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Beware when ordering a custom tune - IMPORTANT


bhusselbaugh
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BEWARE WHEN YOU ORDER THAT CUSTOM TUNE – DYNO OR OTHERWISE!

 

This is an important message to read as it exposes what is likely common practice in the tuning industry – and the consequences could be expensive.

 

Before I begin, a little background:

 

I have a 2012 GT500 that I have modified. Originally the modification was a smaller drive pulley on the supercharger and tune by VMP Performance. The original tune was locked by Justin Starkey of VMP and, although I have SCT’s Advantage software, I was unable to modify the tune (and didn’t need to as the tune seemed to work fine).

 

In November of 2015 I was running the Shelby at Daytona in NASA’s HPDE 3 group. On the first session of the second day, the engine developed a rod knock and I had the car flat-bed towed back to St Petersburg, to the Ford dealer where I bought the car.

 

The dealer did what they could, but in the end, Ford refused to cover the damage, even though the car was still under warranty. Before you immediately dismiss considering that they would even think of covering it since I was running it on the track, they actually initially agreed to cover the damage and then refused based on the fact that I had modified the car. They cited extreme detonation (which was not the case, but was more their way of CYA).

 

What did happen is that the engine oil boiled – vaporized and exited the engine through the PCV system. Only 2 quarts remained in the engine when the dealer tore the engine down.

 

There are many theories as to why the oil boiled (Ford’s theory was that the detonation caused the rings to be forced hard back into the ring lands, allowing the oil to pass and be burned).

 

My theory is that it was a combination of events:

 

  1. The dealership possibly put the wrong oil in the car when I had it changed (they were always pushing the cheaper Penzoil)
  2. Ford did a very poor job designing heat extraction from that car, and the back of the engine was exposed to extreme radiant heating in the area proximate to the exhaust down-pipes. The aluminum block afforded great heat transfer resulting in high oil temperatures. Keep in mind the ECT was normal during this entire event. Also, the car was covered in the rear with transmission oil – the transmission had gotten hot enough to also boil its oil, which escaped through the transmission vent hole.
  3. The tune was too conservative on timing, resulting in higher EGTs, thereby contributing to the radiant heating

 

Now, fast-forward. After spending $20K to have Livernois repair the block and rebuild it to a short block (Livernois does outstanding work), to have the dealer rebuild it to the long block and re-install it, along with adding a larger oil pan and external oil cooling, I paid a well-known tuner for a custom tune (and this time paid extra to get the SCT source file so I can view how the car was tuned and make adjustments). I also paid the tuner to do a dyno tune so I didn’t have to spend the time tuning-testing-tweaking-tuning the car.

 

The dyno tune lasted about 2 hours and consisted of 3 “pulls” on the dyno. The tune started with a tune from another car as the initial baseline, and some adjustments were made as a result of the 3 pulls. That weekend, I ran the car at Sebring, again in HPDE.

 

The car ran 300+ degree oil temperatures. On one session it threw an engine code (Misfire, cylinder 1). I had complained to the tuner that my AFR gauge was showing a rich condition under WOT, but that was explained away as a faulty AFR gauge and wasn’t addressed properly (in my opinion). The main thing was a significant reduction in power from how the car previously performed – naturally aspirated Mustangs were able to catch me in the straights and the car was at least 15 MPH slower in the back straight than the previous time I had run at Sebring.

 

I lost confidence in the tuner and decided to spend the time tuning the car myself. It took weeks – with up to 12 different tunes tested along with driving/logging – before I finally got the car tuned properly (meaning power has been restored, oil temps are down 20 degrees, detonation is gone, and the fuel curve is correct).

 

I then did a compare, using SCT’s software, between my final tune and the tuner’s “dyno” tune. Below are the salient points:

 

  1. Borderline knock tables (used as a starting point for ignition timing)
    1. In the area of low RPM – high engine load the tuner had the timing set to 1 degree advance. This resulted in detonation. My final tune has up to 9 degrees retard at the highest load/lowest-RPM point.
    2. In the area of low engine load the tuner was very conservative on timing, resulting in sacrificed power (and increased exhaust temperatures). Up to 10 degrees of timing was added resulting in much better low end torque (with no detonation)
    3. Even in the mid-range of RPM/load the tuner left up to 6 degrees of timing off the table, again resulting in increased exhaust temperatures and sacrificing of power.
    4. The tuner had set the Y-normalizer table to essentially lock the entire range of operation to just a few rows of the table. This seemed to me to be a quick fix – instead of tuning for various RPM-load points.

 

  1. MBT timing table (used as the reference for the best engine timing as determined by the MFR)
    1. Much of the table had been scaled back (timing removed) from stock. This made no sense to me as the MBT table is the reference for the maximum timing to demand (theoretically, since MBT represents the best timing in an otherwise perfect world, there should be no reason to change these tables from stock). The MFR most likely spent hundreds hours of test in determining these values. I put the table back to stock values.

  1. The tuner disabled clutch protection. This may be desirable for launching hard in drag races, but I had told him I road race the car so launching hard is not an issue. I re-enabled it and put the settings back to stock. I suspect the settings were from a previous tune that was used as the basis for this tune, and were overlooked.

 

  1. The tuner turned off 16 different code switches, essentially disabling the PCM from reporting those diagnostic codes. Such codes as P0175 and 74 (reporting rich conditions). This is, in my mind, one of the most egregious and unprofessional (by engineering standards) things done. I can think of no reason to do this other than to prevent the tune recipient from subsequently calling up and asking for the tune to be fixed because the car is now throwing a check-engine code. This eliminates that from happening but leaves the unsuspecting customer open for possible engine-damaging scenarios that now go unreported.

 

  1. Knock sensor
    1. When I was with the tuner during dyno tuning, he said he didn’t trust the knock sensors on my car and, although he did not disable them, he severely limited their operation by entering the maximum retard as 1 degree. I experienced detonation almost immediately upon running the car and changed the max retard to 10 degrees (stock is 6). I also confirmed, through running the car on the street while data logging (1 driver, 1 logger) that the knock sensors work well – that they do indeed show knock when there is audible detonation.

  1. Spark retard for ACT and ECT
    1. The tuner was conservative in these tables as well – pulling out up to 10 degrees for ACT values of 160 degrees. I did a calculation of expected ACT using Corky Bell’s book called Supercharged (I highly recommend it) and pulled out less timing. While this is a bit of a nit, I point this out as the final timing number is a function of borderline knock, MBT, ACT, and ECT tables (as well as anything the knock sensors might be doing)

 

Anyway, what I feel was done is whatever was necessary to get me off that dyno quickly. The tuner assumed I did not know anything. I did not witness any dialing in of the MAF transfer function – especially in the high load range (at the tuner’s suggestion, I put an ATI 10% overdrive pulley on the engine which brought the boost up to 15 lbs, and I suspect the MAF transfer function was not correct in that range of boost and resulted in higher reading of air ingested than was really entering the engine, resulting in over-fueling.) I also did not witness tuning at various load points – just three full throttle pulls (with data logging). As an engineer, I can’t see how you can properly tune a car without studying it’s performance at various RPM/load points.

 

This may be isolated or it may be standard operating procedure in the tuning industry. Beware if it’s the latter! As I mentioned, this tuner is well known and you will find his advertising in all major car magazines.

 

About me – I have a BS and MS in electrical engineering and I have designed hardware and software for control systems (like a PCM) – so I find the PCM’s operation and the control tables to be intuitive. I have also worked on cars for over 40 years. I am also a member of Mensa. What I don’t have – and what I thought I was paying for – is the “tribal knowledge” that comes from doing this for a living. What I got instead, in my mind, is a quickly thrown together tune that did not result from proper engineering discipline – one that caused the car to run poorly and possibly contribute to the high oil temperatures that caused the original failure.

 

If anyone is interested, I will be happy to share the SCT comparison file between the two tunes.

 

Oh, and by the way, while I’m on the subject of superchargers (again I highly recommend Corky Bell’s book), I see much on the forums about Eaton’s TVS-style roots blowers – comparing them to other blowers and claiming superiority due to flow rate. The real thing that should be compared is thermal efficiency – how much heat will it produce meaning how much intercooling will be required and/or how much timing will have to be pulled out to stop detonation. Roots style blowers – or any blower that does not have an internal compression ratio (meaning they just move air from one side to the other) – have the worst thermal efficiencies. That’s because the compression of the air happens on the output side of the supercharger – so that’s where the heat is added – with limited chance to dissipate prior to the intercooler. Twin screws are superior for thermal efficiency because the compression happens between the screws, allowing the body of the supercharger to help in dissipating the heat before it reaches the intercooler. More expensive but they will allow higher levels of boost without detonation. PV=nRT – pressure goes up and volume and air mass stay the same means the temperature has to go up. Could be TVS has better thermal efficiency than previous roots designs, but it is still a roots-style blower (meaning no internal compression ratio).

 

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Sorry to hear about your issues, but you're not the first person to have these types of problems......( or the last )

First, you don't order a custom tune.

A custom tune is developed on your car, not another cars tune modified to suit your needs/mods.

.

The tuner drives your car, data logs it, makes changes, drives it maybe several more time, when he is happy with the tune, it goes to the dyno. The tune may be adjusted on the dyno & run one or more times before it's complete.

.

My tuner used to work for Ford, as a tuner.

Edited by 1 Alibi 2
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Sorry about the loss of your factory motor, but I appreciate the thoroughness of your comments. I know what you mean about paying for institutional knowledge as I find myself hanging out at tech days with old timers who share of love of working on old motorcycles as I do. What they have in their heads will never be shared via social media.

 

School of Hard Knocks, I guess.....sorry about the pun

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So were the only mods the supercharger pulley and the tune with nothing done to the cooling system, particularly the heat exchanger for the the intercooler?

 

Correct. Although I would argue beefing the intercooler would not have completely solved the problem. EGTs were more affected, in my opinion, by late timing. I have done the thermal calculations on IAT and have concluded the Shelby's intercooler is 72% efficient. Raising that efficiency might result in 20 degrees lower IATs, which would allow bringing in some more timing - so it may assist in lower EGTs - but I suspect based on the tune I have gone through that timing was too conservative in the first place. The real fix, in my opinion, is to introduce radiant heat shielding in the area of the downpipes - to protect the transmission (bell housing is closest point to exhaust) and rear of the block - which I'm in the process of doing. I'll know during the next track session if that makes a difference.

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I asked because the factory heat exchanger is barely up to the task of a single 1/4 mile pull, much less a track day. As the IAT's rise you're going to see timing get pulled further by the ECU to protect the engine which will drive up EGT's even further, if the IAT's get high enough that it starts to knock a little due to pre-detonation you'll get drastically retarded timing which will ramp up the EGT's even faster.

 

It may not completely solve the problem, but the lack of a proper heat exchanger will absolutely contribute to the downfall of a motor. VMP made a post on another forum just this week where a customer with similar mods (pulley, intake, tune, and no heat exchanger) trashed a motor on a hot track day. VMP has probably tuned more GT500's than any other single location outside of possibly SAI themselves and have one of the best reputations for doing so so I would be hard pressed to point the finger in the direction of the actual tune on the motor vs the failure of the vehicle's cooling system and the programmed response of the factory ecu to such high IAT's.

 

http://www.fordgt500.com/forums/8-racing/143682-heat-kills.html

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I hate to see anyone go through grief like that, but a few questions do come to mind.

You never mentioned what the weather and track conditions where for the track days.

Why would you rely on anyone to do an oil change on your car if you are not absolutely sure what is going into it?

If there were any codes or noticable performance drop offs, why did you continue running it as is?

The bottom line is you took what was essentially a stock vehicle and put it through extreme duty and harsh conditions (which it wasn't designed for), without making any important/essential upgrades.

I can't help but wonder if the extreme temperatures/expansion had an detremental effect on the aluminum block as well, as opposed to a cast iron one.

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Correct. Although I would argue beefing the intercooler would not have completely solved the problem. EGTs were more affected, in my opinion, by late timing. I have done the thermal calculations on IAT and have concluded the Shelby's intercooler is 72% efficient. Raising that efficiency might result in 20 degrees lower IATs, which would allow bringing in some more timing - so it may assist in lower EGTs - but I suspect based on the tune I have gone through that timing was too conservative in the first place. The real fix, in my opinion, is to introduce radiant heat shielding in the area of the downpipes - to protect the transmission (bell housing is closest point to exhaust) and rear of the block - which I'm in the process of doing. I'll know during the next track session if that makes a difference.

 

Interesting - so I followed up on this topic and did the thermal calcs for a 9:1 CR (I had the new engine's CR raised to 9:1). At 9:1 assuming 90 F ambient temp, if I can get a 10 F decrease in after-intercooler air temperature that will yield a 148 F reduction in cylinder temps after compression. So there is a strong case to be made for increasing the efficiency of the intercooler's heat exchanger. Having said that and analyzing radiant heat transfer (and observing oil temps as measured in the oil pan exceeding 100 F over coolant temperature - meaning that the top end of the block and heads are running at 100 F (with some obvious variances) cooler than the oil at the bottom of the engine. The only thing that explains that to me is that the oil is being heated from a source external to the engine - and the most likely source is radiant heat from the exhaust. Even if that exhaust is running well under temperatures that might damage the cats, it is still emitting radiant heat energy and that heat is being absorbed and transmitted by the aluminum bell housing, transmission case, and engine block. And, given limited airflow across the back of the engine, the heat has limited means for dissipation, so it builds and the result is increasing oil temps. The root cause solution for the high oil temps is radiant heat shielding near those exhaust downpipes and cats. I hesitate to simply wrap those components as I want them to be able to exchange heat with the air - I just need to block radiant heat transfer to the bell housing and block. However, that significant decrease in cylinder temps that can be had by even a 10 F decrease in IAT suggests that increasing the intercooler efficiency will be well worth the investment. It will allow more timing which allow increased power (and reduced EGTs)

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IMO the dealer might have filled the wrong weight oil in your car. They've been known in the past to fill with 5w-20 weight which is used for all other Mustangs.

 

They may have, but it is also likely the lesser quality oil experienced sheering due to extreme heat. The lighter components then boiled off. The dealer did say what was left in the car was more like a sludge than oil - which would indicate the lighter components boiled off.

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I hate to see anyone go through grief like that, but a few questions do come to mind.

You never mentioned what the weather and track conditions where for the track days.

Why would you rely on anyone to do an oil change on your car if you are not absolutely sure what is going into it?

If there were any codes or noticable performance drop offs, why did you continue running it as is?

The bottom line is you took what was essentially a stock vehicle and put it through extreme duty and harsh conditions (which it wasn't designed for), without making any important/essential upgrades.

I can't help but wonder if the extreme temperatures/expansion had an detremental effect on the aluminum block as well, as opposed to a cast iron one.

 

Track conditions at Daytona that weekend = sunny, temps in the mid 80s, moderate humidity. Yes, live and learn on the "trusting others" front. I trusted the stuff I got from VMP based on nothing more really than seeing the advertising everywhere and I trusted the dealer to put the OEM oil in it and I trusted that Ford's recommended oil was the best for the car. I even trusted that Ford actually designed that car for track duty (I bought into their marketing). I can tell you now though, having learned the hard way - to the tune of $20K - I run Driven (Joe Gibbs) Racing oil 5W-50. I do my own oil changes. And I now control the tune. As far as did I notice anything - yes my first indication was that the car suddenly seemed slower on the banked curves - but the thought of oil starvation didn't enter my mind. One lap later I heard the rod knock and as soon as I heard that, I limped back off the track and had the car flat-bedded back. As far as the car not being designed to handle what I was doing - the racing school I attended (Miller motorsports) was running stock 4.3L 3V Mustang GTs. We ran those cars hard and they were bullet-proof. I think in my case it was a combination of many contributing factors that, if any one of the factors had not occurred - the outcome would have been different.

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I asked because the factory heat exchanger is barely up to the task of a single 1/4 mile pull, much less a track day. As the IAT's rise you're going to see timing get pulled further by the ECU to protect the engine which will drive up EGT's even further, if the IAT's get high enough that it starts to knock a little due to pre-detonation you'll get drastically retarded timing which will ramp up the EGT's even faster.

 

It may not completely solve the problem, but the lack of a proper heat exchanger will absolutely contribute to the downfall of a motor. VMP made a post on another forum just this week where a customer with similar mods (pulley, intake, tune, and no heat exchanger) trashed a motor on a hot track day. VMP has probably tuned more GT500's than any other single location outside of possibly SAI themselves and have one of the best reputations for doing so so I would be hard pressed to point the finger in the direction of the actual tune on the motor vs the failure of the vehicle's cooling system and the programmed response of the factory ecu to such high IAT's.

 

http://www.fordgt500.com/forums/8-racing/143682-heat-kills.html

 

Yes, I'm pointing a partial finger in that direction - as I said I think the root cause of the failure is absorbed radiant heat with no good path for dissipation - and that extended high RPM running - even without detonation - would result in very high oil temps due to that. I was also pointing out that, based on the tune I received, there was significant timing already pulled out in the base tables - so the starting point would yield higher EGTs before the PCM even started any protection strategies. And I was also pointing out wholesale turning off of PCM switches to stop it from throwing various codes - which customers should be aware may be common practice. I suspect you may work for or have some interest in VMP.

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Yes, I'm pointing a partial finger in that direction - as I said I think the root cause of the failure is absorbed radiant heat with no good path for dissipation - and that extended high RPM running - even without detonation - would result in very high oil temps due to that. I was also pointing out that, based on the tune I received, there was significant timing already pulled out in the base tables - so the starting point would yield higher EGTs before the PCM even started any protection strategies. And I was also pointing out wholesale turning off of PCM switches to stop it from throwing various codes - which customers should be aware may be common practice. I suspect you may work for or have some interest in VMP.

 

The other thing that others should be aware of is that Ford pointed the full finger in that direction. They refused to cover the damage since I had modified the car. Ford was basically suggesting that I go after VMP.

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That 20K tab is nothing to laugh at, that would have taken me off the car scene for a few years to recover.

I am not a track guy myself, more into the strip racing, but there are some things they do have in common.

The depleted oil might also be a very good clue as to what would be contributing to excessive detonation.

The oem setup dumps the crankcase ventilation into the blower, which is probably the worst place to put it.

Running an oil separator will definitely help to reduce that, especially on the passenger side of the motor.

Even so, I find that it captures a surprising amount of oil during a day at the strip, so much that you might want to keep an eye on it.

A system with a larger resevoir would definitely be a better choice for the track.

Any street car at best is a compromise, especially with its mild strength suspension components, excessively flexible rubber bushings, oem brakes & fluid etc.

Even equipment like oem gauges are not good for the track, you need to have the important ones to be accurate and in your face (preferably with some type of warning threshold).

Accurate water temperature and oil pressure ones would have definitely helped to warn you of trouble.

Running a new set of plugs for the track, typically one step colder and gapped a little tighter for higher boost ranges would be worth considering.

Dedicated track cars would also typically have some more exotic oil systems, pans, windage trays, baffling etc.

Not a fan of wrapping for heat shielding myself, but fabricating heat shields that offers air gaps are always worth investigating.

I look at the cars as being a good foundation to build it for what you want it to do with it, you just have to decide where you want to be with it and how far to take it.

There are some interesting threads on people building their cars for the track, that offer some good ideas on what they do to protect their rides.

I have noticed that many manufacturers now will attempt to get out of warranty repairs if they can, and will try to use any excuse they can to do so.

If you do have to go in for warranty repairs, make sure that all the oem parts are back on the car :)

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Very good info to share from all angles. The one thing I don't think anyone made a comment on was the type of fuel you were running. I for one have noticed the quality of the winter blend gasoline vs. summer blend from the oil companies is a huge difference. We have occasional mild days in NC during the winter months when you can "give it the beans" and not worry about losing grip. My car will develop a spark knock if I get on the power during the winter months and especially above 4000 RPM in 3rd gear and lower RPM in 4th or 5th gear when I get into the boost. Once the oil companies change the blend to the summer mix, the spark knock does not occur at all. Since this occurred during the month of November, I'm betting you had a tank full of the winter blend and that may have contributed to the problem.

 

For me if I had to do it again, I would not buy a supercharged vehicle. I've spent a ton of money getting this car set up with the proper cooling just to buy me a few more minutes (if that) of lap times for a track day. With that said, the only choice we had back in 2009 was a supercharger and I wanted a Shelby so it is what it is. I might be in the market for the GT350 soon which will solve my problem and I'll just sell the GT500 and be done with it.

Edited by ViperNC
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hmm. i'm still wondering why you'd buy a street car for track duty? in all fairness, the GT500 is a grand touring street car. the GT350 is also just a street car but Ford knows there is a trend towards track days now and its a selling point (that didnt exist as much in 2007).

Edited by 2shelbys
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hmm. i'm still wondering why you'd buy a street car for track duty? in all fairness, the GT500 is a grand touring street car. the GT350 is also just a street car but Ford knows there is a trend towards track days now and its a selling point (that didnt exist as much in 2007).

 

Plenty of people take street cars to the track to have fun and attempt to find the limits of their cars in a safe environment. Much smarter than trying to attempt the same speeds on public roads. You should try it.

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i kind of disagree. street cars are meant for the street, regardless of what the car magazines say. i think its safer to drive a short blast from 60-120mph on an empty highway in a straight line than to risk your car and life on a 20+ minute road course race with a bunch of novice drivers.

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Excellent information that really leads down to the lesson being get your car, specifically your car, tuned. I really love diving in to the technical aspect I just fear breaking anything that might be mine, ha. I don't know what kind of fuel you ran during your track runs but that is also something to consider - somewhere on these forums I showed a few calculations on how fuel affects these things and I can't agree enough on the effects of a good cooling system!

P.S I think I'll take a look at that book you recommend - I'm a chemist for a living so we were cut from a common stone in proficiency roots, waaay up the science tree.

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Plenty of people take street cars to the track to have fun and attempt to find the limits of their cars in a safe environment. Much smarter than trying to attempt the same speeds on public roads. You should try it.

+1

 

Mark

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i kind of disagree. street cars are meant for the street, regardless of what the car magazines say. i think its safer to drive a short blast from 60-120mph on an empty highway in a straight line than to risk your car and life on a 20+ minute road course race with a bunch of novice drivers.

I beg to differ. IMHO,It is significantly cheaper to spend money on a track day than it is getting caught doing 120 on any public road. A controlled environment, whether it be a drag strip or road course, is truly the only safe way to unleash one of these cars.

 

Mark

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i kind of disagree. street cars are meant for the street, regardless of what the car magazines say. i think its safer to drive a short blast from 60-120mph on an empty highway in a straight line than to risk your car and life on a 20+ minute road course race with a bunch of novice drivers.

 

To each their own. However, if you ever get the chance to take a car on track it will change you opinion quickly. There is absolutely nothing smart about driving 120 mph on public roads even for a brief period of time and it is a far greater risk to your car and life than any track day. Best case scenario: you only get caught by the highway patrol, lose your license, potentially lose your job, and no insurance company will touch you for 3 years. Worst case scenario: a deer jumps in front of your car and you lose control at speed... you can finish that story. We don't worry about such things on track.

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Great information and I'm glad I read this through. Lots of information. I never joined MENSA but I stated my own chapter of DENSA.. That's for the rest of us like myself.

Thanks for sharing your story and thanks everyone for chipping in.

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Yes, I'm pointing a partial finger in that direction - as I said I think the root cause of the failure is absorbed radiant heat with no good path for dissipation - and that extended high RPM running - even without detonation - would result in very high oil temps due to that. I was also pointing out that, based on the tune I received, there was significant timing already pulled out in the base tables - so the starting point would yield higher EGTs before the PCM even started any protection strategies. And I was also pointing out wholesale turning off of PCM switches to stop it from throwing various codes - which customers should be aware may be common practice. I suspect you may work for or have some interest in VMP.

 

You couldn't be more wrong. I have purchased an idler pulley from them, but that's been my only dealing with the company in any shape, way, or form. My car utilizes all Steeda equipment.

 

I only mentioned them in the light that I did because they tune more GT500's than just about anyone else judging by postings on the internet of people who have run their parts and tunes. The only consistent source of motor failure in these cars on track days has come from cars running increased boost with a pulley upgrade and a factory or non-fuctional heat exchanger. As you said in another post, unfortunately you bought into Ford's hype that this car was ready for the track, and it absolutely isn't with the factory heat exchanger, even at factory boost and power levels. Increase those and you can only expect failure sooner and more severe regardless of what tune you've got in the car.

 

You've done some decent research and used a lot of big words in your posts, but the bottom line is that you ran an ill advised combo on a track day on a course with long straights and grenaded a motor due to insufficient cooling and I'm not a fan of people pointing fingers at others when the tune itself in this case was maybe 10% of the problem. This thread should be titled "Beware running track days on the stock heat exchanger".

 

Also, everyone understands that doing something as drastic as re-progamming the ecu in any manner and then blowing a motor will be an instantaneous denial of warranty coverage. That's just Ford finding the easy way out of financial responsibility.

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