When we get customer questions, without a doubt, the most common questions come from tuning. It's no surprise either, creating custom tuning is an incredibly complex process that can (and will) take years to perfect. Rather than listen to us talk about it we figured we'd go to the source, and chat with one of the best in the industry, Mitch Cooper at Coopers Custom Solutions (CCS).
So, we did a little Q&A with Mitch over email, with some help from our Customers and Followers on Instagram, we got a list of questions we wanted him to answer. Here's what we found out.
What got you into the industry? How did you start tuning?
I started in and around 2008-2009 when my Dad and I went to an auto wrecker and happen to come across a 2001 LB7 with the front end smashed in. I think it was for sale for 3 or 4K, which at the time, it was really only 7 years or so old. I convinced him to buy it and we rebuilt the front end of the truck shortly after. Once it was up and running I got bit by the go-fast bug and went searching for ways to make it faster.
I stumbled upon EFILive and my folks ended up getting me an EFILive Flashscan V2 for Christmas and that was it, from there I was looking at calibrations almost every single day for the past 12-13-14 years now. I was lucky to get into it before the custom tuning era for diesel engines really took off, it allowed me to learn and improve my methods well before there was even much of a market for it. I started working and flashing trucks around full-time jobs, during university, I more or less paid for my post-secondary education with it.
From there I met my now wife who many of our early customers will have met, she was installing switches and tunes for me while I was working a full-time job in the oil and gas industry. We got lucky, and right as oil started to tank (don't get me started on that mess) I was able to transition into full time tuning getting our own shop in Nisku, Alberta shortly after. From that day we have just been pushing every single day to improve what we offer and grow our customer base. We are now a small group of 6 people working out of that same shop we started in.
We now support many customers daily with hopes that this current trend continues so we can keep on doing what we love!
Why can't you tune my L5P the same way you tuned my LML?
On the L5P, GM increased the encryption to the point where it has made it much more difficult to do what we could in the past. Something relatively easy to do on an LML has become increasingly hard on the newer trucks. That being said, my expertise is not so much on this side of things, I specialize in the production of files and the way the truck runs at the end of the day. Companies such as HP Tuners have found a costly hardware workaround, but it does work as intended.
Is this something that you think will change down the road or will they always be this way?
Rumors are everywhere, I hope that one day this will change as the industry as a whole is going that direction, the C7ZR1 has the same encryption as well and I'm sure the C8 Corvette and all the future generations from GM will too.
What's your favorite year of Duramax to tune? Why?I like the LB7s, simple, easy to make power, quick to flash (when you don't run into the 01-05 communication issues of course). With each generation of Dmax after you just get layer upon layer of sophistication which is not necessarily a bad thing, but just adds to the complexity of what we need to do.
What are your expectations for 2020+ GM Trucks?
I would hope for the newer GM stuff to be more easily tunable, however, as we get closer to self-driving vehicles, and vehicles that need to be constantly online I understand that manufacturers need to secure these vehicles as they can be hijacked remotely and cause all sorts of issues. Have you seen Fast & Furious 8? It's a movie but it is the main concern for OEMs with having vehicles online without proper security.
Why can't you tune the 2020 Superduty yet? Do you have a timeline or is it still in the air?
This is out of my wheelhouse, as much as I feel that I know, reverse engineering the read/write process is not one of those things. Once someone who is adept in cracking these trucks figures it out and releases it to the public, then, that is where I start doing what I love to do and playing with calibrations and working to build some files for the platform.
What is your favorite tune you've created for the Powerstroke platform?
I feel like I have had the most success on the 2017-2019 Superduty trucks over the past year, partially due to having my own personal 6.7L to play with. It also helps just having good friends and the right resources in the industry to be able to get what I need to do my job. I'm very proud of our 2017-2019 6.7L transmission tuning, it's something that I have spent countless hours on and have figured out a few things that most would overlook to start with. I have found with tweaking and playing with the values/tables have really worked to settle down many of the transmission issues guys were having early on. Generally, I can rate a profile I released by how long it's up before I need to release a revision, and my 2017-2019 tuning has been up for some time with no revisions. I call that a win in my books.
What's the difference in making a 50HP Tow Tune vs 200HP Race Tunes?
Horsepower Ratings are just a number, they vary depending on the dyno, on the mods, or on the general condition of the truck. We rate them by horsepower levels but at the end of the day, it's just a general number or a file name to separate it from the larger and smaller files.
Basically, my general layout begins with a very small file or something around stock HP levels. From there, I make a big file that typically is about 80-90% of the capacity of the stock components. I then work in between the two to fill out all the middle files by tweaking things like timing and boost to give the desired effect (turbo brake, a higher boost for towing at lower RPM, etc.)
What's the biggest restriction to making power on the 6.7L Powerstroke when tuning?
Honestly, there really isn't one. The transmission is great on the 2017-2019 6.7L and the engine will easily make and run a 200HP file. It's a great platform for guys wanting a 500hp truck that remains reliable. Essentially, with proper tuning, you can get to that 80-90% mark of the stock components and everything seems to do its job and stay together even after putting it through some abuse.
2020+ Superduty Tuning Expectations
Hopefully, we can get tuning support for them shortly. Then I can start the whole '17-19 game all over again to build and dial in files to fill out what we offer for them. I'm working on finishing up the 2019 Ram Tuning (CSP is due to be released here right away) and then I hope this will be the next spot where I will be spending the majority of my time.
5.9L or 6.7L. Why?
Both are great and make crazy power. Stock for stock, I would probably do a 5.9L with the 48RE and stay away from the 68RFE. That being said, if we are talking about a year, I just can't say no to the new interior on the 2019+ Rams, they did a really good job rounding out that interior.
How different is tuning the 5th Gen Cummins vs 4th Gen?
It's very similar to 2018, much of the changes we made on our 2018 were carried over to the 2019 Cummins. The most noticeable change is in the fuel pump on the 2019 and the fact that Cummins finally switched over to a CP4 to match GM & Ford. It's a shame but it was bound to happen as bosch is more than likely looking to phase out the older CP3 pump. Unfortunately, as we all know the CP4 reliability has been questionable over the years and is more susceptible to bad fuel and letting go which causes a ton of damage.
2020+ Cummins Expectations
Let's hope they keep the CM2450 for a while and we can get a few good years into this ECM. The CM2350 is what they used on 2013-2018 models, so let's just hope this run is as long and we can feel confident that each new year of the Cummins will be the same as the next for tuning.
What's your platform to tune? Why?
It moves around depending on outstanding issues and what I'm currently banging my head up against. I began my career as a GM tuner, but, when EFILive was released for the Cummins then we slowly transitioned into do more Cummins than Duramax. In 2019 we took a huge leap forward in the number of Superduty trucks we have been doing. All in all, If I have the correct tools that I need to do my job, then I enjoy all the platforms. It's just a matter of figuring out the jigsaw puzzle that is tuning.
What are your thoughts on Emissions ON Tuning?
It's coming, and I am welcoming it. It adds a ton of requirements when making a good file and way more for me to think about since we're adding Emission System Tuning on-top of the engine systems. It''s still new to many tuners and it will take quite some time for anyone to figure it out entirely and improve the emission systems reliability.
At the end of the day, emission systems fail, and many dealers and independent shops have no experience in diagnosing these systems. They are used to either replacing them or removing them entirely instead of properly diagnosing the issue. That is changing, not only is it going to be a whole new deal with tuners, but shops will have their hands full properly diagnosing and repairing these systems.
What changes do you foresee in the way we tune trucks in the future?
Emissions On tuning will be a big change, which we can deal with and are willing to work with every customer that wants to go that route.
What tunes do you recommend to someone who just wants a reliable economy tune?
I suggest a 0-75hp file for anyone that wanting to have peace of mind that they are not working things too hard. It will give you a noticeable improvement in throttle response, overall feel, and driveability of the truck. It's a small enough file that you won't have to worry about damaging other components, and honestly, it's probably 90% of the files we sell. Next to no tweaks needed, just load em and go.
What tunes do you recommend for someone looking to race?
Race tuning is built for the truck in most cases with data logging. There are different levels of race tuning, do you have a trailer queen race truck in which case every single HP counts. Maybe you have a truck with a sled deck in the back towing a 4 place through the mountains and you just want to feel good knowing your truck has enough power to cause internal damage at the touch of your foot?
Generally, when it comes to a race tune, I push the truck to about that 80-90% of its capabilities area. This leaves some room and is relatively safe (depending on who's behind the wheel). Then, it's up to the customer and what they want to do. If they want to continue to push, I'll make it clear what the possible outcomes are and that things can, and often do, break. At the end of the day, I'll do whatever you want to do, but I'll be real about what I feel you're up against.
What's the difference between tuning an old truck vs a new one? What steps did you need to take to crack the newer trucks?
The main difference is the level of complexity in the tunes. For example, a 2001 Duramax had only a few tables responsible for the final timing output, now, on the newer trucks, you have tables on-top of tables working simultaneously to give you the final output. On the 2011-2016 LML, they went as far as to add a humidity sensor to the intake to properly determine the density of the air, it's crazy. It goes to show how far engineers are going to control the outputs of the ECM.
What is the most common issue you face when tuning? Customers, Updates, Dealerships?
Most customers are great, which we are thankful for. The biggest issue we have is ensuring our customers go through the proper channels of communication when they need help or to get in touch with us. While we do have a phone number, all support is pushed through emails where we can prioritize and make sure we get back to everyone in a timely manner. Emails give us a history and record of discussion to aid in looking back should we ever need to.
What would you tell someone that wants to learn how to tune?
I would tell them to start with a pre-emissions truck and learn on those, then go from there. The new stuff is pretty locked down and unless you want to do Emissions On tuning, you will struggle to get anywhere fast with it.
I'm 11-12 years (I think) into this now and I'm still learning and improving, it's not something that's quick to learn by any means. Knowing what you want for outputs like timing, fuel pressure, boost, etc is the easy part. Getting the ECM to do what you want is the struggle.
What's the biggest tune you can run while still keeping the truck reliable?
It really varies from truck to truck. If we assume it has no other modifications other than tuning I would say the 2001-2010 Duramax is about 100HP. The 2011-2016 LML is about 120-150HP, ideally with transmission tuning.
For the Cummins, 2006-2019 is about 120HP, sometimes you're lucky with the 68RFE, other times you're not.
When it comes to Ford, the 2008-2010 6.4L is quite high around 200HP. I would say the same for the 6.7L Powerstroke would again be around 200HP, but keep in mind the early 6.7L have a weaker turbo that can begin to show its face.
This is all what I personally consider safe levels, it by no means is a max that each engine can do, it's typically where I aim to be on our basic starter files for most customers.
What's your favorite tuning platform (EZ/Smarty/EFI)? Why?
I like the software that provides the best data logging after the fact. A the end of the day it helps me help my customers when problems arise. EFI & MM3 are definitely leading the way with the loggers and what it allows me to do and see.
HP Tuners is great as well, we just do not use them much at this time. The EZ-Lynk Auto Agent platform has the potential to be great as well, it is easily the best platform for sending profiles and ensuring customers get automatic updates. However, it is limited by the ability to only log 8 PIDs (which are pretty standard PIDs). This makes it tough, also, the way it displays data does not let the tuner manipulate it and display it in different ways. I would love to see a CSV export feature for logging in EZ-Lynk and that way we could use 3rd part logging programs to display the data as well.
As someone with loads of experience in the industry. Where do you see the diesel industry moving?
I tend to have a more pessimistic outlook than others, and I hope I'm wrong but I see the tuning world getting increasingly difficult to be in. Manufacturers are really stepping up their security year after year and making it more difficult to do our job. That being said, I am aware that this has always been the case, even since 2001 and we're still here chugging along.
I really do hope it continues, but if there does come a time where the manufacturers are successfully able to us out then the entire aftermarket world will suffer as most modifications require tuning. Do you think your second-gen is worth a lot now hahaha? The last generation of 'tunable trucks' will be your new 2nd Gens. Let's just hope things keep going how they are going!
What are the issues with Advanced Timing in Canned Tunes?
Lots of older tuners loved timing, it's the main reason I believe people said the 3rd Gen Cummins had bad headgaskets and started the whole 'Stud First' conversation. I think it was the 30+ Degrees of Timing that everyone was throwing at these trucks. It's one of the very few cases where guys actually blamed the truck when in fact I think it was the tuning all along.
Do you still experience exhaust filters plugging up with Emissions on Tuning?
Yes, you can very much still experience that, generally what you see happen is the EGR will stick and fail just enough so that it will begin to generate a ton of soot that will instantly plug up the DPF. This will cause nothing but issues, I've seen it so many times before where guys order files for the truck, do all the work, we get it running and what do you know, the EGR was open the whole time. However, it's typically not the fault of the DPF itself but the "Don't Diagnose Just Replace" mentality. SCR systems, on the other hand, are a basket case.
How fed up are you with Spencer's phone calls?
Who is Spencer lol?
Grape Jelly or Strawberry Jam?
Call me crazy but I love me some marmalade jam :)
Should Jordan build an Any Level Shop Truck?
Only if he agrees to drive it around with the front lifted up as high as it will go with the rear on the ground for a month after installing the lift.
If you could tell all your customers something, what would it be?
All good tuners strive to be as good as they can be. However, issues arise all the time but you have to give us time to work through those issues and work with you to ensure the tune is exactly what you want it to be. To expect perfection from a custom tune on day one is going to cause issues that are really unnecessary.
Every truck can be different, and every truck can be finicky. Sometimes it's an issue with the truck, other times it's not. Either way, when you purchase a file from a tuner you are not just buying the file, you're buying the necessary support to ensure it running correctly.