By Bryan Martin
It’s just about the hottest topic out on the showroom floor at Chrome Shop Mafia’s World Headquarters in Joplin, MO.
For years, us truckers were somewhat satisfied with OEM factory settings that the engineers in Peoria, Columbus and Detroit designed into our engines. After all, not long ago it seems that if we had 350 horsepower, we were “fat cats.” Then when we had 425 horses available, we were bulletproof. In the late 1990s, those of you with 550 ponies under the hood were “King of the Hill.”
Through the late ’90s and early 2000s, you could spend $500 and get a smoke module to wire up under the hood, which let you blow black smoke with your electronic engine. That was the gain, blow a lil black smoke (which was not seen very often in the electronically controlled engines) and look cool.
Today is a whole new game. There are a host of advantageous engine upgrades that will pay you back in several ways. I will try my best to walk you through the basics.
This is the Boss Man speaking from experience, the down and dirty version. I wouldn’t throw it out there if I hadn’t received years of good solid feedback, not to mention my firsthand experience on our own trucks.
If you are running factory mufflers, swap them out with performance mufflers with a baffle-less, straight- through design; straight chrome pipes with “quiet spool” stacks; or straight pipes with a performance muffler that can be mounted under the truck. The reduction in back pressure on the exhaust side of your engine will slightly enhance performance and fuel economy. It’ll be slight, but measurable.
A high-output turbo is up toward the top of the list for improved performance. A good aftermarket turbo will spool up quicker than stock. It will provide good boost pressure for a longer duration to increase your pulling power with fewer downshifts or delayed downshifts. Take note that on several of the late model engines, a turbo upgrade will also require an ECM tuning to be done at the same time.
Upgrading to an “extrude honed” performance exhaust manifold is like putting a set of headers on the small block Chevy that was in your old Camaro. The larger, smoother passageways allow the exhaust gas to travel quickly. With less restriction from your cylinder head to your turbocharger, this upgrade pushes your turbo harder and faster for better response and drivability.
A fuel air separation unit is another step in the right direction. This gadget removes all air from the fuel that is delivered to your injectors, eliminates water in the system, and provides pressurized fuel to your injectors or injection pump. No air in the system means an enhanced response and drivability plus increased fuel mileage. No water means a longer injector life (injectors are doggone expensive these days). Pressurized fuel leads to enhanced performance.
This is the No. 1 means to improve efficiency, enhance performance, and see some substantial fuel mileage gains with one simple step. Tuning is available for most engines and takes very little time in the shop.
When you reconfigure the codes and settings in your factory ECM, the difference in the overall personality of your engine will be night and day. With reasonable and responsible driving practices, you will see no decrease in the life of your engine, and we’ve seen no signs of harm to the engine components.
While improved fuel economy is nothing that can be promised with an ECM tune, I can tell you that the lowest reports I have had are 0.4 mpg increase. And the best reports have come in as high as 1.4 mpg increase. If you can budget for only one upgrade out of all the ones listed, do the ECM tune. You won’t be disappointed.
This entire line of products and the technological advances are ever-changing. Next year may bring a whole new arsenal of performance parts, and we will keep you informed. Most of the upgrades mentioned here can be done in stages. Perhaps you can budget for mufflers or pipes this month, fuel system in another month and an ECM tune and turbo next spring. Or, if you can do it all at the same time – even better.
Regardless of your timeline, each and every upgrade will make your rig a little more fun to drive. Who among us doesn’t want mo’ power? Every item discussed will also help with fuel economy. Savings can be substantial, especially if you drive smart. And rest assured, if you drive with common sense, watch your temperature gauges, and take care of that engine that is providing your income stream, from my experience you will not see signs of shortened engine life with any of these enhancements.
So, what are ya waiting for? Let’s make drivin’ fun again. LL