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Getting "Up There" With Horsepower Control, Fuel Economy At Your Fingertips

Tuners enable light truck operators to monitor, control, boost engine performance

Published online: Jul 28, 2013 News
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When you're riding the mountainous backcountry of the American Northwest and Canada eight months a year, sometimes just getting there is a victory. That's what snowmobile virtuoso Tony Jenkins does routinely, driving a 350-horsepower Cummins-powered truck with a couple of snowmobiles on a bed deck, often with another four on a trailer he tows behind.

"Hauling that much weight through mountainous terrain, there are many situations where I can really use some extra horsepower," Jenkins explains. "At other times, my main concern is with fuel economy."

Jenkins shares the same challenges as others who operate typical pickup trucks today:  They are often required to perform multi-tasking duties, ranging from transportation of the kids to the rigors of towing the snowmobiles, in a variety of environments and often at high altitudes. In Jenkins' case, when the snow is gone, so are he and his wife, off to somewhere hauling a 28-foot camper trailer.

The problem is that most light-duty trucks are inflexible as far as torque, horsepower and fuel economy are concerned. This puts many weekend warriors who haul snowmobile trailers in a quandary: Do they opt for a pickup with heavy-duty power and suffer the added purchase and operating costs, or simply accept the performance and mileage limitations of their 300-hp pickup when under load or climbing long grades?

Like Tony Jenkins, many of today's pickup owners are opting for a viable, variable solution: the use of programmable tuners to monitor and control basic engine performance in terms of torque and horsepower, fuel economy and some engine safety parameters without modification to engine hardware.

"The Bully Dog tuner allows me to turn up the power on the fly," Jenkins says. "At the same time, you can monitor your engine boost pressure and temperatures, and can get your engine's diagnostics as you drive."

Consisting of a compact dash- or windshield-mounted control panel with wire leads, tuners are connected to the engine's control module to regulate and monitor performance parameters according to vehicle load requirements and the operator's desires.

Using a tuner, it is possible to increase typical diesel or gasoline engine horsepower up to 25 percent, or to boost fuel economy significantly. Jenkins says the Bully Dog tuner he installed on his 2012 Cummins engine can add up to 120 horsepower, which has proven to be very useful.

"I have had to turn the power all the way up when I was on backcountry roads and climbing up to the snow," Jenkins says. "And there have been times when I got stuck. So, I just reset the tuner for full power, and was able to hot-rod out of it."

Generally speaking, a variety of horsepower settings (e.g. stock, tow, performance) are available to accommodate various driving conditions. The selected setting is controlled and monitored by the tuner, offering the vehicle operator not only more power or economies, but also improved vehicle control via heads-up display of critical engine performance factors. 

With some of the more sophisticated tuners, both horsepower and fuel mileage can be optimized simultaneously.

"The tuner I use not only optimizes performance, but is also eco-friendly," Jenkins says. "It is a very affordable alternative to the risks that some drivers take-such as stripping off the cat converter or other illegal stuff that violates emissions standards-in order to get more power."

More Advanced Systems

Using the most advanced tuners, owners of vehicles powered by gasoline or light-duty diesel engines can get even more enhanced operational features and benefits.

For example, Bully Dog's Triple Dog GT offers advanced programming and monitoring capabilities, including the ability to easily change settings on the fly while driving diesel vehicles. This system is four products in one: a vehicle engine tuner, function monitor, performance gauge and diagnostic device. In addition to significant horsepower and fuel economy gains, the GT provides a set of monitoring features and diagnostic functions for enhanced driving and safety.

If a driver is running in high horsepower mode and engine coolant or oil temperatures rise above the preset warning level, the GT tuner will automatically recognize the condition and begin to lower the horsepower until the situation is corrected. The tuner will also alert the driver with a message on the panel display that notifies the driver what is happening and why.

"From what I understand, Bully Dog is able to optimize engines for greater horsepower or added fuel economy because these guys are spending more time than the vehicle factory does in figuring out various tuning requirements," Jenkins says. "That enables them to put the motors into a sort of higher mode, and actually makes the emissions cleaner. That's partly because the engine is performing more efficiently."

To Jenkins, the user friendliness of his Bully Dog tuner is also a big plus.

"Anybody can buy this system and install it in about a half hour in their driveway. It's not a device that requires a mechanic," he says.

What To Look For

When selecting a tuner, there are several criteria to consider. These include ease of installation, availability of a model that matches your vehicle's engine, automated monitoring and control features. 

Bully Dog tuners, for example, are installed cleanly and easily in the cab by attaching to the OBDII port. Installers first connect to the Internet to download the latest software, ensuring that files are up-to-date. Then the tuner is connected to the vehicle using provided mounting accessories (OBDII connector and HDMI cable). The vehicle-specific software is installed by using the tuner and following easy steps on the tuner monitor. After calibrating the system, the operator simply dials in the operating and setup parameters that can be calibrated to the driver's specific needs.   

Monitoring capabilities may be important to many vehicle operators, such as those with commercial applications or who frequently tow heavy loads. To ensure reliable, optimized performance, more powerful tuners will monitor turbo boost pressure, engine rpm, transmission temperature, air flow, fuel rail pressure and other operating parameters.

Another key thing to look for is location of the tuner. Some models place the control panel under the hood in the engine compartment. This exposes it to heat, cold, humidity and vibration, which can potentially cause a malfunction or even failure. On the other hand, cab-mounted control panels are protected from those stresses and can be easily accessed for on-the-fly changes.

To ensure that performance and fuel economy are maximized, Bully Dog has a tool called the Driving Coach available on all tuner models. The Driving Coach is an on-screen feedback system that gives drivers specific tips on how to improve their driving habits in conjunction with their tuner capabilities to enhance fuel conservation while getting more efficient performance. This feature can prove valuable, particularly on those long hauls to get to the perfect snowmobiling spot. 

For more information, contact Bully Dog Technologies in American FallsID (877) 285-5936 or www.bullydog.com