Time for a Date With the Dyno?

The packages have all arrived.  The fabrication is complete.  The late-night wrench thrashing with your buddies is done, and now it’s time to test your combination and see the fruits of your labor.  It’s time to head out for dyno tuning.  When dialing your combination for maximum horsepower and reliability a dynamometer can be an invaluable resource.  Whether you plan to do the tuning yourself or hire a professional to man the keyboard, there is no feeling like seeing your creation singing to redline and then driving back on the trailer better than when it rolled off.  We’re going to see today that there are some considerations to be made before heading out to strap your pride and joy onto the rollers

A Little Background

Danny Davis: East Coast Speed Shop

We have a treat for you guys this week as we talk with Danny Davis, owner and operator of East Coast Speed Shop in Goldsboro NC.  In sitting down with Danny, we’ll learn what to expect on your dyno day, what the tuner or dyno operator expects from you, and tips to ensure that both parties end up with a successful result at the end of the day. 

Danny Davis knows power.  Having been in the speed shop world since 16 years old, and owning his own business in the industry for the last 13 years he’s certainly been around the block a few times both literally and figuratively.  We were able to catch up with him this week at his “office” and by “office”, we mean manning the keyboard on his Mustang MD-150 dynamometer or spinning the spanners on another turbo LS engine build, to ask him a few questions that you guys might find useful before your next visit to the “heartbreaker”.

What is a Dyno Anyway?

For those that may not know, let’s first talk about what a dyno tuning is, and why we might care.  A chassis dyno, also known as a chassis dynamometer, is an essential tool for accurately measuring a vehicle’s engine power and torque output. With its ability to test a vehicle’s performance under various conditions, such as different RPMs and gears, it offers unmatched precision and reliability. Furthermore, the dyno’s diagnostic capabilities make it invaluable for detecting engine or transmission issues that may not be apparent during regular driving. All things considered, a chassis dyno is an indispensable tool for tuners and engineers alike.  

Mustang MD-150 at ECCS.

While there are several different brands and styles of dyno on the market, Danny chose the Mustang MD-150 for a particular reason, tuning.  In the world of chassis dynamometers, there are two types, inertial and steady-state or “load-bearing”.  The load-bearing capability of the MD-150 means that while tuning Danny can hold an engine at a specific RPM and Load while collecting data and making tuning adjustments.  While the inertial dynos are fine for delivering measured horsepower and torque numbers, they lack the ability to hold the engine in a steady load.  With upwards of 256 cells that can be manipulated in the average fuel and timing table, not to mention boost controls, nitrous staging, and so on, the ability to hold an engine in the exact RPM and load/boost range all along those cells becomes invaluable. 

Deciding Who Will Make It Sing

Mazda Miata preparing to make big power thanks to the addition of a turbocharger and MSPNP programmable ECU.

When asked about what kind of cars typically comes through his shop, Danny says they typically see the ubiquitous GM LS-based builds in everything from classic Camaros to turbo-equipped Silverados. Along with Chrysler Hemi’s, and of course Ford’s modular family of V8’s.  While American muscle certainly makes up the majority of their clientele, he and his crew are no strangers to the JDM powerplants we all know and love.  Danny mentioned that one of the most interesting builds to come through their doors was an FD RX-7 with its rotary heart tossed into the bin in favor of a turbocharged Toyota 2JZ inline six!  The one thing all of these cars have in common though, is a need for custom dyno tuning because they are all using some form of programmable ECU. The availability of modern standalone systems like the MSPNP line from DIYAutoTune.com let you turbocharge your Miata or strap a supercharger on your Fox Body Mustang, and let the fun begin! The beauty of these systems is that they can be configured to accommodate nearly any modification or chassis install you could imagine.

When it comes to the dyno tuning, Danny, like many other speed shop owners likes to handle it himself.  He did mention that there are times when the customer wants to be the one pressing the buttons themselves, and he is fine with that but wanted to let the audience know there is usually no money to be saved.  One thing to keep in mind is that when you are dealing with a reputable dyno operator, you are paying for their time and expertise.  If you take your car in and fumble around on the laptop for two hours, where someone else may have been able to knock it out in 45 minutes, you’ll be charged for the time on the dyno.  Another option is remote tuning, where a third-party uses software to take control of the tuning from someplace else.  In speaking with Danny about this, he says that this can be a great solution for unique combinations, where there may be experts on that platform willing to help, or builds that he may not be as familiar with.  However, there are certain things the remote tuner may not be able to “feel” or hear through a webcam, so keep that in mind when using someone offsite.  Also, because no two vehicles are exactly the same, “canned” tunes are usually not a great idea, unless absolutely necessary to get the vehicle to just start and idle on its own. 

Time is Money, Be Prepared

Since dyno tuning time is valuable, we want to make sure to take advantage of as much of it as we can.  What we definitely don’t want is to have our day cut short for some unexpected reason.  Some of the most common things that might end your day early, seem to be common among all makes and models:  leaks, overheating, and fueling concerns.  These are things that you as the client want to do everything possible to ensure are taken care of before hitting the rollers.  If you’re dealing with a fresh build or new install, it may not always be possible to know if something is going to leak, but being prepared and checking everything twice could save your tuner time and save you money.  Make sure the cooling system is full and in good working order: as it is likely the vehicle is going to make multiple full-throttle pulls in a row, or be held in a high load range for an extended period of time.  Radiators, pumps, and fans need to be in top shape beforehand.  We would also benefit from ensuring that the fuel system is up to the task.  Not only do we need enough fuel pump to get the job done, but tanks, lines, regulators, and vents all need to be up to the task.  And, don’t forget the tires!  While obviously not a problem when using a “hub” style dynamometer, the commonly used roller style relies on tire contact to be effective.  Make sure that tires are not worn out, dry rotted, and wheels are not bent or leaking.  We also want to make sure lug nuts are properly torqued at all times.  NO ONE wants a tire failure destroying expensive dyno equipment or the bodywork on your ride!

What the Tuner Expects From You

You’re going to find that there are expectations the tuner has for their clients as well.  The dyno tuning house you chose will likely expect you to make an appointment for a tuning session.  These are generally never “in and out” situations.  Danny says to expect 3 to 5 hours on average, including setup and takedown time, with some more complex jobs taking as much as 2 days.  Keep a realistic timeline in mind when talking with your dyno operator.  Bring as many spares as you can as well.  Spark plugs, engine oil, transmission fluid, etc.  And if you’re going to hang around, plenty of snacks, it might be a while!  The better prepared you are, and the more spares on hand, the less time you and the tuner will have to spend hunting down parts or backing the car off the dyno until repairs are made. 

From mild to wild there is no denying the potential of the GM LS Engine family.

 Expect to have your favorite dyno shop require a waiver to be signed before the vehicle even hits the door.  Anyone who has been around cars, especially highly modified ones, knows that things can go sideways in a hurry.  While any respectable tuner will do everything in their power to ensure they get the most performance, with the maximum amount of reliability.  After all, the tuners with a reputation for breaking engines don’t tend to stick around long.  But things can happen.  The waiver is protection for the dyno operator, who is often given a vehicle they know nothing about, and expected to extract the most performance they can get out of it.  They can’t be responsible for improperly torqued connecting rods,  weak valve springs, slipping clutches, or anything else that could damage the engine from the inside out. 

Manage Expectations

Oh no, a CARB! Things won’t always go the way the internet would have you believe. Keep goals realistic for your specific combination.

“What do you mean my combination didn’t make 1300 horsepower on pump gas, cost $400, and last 150,000 miles?” While that statement is ridiculous on the face of it, some version of that is being played out in dyno shops across the country.  Internet and TV have influenced some expectations with certain clients according to Mr. Davis.  It is no doubt entertaining to watch our favorite YouTubers, or Instagram celebrities build mega-power combinations on what seems like impossible timelines, these are often not the reality of the situation.  Danny says that one of the things he sees ruin a client’s dyno day is starting with unrealistic expectations.  Even in cases where the outcome was great, clients can sometimes walk away disappointed because they didn’t get the power number they thought they should.  If everything goes the way it should, your vehicle will perform as well as it can, and make what it can safely make at the end of the day.  Don’t get hung up on other combinations and their claimed power levels.

When asked if there were anything he’d like to add, Danny says “Don’t cheap out.”  There are no substitutes for high-quality parts and components when it comes to our racecar projects, especially when safety and longevity are on the line.  When using inferior parts, it’s been Danny’s experience that the time necessary to re-work a turbo kit, replace fuel system components, or rebuild an engine often exceeds what it would have cost to use the “good stuff” in the first place.  The fact is, if corners are cut with inferior parts or labor, the dyno WILL reveal those weaknesses and, POOF!  No more go!