Hand-Held Tuning From LS-To-LT With SCT Performance Tuners

It’s hard to believe that the LS-based engine is now over two-decades old. There have been many advancements as the lowly LS1 engine morphed its way through various iterations of the LS platform and eventually gave way for the LT-based, next-gen engine. Many of those changes are due to improvements in architecture, programming, or both. No matter how advanced they may become, enthusiasts are always searching for a means to obtain even more performance.

Gone are the days of physically installing a “chip” in the PCM – everything is done through the OBD port located under the driver’s side dash.

With today’s electronically-controlled autos, getting more out of your car’s drivetrain has become easier than ever before. Changes that once required a bevy of tools and possibly a lift can now be done through the OBD port located under the dash of the vehicle. There have always been ways for enthusiasts to tweak their cars to better suit their driving style and companies like SCT and Bully Dog (both of parent company Derive Systems) have been there since the beginning of the C5 Corvette era, bringing more performance to Corvette enthusiasts.

Tuners range from hand-held devices you can tune with and unplug, to wireless devices that turn tablets and phones into tools and even mounted devices that allow for on-the-fly tuning via full-color touch-screens.

Just as the cars themselves have evolved by using more technologies to get better performance, drivability and fuel mileage; tuning devices also followed suit. Some changes were required due to different programming parameters and ECUs used throughout vehicle production while others integrated modern technologies in how the tuner communicated with the host vehicle.

Programming and Tuning

Many of the products that SCT offers have the ability to do both tuning and programming. By programming, we mean that there are tunes available, whether pre-loaded onto the tuner or downloadable from an SCT-approved custom tune dealer. Some units do not come with pre-loaded tunes and the end-user would need to purchase a tune from one of these SCT-approved dealers.

Tuners have become much more than simply performance enhancers. Today’s tuners can also check for/clear engine codes and transmit various sensor data.

When tuning, the end-user is able to adjust the car’s parameters to optimize the car’s ECU to their particular application. This entails being able to adjust for improved air intakes, exhaust, tire size changes or other parameters of the particular application.

Another benefit available to enthusiasts is the ability to check for codes and clear any codes found in history. Data monitoring is also included in several units and can be highly beneficial when diagnosing issues or using other aspects of the unit for tuning of the vehicle. SCT tuners also have the availability to read real-time data from a variety of sensors to gain information such as air/fuel ratio, EGT or many other 0-.5v based sensors.

The SCT X4 serves as a tuner, but can also monitor engine parameters and can data log so that the information can be recalled and viewed later.

Whether the particular tuner you’ve chosen comes loaded with tunes or you chose to connect with an SCT-approved tuner to acquire a tune for your vehicle, re-programming your vehicle’s ECU is greatly simplified by SCT’s user-focused process. Check out the video put together by the folks at SCT that shows the process of re-programming a car using the X4 Performance Programmer below.

SCT offers several different tuners that are able to re-program ECUs in a variety of vehicles. Sometimes, coverage may overlap, giving the end-user the ability to chose which unit fits their needs best. Here are some factors to consider to help you determine which tuner would suit your needs or wants best:

• Priority and type of gauges to view
• Do you want a hard-mounted installation?
• Touchscreen or push button?
• Options to adjust (tire size, axle ratio, speed limiter etc.)
• Number of custom tunes to store

To help you decide which tuner suits you best, the SCT website asks you to fill out some general information about your car so they can then show which tuners are compatible with the year and engine of your vehicle. You can then choose from the units listed to compare pricing, options and how well they fill your needs.

Bully Dog BDX MSRP $399
(LS1 ‘99-2000), (LS2 ’05, LS2/7 ’06)

The BDX offers the first-of-its-kind CloudTune delivery over WiFi. Built-in Wifi allows you to easily attach to your local area wireless network to download device updates. This innovation in the way firmware updates and custom tunes are delivered eliminates the need for computers or fumbling with messy wires. BDX then installs quickly & easily via your vehicle’s OBDII port and allows you to monitor engine parameters in real-time.

BDX features a variety of customizable vehicle functions from timing and rev limiter adjustments, to wheel and tire size calibration; enabling the BDX to custom tailor your vehicle to your unique standards. BDX reads and clears PCM diagnostic trouble codes and stores up to 20 custom tunes in memory. Some applications of this device do not come with any tuning (check your specific application), so tunes will need to be purchased from an SCT-approved custom tuner.

SCT X4 Power Flash Performance Programmer MSRP $399
(LS1/6 ‘99-2004, LS2 ’05, LS2/7 ’06-07, LS3/7 ’08-13, LS9 ’09-13, LT1 ’14, LT1/4 ’15-16, LT4 ‘17)

The X4 can be mounted to the vehicle or hand-held and uses a cable to the OBD port. There are also other provisions for external sensors.

The X4 Power Flash arrives pre-loaded with dyno-proven tune files (check for specific applications) and allows the end-user to adjust several parameters of their vehicle. Adjustable options vary for each vehicle, but on supported vehicles, users can tweak for changes in:

• axle ratio
• disable Active Fuel Management
• lower fan temps
• adjust for different sized fuel injectors
• add/subtract timing across all RPM ranges
• allow for long-tube headers
• engine idle speed
• adjust for aftermarket MAF
• adjust pedal response
• rev limiter
• compensate for aftermarket throttle bodies
• adjust for tire size
• shift firmness
• TPMS delete

SCT LiveWire TS+ MSRP $599
(LS1/6 ‘99-2004, LS2 ’05, LS2/7 ’06-’07, LS3/7 ’08-13, LS9 ’09-’13, LT1 ’14, LT1/4 ’15-16)

The Livewire TS+ arrives pre-loaded with dyno proven performance tune files and holds up to 10 custom tuning files for maximum tune flexibility. Switch On-The-Fly is available (for select vehicles only) on the Livewire TS+ and allows a user to change power levels while driving. Livewire TS+ also features a full color 4-inch touch-screen display with built-in ambient light sensor for automatic brightness adjustment.

Livewire TS+ is designed to mount to the vehicle and features both a sleep and auto off mode, so that two minutes after the ignition is turned off, Livewire TS+ goes into sleep mode, drawing very little power. There is also a built-in performance monitor that shows horsepower, torque, 1/4 mile and 0-60mph e.t.’s.

Livewire TS+ also allows for high-speed data logging and monitoring and can be used to check and clear engine codes. There’s even a rear-view camera input connector built-in to the Livewire TS OBD-II cable for easy connection of most aftermarket rear-view cameras! You can customize the look of your Livewire TS+ screen with user-selectable themes, colors and gauge layouts. This unit also includes a suction cup style mount for easy mounting on your vehicle’s windshield.

SCT iTSX MSRP $399
(LS1/6 ‘99-2004, LS2 ’05, LS2/7 ’06-07, LS3/7 ’08-13, LS9 ’09-13, LT1 ’14, LT4 ‘15)

The iTSX re-calibrates the vehicle using bluetooth wireless. It is designed to work with iPod touch, iPad, iPhone and most popular Android devices. It is 50-state emissions legal and provides for monitoring popular sensor data via the analog input ports (optional analog input kit required).

Some versions of this device do not come with any tuning (check your specific application). Tunes would then need to be purchased from an SCT Custom Tuner. The device backs up your factory program during installation should you ever need to return your vehicle to the stock program. Restoring your vehicle to the stock program is as easy as selecting “Return to Stock” from the device menu.

iTSX operates via bluetooth to a smartphone or tablet but also features ports for cabling to laptops or external gauges for monitoring.

There are also built-in performance tests, such as 0-60 mph with estimated horsepower and torque, e.t. and MPH for the 1/8th and 1/4 mile, a top speed performance test and braking performance test with 60-0 mph. Further benefits show on the on-screen virtual gauges which feature adjustable warning lights to monitor vehicle engine data. There are also selectable gauge themes and layouts to personalize the viewing area on your tablet or phone.

Whether pre-loaded or obtained from an SCT-approved dealer, SCT tunes are dyno tested for performance and reliability.

The Bottom Line

There is no doubting that reaching down into your vehicle’s black box has gotten more accessible over the years and with the many different tuners available through SCT, the end-user has more options available to make that happen. Whether simply looking to make adjustments to correct for tire size or rear gearing, or to be able to adjust for fuel parameters or tuning between “economy” or “race” modes, SCT makes it easy to make the most of your car’s performance.

Article Sources

About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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