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Tuning 101

Even for stock applications, tuning your vehicle's computer allows you to take control of how your car acts under any circumstance, be it sitting and idling, to making a wide-open throttle pass down the 1/4 mile dragstrip. There are many parameters that you can edit once you buy tuning software, but first we must nail down the basics.

Intro Tuning Acronyms
  • ECM: Engine Control Module
  • PCM: Powertrain Control Module
  • VCM: Vehicle Control Module
  • TCM: Transmission Control Module
In terms of the manufacturer General Motors, the term VCM is being applied to computers units found in 2004+ vehicles. From 1997-2003, the term PCM was typically applied to those units.

Necessary Hardware

Tuning doesn't come cheap when you have to add-in all of the necessary items you'll need to tweak your car's computer. Many shops make a lot of their money due to the fact that not everyone can afford the entire "tuning package" and therefor often times have a person in-house who is experienced with the latest software. While that is the easy way out of things, not only does this add-up after a few tunes, but it also hinders you when you decide to go deeper with modding and need to let your vehicle know how to adapt to the new mods.

Below is a list of hardware items that are recommended:
  • Laptop Computer with Minimum Requirements of Windows 98+, 300Mhz or Faster, 64MB of Ram, 1gb of HD space, Native Serial Port or PCMCIA serial adapter
  • Tuning Software - HP Tuners (Full Throttle V6 recommended!), DHP, etc.
  • Vehicle Interface Cable (supplied with HP Tuners)
There are many other adapters and enhancements but above are the necessities of tuning your vehicle's computer.

Basic Parameters List

  • EGR, Air Pump, COT Enable/Disable and controls
  • Rev Limiters, Idle Speed and characteristics
  • Throttle Follower and Cracker
  • MAF Tables, Main VE and Cranking VE
  • Power Enrich fuel controls
  • Closed Loop/Open Loop characteristics
  • Injectors
  • Spark Advance and Retard
Engine Diagnostics
  • MAP Error Values
  • MAF Error Values
  • Misfire Values
  • DTC's
  • Shift Speeds
  • Shift Firmness and Time
  • TCC Parameters and Tables
  • C.A.G.S.
Transmission Diagnostics
  • Trans Slip Test Conditions
  • PRNDL Flag
  • Fan Type Select
  • VATS
  • Fan On/Off Temps
  • A/C Parameters
  • Speedometer
  • Speed Limiter

Terminology List

A/F Air fuel Ratio
A/C Air conditioning
ABDC After Bottom Dead Center
ABS Anti-Lock Braking System
AC Alternating Current
AE Acceleration Enrichment
AFR Air Fuel Ratio
AIR Air Injection Reaction
AIT Air Intake Temp
ALCL Assembly line communications link
ALDL Assembly Line Diagnostic Link
Async Fuel delivery Asynchronous to engine timing
AT Automatic Transmission
ATDC After Top Dead Center
AWG American Wire Gauge
Baro Barometric Pressure
BBDC Before Bottom Dead Center
BCM Body Control Module
BLM Block Learn Multiplier
bpw base pulse width
BTU British Thermal Units
C Celsius
C/L Closed Loop
C3 GM ECM using Motorola 68xx-like processor (1+ MHz CPU)
CCP Controlled Canister Purge
CEL Check engine light (see MIL, SES)
CID Cubic Inch Displacement
CKP crankshaft position sensor
CMP camshaft position sensor
CP Canister Purge
CPU Central Processor Unit (the brains in the ecm)
CTS Coolant Temp Sensor
DB Decibels
DC Duty Cycle On time, compared to total event time expressed as a percent
DC Direct Current
DE Decel Enleanment
DFCO Decleration Fuel Cut Off
DIS Distributorless Ignition System
DVM Digital Multi Meter
ECM Engine Control Module
ECT engine coolant temp
ECU Engine Control Unit
EFI Electronic Fuel Injection
EGR Exhaust Gas Recirculation
EGT Exhaust Gas Temp
EPROM Erasable Programable Read Only Memory
ESC Electronic Spark Control (Knock Control)
EST Electronic Spark Timing
F Fahrenheit
FED Federal (emissions package)
GPS Grams per sec
hego heated exhaust gas oxygen
HEI High Energy Ignition
HO2S heated o2 sensor
I/O Input/Output
IAC Idle Air Control
IAT Intake Air Temp
IC Integrated Circuit
ICE Internal Combustion engine
IGN Ignition
Injector On Time Time in milliseconds that an injector is on.
INT Integrator
IPW Injector Pulse Width
IS Idle Speed
ISC Idle Speed Control
kapwr keep alive power
kg Kilogram
Kilohertz (1,000s cycles / sec)
kPa Kilopascals (Pressure)
KS Knock Sensor
L Liter (about 60 cubic inches)
LCD Liquid Crystal Display
MAF Mass Air Flow
MAP Manifold Absolute Pressure
MAT Manifold Air Temp
MDP Manifold differential Pressure
MEMCAL Memory Calibration Unit
MFI Multi-port Injection
MIL malfunction indicator lamp (see CEL, SES)
MT Manual Transmission
NC Normally Closed
NEU Neutral
NO Normally Open
NPTC National Pipe thread Course
NTPF National Pipe Thread Fine
O2 Sensor for detecting rich lean exhaust mixtures, GM so far uses this type, and it has a high slew rate and therefore is more of a switch
OBD2 on board diagnostics, newer vehicle electronics, less friendly
OL Open Loop
OTS Oil Temp Sensor
P/N park neutral switch
P+H one way of firing an injector High initial voltage to open then lower to keep it open
P4 GM ECM using early Motorola 68HCxx-like processor (2+ MHz CPU)
PCM Powertrain Control Module (engine and trans control)
PE Power Enrichment Port, MPFI, Multi Port, each cyl has it's own injector close to the intake valve
PS Power steering
PSI Pounds per square inch
PSIA PSI absolute
PW Pulse Width
PWM Pulse Width Modulation
QT Quart
R-12 Refrigerant
RAM Random Access Memory
RAP Retained Accessory Power
RFI Radio Frequency Interference
ROM Read Only Memory
RR Right Rear
RTV Room Temperature Vulcanizing
RWD Rear wheel drive
SEFI Sequential Electronic Fuel Injection
SES Service Engine Soon (see MIL, CEL)
SI Saturated Injector *constant* voltage current
SynchPulse Fuel PW with delivery tied to timing of ref pulses
TAC Thermostatic Air Cleaner
TB Throttle Body
TBI Injection system where the injectors are mounted above the butterflies
TCC Torque Converter Clutch
TCM Transmission Control Module
TDC Top Dead Center
TFT trans fluid temp
TH Turbo-Hydramatic
TPI Tuned Port Injection
TPS Throttle Position Sensor
TRC Throttle Return Control
TTS Trans Temp Sensor
TV Throttle Valve
TVS Thermal Vacuum Switch
VATS Vehicle Anti Theft System
VE Volumetric Efficiency
VSS Vehicle Speed Sensor
WBO2 this sensor differs from the O2 in so far that it is designed for a *linear* output
WG WasteGate
WOT Wide Open Throttle

What does my Service Engine Soon light mean?

When your Service Engine Soon light (also called an SES light) comes on there could be a number of different possible problems. The best solution to finding out what is wrong with your car is to use scanning software to determine the DTC (Diagnostic Trouble Code). The scanning software will give you a code that corresponds to one of the codes below.

Gary's Newbie Guide to Tuning Basics V 1.2(56k Beware)

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