What is Tuning? An Interview with Bob Morreale
The world of ‘tuning’ is one of excitement and analytics, adrenaline and research. The Tuning School has spent 12 years opening up this world to everyone from shop owners to car enthusiasts. But what about those want-to-be enthusiasts? The people who love fast cars, powerful trucks and the thrill of a roaring engine, but have only begun their journey into the tuning culture. You might be one of them. To break down a few facts about tuning, we sat down with Bob Morreale, founder and CEO of The Tuning School, to ask what tuning really means.
For someone who’s never had their car tuned, what is ‘tuning’?
Tuning is one word with many definitions. To people with a car or truck that’s stock or mostly stock, it’s defined as an act that improves performance and fuel economy - more than the factory could do because the factory makes a rather “Generic” tune that just has to work everywhere, from Florida to Alaska and in between. They know this, but they’re unable to do anything about that. People with highly modified cars or trucks see tuning as a necessity, something you have to do after you modify the car to make it driveable again, to get good fuel economy and maximize performance and driveability. Modifying a car without a tune is like leaving driveability, power and economy on the table.
Are there different types of tunes for different purposes?
Absolutely. Tuning varies by the purpose of the car and the fuel types being run in the car. For example - if you were to go drag racing you might want a tune for maximum power, but if you were road racing you might want a little less aggressive tune to help improve longevity and durability. The same goes for changing fuels - as each fuel burns at different rates and has different octane ratings, your best and safest tune will vary based on what fuel is being used. One obvious difference would be changing from a gasoline based tune to an Ethanol (E85) based tune. The change in Stoichiometric points alone is huge (optimal burn air/fuel ratio), and the optimal spark requirements are different.
Can tuning a vehicle be bad for the vehicle or dangerous for the driver?
In the hands of an untrained person who just “got the software and read the internet for some tuning ideas”; the answer is YES, it can be. When asked, our instructors tell people who refuse to learn that they’re just one keystroke away from a disaster. The question is, are you willing to learn and break your vehicle or pretend you’ve been trained and break a friends car?
Are there any emissions concerns with certain tunes?
Emissions are a non-issue with race cars, which are defined as never being used on a public roadway. However, with the rise in enforcement against “Gross polluters” recently, we have been working together with several government agencies to form a reasonable basis defense program, for shop’s when dealing with such issues. We will be releasing details on the program soon.
If you wanted to get your car tuned professionally, where would you go to get your vehicle tuned and what would you look for in a shop?
That’s a great question. Since I’ve been tuning and teaching (about 22 years now) I’ve come to realize that if you ask 10 customers what shop/tuner they liked best, you will get 10 answers. This is largely related to customer driving preference (not necessarily good or bad shop/tuner experience). My recommendation is that you actually go for a ride in cars that have been tuned and modified similarly to yours or your plans. Don’t pay much attention to the full throttle, but really observe the driveability. How well does it start, how does it idle, is part throttle smooth, etc… The time a tuner spends should be skewed towards these things. Full throttle is a relatively easy recipe of how much fuel and spark the engine likes on the fuel it has… but at startup, idle and part throttle the tuner must also deal with a third variable, airflow. Airflow at full throttle is what it is - not controlled by the tuner. At part startup and idle especially, in order to get best possible driveability the tuner must increase or decrease airflow for what the engine with it’s modifications prefers. This is more time consuming and tricky.
Where can people can go to learn to tune cars? How does The Tuning School contribute to the world of tuning?
There are a few schools, and we believe that each has a place to an overall well-rounded approach to becoming an expert on tuning. Some schools more heavily favor theory, but we’re hardcore about practical, process-based teaching and tuning. We believe that if we can’t explain it easily and with a hands-on process, that means we don’t know it well enough. So, we contribute to the world of tuning by providing customers with proven processes that we perform R&D on in-house. Most courses take a year to develop, and refinements to the process are ongoing for life, with customer feedback driving it. We include support for a year with most courses, which means that when you have an issue or question, we’ve got your covered.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone curious about learning more about tuning?
Start with a Level 1 Learn-at-Home course, online course, or in-person live hands-on class. Don’t be that guy/girl who thinks they need to go straight to level 2 because you read some stuff online that makes you a “tuner”, or you’ve been trying to tune a few years. What I’m really saying is, be hungry and be humble. Even after tuning and teaching for 22 years, I’m still learning daily. I actually don’t think people really realize how much they don’t know until they’re about 5-10 years into tuning. That’s when their world changes and they realize how much more is actually happening that they don’t know. It’s kind of like going from learning the Earth isn’t flat to being told there’s an entire Universe out there. If you’re hungry and humble, you will ultimately end up smart.
For everyone looking to end up smart, this is only a toe in the waters of performance tuning. If you’re interested in exploring the ‘tuning universe’ check out The Tuning School’s YouTube page And if you’re ready to learn how to tune your own car, check out an enthusiast bundle like this GM Pro Bundle with laptop.
For more information, check out this episode of Tech Tuesday.