Zen and the art of MINI modding…

Another post on NAM today that I thought deserved mirroring here. Original question was about the nature of ECU tuning and what it is, how you do it, options, etc. I started with an answer, then diverged into MINI Modding Philosophy 101…

There are several vendors / tuners that will “flash” the ECU and do various things to the programming. In general, you’re updating the “maps” – data areas of the ECU that define such things as spark timing, etc. under varying conditions.

The mechanics of how this is done vary based on the approach you take. With MTH, for instance, you send a list of all mods you have, as well as what octane gasoline you will run, along with a download of your exising ECU programming you obtain by using software on a PC and a cable plugged into the OBD-II port. They modify the “program” and send it back to you, for re-uploading to the car’s ECU. With Lucky Dog Garage, you send them your ECU (removed from the car) along with the specs – they re-program and return it to you. For the JCW tune, the dealer just uploads a “standard” JCW file to replace the “stock” one. This file “assumes” certain JCW mods have been done also. Another approach is to have a tuner connect a programming computer to your car on a dyno and actually tune your specific car’s maps “live” based on how it performs on the dyno under various conditions.

There are many debates about the relative value of the various “standard” tunes. In general – think of these as designed to make your combination of components and mods work better together, or replacing some of the generalized assumptions about how you drive and “feed” your car with specifics about how you REALLY do (for example, I favor performance over MPG, and I’ll always run 93 octane gas – the stock programming can’t assume either of these things). So I have the MTH tune – and I think it makes my car run much “smoother” – but doesn’t necessarily add a lot of “power” to what I already got with my pulley, intake, exhaust, etc. Some tuners swear by the amount of “power” they can add. Maybe they do. But Caveat Emptor.

Rule number one – if you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know when you get there. ALWAYS start by having a GOAL for what you want to accomplish in tuning your car. Do you want a track beast? An autocross machine? A good, fun daily driven street car? Do you want something that scares your wife, or something she’s comfortable driving? (my case) Do you want raw performance at any cost? Or “better” performance while maintaining refined smoothness and driveability? Do you want it to “look cool” by lowering it? Do you understand the other trade-offs that occur when you do this? (it gets complicated to do it right) Once you have a goal, research all your options and build a PLAN for your mods – work with your local guru mechanic or club members to help validate this plan. Then execute it – and order matters – the tune should follow the other engine mods…

I was given this sage advice by others – and they were RIGHT. I’ve had GREAT success getting EXACTLY what I want with Blimey. But you’ll read horror stories of folks who get into “bolt on another mod” disease and are frequently unhappy with the results…

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