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Tunes: Does One Size Fit All?

Normally-Aspirated Volvo Owners, You've Got Choices

What to Look For in a Chip Tune

Lucky of ARD tells us what to look for when shelling out our cash on ECU flashes/chip tunes/”tunes”.

This weeks Fast Friday will be a bit on the short side since we’re elbow deep in two car builds at the moment and will have some great pics/vids and data for you next week on the non turbo project. With that said I thought we’d cover the topic of how tuners tune cars, the short version.

Not all tuners adjust the ECU calibrations the same, that likely doesn’t surprise you. However what might surprise you is how it’s actually done. Here at ARD we tune each ECU by hand according to the customers environment, vehicle mods and particular driving style. Each file is read out from the ECU then decoded and put into our editor. We then edit the necessary maps, save the file, and load it back to the ECU. By tuning ECU’s this way we can make sure that all the relevant maps and values are edited for optimal performance and efficiency. The process is effectively the same whether we’re tuning the ECU in our offices or if it’s done via our softloader… which BTW will have some exciting news on that next week!


Early model year 850 ECU relationship chart for illustration purposes. Not directly related to this Fast Friday’s content.

A number of tuners adjust files in this manner but some tuning companies out there don’t. In fact in some larger tuning houses a computer program (Script) runs on either a laptop or handheld device and based on program data will peruse the ECU file and try to locate maps and copy on pre-existing tune files over these maps. While this sounds like a decent way to do things there is an inherent problem. No two Volvo ECU files are alike. Even in stock form the ECU software can differ greatly between two cars that are identical in year, model, engine, trans, trim, etc… The script uses a comparator program to try and locate the maps based on their shape and identifiers in the code. The script though can miss identifying some maps if they have been updated by factory programming and changed in shape. If a map is missed it simply continues down the file until it reaches the end. In some cases the missed map is only of minor consequence but in others it can create performance and longevity issues.

[Matt’s note: Lucky tunes Volvo ECUs for a living, and ARD is his company. He’s gotten good/great reviews from every tune customer I’ve heard from.]

This type of tuning is many times the difference between two owners with identical vehicles, that both have the same tuning company’s product but have wildly different feedback on the upgrade. This can also be attributed to improper base settings like wastegate pretension or weak/failing components like the turbo control valve but in some cases it can be caused by missed maps in the ECU calibration file. I’ve seen it a few times now for customers with cars that never ran right after tuning and with some time spent in the code we find maps or values that were still stock that should be modified.

I hate to say it, but that line from the first Fast and Furious movie; “It’s your fuel man, you’ve got a nasty hole…” can sometimes be actually quite accurate. It’s not the most common issue we see in tuning day by day but it certainly is worth the time it takes to talk about it if only to save yourself frustration down the road! Not sure how your car is being tuned? Ask, it’s worth doing it right in the long run

It’s Fast Friday #35. Tunes: Does One Size Fit All?

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