ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How well do handheld flash tuners work?

Updated on May 21, 2012
Cobb AccessPORT Hand Held Flash Tuner
Cobb AccessPORT Hand Held Flash Tuner

The bolt-on part used to be the simplest of performance purchases for the weekend mechanic, but in today's age of advanced ECU's and computer controlled systems you don't even need to pick up a wrench. Modifying the parameters of your car's ECU can yield very rewarding gains, especially if added to a collection of other performance parts. Standalone and piggyback ECU's work, but they're not always necessary. You should, however, always err on the side of caution when considering new purchases. The promise of easy, cheap modifications that boost vehicle power output and fuel economy are always going to catch the attention of car enthusiasts. If you've visited any forums or have experienced the world of aftermarket car components yourself, then you'll know to keep a watchful eye on these claims. Many aftermarket products promise huge power and torque gains for a small price, but too few deliver. As such, it's typical to be skeptical of the great claims made by manufacturers of plug and play flash tuners. For this reason, we'll talk you through exactly what you can expect from buying a flash tuner for your vehicle.

What works, and what doesn't?

First of all, a "flash tuner" only works on what are called OBD-II compliant vehicles. This is a designation given to the type of ECU used to control the car. Generally, cars made before 1997 are either OBD-I or predate the use of modern ECU's. If your car was produced after 1997 then a flash tuner is definitely worth considering. If you fall into the OBD-I category, you may want to consider some other alternatives which involve physically modifying the computer chips in your ECU or going to a standalone unit. Look for an article on these subjects shortly.

What does a flash tuner do?

Flash tuners are devices that connect to an OBD-II access port on your vehicle in order to modify various parameters within the ECU. These devices can make tweaks to fuel maps, ignition maps, torque limiters, and, depending on your make and model, a host of other parameters. A side benefit of such devices is the ability to diagnose engine codes and reset the airbag or check engine light. The term flash tuner comes from the device's ability to reflash the RAM memory in your car's computer. This results in easy and instantaneous performance gains and increases in fuel efficiency. The reason for changing these settings within the computer is twofold. First of all, every manufacturer makes compromises in the production of their vehicle. The factory tune is often conservative and runs the engine overly rich, robbing horsepower and torque. Secondly, any performance modifications made to your vehicle that affect volumetric efficiency, such as an intake or exhaust, are not optimized by the default settings of your ECU.

How much power can I make?

As with any performance modification, power gains are going to vary greatly between make and model. I've seen horsepower gains anywhere between 10 and 100 horsepower at the wheels. The highest gains are typically seen in vehicles that come with factory forced induction systems such as turbochargers and superchargers. However, naturally aspirated vehicles still see large gains. What's important to consider is not only the peak horsepower and torque gains, but also the amount of power gained throughout the RPM band. Posted below are a few dyno plots showing the power and torque gains from various flash tuners on different vehicles. Keep in mind though, that these products offer other performance benefits such as modifying throttle response and disabling speed limiters and torque limiters. The torque limiter can be a big deal to truck owners looking to haul large loads.

BMW 1M: +33whp +38ft-lbs

BMW 1M dynometer plot showing an increase of 33whp and 38ft-lbs of torque.
BMW 1M dynometer plot showing an increase of 33whp and 38ft-lbs of torque.

Mitsubishi Evolution IX: +48whp

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX dynometer plot showing an increase of 48whp.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX dynometer plot showing an increase of 48whp.

2009 Dodge Ram: +40whp +38ftlb

A 2009 Dodge Ram dynometer plot showing an increase of 40whp and 38ft-lbs of torque.
A 2009 Dodge Ram dynometer plot showing an increase of 40whp and 38ft-lbs of torque.

How much does it cost?

Flash tuners are almost always the best bang for your buck when it comes to adding horsepower to a modern vehicle. You can typically expect these products to ring up at around $200-$300 but other units that pack more features can go up to around $700. Considering the cost of cold air intakes and exhausts, which often yield less power gains, I'd say that's a pretty good deal. So yes, they really do work.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is used to quickly and efficiently deliver files such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisements has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)