Ultimate Diesel Builder's Guide - - Contents -

BD Diesel Tap Shifter and VVT Brake

While the 6.4L Power Stroke was vir­tu­ally a home run for the Ford camp com­pared to its 6.0L Power Stroke pre­de­ces­sor, it still had its fair share of short­com­ings. The ad­di­tion of more emis­sions equip­ment and the Diesel Par­tic­u­late Fil­ter re­ally hurt over­all fuel econ­omy, and de­sign flaws in the en­gine have caused some is­sues with high-mileage dura­bil­ity. But when it comes to power and per­for­mance, not much comes close to the 6.4L with the ad­di­tion of sim­ple bolt-ons like an in­take, ex­haust and tuner (550+ rear wheel horse­power ca­pa­ble).

These trucks can get just about any job done with­out break­ing a sweat, but the lack of fac­tory VVT (vari­able vane turbo) brak­ing and man­ual con­trol over the au­to­matic trans­mis­sion can re­ally be­come ap­par­ent when tow­ing heavy or sled pulling. To over­come these is­sues, BD Diesel of Ab­botts­ford, Bri­tish Columbia, de­vel­oped a Tap Shifter and VVT Ex­haust Brake de­signed to im­prove the tow­ing ef­fi­ciency and over­all driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for 2008-2010 6.4L Power Strokes.


In 2006 GM in­tro­duced an all-new trans­mis­sion fea­ture for the Du­ra­max/al­li­son com­bi­na­tion. The “Tap­shifter” al­lowed full man­ual con­trol of the shift pat­terns in the au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, ba­si­cally al­low­ing the driver to over­ride the au­to­matic shift sched­ule and re­strict the trans­mis­sion from up­shift­ing or down­shift­ing by con­trol of a +/- but­ton lo­cated on the shift lever. This quickly be­came a must-have


op­tion for diesel own­ers and is now a stan­dard fea­ture in both Ram and Ford trucks, and con­tin­ues to be a fea­ture of Chevro­let and GMC mod­els.

Un­for­tu­nately, Ford didn’t start of­fer­ing this un­til the re­lease of the 2011 6.7L Power Stroke, leav­ing the 2008-2010 6.4L Power Stroke own­ers with the sturdy 5R110 au­to­matic stuck in the Stone Age. Watch­ing and feel­ing a trans­mis­sion con­tin­u­ally hunt for gears while tow­ing over long grades and be­ing un­able to main­tain a safe speed and gear while de­scend­ing steep passes can get quite frus­trat­ing.

Af­ter some ex­ten­sive re­search and test­ing, a Tap Shifter for the 6.4L Power Stroke mod­els is now in full pro­duc­tion. The kit in­cludes an OE 2011 Ford shift se­lec­tor with built-in +/- but­ton, pro­fes­sional-grade wiring har­ness with OE pig­tail con­nec­tions, and a LED gear se­lect dis­play for the dash. Us­ing the new BD 6.4L Tap Shifter, own­ers can now con­trol up­shifts 1-5 and down­shifts 5-1 at their fin­ger­tips, of­fer­ing bet­ter con­trol while tow­ing heavy or try­ing to keep within their max power band on the sled pull track.

Along with the abil­ity to con­trol the shift pat­tern man­u­ally, the Tap Shifter kit has six pre­set shift pat­terns that can fine-tune the au­to­matic’s shift sched­ule based on driv­ing habits and mod­i­fi­ca­tions. The trans­mis-

sion’s nor­mal shift points can be low­ered 10 per­cent or raised as much as 30 per­cent de­pend­ing on the set­ting you se­lect, it also of­fers Semi/ Man­ual and Race/man­ual modes.

When run­ning in Semi/man­ual, the trans­mis­sion will not kick down to a lower gear un­til the ve­hi­cle starts to slow. The Race mode al­lows con­trol of up­shifts and torque con­verter lock-up via the Tow/haul but­ton in ei­ther fourth or fifth gear. The Tap Shifter kit will also im­prove the truck’s over­all tow­ing per­for­mance and en­gine brak­ing when run­ning an ex­haust brake or the BD Diesel Vari­able Vane Turbo Brake kit.


Like the fac­tory-equipped Tap Shifters avail­able in the newer Ford, GM and Ram trucks, vari­able vane turbo brak­ing is also stan­dard is­sue these days. The VVT turbo’s ad­justable vanes give quick spool-up with a broad mid-range and strong top end for great per­for­mance through- out the rpm range. Since these vanes can be closed on com­mand elec­tron­i­cally, they can help in re­strict­ing ex­haust out­put on de­cel­er­a­tion for ad­di­tional en­gine re­tard­ing and ex­haust brak­ing.

Ford has been us­ing vari­able-ge­om­e­try tur­bos since the in­tro­duc­tion of the 6.0L Power Stroke in 2003, but didn’t start of­fer­ing turbo brak­ing un­til the lat­est 2015 6.7L Power Stroke mod­els. Since the re­quired me­chan­i­cal pieces for turbo brak­ing are al­ready there in the 6.4L plat­form, BD en­gi­neers just had to de­velop the elec­tron­ics to con­trol it from in­side the cab.

The VVT Ex­haust Brake sys­tem con­trols the fac­tory high-pres­sure tur­bocharger ex­haust vanes on com­mand with two per­for­mance set­tings, one with vane brak­ing only and one with vane brak­ing and a more ag­gres­sive trans­mis­sion down­shift strat­egy. Since clos­ing the vanes will in­crease back­pres­sure within the en­gine, by down­shift­ing and rais­ing en­gine rpm you’ll be able to max­i­mize the back­pres­sure (up­wards of 70 psi) and gain an ad­di­tional 130 re­tard­ing horse­power for slow­ing your load or main­tain­ing safer speeds on long down­hill grades. The sys­tem is com­pletely plug and play with just one wire need­ing to be tapped in the brake pedal har­ness. The pro­fes­sional-grade wiring har­ness al­lows for easy in­stal­la­tion (less than one hour in most cases).


The truck used in this ar­ti­cle is a 2008 crew cab short bed with more than 170,000 miles and run­ning a host of af­ter­mar­ket parts that in­clude a Spar­tan Dash­daq tuner, cold-air in­take, 4-inch ex­haust, up­graded tur­bocharg­ers and a built trans­mis­sion. As a la­borer in the oil­fields of North Dakota, the owner def­i­nitely knows how to put his truck through its paces and gave ex­cel­lent feed­back on the ad­di­tion of the BD Diesel Tap Shifter and Vari­able Vane Ex­haust Brake kit.

While tow­ing a 27-foot 9,500-lb travel trailer, the new BD VVT Brake was tested on a two-mile-long, 6-per­cent grade lo­cated just out­side of Og­den, Utah. In stock form, start­ing off the grade at the posted 50-mph speed limit, the truck be­gan to gain speed less than a half mile down the hill. While the fac­tory Tow/haul mode helps in these sit­u­a­tions (thanks to a good torque con­verter and shift con­trol), the truck gained mo­men­tum up to 58 mph when the driver had to start rid­ing the brakes to keep the ve­hi­cle within the speed limit.

Once at the bot­tom, we went back up the grade to test out the fac­tory up­shift pat­tern and see how it han­dled the weight, and how it al­lowed the en­gine to work and gain speed over the hill. While it felt as if the truck could’ve run cooler EGTS and worked bet­ter hold­ing third gear, it did shift into fourth and lug its way to the top, haz­ing smoke out the tailpipe with EGTS get­ting ever so close to the un­safe 1,350+ range.

Turn­ing around once again, we could make a fi­nal run back down the moun­tain­side, this time run­ning the BD VVT Brake in Po­si­tion Two. This set­ting gave us both turbo vane con­trol and a more ag­gres­sive down­shift pat­tern. Again, start­ing off the hill at the posted 50-mph speed limit, the truck main­tained 50 mph for around three-tenths of a mile (stock had gained speed up to 53 mph by this point) and then started to ac­tu­ally

slow it­self and the trailer. At the half-mile point of the 6-per­cent grade, the truck had down­shifted and slowed to just 43 mph.

Im­pressed with its per­for­mance, the driver opted to con­tinue let­ting the truck do its thing and see what it was ca­pa­ble of. Within an­other half a mile it had slowed to just 35 mph. With al­most a mile left in the down­hill stretch, the ex­haust brake had been so ef­fec­tive that we turned it off en­tirely so the truck could get back up to the posted speed limit. On the re­turn back up the hill, run­ning the Tap Shifter in Semi/man­ual mode, the driver could com­mand 1-3 gears only so a higher rpm range could be run over the grade. This kept boost up and EGTS down to just 1,050 de­grees over the top at the same speed as it did when run­ning stock gear pat­terns.

If you own a 6.4L Power Stroke and do a lot of tow­ing, the VVT Ex­haust Brake kit will def­i­nitely aid over­all con­trol and tow­ing per­for­mance. With first-hand test­ing ex­pe­ri­ence show­ing such promis­ing re­sults, it can turn a treach­er­ous down­hill de­scent into just an­other Sun­day drive, all while tak­ing some of the abuse off your brake pads and ro­tors. As for the Tap Shifter kit, whether you’re daily driv­ing and tow­ing or us­ing your truck as a com­pe­ti­tion hot rod run­ning a big sin­gle tur­bocharger, the con­trol it gives you over the trans­mis­sion and rpm range can re­ally take the 6.4L’s po­ten­tial to an all-new level. UDBG

11 The VVT sys­tem is con­trolled in-cab with a three-po­si­tion switch that can be mounted just about any­where the owner prefers. The small bracket of­fers end­less mount­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties, but di­rectly un­der the steer­ing col­umn of­fered the eas­i­est reach...

10 With most of the Tap Shifter in­stal­la­tion com­pleted, it was time to move onto the BD Diesel VVT Ex­haust Brake mod­ule.

12 As men­tioned be­fore, when run­ning the BD VVT Ex­haust Brake mod­ule in con­junc­tion with the Tap Shifter mod­ule, their wiring har­nesses will be plugged into each other and then pig­gy­backed into the fac­tory wiring har­ness. While it seems com­pli­cated, it...

13 The VVT mod­ule will tap into the fac­tory brake pedal wiring har­ness so it can re­ceive sig­nals from the brake pedal to know ex­actly when it needs to turn on or off based on the driver’s in­put. There’s one wire within the har­ness to tap, which will be...

8 The only real wiring re­quired with the Tap Shifter kit hap­pens un­der the truck along the trans­mis­sion cross­mem­ber where the main trans­mis­sion wire bun­dle is routed. Here, you’ll re­move the fac­tory shield­ing to gain ac­cess to the big bun­dle of wires...

7 With the stock lever re­moved, you can see the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences. While the +/- but­ton is the most ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ence, the bend in the lever is slightly dif­fer­ent as well, which will put the lever in a lit­tle dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion. The...

6 With the col­umn cover re­moved, there’s just one wire con­nec­tor and a T30 torx bolt hold­ing the fac­tory shift lever in place. Since the new shift lever is gen­uine Ford, it will go back in place of the stocker us­ing the same wire con­nec­tor and bolt....

9 The Tap Shifter kit in­cludes this handy lit­tle dis­play to show driv­ers which gear has been se­lected while in the man­ual shift mode. The mod­ule will dis­play gears 1-5 as se­lected by the but­ton on the shift lever. It can be placed for easy view­ing...

5 The plas­tic steer­ing col­umn cover needs to be re­moved to gain ac­cess to the fac­tory shift se­lec­tor so it can be re­placed with the newer 2011+ shift lever with built-in Tap Shifter but­tons. There are a few screws on the bot­tom panel at­tach­ing it to...

1 The new Tap Shifter and Vari­able Vane Ex­haust Brake kits from BD Diesel are the an­swer to ev­ery 6.4L Power Stroke owner’s dreams. Whether be­ing used for heavy tow­ing or just a high-per­for­mance ap­pli­ca­tion that could ben­e­fit from bet­ter con­trol of the...

3 The Tap Shifter con­trol box mounts un­der the dash and in­cludes a pro­fes­sional-grade wiring har­ness to make the in­stal­la­tion vir­tu­ally plug-and-play. The kit will pig­gy­back the fac­tory OBD-II port and shift se­lec­tor pig­tail. There’s one wire down...

2 BD Diesel en­gi­neers de­vel­oped the first af­ter­mar­ket Tap Shifter mod­ule for the 2008-2010 6.4L Power Stroke. The sys­tem of­fers five pre­set shift sched­ules to im­prove daily driv­ing and tow­ing needs along with full man­ual shift con­trol when the need...

4 The fac­tory OBD-II port will be re­moved from its mount­ing lo­ca­tion un­der the dash and plugged into the fe­male end of the OBD-II pig­tail in the BD har­ness. The new male end of the har­ness will be fas­tened to the stock lo­ca­tion un­der the dash.

14 With both kits in­stalled, it was time for some real-world test­ing. With a 9,500-pound travel trailer in tow, the ad­di­tional brak­ing as­sist from the tur­bocharger vane con­trol be­came in­stantly no­tice­able, as on most grades the fac­tory ser­vice brakes...

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