GAINING AN EDGE
Installing an Edge programmer on a 7.3L Ford Super Duty Powerstroke
by Larry D. Walton
Some owners of older Ford Super Duties are reluctant to trade up to newer technology because they love how the venerable 7.3L Powerstroke keeps rolling on mile after mile, year after year with nary a whimper no matter the load. I know because that’s what I drive in my construction business.
However, as the newer diesels come out, my old workhorse is finding it tougher to keep pace pulling those long uphill grades and short on-ramps. And when traffic slows momentum on long, steep grades it takes a while to get back up to speed.
What it needed was a power upgrade. There are lots of ways to gain power from a turbodiesel, such as increasing the size of the turbo, adding an intercooler, installing bigger injectors or boosting fuel-pump pressure. The trouble is, such upgrades are typically expensive and complex for do-it-yourself installations.
A performance alternative is to tap into today’s “plug-and-play” aftermarket electronics. Programmers, modules, chips and similar devices are a fast and easy way to gain better overall performance from your diesel pickup, which includes eking out a few more mpgs if your right foot isn’t too heavy on the throttle.
We put this white-glove performance to the test on my 2001, four-wheel-drive Ford F-250 Crew Cab to highlight the benefits of such technology.
We approached the electronic power upgrade in three stages: First, we installed and tested (dyno and on the road) the Evolution programmer from Ogden, Utah-based Edge Products. Next, we tested the company’s Juice module with the optional Attitude in-cab controller.
Finally, we “stacked” both the Evolution and Juice/Attitude to see if we could tap the Powerstroke for even more muscle.
Listing for $359, the Evolution is a Game Boy-size programmer with a cable that plugs into the vehicle’s diagnostic connector (OBD-II), which on my Ford is located on the underside of the dash. Once connected, the unit displays simple instructions for reprogramming (or “flashing”) the vehicle’s computer to one of three performance levels beyond stock: Tow, Race or Extreme.
The flashing process, which takes less than five minutes via simple “yes” or “no” prompts, gives the factory computer different instructions on how to respond to throttle, load and atmospheric conditions so it will make more power earlier and hold it longer.
Once the programming is finished, disconnect the Evolution and store it in the glove box should you need to return the engine back to factory settings.
The optional Juice module consists of a thin, cigarette-pack-sized device that mounts under the hood and uses cables with “Y”-connectors to plug into various sensors on top of the engine and to the throttle position sensor above the gas pedal. It takes less than 15 minutes to install.
The Juice module basically intercepts the signals from the factory sensors and fools the vehicle’s engine control module (ECM) into thinking the operating conditions require changes in fuel delivery, turbo boost and timing – with the end result being the engine develops more power faster.
Like the Evolution, the Juice module offers a stock mode, plus three additional power levels. You choose the power level by flipping a toggle on the dash or console. But there’s still another option.
With the addition of Edge’s in-cab, driver-controlled Attitude monitor/controller, the package offers five power levels that can be shifted on the fly.
Installing the Attitude takes about 30 minutes and requires drilling a hole in the exhaust manifold and installing an exhaust gas temperature (EGT) sending unit. (EGT data is one of several on-screen digital readouts displayed on the Attitude monitor.)
The in-cab display also provides readouts of rpm, turbo boost as well as the power mode the Juice is running in.
More importantly, the Attitude monitor/controller allows the system to automatically defuel the engine if EGT levels are dangerously high, thus saving your engine and turbo from burning up under a long, hard pull.
Bundled for $720, the Juice/Attitude combination is an ideal setup for hard everyday use because it lets the driver select the right power mode for the task at hand.
GETTING A BASELINE
To see just how much more power the Edge electronics added to my 7.3L I turned to Dan Judy Automotive in Salem, Oregon. Judy’s shop has been boosting diesel power since the early ‘80s, and his staff has experience with all types of mods – from intakes and exhausts to white-glove electronics hop-ups like this one.
Jon Prankratz, the shop’s diesel-performance installation specialist, handled my engine’s upgrades and helped Judy run the dyno tests.
In stock form, with a little more than 55,000 miles on the odometer, the 7.3L developed 196hp (peak) at the rear-wheels and 351 foot-pounds of torque during the roll-on dyno test where the transmission is locked in third. Those numbers jumped to 222hp and 482 foot-pounds during the all-gear run where the trans was left to shift on its own.
Following our baseline tests, Prankratz used the Evolution to reprogram the Ford’s factory computer for our next dyno round. He also replaced the stock Ford air filter with a Magnum Force air-intake kit from Advance Flow Engineering (aFe) and added a 4-inch turboback exhaust system from Diesel Dynamics.
Those two intake/exhaust upgrades added 8hp and 3 foot-pounds of torque to the stock numbers; they also allowed the turbo to spool up quicker and significantly slowed EGT rise during the baseline all-gear runs. (On the road, this would result in the ability to climb a long grade faster and for a longer period under heavy throttle than a stock exhaust before EGT reached critical levels, which are around 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit on the 7.3L PowerStroke.)
Judy’s dyno testing revealed the Juice/Attitude maintains the factory shift points during the various power-level settings, while the Evolution reprograms the computer to hold shifts longer in second and third gear.
Higher shift points allow the turbo to build more boost, which is one reason why the Evolution delivers higher power.
The dyno also showed the key to making maximum power with a turbodiesel is increasing both boost and fuel. In both systems, turbo boost climbed with each power setting, and in the Evolution’s Extreme mode, the exhaust smoke from over-fueling was thick enough to block out the sun.
Although we tried various combinations of settings, the best towing performance gain came with the Juice/Attitude set at Level 3 (Tow) mode, where it added 43hp and 57 foot-pounds of torque.
(Reprogramming the factory computer to the Level 1 (Tow) mode with the Evolution working by itself also added 43hp to the 7.3L Power-Stroke’s baseline horsepower, but torque actually decreased a couple foot-pounds from the baseline numbers.)
We saw similar increases at Level 4 (Race), as well as horsepower increases at Level 5 (Extreme), although these settings are not designed for daily use, especially with a trailer in-tow. In fact Edge clearly warns against using the Race and Extreme modes, saying such settings are “not for towing situations.”
That’s because the engine will not stand up to the heavy loads towing places on it under such boost pressures and the EGT heat buildup of burning all that extra fuel.
STACKING THE DECK
When we stacked the Evolution with the Juice/Attitude, our all-gear dyno numbers showed power gains, but torque did not increase correspondingly – at least at the settings generally recommended for towing situations.
If you drag race your diesel 4×4 against your son’s WRX on the weekends, the greatest all-out power gain you’ll see is with both the Evolution and Juice/Attitude programmed at Extreme settings. At this point, our 7.3L Powerstroke was registering a whopping 329hp – a 99hp gain over the baseline data with the new intake and exhaust systems.
Of course, this combo also produced a load of black smoke (unburned fuel) and set off the automatic “defuel” system as EGT reached the 1,350-degree level we’d set as the heat redline in the Attitude controller.
The Juice/Attitude stacked with the Evolution showed the best towing acceleration gains in our 0-to-60 mph and 40-to-60 mph tests pulling a 7,600-pound trailer. Our numbers showed elapsed times 7.4 seconds and 6.3 seconds quicker, respectively, over stock. Those are huge performance gains by anyone’s standards.
The best part about the stacked combination is I can leave the on-board computer flashed for the “Tow” mode and then just tap the Attitude controller on the “A”-pillar to select the level of performance needed for daily work use.
It’s clear white-glove hot-rodding of this type can indeed ramp-up significant power gains in the older Ford 7.3L, making it one of, if not the best, dollar-per-horsepower investment around. — Pro
For step-by-step instructions, click here to see the digital issue.