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Getting Better Fuel Mileage and performance through Custom ECM Tuning Without violating EPA Laws...

Facing the Facts...

Lets face it,... Just about everyone who hauls freight that owns a truck wants better fuel mileage and efficiency from their equipment. High Fuel prices are here to stay, so to combat this, truck owners are starting to go to extreme measures. I don't blame them one bit, and truck owners do not want to be funding the oil companies and their corrupt causes. They are rich enough already, so they do not want to give them any more than they absolutely have to while making their living.

This article is for those willing to take it to the extremes...

Fuel is the biggest expense a class-8 truck owner has. Most try to save fuel, but do not care about taking it to the extremes like I have seen done. Almost all truck owners that I have spoken to want better fuel mileage, and many are willing to have mods done to their truck towards this, but sadly, only about 15% of them are actually willing to do the things that will save them the most fuel,...

THE BIGGEST Thing You can do to Lower Your Fuel Costs ....

How the DRIVER operates the equipment is the biggest thing towards lowering fuel and other maintenance costs. Re-learning how to drive the truck for maximum profits instead of maximum cruise control, maximum bragging rights, or maximum laziness, IS the number one factor. Because of this, it needs to be mentioned, but this article is about custom tuning itself, so lets go there instead...

Stock engine programming and why it can be improved....

On ISX Engines, the stock engine tuning for different brands of trucks is only generically matched. It actually pretty good all on its own, but there is still a lot of room for improvement if your willing to take it further with software modifications (Custom ECM Tuning). I am not referring to doing an 'EGR delete', but rather things that can be done without violating a bunch of Emissions laws. I am also NOT referring to using a different factory program (Calibration) in the engine, but actual custom tuning where fuel, air, injection timing, power, and everything else are fine-tuned to match the exact hardware and operation of the truck.

There are a lot of things that can be done to improve a trucks fuel mileage on the hardware side of things like insulating the exhaust piping, better tires, better gearing, and the most important of them all,... Adding Boost and Pyro gauges to help the driver save fuel through how the truck is driven. If you combine this with proper custom ECM tuning, the gains can be quite impressive without ever doing a so-called "delete" or altering the emissions systems. Custom tuning has been shown to actually reduce problems with these same emissions systems as well, because with better fuel mileage and efficiency,... less soot is produced that clogs these systems up.

On the 2007 and newer CM871,CM2250, and CM2350 model engines, the generic (stock) programming somewhat matches the truck, and one would first think that it must be pretty close, but in reality it is still typically off in efficiency by quite a little bit from one truck to the next. BWEfore going to those measures though.. a truck owner/driver can usually improve their own fuel mileage just by replacing old sensors and doing an EGR tune-up. Many people report as much as 1+ mpg gains just by keeping after their egr system to keep it clean and replace IMap and other sensors regularly.

Only once an engine is running in tip top shape on its own, taking this further involves ...

A person with a good understanding of diesel engine combustion technology and strategies can also improve efficiency. Things like compensations for the size of the CAC, exhaust, etc. without ever touching the emissions settings. I have done this myself to many trucks, and it is a solid gain indeed.

The process usually involves spending some time going through the truck, then tuning, test driving, and re-tuning as needed to get it dialed it correctly. After it is all done, and the driver runs it for a few weeks, they will usually call me up to thank me, and tell me they see a gains from the programming alone, with all of the emissions systems still functioning properly. Most will also report that those systems have a lot less overall trouble too. I have gotten reports of gains in the 0.5 - 1.0 mpg range, but the average is about 0.7 mpg most of the time due the the programming alone. This can be a significant savings in a year.

Other Custom Improvements while staying legal....

Also, there are other improvements that can be made to the programming inside these engines. The engine makers put in all sorts of derates to help protect the engine from things like abusive drivers and clogging emissions systems. I don't blame them, After-all the engine makers do not want to have to pay for warranty claims, and many of these derates are necessary for protection, but the problem lies in that they are quite often set way too sensitive. Also, as an engine ages, it gets a bit more difficult to maintain low soot and other emissions levels, etc., so some custom tuning to compensate for the age of the engine can help keep it form complaining so much and bring it back into better specs.

Some of the Shutdowns and derates in these newer trucks are a truck owners enemy more often than they are helpful. I have had more than my share of drivers call me up to ask me how they can get their truck off the side of the freeway because it shut them down with little or no warning over some stupid emissions or sensor problem. This is purely and clearly a money maker for the engine/truck manufacturers. It ensures the typical driver gets towed to the nearest dealer instead of giving them a chance to finish hauling their load, and taking the truck to the shop of their choice, or fixing it themselves after their delivery instead. Personally, I think there is no excuse to risk the safety of the driver, and the motoring public because a truck is shutting down in the freeway with only 60 or so miles warning, but that is just my own take on it.

Most trucks, when something like this happens, puts the driver on the side of the road and in a dangerous situation quickly. I am not referring to the truck running out of oil, or overheating,... I am referring to the fact that you are going down the road with absolutely NO ALARMS WHATSOEVER,... Suddenly the DPF or other light comes on,... then 60 miles down the road, it shuts you down for some stupid emission problem. I can understand the engine protecting itself, but for it to put you on the side of the road, typically in a dangerous situation, over some stupid reason is a no go in my book. I will not have a truck that did this to me, it is simply not cost effective to own a truck that can do this to you,... AND it is dangerous. Personally, I am all for my engine screaming there is something wrong,.. but I own my truck, and I want to be the one who decides if it is safe to continue or not while several hundred miles in the middle of no-where and it is pushing minus 30 degrees outside.

Adjusting the Power and Custom Tuning....

I have an article on how typical repair shops and dealers adjust the power on ISX engines. If your looking for a different, or better factory program, I have a nice article on that too. Here is that information...

Increasing HorsePower -- What You Need To Know

It is a good explanation on how the 'Dealers' do it, and it is typically not a very good method to increase power most of the time. It certainly is NOT custom tuning. You simply go from one factory program to a different one,... both are just as inefficient for the truck, and if you put the wrong one in,... you are looking at some serious problems long term.

Also, the majority of the factory programs are very conservative. The average power achieved on a dyno by a truck is typically only about 72 - 78% of the data-plate rating. You would be hard pressed to actually get the engine to peak the horse-power it is rated for when the engine is brand new, but as the engine wears in, and ages,... that power is going to fall off quickly.

I reset the power/torque to 86% of the data-plate rating, and is an increase in overall power that the driver can be felt. The truck is able to climbs hills in one gear higher than it did before in many situations. HP/Torque gains do NOT improve fuel efficiency though. Making more power or torque requires more fuel, especially if you go up a hill faster. It is a balance of proper torque, engine rpm, better fuel-air mix, and better injection timing that gets you there. All these factors combined raised the trucks fuel mileage by roughly 0.7 mpg.

The truck still passes emissions and the EGR/DPF/SCR system still works perfectly fine. There were slight increases in DEF fluid usage due to the power increase, but not nearly as high as expected. This is because the resulting emissions were close, if not less than before. Remember,... the truck GAINED overall fuel efficiency, and therefore uses LESS fuel meaning LESS emissions that have to be treated by the SCR system.

WHY Truck owners do NOT want to do this...

There is one serious downside to ANY Editing of the ECM, especially with Custom Tuning... It is the fact that it will void all Power-Train and engine warranties by the engine maker, and it can be seriously dangerous to the engine. This means that if your someone who has this type of work done, and the engine blows up 2 days later, ... well,... You just bought a new engine. You would still however be covered under the Magnuson-Moss Act of 1975 (MAGNUSON-MOSS WARRANTY ACT - USC TITLE 15 CHAPTER 50 Chapter 2301-2312), but your warranty will only cover things like the Air conditioner, or very simple things that are not part of what makes the truck go down the road. This is also why many truck companies will never likely have custom tuning done, because many of the mega-fleets simply rely on that truck warranty to help them keep costs down.

(Just some personal thoughts here) -- On the other hand,... If a mega-fleet of say 1500 trucks had all custom tuning,... and they saved about a million gallons of fuel a year,... well that would easily justify loosing the Warranty.

The question is,... how far are you willing to go to save fuel,...and do you still have some kind of warranty of your truck?.

Weighing the Risks...

If you own your truck,... and all the warranties are out,.. ... well you need to weigh the gains against the risks. As well, The ECM records everything that has been done to it,.,. so even if you 'undo' your custom tuning, there will always be traces of it lurking in the shadow just waiting for an assessment towards denying an warranty claim.

My thoughts...

Personally, I would not hesitate to Custom tune my own equipment, warranty or not. I cannot stand the fact that it can be made more profitable and efficient, and would feel I was wasting money going down the road with it in its original factory state. Also, I will not tolerate on any level, a truck that will shut down on me and leave me stranded on the side of the road for stupid reasons. I own my truck, and know if it needs oil, water, etc., and if the emissions are failing, I will go fix it myself, or take it to the place of my choosing for help with it. I am not about to let my equipment make that choice for me based on some program someone wrote that has never likely driven one of these things through the middle of nowhere in the dead of a winter storm.

Custom tuning in my book is worth it, but I am able to fix my own truck, and I am also able to afford an engine replacement/re-build if need be. I see it as an opportunity to grow my business, and if I ever were do buy a new truck,,.. I wouldn't hesitate to custom tune it after its initial break-in period. If it were to "grenade" afterwards with a catastrophic failure,... I would use that opportunity to learn how to re-build it myself,... further growing what I do and my business through knowledge. I certainly would convert the expense into an investment towards the future of who I am and what I an able to do because the more you stuff into your head, and teach yourself to do,... the more secure your future will always be.


Recommendation towards others...

If you have no warranty on your truck/engine,... there is only the risk of finding someone who can do it the right way. Of coarse, many truck owners go further and do a delete as well, and in some countries that is ok, but if they live in a country that does not allow it, ... I suppose that is the risk they take. Either way,... Custom tuning is definitely a viable option as long it is for a reasonable price where you can get a return on it fairly quickly. Also, as fuel mileage and efficiency goes up,... It also lowers overall engine wear and maintenance costs long term. This is well worth doing for anyone if you ask me.

If you DO have an engine/truck warranty,... You need to be willing to take on the risks involved and you need a business plan to deal with those risks. I my case, I am prepared for this and am able to do my own repairs etc. but for many others, who are not in my position,... They need to consider heavily how far they want to take their trucks to the extreme. Sometimes, like in the case of the CM2350 that this post was written about, The truck owner chose to voided the warranty it had left. In his case, It is not so much fuel efficiency,.. But actually how the problems of very short hauls and stop/go situations that left the emissions systems in bad shape because they could never properly regen. The truck had as much down time as it ran, it complaining about regen issues and the OEM had no real solutions.

For him,... It made more sense to throw out the warranty to get what he needed done to make his business its most profitable.

Custom tuning is certainly a viable option to improve your business and profits when you have special needs, but just like anything else, there is risk and a cost of doing it. Just make sure you are getting what you are paying for if your going to have it done. There are too many crooks out there that charge big dollars for shotty work, so buyer beware. It is your truck and business at risk,.. not theirs. Your equipment and business are in their hands so whoever you choose,... you need to make sure they do not hide what they have done from you. I would also suggest getting some solid information on exactly what was adjusted and why, power or otherwise, so that everyone is in agreement on what the result will be. A good custom tuner does not need to hide their work, and should be able to have a clear explanation on this type of stuff.
I have a 2010 kw t660 cm871, and a 2011 pete 386 with isx and def. The 10 is giving me regin problems every other day, and the pete works great, can use some fuel savings, it gets 5.9 to 6.3 running from Sacramento to los Angeles. Would like to improve the pete and life span, kw fix and mandate, neither 1 uses oil,
(10-07-2016 )cyclegear99 Wrote: [ -> ]I have a 2010 kw t660 cm871, and a 2011 pete 386 with isx and def. The 10 is giving me regin problems every other day, and the pete works great, can use some fuel savings, it gets 5.9 to 6.3 running from Sacramento to los Angeles. Would like to improve the pete and life span, kw fix and mandate, neither 1 uses oil,

I would suggest contacting Rawze, Unilevers, and/or Gearhead here on this forum.
I need a better fuel and power efficient tune .
(12-12-2016 )volvoreddy Wrote: [ -> ]I need a better fuel and power efficient tune .

PM Rawze, Unilevers, and/or Gearhead with your number for good advice on having it done right.

best thing I ever did.
I just had my 2350 in a Lonestar done by Mommaburt today. I’m a believer in this method of tuning and I will be posting some of my experiences with it. Initial tune seems really close to finished final tune. I’m thinking if I give him some feedback it will be super dialed. When he’s done.
I see a lot of guys trying to buy 450k mile trucks. In my opinion they should be tuned with a “soft” torque curve. Mine was a 450/1750 smart torque. Peak torque 1100 rpm. Wtf. Why torture the engine like that. Mine is now a 535/1750 peak torque 1400 rpm. “Soft” torque. Way easier on the engine.
How does it drive set like that?
(02-18-2020 )Magard Wrote: [ -> ]Mine was a 450/1750 smart torque. Peak torque 1100 rpm. Wtf. Why torture the engine like that. Mine is now a 535/1750 peak torque 1400 rpm. “Soft” torque. Way easier on the engine.

I'm jealous. My 2250 is also a 450/1750 ST and i'd love to get that peak torque moved to around 1400rpm as well. I'll know who to contact when the time is right.
I’m liking it. Honestly if your driving it right the normal torque curve tune on the pedal you should never be max torque and low rpm. I want it because the truck has 3.36 gears and I’ll run 13th gear on cruise about 1300rpm quit a bit. If I’m not paying attention and it pulls down some I don’t want it capable of making torque if lugged down. I know cruise control is bad. I’m lazy. Just like 90% of truckers. I only use it if the country I’m in is pretty flat and my cruise parameters are set loose. It just helps protect the engine, one that is known to not have the best liner design.
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