Power or re­fine­ment? With his lat­est Ford Ranger pack­age, diesel tun­ing spe­cial­ist Ja­son Frost of ECU Chips has proved that the two are no longer mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive.


Num­bers. Ev­ery­one loves tak­ing num­bers. And Ja­son Frost is no dif­fer­ent.

“Stan­dard,” he says ges­tur­ing to the Ford Ranger sit­ting out­side his work­shop,” these things make 110kW at the wheels. Now this one puts out 150kW at the wheels.”

Like a lot of Ki­wis ( the Ranger is not only the top sell­ing ute here, it is also the best-sell­ing in­di­vid­ual ve­hi­cle by quite some mar­gin) Ja­son, the man be­hind NZ-wide spe­cial­ist diesel tuner ECU Chips, loves his Ford Ranger – with one fairly ma­jor reser­va­tion.

“It’s an awe­some truck,” he con­firms. “They drive

beau­ti­fully, es­pe­cially on a long trip. You can carry things in them, tow a big boat all day long, but... I don’t care what any­one else says, they’re gut­less!”

Or at least they are to some­one like Ja­son who rates BMW’s X5 as the bench­mark for all other diesel-fu­elled daily driv­ers.

Which is why so much of his work time of late has been fo­cused on im­prov­ing both the out­right per­for­mance and driv­abil­ity of Ford’s top-sell­ing lo­cal ‘ truck.’

Power AND Econ­omy!

“What I am try­ing to do,” he says,” is make a so­lu­tion for

busi­ness own­ers so that we can give them a ve­hi­cle that looks, feels and drives ex­actly like a fac­tory one. So that it is not noisy, and you can’t hear a whole lot of hiss­ing and car­ry­ing on be­cause you have mod­i­fied it heav­ily. But it makes more and bet­ter power and torque and – largely be­cause of the fact – is way nicer and much more in­volv­ing, to drive.”

You won’t find a Ja­son Frost­tuned diesel-pow­ered ute, truck or even trac­tor trad­ing ul­ti­mate per­for­mance for a thick trail of black smoke either.

“You can do that,” he ad­mits. “You can chuck a set of in­jec­tors on it and you will have a coal burner but, hon­estly, who wants that? Fac­tory in­jec­tors mean good fuel econ­omy. Swap them out for big­ger in­jec­tors and you lose your fuel econ­omy.”

Ja­son’s lat­est daily- driven ‘ test bed’ is a white PX2­model auto dou­ble cab with a set of larger di­am­e­ter af­ter­mar­ket al­loy wheels and chunky Cooper Tires, t yres. Here in Auck­land you lit­er­ally see hun­dreds like it ev­ery day, most be­ing driven – on the seal – by

their tradie, or other­wise self- em­ployed own­ers.

Of all the com­mon-rail tur­bod­iesel en­gines the 3.2 litre in-line five cylin­der Ford is one of, if not, the best. Like any pro­duc­tion pow­er­plant, how­ever, com­pro­mises have been made. It might be one of the only cur­rent ute en­gines to be equipped ex-fac­tory with the more ef­fi­cient piezo­elec­tric diesel in­jec­tors, but the stan­dard ( small) in­ter­cooler and ( re­stric­tive) turbo limit the gains in power and torque a tuner can make.

A good place to start

That said, Ja­son says a good place to start is with a tune and an af­ter­mar­ket in­ter­cooler.

“The idea there,” he says, “is sim­ply to in­crease air den­sity by cool­ing the charge.

“Once you have done that, you can look at up­grad­ing the turbo and ex­haust.”

And therein lies a les­son in mod­ern day fuel and en­gine man­age­ment which Ja­son is only too happy to share.

“Mak­ing mod­ern en­gines last is all about heat man­age­ment.

Be­cause at the fac­tory they are so fo­cused on emis­sions, most mod­ern en­gines run re­ally hot.

By the sim­ple ex­pe­di­ent of chang­ing ther­mostats and run­ning the large truck en­gines he also tunes, cooler, Ja­son has been able to make ‘huge gains’ both in per­for­mance and in the work­ing life of en­gines.

It is this ex­pe­ri­ence he is now bring­ing to bear on ev­ery­day turbo-diesel ute en­gines like the Ranger one.

With its large but ex­pertly hid­den in­ter­cooler and the Aussie-mod­ded stan­dard turbo ( larger com­pres­sor and tur­bine wheels and a mod­i­fied in­take) plus ( much) freer-flow­ing three-inch dia. stain­less steel turbo-back ex­haust, Ja­son’s ‘work’ ute could hardly be a bet­ter real-world ad­ver­tise­ment for his work.

Though it starts and idles just like an un­mod­ded fac­tory Ranger you can’t help but no­tice an im­me­di­ate spring in its step the minute you take off. With the auto trans­mis­sion do­ing the shift­ing, power de­liv­ery is re­lent­less, with not even a hint of lag and ab­so­lutely in­stant re­sponse to what your throt­tle foot if do­ing.

More in­volv­ing to drive

The en­gine cer­tainly feels live­lier and both the power and torque spreads wider and

with less ob­vi­ous steps and/or troughs, mak­ing an ECU Chipsmod­ded Ranger both eas­ier and much more in­volv­ing ( think less like a work ve­hi­cle and more like a sporty sort of SUV) to drive

That’s not all, either. Last time I drove – and wrote about – one of Ja­son’s ‘work trucks’ it was a man­ual Ranger. I was im­pressed then, even though Ja­son reck­oned there was more to come when he added a wa­ter in­jec­tion sys­tem to fur­ther cool the charge.

This time we were out for a drive on a hilly back road deep in Auck­land’s Waitakere Ranges when, out of the blue Ja­son turned to me and said, “When we get to the bot­tom of the hill, put your foot down.”

Just as I was about to, he flicked a rocker switch and... the Ranger lit­er­ally jumped ahead as Ja­son, broad smile plas­tered across his face, chuck­led and said, “You like that? That’s what wa­ter in­jec­tion can do!

“Imag­ine,” he con­tin­ued, “that you do a lot of tow­ing and you just need a bit more go on a big hill. Not ev­ery­one needs it but you can feel the dif­fer­ence, can’t you?”

Cool idea!

While I was aware of the con­cept of wa­ter in­jec­tion, I had never re­ally both­ered find­ing out what it ac­tu­ally is and does. Good thing then that I had Ja­son sit­ting be­side me.

The sys­tem he has de­vel­oped is based around a small plas­tic con­tainer (about the size of a typ­i­cal wind­screen washer reser­voir) tucked in out of harm’s way on the left hand side of the ute tray.

He fills this with wa­ter and a dash of methanol ( up to 40 per­cent) and when he feels the need, pumps the fluid via a tube and fit­ting into the Ranger’s in­take man­i­fold.

“By in­ject­ing wa­ter into the in­take man­i­fold it in­creases the air den­sity so you can get a lot more air into the en­gine,” he ex­plains. “Cooler, denser air ob­vi­ously helps the fuel burn bet­ter be­cause you’ve got more oxy­gen in the burn. The methanol is there for the same rea­son. When you add it you

get a mild in­crease in power, but also the wa­ter just seems to work bet­ter when it has got some methanol in it.”

There’s a good rea­son Ja­son high­lights tow­ing when talk­ing about a Ranger as well.

“What we have found,” he says,

“is that tow­ing abil­ity is greatly im­proved with low in­take and ex­haust tem­per­a­tures. Adding the wa­ter re­ally helps do this which means this Ranger will hold its power even on the big hills un­like the stock one which cuts power when the fac­tory ECU de­cides that the in­take air tem­per­a­ture is get­ting too high.”

If he wanted to, too, Ja­son says he could easily find “an­other 20 to 30 kWs.”

“Tuned at this level (150kW) all I would need to do is put big­ger in­jec­tors in it and I could take it up to 175/180kW at the wheels.

The turbo would sup­port it but you would lit­er­ally be blow­ing a lot more hot air, all the temps would be higher and you’d be get­ting near your lim­its.”

Works so well

“The rea­son the 150kW tunes work so well is be­cause we are not max­ing out the turbo. There is still 20 or so kW at the wheel left in it so it makes its boost easily with­out gen­er­at­ing ex­ces­sive heat.

“At this (150kW) level, in fact, all my temps – in­take and ex­haust – are low but my air/ fuel ra­tios are re­ally, re­ally, high, some­thing like 30 per­cent higher ( mean­ing it is

run­ning con­sid­er­ably leaner) than that of a stan­dard Ranger.”

Is that a prob­lem?

On the con­trary, says Ja­son. “Your fuel con­tam­i­na­tion is way less, and the pis­ton crowns are not get­ting as hot be­cause the charge is cooler, so what we are do­ing is gen­er­at­ing more power but not more heat which is why the temps stay so low.”

Weapon’s grade

And I can’t help but be­lieve him. Should you ‘ feel the need for speed’ Ja­son’s mod­ded Ranger is weapons-

grade. Put your foot down ( and bet­ter still) hold it down and it sucks the hori­zon to­wards you with an ur­gency that makes grown men go strangely silent... then burst out in a bout of school­girl- like gig­gles...

Yet at the same time, when all you want to do is get from A to B the way the en­gine de­liv­ers its new­found power and torque will have you mak­ing favourable com­par­isons with ve­hi­cles other­wise way above your pay grade.

So if you own a Ranger ( or any other con­tem­po­rary

turbo- diesel-pow­ered ute, sta­tion wagon or SUV) and you are think­ing about un­leash­ing some more of its la­tent per­for­mance/ ef­fi­ciency/ econ­omy po­ten­tial, you owe it to your­self to check Ja­son and his work out.

These days the ECU Chips’ Face­book page ( www. face­book/ com/ ecuchips. co/ nz/) is prob­a­bly the best place to start. The com­pany also has a web­site ( www. ecuchips.co. nz) and Ja­son is not averse to you sim­ply get­ting on the blower ( 09- 416 5444) and hav­ing a chat.

Story and pho­tos by Ross MacKay.

Test bed. Ja­son Frost’s Ford Ranger.

Un­der the bon­net.

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