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Flash-tuning cars, pickup trucks and SUVs through the OBD port has been commonplace for decades, but tighter security measures on the OEM engine control module (ECM) have made that process more difficult in recent years. Increasingly, a swap to an unlocked ECM is required in some applications to add engine performance or enable useful features such as calibrating for larger wheels and tires.
“Ram and Chrysler started using a locked ECM in their vehicles in 2015 and the rest of the OE manufacturers have started to follow suit,” says Edge Products’ brand manager, Jacob White. “
An alternative solution to the problem of locked ECMs has been to develop a standalone computer that, instead of rewriting the factory ECM, alters the signal between the ECM and the engine. First launched for Hemi-powered Rams in 2018, these Pulsar modules can still enhance power and performance without making any changes to the factory ECM.
Pulsar p/n 32453, 2019-2022 Ram 1500 5.7L Hemi
A Pulsar module plugs directly into the factory ECM. The module receives the factory calibration and makes changes before sending a new calibration to the engine. In this way, Pulsar is able to add timing, change the fuel pressure or boost throttle response, for example, depending on the specific application. It can also disable auto stop-start and cylinder-deactivation systems and recalibrate for larger wheels and tires.
All these changes are made without altering the factory calibration within the locked factory ECM. Unplug the Pulsar unit and the vehicle instantly reverts to 100% stock. Pulsar modules are tested in-house to ensure emissions compliance and are then passed on to be certified for 50-state use by CARB.
Pulsar p/n 22401, 2020-2022 GM 2500/3500 with L5P Duramax
Customers buy Pulsars for many reasons, often favoring different features depending on which vehicle they own. For example, tire size calibration is one of the biggest reasons that 5.7-liter Hemi truck owners opt for Pulsar, as it takes care of popular aftermarket tire fitments. Ram drivers also like to disable the Multi-Displacement System (MDS) so that the truck stays in V8 mode full-time.
It’s a similar picture among GM gas truck owners wanting to disable the cylinder-deactivating Active Fuel Management (AFM) or Dynamic Fuel Management (DFM) systems. Pulsar’s ability to permanently disable auto stop-start or remember the previous setting without needing to disable it for each journey, is also popular with GM enthusiasts.
The Jeep Wrangler is the most modified platform in the auto industry. For owners of newer Wranglers or Gladiators with locked ECMs, Pulsar is a hassle-free way to adjust for 35- or 37-inch tires and add throttle response and performance to the 3.6-liter V6.
Power upgrades are popular with diesel drivers, too. The Pulsar module can add up to 130-horsepower to 6.6-liter Duramax engines while retaining full emissions compliance. Says White, “Turbo lag is reduced so the truck is more enjoyable to drive with the Pulsar module installed. Whether you’re using one of the big power levels or not, the vehicle feels more responsive, and a trailer feels less daunting when you’re trying to pass somebody on the freeway.
“Pulsar can adjust for a larger tire while adding power and adjusting throttle sensitivity. Some of the competition make you buy multiple products to do all the things that Pulsar will do.”
A huge advantage of the Pulsar route to vehicle tuning is its simple installation. There’s no need to remove the ECM and send it to be swapped for an unlocked one; the Pulsar module just plugs right in. The only challenge is the placement of the ECM, which is more accessible in some vehicles than others.
In 5.7-liter Hemi RAM and in Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator applications for example, installing Pulsar takes around 15-30 minutes. In a Jeep, the owner must remove the air-intake tube to access the harness and unplug the ECM, replacing it afterwards. It’s a similar process for the Hemi. Customers can refer to how-to videos for guidance.
For Duramax trucks, installation is simpler on 2017-19 models because the ECM is inside the engine bay. On the 2020 and newer, it’s a little more challenging because the ECM is located in front of the driver’s side tire, so the inner fender-liner has to come out.
In all cases, Pulsar employs factory-style, OE-quality connectors, so everything is plug and play. There’s no extra wiring required nor any need to run wires through the cab. “We strive to make sure everything looks factory, like our product does not even exist under the hood,” says White. “We never want to sell a product that requires permanent, irreversible modification.”
Once installed, tuning and calibration changes are accomplished using the standard steering-wheel controls and dash display. Alternatively, some Pulsar models may be paired with Edge Products’ Insight CTS3 in-cab color touchscreen, through which additional features are available.
Pulsar XT p/n 42454, 2018-2021 Jeep Wrangler (JL) 2.0L
Pulsar was an immediate success when it debuted for 5.7-liter Hemi trucks in 2018. A version for 3.6-liter Jeep Wranglers followed and the group has been adding coverage to the Pulsar line ever since. Like the Hemi and Jeep products, the version for the L5P Duramax has been revised multiple times.
“Pulsar v3 for the Duramax covers the 2017 through 2022 models,” notes White. “We can alter the signal for the MAP sensor and mass air flow. We can adjust injection pulse width, pressure and timing. We get improved performance out of the vehicle while keeping it emissions compliant, running clean.”
Pulsar has proved very popular for the L5P platform thanks to its simplicity and low cost. In contrast to the Duramax flash-tuning alternatives, no ECM unlock is required, contributing to a much lower price of around $900, compared with multiple thousands of dollars for competitor products. For Jeeps and Hemi trucks, the price of a Pulsar module is lower still.
Other recent additions to the Pulsar line include the Pulsar XT and Pulsar LT. The XT is the first Pulsar for a turbocharged engine, namely the 2-liter unit in the 2018-2021 Jeep Wrangler JL. Like a regular Pulsar, the XT has the all-important controls for tire size, as well as the ability to adjust the TPMS threshold and engine auto stop-start settings, but it can also add power and performance by changing the boost curve.
Unlike some competitor products, the Pulsar XT makes changes to the boost curve and the map signal right through the RPM range and at all boost pressures. This improves drivability and low-end response in everyday driving situations, rather than only at wide-open throttle, and makes towing more comfortable.
In November 2020, Pulsar LT was released for 2019 and newer GM 1500 trucks with 5.3-liter or 6.2-liter gasoline V8s. This non-power variant of Pulsar provides the same feature controls and throttle sensitivity adjustment as other versions but leaves the engine calibration untouched. The LT module is even simpler to install than other Pulsars because the location of the ECM doesn’t matter; instead, it plugs into a convenient spot in the wiring harness.
“The ability to disable AFM or DFM systems is very popular in GM Pulsar applications,” explains White, “which is one reason why the Pulsar LT became one of our top selling products in its first year in the market. We’re now expanding the coverage to include the 2022 Silverado and Sierra and launching new versions of LT to cover other GM vehicles like the Colorado, Tahoe and Suburban and Duramax diesels.”
The XT platform will also be expanded in 2022 to cover Ford Power Stroke and Ram Cummins diesels. For full details of Pulsar coverage, including upcoming products, refer to the table below.
The worldwide chip shortage has in some cases resulted in different examples of the same vehicle being fitted with different ECMs. So far, this has predominantly affected Wranglers, Gladiators and Hemi-powered Rams. Edge Products, Superchips and Diablo Sport are proactively addressing this challenge by bringing new versions of Pulsar to market and ensuring that customers purchase the right product for their vehicle, no matter which ECM is on board.
The group has already amassed several years of experience in tuning engines the Pulsar way: manipulating the factory system without making permanent changes. As ECM security continues to tighten, the ability to reprogram using the traditional, flash-tuning method will become increasingly challenging, as demonstrated recently by the tough-to-crack 2020 Power Stroke and 2021 F-150 ECMs that the engineering team has been working on.
The company will continue to offer flash tuning where possible to meet the needs of different customers. However, an under-the-hood module like Pulsar avoids the problem of locked ECMs, in most cases. It also permits the user to remove the module in a matter of minutes and immediately return the vehicle to stock – perfect for owners who are concerned about invalidating the warranty on an expensive truck. It’s a powerful use case and as such, inline modules like Pulsar are set to become a mainstay of tuning products in the future.