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Quite simply, I want to begin tuning and modifying automotive engines for hobby. I have always been fascinated with cars, and I want to become knowledgeable in as many aspects of car tuning as possible. In particular, I want to learn the right way. How can I start this the right way? The "right way" being a more thorough approach than simply doing google searches until the end of time.

I know this is a vague question, so let me give some background. I am a technical person so I am able to (and do so for a living) read and understand technical documentation. I am the type of person who wants to understand how something works before I work on it. Many people jump into engine "tuning" before knowing a single thing! I know of people trying to install big injectors and turbos and they know nothing of the underlying principles. I don't want to be that guy. I know this is a long road, and many things are only learned through experience. Having said that I want to benefit from others' experiences.

By learning engine tuning, I want to be able to learn/know the following:

  • Have intimate knowledge of all vital components of the modern internal combustion engine
  • How to properly understand and examine modern engine parameters (duty cycles, timing, temperatures, etc)

  • How to determine and create the proper fuel and timing maps for a modified engine

  • How to determine when (and why) a current engine tune/map is insufficient/incorrect

Now, I also know that one answer is to study specific questions like these. However, I am hoping that someone will be able to share resources which help getting someone such as myself started on the proper track. I want to learn this as if I was starting into a career as a race mechanic. If possible please suggest text books which can help me get started.

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3 Answers 3

this is only one of probably many paths that you could take, but this is what I've done:

  1. go online to a local community college and look through automotive classes they offer. Select an intro class (or maybe few different classes) and note the textbook they are using. Buy and read that text book cover to cover. The intro book had great overview (as well as many details) into general workings of a car. That one book is enough for you to go the track, talk to race guys and actually know enough terms to hold up your end of a conversation (although stick as much as you can to listening :) )
  2. Buy few books on engine tuning. There are some good ones but some are also old. General theory still applies and if book has good reviews, I suggest you read it. However few things, like porting heads (using dremel to optimize air flow inside heads/intakes) no longer apply as new technology, like CNC along with computer modeling, can pretty much produce optimal heads which will get no benefit from manual porting.
  3. Subscribe to Hot Rod and Car Craft magazines. Some great articles and they cover latest technologies in just about anything that comes out. I chose these magazines because they focus more on classics and stay away from cars which were made popular by Fast and Furious. Also as any typical american, I strongly believe that 8 cylinders is better than 6 or 4 and for those that start moaning about the weight... I drive a 3100 lbs car with all aluminum LS6 V8 and perfect 50/50 weight distribution between front and rear :) Btw, this is just my personal preference but I have full respect for Japanese engines that redline at 9k rpm.
  4. Pick a car (or 2), buy it and work on it. Choose one that has a good following and a good community behind it, then find a forum that has these people and make it your home. I spent years reading thirdgen.org, which is strictly 3rd generation F-body (camaro/firebird) cars and has a ton of guys who can take apart that entire car bolt by bolt and put it back together in a week. Just make sure whatever forum you pick, it is not full of kids that discuss which spray paint and coffee can for exhaust makes their Civic go faster. Those type of sites actually scare away knowledgeable people that you would want to talk to.
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The best method I have found is talking to the guys who know. As DXM says, a good community forum can get you a long way, but there is really no substitute for sitting chatting to a genuine expert over a beer or two - and most (particularly the self-taught amateurs who have already been through the same process, or the older, retired engineers who want to pass their knowledge on before it gets lost) that I have come across will be all to happy to talk to a 'newbie' providing you are clearly keen, and show that you've done your homework and can ask sensible reasoned questions.

I am assuming from what you've written that you're already familiar with the basic principles of the 2- and 4-stroke I/C engines, if not Wikipedia has some good introductory articles (In fact, I would recommend reading them anyway, if only to follow the links to some of the more interesting, esoteric engine designs. I defy any technically competent person to watch the animation of the Napier Deltic engine and not be impressed...)

On the subject of books, it's a difficult call, as there are hundreds of them out there (and they're probably different between the UK and US). I'll agree that the older ones are often the best, but won't cover the more modern subjects - but then, IMHO, there is no point trying to understand (say) modern fuel management systems until you know what the engine is doing with that fuel.

I would also suggest looking at more than just the engine in isolation. That is just one part of the car, and I believe that you can get a much better understanding of what the engine needs to do if you're also familiar at least the basics of how the car steers. handles and stops, how the power is transmitted to the wheels, etc.

Learning through experience helps too - having a carburettor in bits on the bench in front of you and being able to handle the parts and see how they all go together makes far more sense (to me at least) than just looking at a photo in a book - It is worth buying cheap, secondhand copies of the workshop manuals for whatever cars you are interested in so you can keep one in your work area and not worry about getting it oily.

Hope that gives you some food for thought - I'm no expert on tuning, but I've got a pretty good understanding of how the engine works in the first place, and it's all self-taught using the tricks above, and those listed in DXM's answer

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With the advent of electronics into cars and engine controls the Good Old Days of souping them up has gone. Vehicle manufacturers cover millions of miles and thousands of hours of testing to turn out that shiny new motor you see in the showroom window. You would need to spend tens of thousands of pounds on equipment such as dynometers and computers to even make a dent in improving them and then you have got public liability.Allan-UK

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