The worst corner to cut.
There was a time when I had to force myself to limit the number of DSM/Mitsubishi stories in the magazine out of concern for alienating owners of other marques. It would seem I’ve done too good a job of that, because I can’t remember the last DSM we ran. That changes today, and I’m glad it’s David Aguado. His car was smokin’ hot, his work, above rebuke, and I’ve heard his name more than a couple times. I’m sure you know there’s a “tuner” in just about every major metro, but few of them gain notoriety nationwide, which is what it would seem he’s doing. That’s solid.
[bd] Introductions: Who are you, where are you, and what do you do for a living?
[da] My name is David Aguado, I’m located in Miami, Florida, and I am a Intermodal/Logistics coordinator for a major Steamship Line.
[bd] What does an “intermodal/logistics coordinator for a major steamship line” do? Have you picked up any skills in this line of work which help outside of work? Our automotive pursuits integrate into the rest of our personal and professional lives just as much as anything else. That is, we don’t believe in separating these two areas as much as society would maybe suggest we should. Understandable if you don’t want to drop your employer’s name here, but can you tell us a little bit about what you do? (And are there really still STEAMships out there? I thought they were all diesel/nuclear/electric these days.)
[da] Well, I work for a company named Mediterranean Shipping Company. It’s a company based out of Geneva, Switzerland, that provides transport of containerized cargo all over the world (literally). So knowing that, I am heavy into the customer service, data entry portion of it. I may have 200-300 containers a week with valuable cargo I need to ensure gets delivered to a customer anywhere in southern Florida in a timely manner. Sounds easy, but factor in all those containers, all the different parties, emails, and phone calls. Yeah, I must say it can be pretty hectic.
I have definitely picked up many skills that help outside of work. The company is HUGE on customer service so I definitely can apply that to tuning, per se, and handling the different variations of customers I can have. It’s a very common sense and logic-intensive job, so I would definitely say it keeps me on my toes with my proactivity and desire to help and fix things.
As far as the STEAMships go, I think that’s just because the first ships that started doing containerized cargo were steam, I guess? Never really looked into that matter. [laughs] Our current ships are diesel.
[bd] Introductions: Tell us a little bit about your DSM. Why is it so cleeeeeeeaaaan? How do you approach maintenance and modifications? What’s the overall build philosophy for this machine?
[da] Why so clean heh? Well, it’s been a long ride and lots of hard work. I’ve had the car for about eight years, just working on it slowly but surely. My approach is simple – do I need it or not, and will it meet the long term goals I have with the car. Overall philosophy is to build a 650-700AWHP car that can be a daily driver if I wished. I have so far accomplished that to the extent that my stock [2.0L, inline 4-cylinder, Mitsubishi 4G63T] bottom end has allowed which is currently around mid 500s.
[Edit: Shortly after this story was drafted, David reported 600AWHP on that same stock bottom end.]
[bd] So much to discuss on the history of the car, present tune, and overall goals. (I’m a DSMer at heart. These interests run deep.) Let’s start with the history. It’s currently 2014, which means if you’ve had the car 8 years, it had to be at least 8 years old when you bought it. Tell us about the foundation of your build. What condition was it in when you bought it? What were its immediate needs? Had it been well-loved by the previous owner, or did you save it from the crusher’s jaws?
[da] [The] car wasn’t bad at all when I got it. It was actually an Eagle Talon; had a small hit on the drivers side. It didn’t really need any immediate attention. I didn’t work on it much when I first got it, as I had other priorities, but once I had it for about two or three years, I figured it was time to get to work on it. Since then, it’s been through many different setups and parts but the goal was the same all along.
[bd] Why “Chicken Tuned?” What’s that all about? How did you get started and how did you come by this name? Don’t most shops have clever names relating to boost or performance or abbreviations? Why “chicken?”
[da] Well, back in high school, I wasn’t one to like school lunch much, but for some reason I loved the chicken patties they served. So it was someones clever idea to call me “Chicken Patty.” That’s how that started. Of course, it’s just a funny nickname.
When I started getting into tuning, just on my own car. I immediately had some success with it, so people wanted the touch on their cars. Started off just doing it within friends, then it just sorta escalated from there. Of course, since at this point no one knew who David was but only “chicken,” I decided to just call my tuning “chicken tuned.” Pretty straight forward heh?
[bd] Here’s a biggie. How did you get into tuning? When was that? What kind of formal training have you had? Results (and happy customers) speak for themselves, of course, but how do you stay on top of your game? Is the tuning industry one where practitioners learn as they go? Isn’t that a little risky for the customer?
[da] I got into tuning because I just found it extremely interesting. I took my car, an SRT4 that I had before this DSM, to a buddy a couple times and had him tune it once or twice. I think, since then, it just really sparked my interest. At the time, it was only an SAFC, but it was a starting point. Then when I got my DSM, I got [ECM]Link and that’s when things really took off for me.
I haven’t really had any “formal” training. I spent countless hours and hours reading and researching, and trying on my own personal car. Forums have been great help – all the online community has been. I think, just with the practice on my car, I’ve evolved and learned so much. Then my close friends needed tunes, and so forth it went. As far as staying on top of my game, I think being humble and showing respect plays my most important role. Because I meet those two criteria, I’ve had the opportunity to work with different customers and different platforms, even platforms that are new to me. I’ve been able to expand and learn because the customer, though he knew I might not have had any experience (example: first time I tuned a Subaru), admired my way of being and my desire to help and excel.
Apart from that, the respect part has allowed me to talk and become actually good friends with many extremely knowledgeable people in the tuning world. We help each other whenever possible and exchange very valuable information as needed. Usually tuners seem to be on the cocky side and don’t want to share their secrets, which I can respect. But it’s really nice when, even at one in the morning, I have the slightest issue with a car, I can message someone and chances are I’ll get a solution within minutes. It’s a beautiful thing and that has really allowed me to stay on top of my game.
[bd] Now, you say your overall philosophy is 650-700AWHP you can daily drive if you wish, and that you’re currently running mid-500HP on the stock bottom end. There was a time when 400BHP was considered the ragged edge of stock-bottom-end DSM performance. This was the case for so long, 400 is almost a rule of thumb these days. How have you exceeded that widely accepted number by more than 25%, and what stands between you and a pile of scrap? How forgiving is life at the limits of stock-bottom-end power levels?
[da] Well, I must say that technology has played a big part in these changes and “limitations,” as well as the new favorite, E85 fuel. The engine management systems have gotten SO much better, we now have E85 at the pump in most of the US. These two things alone were the difference from making 400whp safely, to now making 600whp on a stock bottom end and holding for some time. Of course, these things are only as good as the tuner and the mechanic allow them to be.
[bd] Assuming you achieve this goal, if you’re not going to daily drive it, what are you going to do with it? Even doing it yourself – and doing it right – those numbers, with any kind of reliability, don’t come cheap. Seems a lot of time and money to keep covered up in the garage otherwise. How will this car be used come that time?
[da] I have and always will have a car that will be my daily driver, but I don’t necessarily drive it everyday. I still drive my DSM to work or everyday chores at least twice a week. I guess my other car is not a daily driver, but more of a second car that I can use in case the DSM is down for whatever reason and not stress about having to cheap out and cut corners just because I need it running.
When it meets the goals I have for it, it’ll still get driven to work, around the city, and the occasional drag strip fun. I just took it on a road trip to Tampa, Florida, and back. Didn’t even feel it! Regardless of cost, I will maintain that feeling and reliability.
[bd] Let’s take a high level look at tuning. How important would you say tuning is compared to modifications? More or less important? Why?
[da] I think tuning is definitely the mostimportant modification of all. Cars are designed and then calibrated from the factory for optimum performance while still being able to be driven anywhere and anyhow without risk of failure. I mean, car manufacturers mass produce thousands and millions of vehicles driven all over the world without hiccups or any failures due to the factory “tune” or ECU calibration loaded at the factory by their engineers.
What would you think happens if you were to grab a Hyundai Genesis 2.0T for example, and after the car is done and calibrated, you add an intake system, a downpipe, and added boost without touching the calibration? It might be fine for a while, but when you sell so many of them, and so many of them in different regions and climates, sooner or later, you are bound to have problems. Customers calling about CELs coming on, engines bogging, misfiring under boost, oil consumption issues, and so on.
So yes, even if all you did was something as simple as an intake and a downpipe, a proper tune will always ensure your car is calibrated for its current mods and running at optimum performance. I mean, even in stock form there is tons of room for improvement with just a tune, as the factory is concerned with long term reliability over absolute power.
[bd] If tuning is so important, why do so many people seem to treat it as such a relatively low priority? What kind of objections/excuses do you most commonly get from people? How do you address those concerns?
[da] One of the main reasons I think people treat it as low priority is intimidation and pricing. You can find your basic bolt-ons for very cheap. You know, your usual intake, exhaust, BOV, boost controller – those kind of parts – you can even find used for a steal. You can’t find a used tune for cheap. Actually no tune should be cheap. If the person charges you peanuts, chances are that is what you are getting – a cheap tune.
The reason I mentioned intimidation is because how often do you here “I put a BOV and blew the car up?” Now, how often do you here “I got the car tuned and it blew up a month later?” I think people know a tune gone wrong can result in disaster and I believe to those who don’t really know the significance of a real tune, they rather just stay away. We might spend a lot of money on our cars, but we don’t spend it lightly. We like to know what we’re doing, and it can be challenging to fully understand the finer details of quality tuning.
I think the biggest excuses I get are all along the lines of “Is my car going to blow up?” or “Do you guarantee the car will not blow up?” The thing people have to understand is that any engine that you want to push further than stock is going to have a higher risk of failure. I think this is something that, when we decide to modify cars as a hobby or profession, we have to accept and understand – component failures, regardless where they occur, are always possible. I am more than confident I know what I am doing and my work is good, but there are a million and one things that can go wrong, aside from the tune.
[bd] How do you tune? Do you use specific tools or platforms? I mean, do you stick with ECMlink or also tune with Megasquirt, AEM, Haltech, MoTeC, et al.? Tell us a little bit about which you prefer and why.
[da] I use a couple of different software and engine management systems. I am a part time, freelance tuner, therefore I have tried to control my expansion a bit with different platforms and EMSs because I can only do so much in the time I have. As is, I barely have time and spend most of my days working after work (see what I did there)?
Right now, I currently tune ECMLink, EcuFlash, Greddy E-Manage, AEM FIC, AEM EMS, Cobb Access Port, HPTuner, and a few other smaller, less popular products out there. I think by far, and oddly, my favorite of all the systems I’ve personally worked with.is the AEM EMS. Many tell me “Why? It’s a standalone. Link is so much easier.” While yes, Link is probably the most user-friendly software I’ve used, I also find having that extra control from a standalone EMS actually makes it easier to do certain things. I guess to some that are not familiar with stand alones, yes, it would be a nightmare, but I’m very familiar, have plenty of experience, and it actually is my favorite software to use at the moment.
[bd] Can (and do) you tune cars for people who aren’t local? How does it work either way (local vs. remote)?
[da] I do. I’ve remote tuned one car in Europe actually; was just a base tune though. I’ve done cars all over the US, all the way from Florida to New York and from east to west coast. Remote tune and email tunes is the way I do it, or if there is enough interest, I can arrange to take a trip to any particular location like I have in the past to Jacksonville, Florida, for example.
[bd] Right now, it’s a safe bet to assume you’re tuning fuel and ignition curves. With the latest crop of direct-injected and otherwise electronically controlled vehicles (eg; electric throttle, steering, suspension, etc.) how much potential do you – as a professional tuner – see for further vehicle calibrations? How much can we do to adjust direct-injected fuel systems? What about adjusting steering or throttle response (or handling via suspension)?
[da] That is correct, although it goes way beyond just fuel and ignition curves. Vehicles nowadays do give you many more options as they become more and more electronically controlled. I’ve personally never messed with cars that have electronically controlled suspension, but I have tuned many cars with electronic throttle. It’s a good bit different frp, the mechanical throttle, as it adds throttle tables that not only change the way the car behaves, but affects your boost curve as well. I won’t go into detail as I can go on forever about it, but it can definitely change the car from meh to awesome with a few strokes of the keyboard.
[bd] As vehicles get more and more computer controlled, it would seem we’ll have even more control over them through tuning. Some people are worried about OEMs limiting access to these systems, including engine tuning. What have you heard along these lines? How does what you’ve heard about the future of vehicles make you feel about the future of tuning?
[da] Well, although there is information out there, I’d say we are still limited to know what may be implemented in the future. I know, years ago, the dealership would never know if you had tuned the car prior to your service visit if you were missing a rod in your block. Nowadays, some cars allow them to pull records indicating anywhere from when it was flashed, to when you popped the hood (figure of speech). So yeah, I guess if they really wanted to limit us they can, but then again, if someone wrote the code, someone can break it. I would say the future in tuning is still going to be very interesting, especially with all the new technology being introduced in today’s platforms.
[bd] Finally, what’s next for Chicken Tuned? What goals are you working toward? What kind of challenges are you most looking forward to? And where can people find you online to learn more?
[da] What’s next? Hmmm… Well, I just want to continue providing great customer service as I always have, and to keep putting smiles on people’s faces when they drive the car for the first time after the tune. I hope to expand a tad more than I am now, but not get too crazy.
The biggest challenge is that, as a freelancer and part time tuner, it’s a little harder to get your hands on new platforms and tools, as compated to full time professional tuners that do it for a living, but if I want to survive I will have to. It’ll be challenging to learn some more platforms and just expand a bit more to the crowd of modern technology as I have already started, but I would like to spend some more time around them than what I currently do.
. . .
In catching up with David for the high quality pictures which accompany this feature – courtesy Christian Saldana of lowerklasse.com – I not only learned he’d ended up reaching 600awhp with the car – on the stock bottom end – but then dropped this bombshell on me…
[da] I sold the car [in May], man. It was just becoming a bit more than I could handle at the time. Funny, because I was the most excited ever about everything going on and the popularity the car was getting, but after 7 years I just felt it was time to simplify my life and move on. I am in close contact with the new owner though, so at least it gives me peace of mind. So yeah, this feature means a lot. Even though I don’t have the DSM anymore, it will always be a part of me. I accomplished a lot with the DSM.
SO, TUNING. ARE YOU CHICKEN?
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