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Hack Your Ignition (Before Someone Else Does) 439

guanxi writes: "IEEE Spectrum has an interesting article about hacking and specifically, the "hacker's nirvana on wheels", all the way from hot-rodding to reprogramming your digital ignition. Of course, I neither endorse nor recommend any of the procedures mentioned, any of which may be inherently dangerous to your life and your warranty. "
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Hack Your Ignition (Before Someone Else Does)

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  • Digital Odometers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 04, 2002 @11:47PM (#3288691)
    How about hacking digital odometers?
    I'd imaging it is just stored in memory somewhere. Set'er back to 0 and no one would be the wiser!
    • There are devices for hacking odometers of various cars. The "all makes and models" variety routinely sell for 2500-3000 on ebay. I imagine there are quite a few cars out there with dialed back mileage.

      I personally think that digital odometers were a mistake, but I also think that once you get past the 150k mile mark, mileage is pretty irrelavant, since most of the car has been replaced with newer parts at that point. My old car was in better shape at 140k miles than at 118k. Ive gone through numerous body panels, a radiator, a cylinder head, a few sets of tires, shocks, brakes etc etc. I think I would rather have a rebuilt car with 200k on the clock than an original parts car with 115k.
    • The problem with this is in some (if not most) newer cars not only store the odometer reading digitally but also mechanically somewhere else. (Usually its the other way around the odometer is mechanical, but the milage is also stored in the computer to turn the "change oil" lights and the service engine (on those annoying prissy cars :)). And I have even heard of some with the odometer reading stored twice digitally, one in the dashboard unit and then a separate on in the cars computer. (I believe the lincoln towncar ~94 did this). Its much easier (speaking from real experience) to avoid adding the miles by turning the dashboard off and using a separate circuit to the computer. The DMV (at least in NY) checks for odometer fruad anyway so if you rolled it back you most likly get caught, but if it just stopped or significantly slowed you'd probably get away with it
  • car mods (Score:5, Informative)

    by flynt ( 248848 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @11:48PM (#3288699)
    here is a sweet page about modding cars [teammatrix.com.my]. It can turn you into a ricer real quick. Car mods are pretty popular these days in my town, from big fins to stickers, to large exhaust pipes, there's just no end to the mods.
    • Rice boys.... Heh. The most amusing modification I saw was a Honda Accord or some other non-fast car with a very (very) large stainless steel "wing" on the back. It didn't even make the car look faster or better. Definitely furious, but far from fast.

      The modifications that really make a difference almost always take place under the hood, invisible to the rice eye.

    • Large _tail_ pipes are cool, as they don't dull street performance, but large _exhaust_ diameters are bad news. They only function well at high RPM's and narrow power bandwidths. Gearing gets to be a major factor, and a PITA, if you're doing street.
    • Re:car mods (Score:3, Funny)

      by FFFish ( 7567 )
      Yah, nothing like "go-faster" stripes and a coffee can duct-taped onto the exhaust to make you a Real Man.

      Saw a pickup truck with a fin the other day. Dumbest-looking thing I've seen.

      Also saw a monster-sized truck tooling around town with a biiiig sticker across the back window: "Size Does Matter!" Pity the poor fool: by my survey, most people immediately think "Which must be why you're compensating, eh?"
      • Yeah those kids crack me up, from the coffee can exhaust that completly destroys their back pressure, to the huge spoiler which is generally only useful at high speeds. They don't seem to understand that building horsepower takes planning and intelligence. You don't just slap crap on your civic and it's suddenly the fastest thing on the road. I never understood the concept of hopping up a four-cylinder car anyway, if you're going to spend the money start with a Mustang or Camaro for quarter mile application or a Subaru (or something else, don't know much about rally/road racing type cars) for high performance handling and speed.

        There's a ton of rice boys where I live (in MD) it's a riot when I'm out on my bike and the pull up in the other lane revving their engines. They always want to race, demonstrating their lack of understanding, and they always get dusted.

        • to the huge spoiler which is generally only useful at high speeds

          Actually, if you think about it, a big-assed spoiler on the rear of a front wheel drive car is a pretty stupid thing. You're getting downforce on the wrong wheels.

          • To tell you the truth I don't know much about front wheel drive cars (I'm a bike guy), but that makes sense. I would imagine that the down force is necessary regardless of which drive configuration you have for handling, though it's probably useless to have a high degree of downforce on one half of the car and little on the other.
            • The only problem is that the downforce is extra energy taken away from the car to slow it down. Not too usefull for the cruise down the highway unless available horsepower is on par with 1000hp Formula cars.

              I doubt they would be going +100mph through the neighborhood corners taking advantage of the extra downforce. The trees will catch them.
          • Re:car mods (Score:2, Insightful)

            by jamie ( 78724 )
            "a big-assed spoiler on the rear of a front wheel drive car is a pretty stupid thing. You're getting downforce on the wrong wheels."

            You usually are even on a rear-wheel-drive car. Almost every car sold to consumers understeers (meaning, in a corner at speed, when the tire adhesion limit is reached, the front tires start to slide first).

            This is much safer than oversteer (rear tires slide first) for the average driver. Sliding off the road is bad, but not as bad as going into a spin. And if the driver is sharp enough to nail the brakes before the car leaves the pavement, the speed reduction and weight transfer mean the front tires get their bite back, and average drivers can hopefully steer out of the problem (especially with ABS, which rocks).

            So unless you have a Porsche 911 or one of the 3 other bizarro mass-market cars that oversteer, think about what this hypothetical rear spoiler will do. Assume you have a rear-wheel-drive car. And assume for the sake of argument that this spoiler actually has a significant effect by the time you get up to 120 MPH or so. Your car's front wheels are going to go in a straight line if you try to take a corner too hard. Is it really smart to allot yourself an extra KICKASS 0.01 g of forward acceleration limit that your engine has no chance of even getting near anyway, at the cost of being a little more likely to pilot your 120 MPH car into a tree?

            Spoilers are funny.

    • Re:car mods (Score:4, Informative)

      by laserjet ( 170008 ) on Friday April 05, 2002 @03:10AM (#3289225) Homepage
      check out riceboyz.com [slashdot.org] if you want a look at all the funny ricer cars...

    • big fins isnt a mod, nor stickers or neon or anything else those posers use.
      a mod is taking the 4cyl iron duke out of my 1984 Fiero and shoehorning in a Chevy V8 from a Camaro IrocZ (www.v8archie.com) or maybe a northstar engine from a caddie.
      Then replacing the brake calipers (all 4, any car that doesn't have 4 wheel disc brakes is a poser car.) with oversized vented and cross drilled rotors and 3 piston calipers, replacing the suspension to get a fully adjustable racing suspension, replace the swaybars with 2 inch thick racing bars with active adjustment.

      That is modding a car... When I take her out of the garage and it still looks pretty much stock.... it eats all the ricers I meet and deals them a nice big helping of humility.

      Modding a car is making it into something that is amazing, not the adding neon (or those stupid windshield washer squirter lights) a fake wing and then ruin the suspension an performance by putting on 13 inch deep dished rims with extenders to overstress the wheel bearings. It's making it holy-damned fast,increasing it's ability to take turns at higher speeds safely, and increasing it's efficiency and stability to the point that you can race it... IMSA racing... anything else is just a bunch of posers trying to look cool.
  • by bollocks ( 80650 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @11:50PM (#3288706)
    to crash the on systems on my current car. It was the first thing I tried, even before finding a deserted country road to find out how fast it could go.

    What I also learnt while I was at it is that since they don't seem to expect anyone to try they don't bother making them tolerant of tampering and after a little playing even a hard reset didn't get it responding, I ended up having to disconnect the battery.
  • Tune with care (Score:5, Insightful)

    by klui ( 457783 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @11:52PM (#3288716)
    One of the problems with tuners is that they add more power without accounting for aging of components. This isn't usually a problem in racing since you're rebuilding your components after every or a number of races. But for "hackers," they often tune it and forget it--or tune it and increase the mods. Sometime down the road, they'll blow a piston or apex seal without warning. Not to mention several thousand dollars' down the drain.

    I personally prefer more conservative tuning, but then when some guy beats you during an ad-hoc "race," your first instinct is "gotta get mo' power."
    • Re:Tune with care (Score:2, Insightful)

      by KernelHappy ( 517524 )
      Very good point. The author also mentions how physical hacking on a car is more expensive because sometimes you have to test things to the point of destruction. He fails to recognize that hacking away at inginition timing and/or the air/fuel mixture through software can cause lots of damage (modified RX7's are great for this).

      I'm all for hacking cars. I personally dislike the way manufacturers today make it nearly impossible to replace a factory stereo without major work. Look at newer Mercedes and BMW's (especially the new 745 with iDrive). There have been plenty of times I wished I could change the way the Mercedes navigation system takes user input (scroll left and right to select letters, I'd much prefer using the numbers on the keypad). I'd also like to fix a bug where the integrated telephone only lets you dial the first number associated with a particular name (Timeports allow multiple number per location/name) but I'm stuck until they get enough complaints and do it themselves.
  • by IronTek ( 153138 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @11:53PM (#3288718) Homepage
    So how do you think you explain this to your car company if you screw it up?

    Honda: "what's the problem, sir"

    You: "well, I was wiring an internal network into my car and fused my hand to the cable and the glove box. Is this covered?"
  • by cscx ( 541332 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @11:54PM (#3288721) Homepage
    Man invents automobile.

    Man builds automobile.

    Man adds digital data bus to automobile.

    Man discovers that you can snoop on automobile's digital data busses.

    Man succeeds.

    Man discovers no useful information from snooping automobile's digital data bus.

    Logical conclusion: Man has too much time on his hands.
  • A question (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sllort ( 442574 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @11:54PM (#3288723) Homepage Journal
    Reverse-engineering is fun. Reverse-engineering embedded systems is even more fun, because it's hard. Reverse-engineering safety-critical embedded systems is really challenging, and not for the stupid.

    Now, what the author is talking about is reverse-engineering the systems that control AntiLock braking, ignition, and transmission control, among other things. It's a really cheap way to improve performance on a car.

    Car companies (well, at least Ford [fordreallysucks.com]) have a bad history when it comes to electronic civil liberties. At what point in reverse-engineering a throttle control system would you be "bypassing an access protection device"? Probably never. But consider that Adobe got someone jailed for breaking ROT13; Cuecat was XOR. If people start selling hot-rod software (and they are), how long will it be till auto manufacturers start answering Yes to the author's "is it encrypted" question. It might only be ROT13, but it would be enough to bust anyone who was selling firmware upgrades for a Mustang and put them out of business for good.

    Anyone remember the 60 minutes Audi 5000 scandal? Where the car's fuel injection system was said to, in rare cases, cause the car to accelerate out of control, causing injury or death? Let your subconcious do the dreaming about the accidents that could come from improperly debugged ABS code or throttle control. Now imagine that someone hacks their car's firmware, crashes in a fireball, and their family sues the automaker. The automaker can't prove that the car was modified... at all.

    My prediction: this stuff will scare automakers shitless, and they will fall all overthemselves to find a way to apply the DMCA to stopping the dissemination of reverse-engineering information.

    Of course, I could be wrong.
    • Re:A question (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ndege ( 12658 )
      it would be enough to bust anyone who was selling firmware upgrades for a Mustang and put them out of business for good.


      Put who out of business!? The car companies? This is stupid. They are not giving away cars like the cuecat was given away, nor are they selling or offering the "firmware" updates. My personal feeling is that the car companies have it right. You purchase the hardware...you don't license it. After it is yours, you can cut it up into little pieces and send each little screw as stocking stuffers to all your family all around the world. You could then, at the next family reunion, put the car back together. The car companies don't care. (It would make news sites such as slashdot.) But, the point is the car companies already made their profit.

      As for the safety point of view: once again, the car companies do not care. There have been thousands of cars chopped to pieces to be something they weren't originally. Think hotrods, think limo's, think tree-hugging hippies that covert their cars to electric. Sometimes the car companies use it as free advertising. Again, they aren't licensing the car, they sold the car. Once people start to modify the car, the car companies are no longer responsible. (ie: with some cars, you can't even take the car to have minor service performed by any company other than the dealer without voiding the warranty and causing a "hands off" condition by the car manufacturer.) The car companies are only responsibile for the original products safety...not ensuring that it can't be "hacked."

      Sorry, but your near-sighted words bother me.


    • Ford Motorsports at least used to sell a device that would let you interface a laptop computer to s special add on engine computer. With this device you could change fuel maps on the fly. The trick is getting it right... The factory could do a much better job unless you had access to a dyno and lot of time on your hands.

      All in all, I think that Ford could care less about ppl hacking the computer systems right now. The trouble is that the EPA bends the car manafacutuers over backwards to make them meet emmisions requirements. If enough ppl modify thier systems without regard for emissions, someone WILL step in about it. Future cars emissions may be the factory's responsibility far after it rolls off the assembly line, at which time the car companies will be more apt to sell 'sealed' systems that the end user cannot modify at all.

      I think modders need to learn environmental responsibility. Right now the quest for a few hundreds off thier ETA lets emissions go out the window. *shurg*
    • It would be extremeley rare for all the components in the car to be destroyed to such a degree that the manufacturer couldn't find out that it had been modified (not to mention possible witnesses etc). Just think of what survives after aiplanes crash..

      However, these are the same arguments that where used long, long ago about other mods to a car - new brakes, suspension, etc. Of course these where easier to detect. I would bet that fairly soon auto manufactures are going to find a way to set a 'flag' somewhere that would alert them to any possible mods a car has had (a little black bock, heavily armored, containing a 16k Flash RAM chip + some sort of protection scheme would do nicely, which BTW, if you decide to mess with you DESERVE to be prosecuted - breach of contract, i.e. warrany. But, in the meantime, you are right - the auto manufactures would/are probably scared of this.

      An interesting note: I DOUBT that an encryption system could be effectively implemented on a car. Considering the extra processing overhead this would require to encrypt/decrypt each communication and with response times needing to be in the thousands of a second (at least) I would be very, very suprised if it would be worth their time + cost effective to implement one.

    • > Now imagine that someone hacks their car's firmware, crashes in a fireball,

      When I saw "Physical hot rodding isn't cheap because it often involves the inadvertent testing to destruction of new ideas and components. Digital hot rodding, though--where software is used to modify how a vehicle does something--is orders of magnitude cheaper and far more accessible." I thought the author doesn't get it just as much as the hardware guys he was talking to. This isn't a simulator, its controllers for real physical hardware. You can blow an engine up by buggering about with the software just as easily as by fiddling with physical stuff.

      And, as you say, in the worst case you can kill people.
    • "Will"? It already does!

      Thing is, it used to be that everything was in ROM, bcos ROM was the only cost-effective long-term storage mechanism. So your code and calibrations are all stored in one chip - you want to replace the chip, you also have to write your own engine control algorithm. Which is a seriously non-trivial exercise if you want to meet emissions regs and get modern levels of fuel economy.

      But manufacturers are now switching to Flash. If there's a bug, you can reflash the controller with a new version of software (see recent reports on bugs in the Ford Focus and Renault Laguna software). Downside is that so can everyone else. So manufacturers have security protocols which prevent anyone who doesn't know the protocol from getting in. This is security-by-obscurity - the protocols are not particularly complicated but would be awkward to reverse-engineer, mainly due to an enforced lag between attempts which would seriously slow down any brute-force hacking (suppose there's 65536 combinations, and the box enforces 10s between attempts, then you're going to be there for over a week trying all combinations!).

      However, it's incredibly easy for the auto-maker to prove that the software was modified if the controller survives the impact - simply read out the contents of the calibration and do a diff against the cal for that vehicle. Job done. The auto-maker has taken reasonable care to make it difficult for ppl to get access, if someone goes out of their way to turn their car into a deathtrap then the manufacturers have no liability.

      Note that there _is_ some aftermarket tweaking that can be done; some settings are provided for dealers to change useful things like tire size, final drive ratio etc if the car gets components uprated. But even this is protected as well, so you have to take it to a dealer to get it changed. It may be a pain to pay a dealer to do something this trivial, but it stops ppl arbitrarily screwing around with the controller. For example, cars measure speed and distance by counting tire revs and scaling by the tire size, so you could mess it all up by setting that scaling wrong.

      • For example, cars measure speed and distance by counting tire revs and scaling by the tire size, so you could mess it all up by setting that scaling wrong.

        Well, that explains it. I tweeked the setting on my car two years ago and I guess pulled a NASA. [cnn.com] I must have messed up the units for wheel radius (inches/millimeters). My odometer only reads about 900 miles, my fuel efficiency has been 1.3 gallons to the mile, and my speedometer never seemed to go above 2 or 3 MPH.

        My brother made a similar mod last week. He's been getting over 400 miles to the gallon, but he's put close to 10,000 miles on the odometer in just a few days. And now the speedometer breaks 100 at idle.

  • Hacking the Odometer (Score:5, Interesting)

    by atheos ( 192468 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @11:55PM (#3288724) Homepage
    I've got a nice hack for ya.
    New Ford F-150's, Expeditions, ect.
    Unplug the main harness going to the digital display, and locate a gray wire, with a black stripe. (your VSS wire) Place a small strip of tape over the metal pin, and
    no mo miles
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Usually there is a big sticker back there that will tell you if that has been tampered with.

      I would say if you are buying a car that looks like it was way too few miles, then maybe have this checked.

      Another way is to check the tires. Is there too much wear for the number of miles are on it? If not, have they been replaced? If you are getting a car that doesn't have original tires after 15,000 miles, its a good sign its been tampered with.

      Also, check the ball joints on the stearing in front. I know its silly, but those will show wear pretty well. Struts and shocks are another good indicator.

    • By Doing this you Installantly decrease the resale value of your car by 15-20% as well as it is EXTREMELY ILLEGAL to mess with a car's speedometer. Car dealers are, SHOCK, smarter than you and know when a speedometer has been messed with. What do you want to bet that disconnecting said wire probably set a 'flag' somewhere on that car's computer?
  • I have used this software on my LT1 Camaro with excellent results. This software allows you to pretty much hack every aspect that the PCM controls easily.

    LT1 Edit [lt1.net]

  • by strlen ( 117515 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @11:59PM (#3288737) Homepage
    There's replacement EEPROMS for various cars with digital ignition (as opposed to a distributor) available on the market, some of them may even be installed by your dealership (depends on the dealership of course). They've also been on the market for quite a while and aren't a novelty. If I'm correct, on non-digital-ignition automobiles, you can use MSD's system to retard or advance your ignition timing. Also, this is not a very safe way to increase your engine's power, as advancing ignition, raises the cylinder pressure far more than any other modification, in propotion to the gain (usually no more than 15 hp).
  • by teslatug ( 543527 )

    "dangerous to your life and your warranty"

    Yeah I would hate to expire :)
  • by Rampant Atrocity ( 559341 ) on Friday April 05, 2002 @12:05AM (#3288762)
    Here's a car that's been pre-hacked and souped up for ultimate geek driving: the MegaCar [megacar.com]! I mean, just look at this picture [megacar.com]. LCDs everywhere, 150k/sec mobile connectivity...The flash site is annoying, but damn, that car is sweet....
    • And you'll probably be able to get it pretty cheap soon, too, since the owner has landed in prison. Here's more about it: http://www.kimble.org/message20020220.htm

      No pity for him here though. Goes along with what I think of people with toys like expensive pimped-out cars and gaudy flash sites. Give me my '87 Nissan and plain text web page any day!

      Back to adding neon lights into my computer...
  • Keep the Warrenty (Score:3, Interesting)

    by guamman ( 527778 ) on Friday April 05, 2002 @12:07AM (#3288765)
    In most cases, the manufacturer of most sports cars (corvette, etc.) has a liscensed third party like shelby for Ford. These suppliers and aftermarket manufacturers have certin chips that can be installed without ruining you entire warrenty. Sometimes, the warrenty is just modified to take out the changed part of the car.
  • Formula 1 (Score:3, Informative)

    by BigBir3d ( 454486 ) on Friday April 05, 2002 @12:07AM (#3288766) Journal
    Not only have they thought of everything that he was talking about, but they actually are doing it. This season, today, right now! Everything is adjustable, although some of it is not legal ;-) The best part, it is all adjustable, on the fly, literally. That's right boys and girls, wireless! Ferrari and Williams BMW are at the forefront, of course. There has been much effort into making sure that each of the teams are not vulnerable to hacking or jamming by the other teams. (The budget for these top-flight teams is supposedly nearly $200,000,000US)
    • In F1 everything's been remotely adjustable for a while. It's just that FIA doesn't allow it so they settle for data collection. Otherwise you could technically adjust the wing angles on-the-fly for curves and straights. Heck, they even outlawed traction control (one of the contributions of F1 to regular drivers) quite a few years back..
    • Regular people can do this too, you can get all kinds of chips and stuff for lots of diffrent cars. I don't know if this guy's just out of it or what.
  • by bunyip ( 17018 ) on Friday April 05, 2002 @12:08AM (#3288771)
    Yep, you got it. I'll buy a beer for the first true hack on a Segway.

    Suppose you had one, what would a cool hacker (such as you, dear reader) make it do?

    Oh, BTW, I guess I'd have to buy you a Ginger Beer.

    • Obviously you'd teach it to be "posessed" so that it would wander around the room and bump into things... Of course, it should map things out and only bump into them once. Reproducing old hacks with new hardware is a tradition.
  • Very common already (Score:4, Informative)

    by milkmandan9 ( 190569 ) on Friday April 05, 2002 @12:12AM (#3288782)
    This is really very common in the automotive tuning world already. Many companies have piggyback-style computers that intercept the signals entering and leaving the stock engine computer and modify them accordingly. Products like the A'PEXi S-AFC [apexi-usa.com] (among many many others) use relatively simple mathematical formulae (think...mx+b) or look-up tables to modify the signals that the engine computer sees from the sensors or the signals that the actuators see from the computer.

    For the more advanced racer, there are entire standalong engine management systems that entirely the engine computer itself (think Haltech E6k and others).

    The point here is that the signals used between sensors and microprocessors onboard a vehicle aren't difficult to decode. Most relate to measuring the resistance across a sensor or sending out a pulse to run a fuel injector at a given interval. Granted, the signals sent between the various computers are a bit more complex, but it's by no means impossible to decode. The only reason that 3rd-party aftermarket manufacturers are really the only people building these things is that there isn't a whole lot of return for the average home-mechanic. By the time Joe Six-Pack builds his engine management system, he's spent so much time that he could have enhanced the performance of his vehicle with all sorts of non-electronic devices that are cheaper and better understood in the automotive community.

    Are there very cool things that can be done by the individual with a personally-designed engine (and transmission, and A/C, etc) management system? Sure! Loads of cool stuff!

    Now how many people out there can spare the time, effort, and money to have a system that really only performs marginally better than anything that can be bought off the shelf? Not many people, that's for sure.

    But luckily, that's what universities are for...which explains why I'm still in school.
    • by bunyip ( 17018 )
      Now how many people out there can spare the time, effort, and money to have a system that really only performs marginally better than anything that can be bought off the shelf? Not many people, that's for sure.

      Hmmm - what about overclockers? Submerge your MB in liquid nitrogen to gain a couple o' hundred MHz? I've seen some pretty cool hacks on /. over the last couple of years.

      How about spending nights and weekends hacking the Linux kernel to reduce interrupt latency? Would the "average" computer user care or notice?

      I would think that many people would do this. We nerds have a kindred spirit in hot-rodders. To them, a generic four-banger is the M$ of the automotive world.

      I would like to add that I'm both a computer hacker and car hacker (Subaru WRX). I also brew my own beer (beer hacker?).
      • Hmmm - what about overclockers? Submerge your MB in liquid nitrogen to gain a couple o' hundred MHz? I've seen some pretty cool hacks on /. over the last couple of years.

        Very true. They're the same in spirit, and the only difference is in implementation.

        You usally (usually!) don't have to worry about getting stuck in the middle of nowhere if your overclocked MB bites the dust, and when it does, it doesn't always (always!) mean that it will make a $4000 engine turn itself into scrap.

        The skill sets are different, too. With overclocking, you need good computer skills and some common-sense mechanical and electrical skills. Beyond that, all you need is the cash to buy it all. When deciphering a modern engine management system you need a good background in CS, some workable knowledge of EE, and enough mechanical skills to get the damned thing running.

        Or, in the case of some (some!) of the vinyl-sticker-emblazoned, wake-the-neighborhood-up-at-3am types, all you need is a good instruction manual or a mechanic worth his price.

        But I definitely agree with you. The spirit is the same.
  • On my car, I've replaced the engine computer with one that allows me to change the software [goapr.com] on the fly depending on the octane of the gas (91/93 pump gas, 100 octane race gas).

    People have also hacked my instrument cluster computer to display a radar detector and boost gauge [tripcomp.com].

    It only gets more fun from here :)
  • by Leven Valera ( 127099 ) on Friday April 05, 2002 @12:16AM (#3288794) Homepage Journal
    I was out driving one day in my TransAm (screwed with to the tune of ~400hp) and the car started to drive funny, so I pulled over, took out out the AutoTap [autotap.com] started my laptop, plugged it into the car, and figured out I had a bad throttle position sensor, so I was blipping the pedal and looking at the screen to test it, and a cop pulled in behind me.

    Cop did the whole license, registration, et cetera bit, and asked why I was revving so high at a stop, and told me people were complaining about the noise. I showed him the software, explained what was going on, showed him the throttle readout, and so on. The cop shook his head, said "Kids nowadays", got in his car, and left. :)

  • Audi of America will void the warranty on your turbo car if they catch or suspect you've been screwing with the computer. It's real easy to get a $400 chip and kick your 300hp S4 up to 400+ just by turning up the boost.

    • by tjb ( 226873 )
      Good lord dude. What the hell do you need with 400 HP on something as small as an S4? Like changing tires much? How about cylinder heads? I heard those were real cheap now...


      The high HP mainstream luxury sports cars (S4, M3/M5, 911, Corvette, etc), in general are limited at the power that they get because a) Its damn fast as is and b) its actually reliable at those HP/Torque numbers.

      There's a very good reason why $150,000 Ferraris are in the shop for serious engine maintenance every 3000 miles: namely that there are physical limits with what can be done with internal combustion engines without sacrificing reliability. Hell, you'd think if they could make one that didn't require massive maintenance on a short schedule, they could sell it for twice as much.

      Boosting an S4 to run with Ferraris is counter-productive in the sense that you're likely gonna end up paying the cost of a ferrari in maintenance anyway (well, not quite, but it will be damn expensive and unreliable).

      • First, the original poster: The audi S4 only goes from 250 crank hp to about 310 crank hp with a computer. YOu can get up to about 350 or so with an intercooler and some other low cost tweaks.

        Anyway, second poster: cars today are engineered way way way beyond the use they will see in stock form. An audi s4 most likely will be reliable at 400 crank hp. They have sleeved cylinders and a strong bottom end (amongst other features). 500 would most likely be pushing it. And the S4 will run through tires at the same rate with 250 hp as it would with 600hp. Its all about the weight, not the power, unless you do lots and lots of huge smoky burnouts. The first poster's S4 will actually be no more expensive than stock in the long run, and it will not be any less reliable.

        Also, an S4 is not a light little car. It weighs about 3500 lbs, which in my book is a very heavy car. Thats only marginally lighter than a bmw 5 series.

        Ferraris are in the shop every 3000 miles for a number of reasons:
        Ferrari's reputation isnt based upon having reliable cars- that is Honda's little dance. If Ferrari starts making reliable sorta-fast cars, then they will be written off as having lost touch with their heritage (porsche cayenne anyone? blech)
        They arent engineered to be super reliable, they are engineered to be weekend toys for the rich. Ferrari makes a lot of concessions to performance and a lot of concessions to "tradition" since many people buy ferrari because they want to buy into ferraris old racing image. People want gated shifters, a loud whiny exhaust and they want it painted red.
        They have more complicated valve trains with a ton more moving parts. A ferrari v12 has about 60 valves and 4 camshafts, non of which are self adjusting (another concession). Sooo, once a year or so, you have to bring your ferrari in and have everything looked at. VERY expensive. About 3 times more labor involved than opening up a dohc 4 cylinder- this before you factor in the traditional ferrari price gouge.
        Ferraris have a special formula of oil you can only get at the dealer.
        Ferrari parts arent exactly mass produced. Its cheaper to do preventative maintenance than to drive it until it explodes and then replace the engine.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 05, 2002 @12:30AM (#3288839)
    It is inappropriate to link to the Jargon File's main corpus....It is several megabytes, and costs the site maintainer mucho bandwidth so you can browse one entry.

    Use this: http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/jargon/html/entry/hack. html [tuxedo.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 05, 2002 @12:31AM (#3288841)
    My impression was that the article writer doesn't have much experience in the tuning market, or he'd have mentioned chipping turbocharged engines, and he'd also demonstrate a better understanding of what goes on. Most chips(even for normally aspirated engines) don't just alter timing; they alter the fuel ratio to be perfect for power, which is different from the ideal air/fuel ratio for emissions. Yes, ignition timing does affect power/emissions too, but it's silly to ignore the other half of the equation. Also, among the european/asian car makes, programmable systems are pretty rare; most simply buy a preprogrammed chip from a company that's done the testing/setup for you. Makes a lot of sense considering how expensive some of these engines can be. Even just altering fuel mixture can cause substantial damage; too rich(ie too much fuel) and you'll cause the catalytic converters to overheat and melt($$$$$$.) Too lean, and you can raise the exhaust gas temperature to the point that you actually destroy the exhaust valves and they start leaking.

    As for turbo chips...bear with me here. My car('91 Audi 200 quattro 20v turbo) makes 217hp stock. With new ROM chips for fuel/timing maps and a new pressure sensor supplied by an Audi tuner who has been in business since the early 80's...it makes almost 280, by allowing higher pressure from the turbo(aka "boost".) It yields sub 6 second 0-60 times for a full size luxury sedan(not to brag, but few cars, new or old, can beat me off the line, including any of Audi's current model lineup, unmodified.)

    This particular chip pretty much stresses the limit of the k26 turbo; as with any turbo, spin it too fast and it'll disintegrate. These things operate at -very- high speeds...50,000 rpms is not uncommon...very high temps(several hundred degrees or more)...and very close tolerances. If a piece flies off or something, it can cause an enormous amount of damage; little pieces of the turbo can end up getting inhaled by the engine. If you're lucky, it doesn't take the engine with it. If you're not so lucky, the metal shards scratch the cylinder walls, or the oil causes so much crap to build up inside the cylinder that the compression ratio skyrockets and the engine starts to "knock"(ie when the mixture ignites before it should.) When the piston's still going up and the mixture ignites, you can break things. FAST. Look on almost all engines these days and you'll see a small sensor bolted to the block...it's a microphone, basically, and it listens for knocking(the ECU knows when it fired a spark plug, so if it gets a noise when it hasn't...tada, knocking.)

    Particularly with a chip, there are a lot of things that can push the turbo over the edge...for example, a clogged air filter will make the turbo work harder to pressurize the same amount of air(ie, it'll need to spin faster.) While the engine control unit(ECU) takes into account high elevation via an external barometric sensor, it can't tell if your air filter is clogged! Another danger is that the intake air temperature can be too high; as you compress air, it heats up, and if it's too hot, the further compression in the cylinder will heat it beyond the flash point of the gas/air mixture, and you get knocking(see above.) You can also exceed the limits of the mechanical strength of the connecting rods(ie what connects the piston to the crankshaft, transferring the force of the explosion into mechanical rotation), the head bolts(what holds the "head" of the engine up against the block; it forms the top of the cylinder, and the more powerful the explosion in the cylinder, the more stress on the head bolts), the transmission, even the driveshafts sometimes

    Some early chip designs for A4/S4 models pushed the turbos just a tad too much(the vendor in question had a bad reputation in the first place) and turbos were getting overspun left+right(expensive, considering the S4 has -two- turbos.)

    Audi of America got wise to it, and unfortunately, is now -extremely- aggressive about going after owners who have installed aftermarket chips, despite the fact that they're quite safe now that more reputable tuners(who do better QA testing) have forced the crappy chips off the market.

    So, dealers started checking ECUs for signs of removal, modification, etc. Owners countered by buying spare ECUs and installing the unmodified ECUs back into the car before having it serviced.

    Amusingly, AoA caught on to this too...because their Client Relations staff were reading the webboards these guys belonged to. They were dumb enough to brag about it after "fooling the dealer".

    VW and Audi have already started introducing encryption+verification that keys the ECU to all sorts of other things in the car so that it can't be easily swapped. VW/Audi's "real" reason is that it is for antitheft reasons.

    It took all but a month or two for someone to figure out how to get around the keying. Same debate as publishing security exploits...except that cars generally don't get stolen unless they can be stolen in a few minutes, and keying the ECU doesn't prevent theft(it just makes the ECU useless in any other car until its been re-keyed.)
  • by td ( 46763 ) on Friday April 05, 2002 @12:35AM (#3288848) Homepage
    The first time I heard of aftermarket ROMs (for the fuel injection computer) the car in question was the 1984 Pontiac Fiero, GM's short-lived (1984-1988, I think) mid-engined sports car.
  • by BeerSlurpy ( 185482 ) on Friday April 05, 2002 @12:50AM (#3288876)
    Two points: ONE: most cars do NOT benefit from performance computers. TWO: most performance computers are added on to cars that are normally naturally aspirated and converted to turbo form. (a lot of cars that dont have turbos from the factory judge the amount of air with a vaccuum sensor instead of a mass air sensor) Often the relevant sensors dont even exist for the stock computer to talk to.

    To make an example, the average honda civic computer settings are pretty much already maxxed out in stock form. You add an intake and an exhaust and youre still in the range that the stock computer can adjust for. You can actually add about half an atmosphere of boost (from turbo or supercharger) and still not need a custom computer. This applies to a most other non-turbo cars as well. Factory turbo cars have even higher limits.

    Remember, modern cars have to be able to operate at 10,000 feet above and below sea level in a wide range of temperatures. Most cars have injectors that can take about 150% to 200% of stock duty before they begin to max out. Up to this point the car will still not even pollute!

    Basically the only 2 ways to outpace the stock computer is to

    1)bring in too little air at idle or have massively oversized injectors (the computer can't control the injectors to produce less than a certain minimum period of being open) which will cause "lopey idle" or stalling and rich emmissions.

    2)bring in so much air at high rpm that the stock injectors can't let in enough fuel. Basically you will start to run "lean" (not enough fuel) which will produce very high temperatures and detonation (and kill your engine).

    You basically only need a special computer if you are running massive cams (alternatively you could just raise the idle, which most people do) or if youre running such massive amounts of boost that the only solution is to run massive injectors (here again, you can actually just raise the idle). Now consider this: when youre making over double the stock hp, there is no way a factory computer is going to be able to cope anyway- I dont see the point of making them more hackable. On top of which, the only reason to use an expensive computer is to make the car more emissions friendly. And guess what mods are pretty much illegal under CARB rules? You guessed it! Programmable ECUs!!! The high-boost 323 and miata guys routinely run hacked ECUs with 12-15psi of boost, then turn down the boost and swap injectors for smog every two years. Its pretty sad that you have to break the law to pollute less.
    • Some cars roll out of the factor with overly retarded ignition. Sometimes simply advancing the ignition closer to TDC gives better performance. Lots of aftermarket chips do this. I don't understand why car manufacturers allow their vehicles to ship with these timings. Do you?

      • Yes.

        In California, at least, 10 degrees ATDC timing at idle is mandatory on post-1972 cars. That limits nitrogen oxide emissions in high compression engines by reducing peak combustion temperature.

        I ran into that problem when I was still a VW grease monkey -- 1973 VW engines hardly qualify as high compression, and emit very little nitrogen oxide. The ATDC timing causes extra heating and lower efficiency at idle and low speed. EGR works on the same principle -- lower peak combustion temperature to reduce NO and N2O production (at the cost of slightly more CO and HC emissions, and more fuel consumed).

        The law was written that way because it's hard to detect the nitrogen compounds cheaply in the exhaust, so it's easier to mandate the most common solution than it is to mandate testable standards.

        If you like sausage and respect the law, you shouldn't look at how either is made. (Mark Twain).
  • Hmmm..... (Score:5, Funny)

    by The_dev0 ( 520916 ) <hookerbot5000@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Friday April 05, 2002 @01:07AM (#3288928) Homepage Journal
    Now if I can just hack my car to start somewhere in the first 200 tries...
  • by bandix ( 184495 ) <`ten.knupkeeg' `ta' `xidnab'> on Friday April 05, 2002 @01:19AM (#3288961) Homepage
    Why would you waste your time hacking a car that fights you every step of the way (physically, electronically, and financially)? I only own and drive open sourced cars. My daily driver is a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle. There is not a single part for this car I couldn't write a check to replace. I also haven't paid a mechanic since I bought it. There're no computer diagnositics I have to pay some guy with his name on his shirt to run for me. All I need is a good chest full of Craftsman metric tools and my ears. Your stock Beetle not fast enough for you? $2000 worth of NEW parts will build a complete engine to your specifications that will propel that 870kg car to speeds you'd never thought possible. Countless books have been written that detail every system in the Beetle inside and out. Why would you buy a car that tries to keep you out with complex computerized systems? Want to modify the ignition timing? All you need is a 10mm socket. Ferdinand Porsche designed my car. Who designed yours?
    • I love these cars...especially the "heating system".....nothing more than air blowing over the air cooled engine and then blowing into a hole under the back seat....as well as any exhaust gasses that might be back there as well..but still a fun car nonetheless....

  • How cool would it be to add different skins to your instrument panel? I mean, the new high end cars nowadays have digital instrument panels..It could be done.
  • Scott Mueller's Upgrading And Repairing PCS (13th edition) includes a couple of sidebars on this subject. For some reason in the midst of a discussion about BIOS flashes he felt compelled to explain how flash capability is pretty common in controller ROMs in cars and went on to describe how his Chevy Impala is running a firmware flash that originally belonged to a Camaro; he even points to a few websites that describe the procedure. (It's late, so I'm not going to go digging through my copy right now, but anyone who's interested could email me tomorrow morning if they don't feel like googling for the sites...)

  • Best line of the entire article:

    "They stared at me as though I'd just showed them a mouthful of partially chewed black beetles"

    This is as good as the other article a few months ago where the guy said:

    "As cool as the other side of the pillow."

    Definitely two phrases I'm going to try and work into conversation, with proper attribution of course.


    Please win this beer store. [beer-depot.com]

  • Mustang and other ford fanatics have been messing with their computers for years now.

    There are all sorts of realtime management systems as well as piggyback chips that you can plug into your cars computer and flip a switch for different settings.
  • " I neither endorse nor recommend any of the procedures mentioned"

    I do, it's a lot of fun, but along with your laptop to reprogram it, you need a device to measure performance improvements also. You can't judge yourself if you got +5hp or lost 5 due to your changes in configuration.
    And while your at it, you need to remember that different air temperature and the amount of water in the air, changes the performance of the engine.

    I have built a cold air intake for my engine, shielded the intake from heat from the engine the car already had a pipe all the way to the front to ensure it picked it up from the outside.

    A cold damp, foggy morning does wonders in terms of performance, it's something my car really like. Of course one needs to find the perfect place to drive where the road isn't slippery.

    Then of course there is my NOS installation (Nitro Oxide System) another nice little hack, with adds +50% horse power when accel. could get +75% or more, but I would like my engine to last 50.000 before changing it.
    Note, that all these changes and improvements of the engine og course changes the specs so much that it is not legal anymore for street use. Just in case you care.
  • Some specialized in primarily cosmetic changes, others in drag-strip performance or stock car racing, while others went on to create their own designs from scratch, often using off-the-self parts as source materials

    Off the self? I thought those big cars meant the driver had a small....oh nevermind. This joke was too lame to even finish.

    Besides, with Slashdot editors around, who needs to poke fun at the article's typo's?

"This is lemma 1.1. We start a new chapter so the numbers all go back to one." -- Prof. Seager, C&O 351