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Old 03-15-2011, 11:13 AM   #1
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Diesel Engine Programmers

As I have been shopping a new tow vehicle for Lucy, and have decided on a Diesel, I have also been researching Diesel engine programmers. My research has disclosed that these devices are also called performance management tools.

I have determined that these devices range in price from $300 to $1,000+. In reading numerous reviews of these devices, most people claim to significantly enhance power and improve fuel mileage. The fuel mileage improvement claim is most often in the 2 to 3 mpg range.

Accordingly, I have crunched some numbers and have come up with the following:

100,000 miles at 15 mpg at $4.00/gal= $26,666 fuel cost

100,000 miles at 17 mpg at $4.00/gal= $23,529 fuel cost

If these figures are realistic, I would realize a $3,000 fuel savings over 100,000 miles. This would more than justify a $1,000 investment in one of these units. Any improvement in power would further sweeten the pot.

That brings me to the big question. Are any of our members using these devices?

If so, which ones, and what are the results?

Brian
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Old 03-15-2011, 11:16 AM   #2
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I don't but would be interested to know what type of results people are getting.

Before installing one of these you should check to see if your factory warranty will be invalidated.
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Old 03-15-2011, 11:38 AM   #3
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2 to 3 MPG improvment is 15 to 20%. Sounds too good to be true. If a simple program change makes that much difference why dont the truck manufactures do it?
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Old 03-15-2011, 12:00 PM   #4
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Hi - I'm new to diesel ownership, and no expert by any means, but one thing I quickly discovered in my own research regarding reprogrammers and other such devices, is that there is a good possibility the use of them could void your engine warranty. Obviously this would be true only for newer diesels where the warranty hadn't already expired from age, mileage, etc. Also, I believe it's up to the dealership to prove that the engine mods lead to a failure, but it's definitely worth further consideration depending on the unit and vehicle you're thinking about.
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Old 03-15-2011, 12:02 PM   #5
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There are lots of companies that offer various types of devices 'chips' and 'tuners'.I am using the Quadzilla brand tuner on my current and previous truck, there are multiple 'tunes' available from 40 to 130 added hp on the device. Mostly I leave it on the 40 hp 'towing' tune. These work by temporarly modifying the ECM to change the fueling pulses and timing. No hardware on the engine and easily reversable. Some devices can read and clear codes and input larger non-stock tire sizes along with modifing other parameters as you like.
The companies usually reccomend a pyrometer be added to monitor exaust temps on those long climbs out west.
You will get the most benefit by upgrading the intake and exhaust systems to allow the engine to breathe better, but they work without also.
With a K&N filter and the 40 HP tune (not towing!) town mpg is around 16-17 and highway 22-23-24 in the flatlands. Towing the 10k triple axle is a avg 12.7 mpg at 65-70 mph. I've gotten better mileage and worse sometimes due to terrain and wind. The higher hp "tunes" can really put some life in a 8000 lb truck and you will never be stuck in the 'slower vehicles keep right lane' unless you want to be. It's nice to have the reserve torque and power for situations that need it. I'm a fan.
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Old 03-15-2011, 12:18 PM   #6
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I use the K&N filter and it seems to slightly increase gas mileage. It saves on replacement standard filters, so I figure you can't lose.

Would the tow/haul setting on automatic transmissions be a form of "programmer"? I've never compared mileage with and without.

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Old 03-15-2011, 12:38 PM   #7
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In a strict sense the tow haul setting on my Allison changes (lowers) the shift points in the trans and restricts the top gear when it is engaged. It also allows the downshift (trans brake) to function on the downhills (great feature). I havent compared mileage either, but I would bet on flat ground, 6th gear would give a slight increase in fuel mileage along with a reduction in available torque.
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Old 03-15-2011, 02:54 PM   #8
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I run a Dodge diesel and I do not run a programmer. I spend a lot of time on the Dodge diesel website and read many posts about the programmers.
There can be some downsides to using them. One is that the automatic transmission in the Doge does not seem to handle the extra power towing (most of the programmers provide about a 50 hp boost at the minimum and can go up from there. another downside is that it seems like the programmer might adversly affect the fuel injector life span. The extra power is achieved by chaging the injection interval. I have the 2007 5.9. The new dodge has a purge cycle in place of the urea injection that ford uses. People get increased milage on the newer (6.7) engines by doing a "emission delete". not something I would want to do.

I get pretty good milage on my rig now (14-17) towing. I doubt if it would improve much with the programmer. I also run in tow haul, but could get a little milage improvement by running in standard, but I hate to load the transmission the extra. what affects my milage is wind direction and how fast I run. I can save 2 mpg my slowing down if I need to. (Maybe will on the caravan next month).

The new ford with the urea injection gets pretty good milage stock.

I do not see many people claiming large fuel savings for the programmers on the Dodge. They all buy them for the power.
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Old 03-15-2011, 03:06 PM   #9
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if you are looking at ford, DP Tunner is the way to go, check out the ford diesel forums and google this tuner. i have a 2000 excursion and tow 31 ft airstream and a 12,500lb boat. Average 14 miles per gallon towing. can easily see 22-25 mpg on the highway when not towing. this is not a chip, it is a tuner, you specify what your towing weight wise and the vehicle, they "tune" to your parameters. the "tune" takes into consideration the wieght of the truck, axle ratio, transmission and your expectations, you get a custom tune. A 4 inch exhaust upgrade to get rid of the heat, a pyrometer to measure exhaust gas temp (important) and tranny temp. my set up was about $1200 i think. money well spent. the ex flies!
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Old 03-15-2011, 03:12 PM   #10
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Mooses - I use the BullyDog

When I was on my way home from Albuquerque with my "new" rig in 2007 I had to stop in AR for a umbilical repair. So I had about 800 miles with the new rig, pulled by my 2004 Duramax. The shop owner asked if I was interested in a free trial; after doing a little research, I agreed. He installed the BullyDog; it has 4 settings: Stock, Tow/Haul, Performance and Crazy Larry. I set it to Tow/Haul and felt the difference as soon as I pulled out of the lot. The Duramax was already plenty powerful but the difference was felt in the pedal and in the seat of my pants.

As I still had another 1000 miles to go, I had plenty of time to note the difference in fuel mileage as well. I was so satisfied I purchased the BullyDog TripleDog for $300 and change. I remain very satisfied. (The TripleDog can be set to Chev,Dodge or Ford, so if you decide to trade to another brand, you can uninstall your old truck and get it reset to your new, different brand if you want to.)

One thing you must do is set the tuner to Stock before you take it to the dealer; if you do not, and they reset your computer for any reason, the BullyDog will be out of synch and you will have to send it back to the factory to be reset. It will cost $100.

I was getting about 10-11 with the new trailer until I installed the BD. Now I get 13 reliably when I am pulling. I get close to 19 when not. I just keep it at Tow/Haul all the time.

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Old 03-15-2011, 03:24 PM   #11
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Pat, could have mileage increased after the first 800 miles of "break in" and not because of the 'Dog?

The OEM tow/haul setting simply changes (lowers) the shifting points on the auto transmission as I understand it. One of these programmers wouldn't be needed if you have a tow/haul setting in your truck I presume.

I am skeptical about these things. It would cost a manufacturer next to nothing to modify their software to accomplish the same things. Then they would have a big advantage over competitors.

So what is the cost of changing what the OEM computer does? More wear on the engine? Something happens to some other parts? Just what do these things actually do? If they reduce the effect of anti-pollution parts and software, that breaks a lot of laws. Some places (Denver was first I think) have equipment that can measure tailpipe emissions as you drive by and if the programmer has changed it, there will be a ticket in the mail.

There was another thread about these issues several months back where the same questions were raised. It appeared there was no free lunch (beyond the cost of item itself) from what I read.

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Old 03-15-2011, 03:32 PM   #12
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The trailer was new, not the truck...the trailer was my "new" 98 31' Limited. My previous trailer was a 25-footer, and I was already sad about the lower mileage when pulling the heavier 31 footer. When I installed the test unit, the power and mileage both increased markedly.

I also use the tow/haul setting on the Allison; the bullydog setting is different...

I hope we can camp together sometime; the difference is remarkable.

Pat
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Old 03-15-2011, 06:08 PM   #13
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Brian -

Call me a "Nervous Nellie" but I would be very reluctant to put a tuner of any kind on a late model GM product while it is still in warranty. My understanding is that GM has become pretty aggressive about denying warranty claims where a tuner could have possibly caused the issue. That would affect nearly everything in the power-train. Duramax diesels and Allison transmissions are great products. They can also be very expensive to repair and/or replace if something goes wrong.

I would check some of the GM diesel forums and see what others have gone through. I have been told that the LMM's and up will store a significant history of changes that were flashed to the different systems. Simply setting the thing back to stock and taking the tuner out before a dealer visit doesn't work anymore like it did in the old days...

Of course this, like anything else is somewhat dependent on your dealer and their willingness to argue in your favor. You also have to consider the benefit side of the risk equation. Money saved on fuel can be significant over a 100,000 mile run. I just have never seen anything that I felt was sufficient proof that the mileage claims are truly valid and repeatable. The added driver satisfaction due to higher performance is probably worth something as well.

I am really interested in what you decide and what other's on this board have experienced. I only have another 60K or so on my warranty. Maybe then I won't be so "Nervous" once that's done.

Wayne
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Old 03-15-2011, 06:12 PM   #14
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Where is the answer...

I agree with Gene. If it were a no brainer, Detroit would do it (cost being always an object - sales with better claims may vastly overshadow minor costs).

That said, I hear some say the older diesels may get the best results. What say you. I have the reliable (but somewhat slow and heavy 7.3 L.)

I don't have the chip - it was removed for whatever reason when the owner traded it in after selling his unit. Maybe I should get one. Would go for the $300 unit if I did get one. My '03 F250 pulls fine w/o it but doesn't have the get up and go unless I pour in the fuel, and then not like the gas engine response would be.

I'm still interested though. Thoughts??
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Old 03-15-2011, 07:20 PM   #15
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Brian,

This is almost as volatile of a topic as which hitch is best?

I bought my '05 Dodge new and got bit by the power bug a little bit, well before the AS. We have an '07 Dodge at work and the boss said BUY IT FROM BANKS! we did, I installed the Banks 6 Gun Tuner, exhaust, massive intercooler and at the time brand new Banks air intake. All bolted up and performed quite well. I was so impressed I bought the 6 Gun for my '05.

In hind sight.
I don't run the power settings on a regular basis, they really make it jump when you nail it.
The Palm display is really nice, I like having an EGT and boost gage right there.
OBD II is at your fingertips if anything happens.

I actually had lunch one day with Gale Banks and got a short tour, it is an impressive operation but the one big thing I took away from that day was that Gale doesn't want to make you a pedesterian.

Many other systems exist but I think the big unanswered question is, which brand truck are you looking at new or used? and if used how far back? I'm not sold that the highest unusable number and the most black smoke is real power, performance and reliability.

For me, I'm sold on Cummins, why? line up the big three, same year, open the hood and you decide which one YOU could work on.

TEST DRIVE and ask for seat time from Diesel friends. I was sold when a 1997 Ram 5.9L 3500 5 speed pushed me back in the seat going uphill in 5th gear.

My neighbor HAD a nice 6.0L, it bit him once too often, traded for an '11 Ford 6.7L, very impressive cab, no room for a payment book under the hood.

Big debate possible here, but that goes with the question.

Have fun and good luck.
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Old 03-15-2011, 07:53 PM   #16
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I have seriously looked at Dodge, Ford, and GM. I am leaning toward the Duramax for two reasons. Number one is that I am sitting on a $3,500 GM MasterCard rebate. That makes it hard for the others to meet the price. I plan to order this truck new, and have priced all three, and they are very competitive, but $3,500 is difficult to ignore. The new chassis and payload of the GM kind of seals the deal.

Brian
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Old 03-15-2011, 08:09 PM   #17
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I don't have experience because I wouldn't install programmer/chip device.

I don't feel the settings have been proven out at the level of the factory tune. The companies don't have the resources for hundreds of thousands of miles of testing. Wholesale changes to fueling rate, injection timing and who knows what else without heavy testing is not my cup of tea. I'm also very skeptical of claims of 15-20% better fuel economy. I don't feel the stock engine is timed so retarded it hinders fuel economy to that degree. Advancing timing increases noise and subjects engine to heavier combustion loads.

I have a '99 Powerstroke. You can bet when I sell it the words stock, never been modified or chipped will be in the classified ad.

My '99 will get nearly 15 MPG on steady cruise at about 60 MPH pulling 25' Safari. I very strongly question whether any increase is possible from the 7.3. Possibly a Cummins from the most economical years can improve on that a bit, but I don't hear many reports of pulling widebody Airstreams at 17 mpg.
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Old 03-15-2011, 09:10 PM   #18
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Is it worth the gamble?

Hi, Brian. Leave it stock; You don't even have it yet and you're considering modifying it? From what I have seen and was told by Ford while I was still working at the Ford dealer that I retired from, quite a few Diesels died because of aftermarket modifications. Changing the air filter on a gas engine can destroy the Mass Air Flow sensor, and on a Diesel it can pit the turbines on your turbo-charger. Five inch exhaust with low restriction muffler or in some cases, no muffler causes the turbo to spin way too fast. Fuel modifications can make the Flower Pattern on the tops of the pistons too large; This means that the injector opened too soon. I personally have seen this and the Ford engineers are quick to tell you that you just bought a $25,000.00 diesel engine. In most cases they can tell if you chipped/modified anything and returned it back to stock when you suddenly have a problem.

I know you're a General Motors guy, but I would buy the Ford Diesel and use your $3,500.00 credit to buy your wife a Chevrolet Volt. Now you have a great vehicle for hauling your camper while towing your Airstream and offset the fuel mileage with the car. [my opinion]
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Old 03-15-2011, 09:22 PM   #19
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My Ford is so old the only programmer is the one between my ears

My only concern with the aftermarket is the ability for the manufacture to step away from the warranty should something go wrong. All of this information is in print in the warranty booklet. Just make sure you make an informed decision.

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Old 03-16-2011, 12:07 AM   #20
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I've thought about a chip w/ a mild tune for my 96 Powerstroke; it would be handy to have a bit more power @ 2100 rpm so I could climb Donner pass @55 mph in third w/ the Tin Pickle behind... we're often 12000+lbs total weight, so a bit more power would be nice.

I may yet do so; the other advantage is that these units allow one to run more advanced timing, producing better fuel economy w/ slightly higher nitrous oxide emissions. Less C02, more NO2. Hmmm.

I added an aftermarket air filter assembly (Tymar filter); the stock unit is known for leaking dust. I've added a nice Autometer transmission full-sweep temperature gage, so we know just how hot we're getting... and added air springs this last weekend so I can get the rig leveled just the way I want. I will likely replace the downpipe from the turbo (the stock unit is quite restrictive) and perhaps add an exhaust gas pyrometer at some point so I know just how hard the motor is working.

Like working on the Airstream, enhancing the truck is fun.

- Bart
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