Make 437 RWHP For Less Than $900

March 23rd, 2011

Product: Custom-Tuned ECM

Bang-for-Buck Factor: The popularity of EFILive has grown immensely in the Duramax community in the past few years. Allowing users access and adjustability to an extensive list of parameters has given tuners the opportunity to really delve into the factory computer and develop some pretty amazing tunes. While EFILive has opened many doors, the average person with no knowledge or interest in writing custom files may not be willing to start messing with calibrations that if adjusted wrong, could end with a $60,000 paper weight in the driveway.

Nick Priegnitz, of, has been developing EFILive tunes for everything from stock trucks to 1,000-plus horsepower dyno killers and saw an opportunity to offer customers the advantages in drivability and power provided by the software without having to spend hours on a dyno or months learning the program to optimize calibrations. Custom tuning often comes with the price of a king’s ransom, but has affordable options for stock and mildly modified Duramax engines.

For $375, customers running a stock turbo and transmission combination can visit and fill out a form that includes VIN, tire size, and current modifications. To keep downtime to a minimum, once the form is completed and everything is paid for, will send the customer an ECM pre-programmed with a Tow tune that boosts RWHP by 50 as well as add a turbine brake using the factory VNT turbo, a Sport/Economy tune for maximized fuel economy along with 90 additional ponies at the rear wheel and a DSP2 switch to allow on-the-fly file changes.

If you’re looking for more power and have some extra coin to spend, for $499, offers a pre-programmed ECM that comes with s DSP5 switch and five different tunes. For LB7 and LLY owners, the five tunes typically include a stock tune optimized for economy, heavy tow tune for towing more than 8,000 pounds with an extra 40 horsepower, a 60-horse light tow tune for loads less than 8,000 pounds along with turbine brake for 2005-and-newer trucks, and the 80-horse Sport tune for everyday drivability.

Finally, the fifth spot is reserved for the big 100HP Stock Trans Race tune, which warns, “If this tune is abused it will shorten parts life. Run when you know you’re ready to build your trans and don’t expect the stock trans to live forever with this tune.” The DSP5 for LBZ and LMM trucks has five similar tunes, with gains of 60hp (Heavy Tow), 80hp (Light Tow), 100hp (Sport) and 130hp (Race). Naturally, a disclaimer warning that extended use may grenade a transmission under extended use was enough to convince us spending an extra $125 was a must.

Combined with the K&N intake we installed on the LBZ and straight-pipe we had Ranch Muffler install on Budget Bowtie, the turned up all the way put down 413.3 peak horsepower at the rear wheels on one of the area’s stingiest dynos right after the pre-programmed ECM was installed. Expecting bigger numbers, we drove around for a few days on the Race tune to give the computer some learn time. We also went to a different facility with a Superflow dyno and an operator very familiar with strapping diesels to the rollers. Three runs later, peak rear-wheel horsepower numbers registered 434.4, 437.6 and 436.9.

Power is only part of the story. On the Sport tune, mileage increased by 2.1 mpg during testing. Through the different Duramax combinations we’ve tested through the years we’ve learned that the Allison doesn’t always get along with aftermarket programs. Running the ECM, the transmission shifts remained smooth under normal acceleration, stiffened the more you got into it and didn’t send the Allison hunting between gears. We didn’t have a chance to really load up and fully test the tow tunes, although we did enjoy the added turbine brake with about 4,000 pounds behind the Chevy. And if we decide to upgrade the tranny and turbo in the future, will send updated programs for a fee.



Product: K&N FIPK Intake

Bang-For-Buck Factor: A turbocharger can only compress the air it receives. If an air filter is dirty or its path to the charger is filled with kinks and obstructions, airflow and power suffer. While increases in airflow are typically accompanied with increases in power, the cooler the air and the more of it a diesel gets will also effect EGTs. With two huge upsides and not a huge price, installing an air intake is one of the first modifications many truck owners perform.

Making power on a budget and being cheap are two different things. Cheap is disregarding things like how much dirt an air filter blocks from getting to the engine and its actual design in favor an online knockoff strictly because of price. Budget is more about making a smart purchase where you might be paying a little or a lot more upfront because it has short- and long-term benefits. It doesn’t get much more long-term than the 1-million-mile warranty offered by K&N Filters, leading us to order one of its FIPK performance kits for Budget Bowtie.

The FIPK for the 2500HD features a high-flow air filter can be removed and cleaned rather than replaced like the factory filter. At about $40 every factory air filter change, if the Duramax is in service long enough then the K&N intake will eventually end up paying for itself. K&N has also done its own testing to show that by installing only the intake on an LBZ, gains at the rear wheels usually come in about 15 horsepower.

Legality is becoming an issue diesel owners must face. The Duramax FIPK from K&N is one of the first air intakes on the market to receive an emissions exemption under new testing standards, meaning that when it comes time to smog the California-based truck, it’s not going to fail when the tech sees the upgrade.

Budget Bowtie is still under warranty and the owner was worried about voiding it, making K&N’s Consumer Protection Pledge appealing to him. In a nutshell, the Pledge says that if a dealer tries to void a warranty based on the installation of a K&N filter without proving the part was responsible for the failure, K&N has a program to protect its customers. So, for about $325, the FIPK from K&N should provide an increase in power, we’ll never have to buy an air filter again, it’s legal and if a dealer tries to pull a fast one, K&N will be in our corner, which makes it a smart buy for the budget-conscious.


K&N Filters

(800) 858-3000

Product: Straight-Pipe and Ranch Muffler Exhaust Tip

Bang-For-Buck Factor: In a perfect world, everyone would be able to buy cat-back systems with stainless mandrel-bent piping polished to a mirror-like finish. Sadly it’s not. But when exhausts are concerned, second to only the catalytic converter, the muffler is the biggest source of restriction in the factory system. Budget Bowtie is all about saving pennies while searching for performance. To unlock a few extra ponies, we had Ranch Muffler in Temecula, Calif. remove the muffler in favor of a straight-pipe.

Theoretically, unless a high-flow muffler can create some sort of scavenging effect to suck air through pipes, everything else identical, the closest they can come to a straight pipe in terms of airflow is to equal it. That meant strictly for performance, we felt like we were getting a bargain with the pipe Ranch Muffler welded in place. Exhaust fumes need to somehow get in and out of the muffler and that is where we knew we’d have to compromise in performance versus a quality mandrel-bent aftermarket system that replaces all of the piping with larger diameter tubing a smoother-flowing bends.

We were feeling so good, we had Ranch Muffler go ahead and weld on one of its new 4-inch black tips. The tips are available in four different sizes and with the Pechanga reservation a few miles away, the black tip with polished feathers is one of Ranch Muffler’s hottest sellers. The nautical star and iron cross designs were cool, too, but we opted for the simple black finish to match what we had planned for the outside of Budget Bowtie. Although the tips are available in bolt-on, we had them weld it on to ward off the local hooligans and drove off with a new sound not even $200 lighter.

Performance was great; the extra pick-me-up was welcomed and we managed to shave about 0.07 second off 0-to-60 acceleration times. We even picked up 0.8 miles a gallon with the straight-pipe in place. <Be warned:> While a straight-pipe is awesome for inexpensive performance gains, it isn’t a <muffler,> meaning it does nothing to control sound. Not only did it make Budget Bowtie louder outside of the truck, it also amplified things inside the cab. Although it wasn’t unbearable, the drone at highway speeds was annoying enough for us to not rule out a full aftermarket turbo-back in the near future.


Ranch Muffler and Truck Accessories

(951) 676-4043

The Pure Power! fuel filter install like any other and has provisions for the factory water separator.

Pure Power! Lifetime Filters

At first, budget, a Pure Power! lifetime fuel filter that retails for $299.95 and oil filter that retails for $239.95 don’t go together. Do the math, though, and things start to change. Figure a decent replacement fuel filter for the Duramax costs $50. Say you’re one of those daring folks that stretches out fuel filter changes to 15,000 miles. By the time the truck has 80,000 miles on it, the Pure Power! Lifetime filter will have paid for itself. If you change filters every 10,000 miles, that goes down to 60,000 miles. Oil filters are less expensive, but in less than 200,000 that Pure Power! filter will pay itself off as well.

That’s not even taking into account testing done by independent laboratories that Pure Power! says shows that its filters have 90-percent improved particle removal down to 1 to 2 microns. Or that every filter you don’t have to throw away is one less in a landfill. Pure Power! also makes its filters in the U.S. and precision-machines its filters from billet aluminum and uses exotic materials like Mil-Spec Viton O-rings on all sealing surfaces and neodymium magnets.


Pure Power! Lifetime Filters


Optima includes different adapters depending on the group size to assure a factory-like fit.

Thinking Ahead With Optima

Nobody ever plans for a battery to die. Sometimes they don’t even let you know you’re one crank of they key away from being stranded. It’s rarely budgeted for and for bargain hunters, the urgency doesn’t allow for a lot of time to compare prices. We’ve made the mistake all too many times and paid too much for off-brand battery that lasts maybe six months. We finally thought ahead and set Budget Bow Tie up with a pair of Yellow Top Optima batteries.

For $215 a piece, we ordered dual-post 38/78 Yellow Tops in hopes to someday use the top posts for a bangin’ stereo system within the 36-month free replacement period the 750-CCA batteries are covered. That’s three years the Chevy is guaranteed reliable starting from a maintenance-free, vibration-resistant battery with Spiralcell technology.


Optima Batteries


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