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ECU Tuning, And Why Many Are Doing It Wrong – Steve Dinan

Hans October 23, 2015 16:33

Steve Dinan is one of the godfathers of ECU tuning. He has been hacking into car engines' electronic control units since 1982, on his own BMW 325i, which he says uses only a 4k memory chip back then. To help him crack the hexadecimal codes on the chip, he hired a software engineer from Silicon Valley and that was the beginning of the California-based Dinan Cars, a renowned tuning house that specialises in BMWs.

Unlike most aftermarket-tuners, Dinan backs up its products with a warranty package that matches the car’s manufacturer’s warranty.

According to Dinan’s website, Dinan products are warranted for the remaining term of the vehicle manufacturer’s new car limited warranty and are transferrable to the next owner, just like a regular manufacturer’s warranty.

With over 30 years of experience in ECU tuning, Steve Dinan has seen it all. Today, Steve Dinan is no longer directly involved with Dinan Cars, having left the company to join Chip Ganassi Racing but he still does some consulting work with Dinan Cars.

In this interview with /Drive, Steve explains the basics behind ECU tuning, and why he thinks many competing products out claiming to offer 20 to 30 hp gains from by just changing the chip alone is rubbish. He also explains about the benefits of high octane fuel in a naturally aspirated engine versus a turbocharged one, and how ECU tuning needs to be matched with the correct hardware.  

Steve explained in most present day cars, tuning the ECU alone doesn’t do as much as they used to anymore, as the electronics that are fitted in today’s cars are intelligent enough to know that the car has been tuned, so a ‘piggyback’ ECU no longer works.

“Still there are people today, chip tuners selling by the thousands, all over the country, with outrageous claims claiming that they are making 20, 30, 40, 50 horsepower software when they making just this much,” he said while holding up his hands to make a zero.

“Don’t waste your money on software, unless you have hardware. Now if you have hardware like intakes and exhausts, and you know….headers, the engine has to be recalibrated for the hardware to work properly, and that’s the other thing people don’t do properly. They don’t put (the right) hardware in and then they run into drivability problems, because the fuel mixture and ignition timing are not matched to the hardware itself. Just the software alone won’t do anything, it hasn’t done anything since the ‘90s," said Steve. 

About Hans

As someone who appreciates cars not just for their horsepower value but also for their cultural significance, he is interested in the art of manufacturing and selling cars just as much as driving them. Prior to swapping spread sheets for a word processor, he spent his previous life in product planning and market research.


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