The appeal of installing these new tuners has greatly increased with the availability of models that simply re-flash the existing mapping of the engine control module without modification to engine hardware, according to Bully Dog.
"We sell the Bully Dog tuners because anybody with only a little knowledge of computers can sit in their cab and install one," says Brown. "With older tuning options you had to take the engine control module off and send it somewhere else to have it worked on, which meant extra downtime. But with the newer designs like Bully Dog you just plug it in and follow the prompts on the screen."
Since 1998, American Falls, Idaho-based Bully Dog Technologies has been designing and refining industry-leading tuners for automotive, and more recently, middle and heavy duty trucking applications. The single unit provides four functions: engine tuner, function monitor, performance gauge and diagnostic device.
Such modern units are now located in the cab of the vehicle, such as on top of the dash, as opposed to older designs which were situated in the engine compartment where heat, cold, humidity and vibration could cause failures in the tuner and potentially result in an engine malfunction.
"We've experimented with different products, tried various things for performance and mileage, but this is by far the best thing I've ever come across," notes Brown.
Pushing the envelope, safely
Modern gauge tuners also provide a set of diagnostic functions that enhance safety.
For example, if the engine coolant or oil starts to overheat, the gauge tuner can automatically recognize the condition. The device can also alert the driver with a message on the panel display that notifies the driver what is happening and why. This helps the driver evaluate if it's a critical situation requiring immediate repair, or if he can complete his run and get the problem resolved later.
"The Bully Dog units, for one, supply real-time coolant temperature, as opposed to the OEM gauges which often only alert you after the engine is already overheating," notes Brown. "Other real-time monitoring features help the drivers visualize performance at any time."
Some of the latest gauge tuners even have a built-in driving coach that offers tips that help develop positive driving habits to improve fuel economy. According to Edmunds, driving habits can increase economy by up to 37 percent.
"The Bully Dog unit will definitely help newer drivers: telling you where your power is at and when to shift," says Pilot Transport's Parks. "We're definitely seeing a performance boost. The driver said he's pulling hills better."
"I've had people who've been driving for years, who told me they were good drivers, but they've come back later and told me that it has actually educated them," says Brown.
In another nod toward safety, some gauge tuners offer the ability to preset a maximum speed limit. By itself this forces further fuel savings, and across an entire fleet, the cost savings mount rapidly.
"Over the years, we get approached with products and promises that never pan out, so the industry is kind of numb," Parks acknowledges. "Our driver who had the tuner installed was a little skeptical at first, but now he really likes it. Until you try it, you really don't know how good it is."