens all too frequently. At no extra cost they came up with a custom chip and we had it in our hands one-day later, and it worked perfectly. We were told that in some cases it takes several tries to get some chips to work properly, so have your computer number and calibration code ready upon ordering. Here's our module completely installed and ready to put the drivers kick panel back on, where our Ford's was located.
(Photo of gas pump in filler neck): Normally when using a higher octane fuel than needed, you will most likely lose power and economy due to the slower burning fuel. However, when higher compression, supercharged or turbo applications are present, or in our case increased ignition timing, the much needed octane will eliminate detonation and pinging as well as allow a more controlled and stable burn front in the combustion chamber. This means more usable horsepower and economy as well as protection from potentially fatal engine damage. The key is to use just enough octane to barely eliminate any pinging, and nothing more than that.
(Photo comparing new fuel pressure regulator to old): A common trick shared by our Mustang brethren is tweaking the fuel pressure for the EFI. The Crane fuel pressure regulator mounts in the same location as the stock one, but it's able to adjust through a wide range of pressures. With this advantage we can custom tailor our fuel delivery curve throughout the entire rpm range resulting in promised performance and economy gains. Ford says the stock fuel pressure for our mill is supposed to be 39 psi, which it was actually at 43 (as compared to the common standard of 43.5 psi, the American equivalent of the metric "3 BAR" measurement) . By dropping a few pounds most internally stock engines are able to pick up some performance and economy while raising it 2 or so pounds, internally modified engines can benefit. Throttle response is also affected, as well as cruise and the wide open throttle ranges. Ours responded significantly by dropping the pressure 4 pounds, although we would find the need to change it one more time, later on.
(Photo of Fuel Pressure gauge at 41 lbs): Even after our tests were completed, we left the outside fuel pressure gauge on Project M-P-G in order to monitor and insure the fuel pressure remains at the critical point desired. Slight fluctuations by the needle can also indicate clogged filters, inadequate fuel pumps and even show a near empty tank in the case of a fuel level indicator inaccuracy.
(Photo of Fuel Pressure gauge at 31 lbs): On EFI engines there is an intentional 10 psi decrease under light throttle/coast (high vacuum) conditions to compensate for the cylinder suction pulling the fuel out of the injectors while under vacuum. All fuel pressure adjustments are to be made with the vacuum to the regulator disconnected and plugged (highest pressure reading.)