Want better fuel economy from your truck? More pulling power for heavy loads? Faster acceleration? That's what handheld control modules, power programmers, performance chips and engine customizers claim to do.
In simple terms, the programmers, available for gas or diesel engines, override the factory settings of a vehicle's computer system, which are set for average operating conditions. By readjusting air and fuel ratios and resetting spark timing and transmission shift points, the programmers seek to extract unused power and performance.
Installation is simple and usually takes 30 minutes. The Fast-Flash Power Programmer for gas engines, for example, requires that you plug it into the diagnostic port under the dash of your truck and answer a few yes-or-no questions. The programmer reads the vehicle identification number to identify and store your truck's factory settings. Once the Fast-Flash Power Programmer is installed, you can opt for one of three modes: performance, towing or economy.
The Hypertech Max Energy Power Programmer features three-stage tuning for diesel-powered vehicles.
Chris Crecelius, national sales manager for Hypertech, says Max Energy adjusts injector timing to add more fuel to the cylinders when it is needed and when there is capacity for sufficient airflow to burn the extra fuel efficiently and increase the vehicle's horsepower.
The Max Energy Power Programmer's Stage 3 setting provides the highest torque and horsepower gain and is safe for towing the vehicle's maximum gross combined weight rating. The stage 1 and 2 setting typically provide better fuel economy with lighter loads.
Improved fuel economy with performance chips ranges from 1 to 6 miles per gallon (mpg), based largely on customer testimonials. The manufacturer of the Bully Dog Triple Dog Power Pup Downloader claims dynamometer testing shows increases of up to 24 hp and 30 ft.-lb. torque on the rear wheels. Increased horsepower claims for diesel programmers range as high as 300 hp.
Worth it? How trustworthy are these products? Tiger Garcia, owner of Big Truck Performance in Ventura, Calif., says most of them are reliable. "Diesel models give a significant boost in horsepower and about a 3- to 4-mpg increase in fuel efficiency. With gas engine models, expect a 25-hp increase."
Garcia says transmissions are designed to handle more torque output than factory settings require. He has not observed any extra wear in vehicles that have been equipped with programmers. However, he recommends that those who consistently pull heavy loads include a torque converter after installing a programmer.
Installing a programmer could void the factory warranty on your engine and transmission, Garcia warns. If you blow your engine or transmission, return the vehicle's computer to OEM settings and unplug the programmer before returning to the dealer for warranty work or emission testing.