A Complete Buyer’s Guide for Dynamometers
Today, we are going to talk about the world’s greatest measuring tool. As any good desk racer knows, the data this tool produces are the true determining factor for who’s fast and who’s not. We’re talking about Chassis dynamometers! They fill your social media feeds with videos, the biggest shops in the country release record-breaking numbers achieved on them, and you may have even had your build on one at some point. Before going too far, for anyone not familiar with a dyno, it’s a tool used to measure horsepower and torque of a vehicle, and more importantly, to accurately tune your vehicle for optimal performance in a safe environment.
It’s the dream of Tuning School students and automotive enthusiasts alike to one day own a chassis dyno. Usually, the goal is to buy the dyno and either begin offering engine management tuning for your shop or to create an entire business just around offering dyno tunes. You save money, hone your tuning skills and finally get ready to buy a dyno. But before taking that big leap, we want to help you get the most out of your investment by getting it installed and in use as quickly as possible. In this article, we’ll draw on our experiences from having installed 5 different dynos from three different manufacturers in our facilities, as well as countless experiences from our business partners, customers and friends; to help you take into consideration all the important details that are involved with getting a dyno installed and operational.
In-Ground or Above Ground
This may seem like a strange first step but it is usually information you will want to approach the dyno manufacturer with because it will determine the specific options that will accompany your dyno. There are both advantages and disadvantages with these options; the first most being space.
While most dynos will dimensionally be the same size regardless of the manufacturer you choose, an above ground dyno is going to occupy a larger footprint within your shop. This is primarily attributed to the fact that at a minimum you will need to have ramps leading up to the dyno or a four post hydraulic lift that can get the car to the level of the dyno. For smaller shops that offer services beyond tuning, for example, installs repaired or engine building, this can be an issue. When the dyno is in the ground all it takes is some d-rings and concrete anchors to the floor and your dyno can be operational with a very small footprint.
One of the advantages of above-ground dyno is the ability to get underneath the vehicle with ease. This makes installing wideband O₂ sensors, knock monitors, or checking for mechanical issues much easier. It even aids in strapping down a vehicle because you won’t have to lay on the floor. In some cases it can assist in vehicle storage as well, giving you an additional level to store cars providing double storage in the same footprint. We utilize this attribute here at The Tuning School with, what seems to be, our ever-growing fleet of vehicles.
We have, however, seen some people using what I would liken to a hybrid system. This is where there is an inground dyno and a two post lift placed directly in front of it. This allows relatively easy access to the underside of a vehicle by simply rolling it forward about ten feet and placing it on the lift. If you do decide to place your dyno in the ground, the construction of the pit needed will add cost to your install budget. We’ll talk more about that in a minute. Likewise, buying a lift and having it installed will also incur additional costs. Either way, it is something to keep in mind when choosing above or below ground.
Budget and Service Charges
Whether you have saved your pennies, get a business loan or plan on financing with the dyno company, you will want to have a plan for how much you are willing to spend (including interest). Something to take into account is your budget and how much cash flow your new dyno can generate. Usually, this is not something you can guarantee, however, having a dyno rate already in mind can give you an estimate of how much money you can bring in per vehicle and from there you can estimate how many vehicles you can do per month. The goal should be to have the dyno pay for itself as soon as possible. But in order for that to happen, you need to know what you will be spending and how much you will be charging customers. This information can give you an accurate idea of how many customers you’ll need to capture to have the dyno “paid for”. This type of forethought not only gives you a goal to shoot for but allows you and your business to celebrate when you achieve the feat.
Manufacturers and Models
This is where you will want to take the most time in making the right decision for your situation. At this point you might have a little bit of experience with specific dyno makes and models from either attending one of our hands-on classes, renting dyno time from a local shop, having your shop’s builds tuned by an outside tuner or having your own build tuned. While these experiences can provide a lot of insight into the world of dynos we find it beneficial to do more research before making a decision. We suggest talking with multiple dyno manufacturers to see what each suggest for your intended use. One of the easiest places to do this is at one of the big industry trade shows, namely SEMA or PRI. The biggest manufacturers typically attend these shows which gives you the ability to speak with multiple companies over several days. The dyno manufacturers normally also have floor models at this shows that you can get up close and personal with to get a better understanding of how their hardware is constructed and how their software functions.
For the more cost-conscious buyers purchasing a used dyno can be an option with a slightly lower entry cost. This can either be done directly between dyno owners or you can speak to the manufacturer to see if they have any used options available. We typically suggest working directly with the manufacturer to locate a used dyno. In fact, that’s how we acquired our Mustang Dyno MD1750 which served us well for nearly 8 years. It was a dyno that was being cycled out of use in our area. When the time came for us to get new hardware the manufacturer had the MD1750 sold to a shop in Louisiana before we even had our new MD800. Regardless of the brand you choose, the hardware and construction of these dynos are very robust. In addition, if the dyno is an older model you can usually upgrade the electronics and the software to the latest and greatest that the company has to offer.
Freight and Shipping
Unless you drive directly to the manufacturer, or to where your used dyno is located to pick it up yourself, you will be shipping the dyno freight. This is going to add some additional cost to your purchase which you will want to keep in mind. Typically freight shipping is billed by weight so the larger the dyno model you are acquiring, the larger the freight bill will be. You will also want to closely coordinate with the freight company to get an accurate delivery date so you can make yourself available and have the necessary equipment on hand to offload the freight truck. Keep in mind, if the freight company is stuck waiting for you to offload the truck they will charge you hourly for their time. We learned this the hard way when we had a fork truck rental mixup that hung up a freight driver for 6 hours while we waited for the correct forklift.
If you have opted to install your dyno in the ground, having the dyno pit prebuilt will be high on your priority list. While it’s not necessary, you will likely want the pit pre-built before the dyno shows up. This will help you get up and running faster, and optimize the time you spend using any rented equipment. The first step to build out your dyno pit will be to get accurate dimensions of the dyno. The manufacturer will be able to provide you with accurate diagrams for the overall dimensions. Our good friend and Ford Instructor Tony Gonyon learned the importance for accuracy in the build-out of dyno pits. After the completion of his pit for his all-wheel drive DynoJet, they had to go back and modify it due to fitment issues. The age-old adage measure twice and cut once most certainly applies to this part of the process.
Once you know the dimensions you typically want to hire a trusted reputable contractor to perform the job. We find this to be easier than trying to tackle the task on your own. There are some additional features you should consider when designing the build out.
Firstly, electrical. All of these dynos will at a minimum require a power source. It will probably also have a harness for the load cell, speed sensor, air brake and so on. One of the best methods we have for getting these wires hooked up is to run a 3-inch pipe through the floor over to the power source on the wall. This setup is not only functional but it also keeps the electrical from being a tripping hazard.
The second thing you will want to consider is water sealing and drainage. Here in Florida, during the rainy season, our topsoil will retain a lot of water. This means after digging about 4 feet deep you will have essentially created a small pool. At our particular facility, there is a cypress head that will have 2 to 4 feet of above ground standing water 6 months out of the year. If we were to put a dyno in the ground here we would have to go through the extra steps of making sure the dyno pit is sealed properly with an adequate drainage plan. Naturally, disasters are inevitable and accidents can happen. When they do, having the pit designed to drain itself, will make all the difference in protecting your investment. These dynos don’t normally function well as submarines.
Depending on the model of dyno you acquire it will need to be prepared to rent specific forklifts to get it off the freight truck. The most important attribute is weight capacity, however, there may be additional requirements like fork lengths. The dyno manufacturer and the documentation, which typically can be found online, will have the exact equipment requirements listed in detail. In our experience, most automotive shops do not have a forklift. If they do, the weight capacity is usually not enough. It does not take much for a dyno to exceed 5,000 pounds of capacity, especially when you consider that the dyno itself may come packaged with additional items that add to the overall weight of the crate. In many cases, you will need to rent a forklift in order to offload and install the new dyno. When choosing which rental company to go with, it’s important to keep in mind whether or not the rental includes a driver. The idea of driving a forklift when you have never driven one before can seem daunting and may not be something you want to try to tackle yourself. We only slightly scratched the doorway to our shop here, no big deal right? But in all seriousness, it’s something you will want to consider when choosing a rental company.
If you have opted to keep your dyno above ground you may need to purchase and install a four-post lift. This will allow you to get the vehicle up to the level of the dyno. In some cases, depending on the model of dyno you are purchasing, you may be able to purchase a ramp system from the dyno manufacturer. This can be a good option if space is limited. One of our class locations in Chicago, Illinois uses ramps for their Mustang dyno. In fact, their entire system can be moved with a pallet jack for easy storage when not in use. For all other applications, a four-post lift is the way to go. The dyno manufacturers themselves can typically give you a recommendation on the brand and sometimes the model of lift that they prefer. For example, DynoJet pairs a lot of their dynos to Rotary lifts. That being said, just about any four-post lift will work, which allows you to find the exact size, quality, and price that works for you. In our experience, we have found it easiest to buy a lift from a company that will install it as well. The task of installing these lifts can seem fairly easy on the surface level, however, can prove to be a bit of challenge. In our opinion paying someone with the tools, know-how, and experience is much easier.
These dynos will have specific electrical requirements, again this is an area where we chose to pay a professional. Their main job will be able to set up the main power source for the dyno. The specifics on what type of power the dyno needs can be found in the instructions and documentation that come with the dyno as well as directly from the manufacturer. The electrician can also handle getting the wiring setup for the new lift if applicable. A tip that we have implemented in all of our four-post lift installs is the addition of a four-plug outlet mounted at the top of one of the front lift posts. This proves to be helpful in plugging in dyno fans, battery tenders, even extensions cords to power laptop chargers within the vehicle. You might also consider where you want to have the PC that runs the dyno software as you may want to have an outlet installed near there as well.
Software Setup and Calibration Training
With the new dyno fully installed and operational we suggest employing a professional to set up and calibrate the software. We also highly recommend investing in training on how to use and calibrate your software yourself to get the most out of your investment as quickly as possible. Each dyno manufacturer typically offers in-person training in addition to instruction documentation.
One of the many 2019 goals for us here at The Tuning School is to begin offering manufacturer specific dyno training. Keep your eyes peeled for more information as we near the completion of these products! Once you know how to use the dyno, the last step is to learn how to tune. With our product offers, we can help with that as well. One of the best options available is private one on one class training with an instructor at your facility, on your dyno. For more information on this and the rest of our offers make sure to keep looking around our site thetuningschool.com.
We hope our experiences and information was able to provide you some needed insight into the world of chassis dynos and empower you to take the leap to acquire a tool that could change your business and your life!
Check out more in this episode of Tech Tuesday.