Probably the most talked about upgrade for the most popular trucks on the market in recent years, big coal burning diesels, is the performance programmer or tuner. The Duramax equipped trucks from GM are no exception.
The beauty of these programmers is that they offer a wide range of features and plenty of customizations to fit your individual needs. The flood of choices is sometimes hard to wade through, but I’ve selected the cream of the crop so you can choose the best tuner programmer for your Duramax diesel.
For Stock or Upgraded Applications
Keep in mind that while these tuners will definitely benefit a stock truck, bolt on modifications including a free flowing exhaust will multiply your gains almost exponentially. This is because the ECU can then be tuned to make the most of your free flowing upgrades. Between the DPF system and multiple sound reducing devices, the stock exhausts are extremely restrictive from the factory making an exhaust upgrade a highly recommended mod.
Solid Gains With Stock Setups
Not to worry though as solid gains are still available when using a tuner on your Duramax which is running the stock intake and exhaust systems. If you decide to upgrade those areas later then your tuner will still be perfectly capable of providing the ideal fuelling and shifting settings for your setup. Read on to find the best diesel tuner for your needs.
If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, but you still want a fully featured, internet updateable tuner, next on the list is the Edge Diesel Evolution CTS2. This unit is available in vehicle line specific part numbers and covers all the 2001 to 2015 6.6 litre Duramax trucks, from the 2500 chassis to the 5500, as well as various Powerstrokes and Cummins trucks.
Besides your common features such as multiple tune settings, gauge displays, speedometer and rev limiter adjustments, and online update ability, it also will also allow you do some fine tuning that basic programmers don’t allow.
One thing we have to consider a feature in and of itself, is the huge full color, high resolution display. It is 5 inches across, touch enabled, and even has color mixers to customize gauges, needles, and backgrounds.
Sometimes the gauges on other tuner displays can be hard to see due to screen size or the gauge color choice of the product designers. That’s not a problem with this diesel chip tuner as you can change all the LCD display’s colors to suit your tastes. Out of the box the high contrast colors make it easy to see critical gauges at a glance, and that’s important when you are monitoring your temps and other vital engine data while towing.
Features & Tunability
Aside from the display, other features include the ability to tune torque management, fuel pressures, and plenty of other calibrations. Note that this programmer does NOT support tuning shift points or shift firmness for Duramax applications. This is also beneficial if you take the truck to a professional tuner with a dyno.
The unit can then be used to build and save a custom tailored tune specific to your own truck. For the plug and go types, it also comes preset with tunes for mileage, towing, daily mix, and performance oriented uses. The unit has a notification center for alerts as well so you’ll be aware of any potential issues before they can become a problem.
What Do Customers Think?
Customers have been reporting very impressive power gains over stock (along with big grins to match), though the economy improvements overall are less than the fuel efficiency gains that other tuners offer. Negatives include the CTS2’s trip meter resetting to zero every time the engine is turned off but most users will use their built in dash trip meter so this is not a show stopper. Some users also report that the fuel mileage readouts including “AVG MPG” and “Actual MPG” were either highly inaccurate or simply did not work at all which is disappointing to hear.
With large power gains on offer and a good range of preset maps, the Edge CTS2 is an excellent “bang for your buck” choice. The 5” bright and easy to read touch display is simply the cherry on top of this solid Duramax tuner. Our highly recommended tuner to unlease the real potential of your Duramax powerplant without breaking the bank.
Normally available for a bit less than the Edge CTS2 price wise, is the Bully Dog GT. The Bully Dog is compatible with all the Duramax 6.6 trucks from 2001 to 2015, and they are currently working on coverage for the newer models. Just like the Edge model above the Bully Dog includes a “Safety Defueling” feature.
This means the Bully Dog will cut fuel in the event of an issue concerning either the exhaust gas temperatures (EGT), engine coolant temps, over-boost, or transmission temperatures. It’s an important feature that will ensure your engine and transmission provide years of problem free use. Potentially expensive repair bills can also be avoided now that all the critical engine data can be quickly and easily monitored at a glance.
The display, while not touch enabled, does have a full color display with multiple color schemes to help readability, as well as daytime and nighttime modes so you can focus on driving instead of being blinded by the tuner display on your dash. This module is also internet updateable like the other high end tuners featured earlier.
The most unique feature of the Bully Dog GT is the Driving Coach feature. Its design allows the module to monitor driving characteristics and coach the driver with audio and visual feedback as to how efficient their driving habits are. Bully Dog claims drivers are able to save an average of 37% on monthly fuel costs if they only adjust their driving habits. Driving Coach helps you to learn and make adjustments in that regard.
The main difference that is first noticed between the Edge 85100 and 85400 would be the screen. While the 85400 features a huge 5” touch screen, the 85100 only has a 2.4” screen with navigation buttons on the side.
Don’t let it fool you though, it has all of the best features of the 85400 in terms of capabilities while carrying a “value for money” price tag. Another interesting feature is what Edge named the “Maintenance Manager” that allows the user to set up mileage based points and reminders for upcoming servicing work and maintenance.
The Edge is compatible with the 2001-2015 6.6 Duramax, which includes the LB7, LLY, LBZ, LMM, and LML equipped trucks. A dash pod mount is also available for the 85100 Evolution to give it a seamless factory look when mounted to your dash. Customers have reported several MPG in improvement using the preset economy tune and strong power and acceleration gains in the different preset performance modes. Negatives include the fact that most trucks built before 2002 are not compatible with this unit and that adjusting your wheel size above 34” in the tuner will throw error lights on some truck models.
The Xcelerator from PPE is another solid tuner and it’s also made in the USA. The Xcelerator tuner was specifically designed to provide better throttle response, shifting characteristics, and add big power without the need for expensive fueling and air upgrades.
The best part about this tuner is not only will it optimize a stock engine’s performance and fuel efficiency but it’s also perfectly capable of tuning engine setups that include a free flowing exhaust and a cold air intake system.
It allows you to read and clear DTC’s (diagnostic trouble codes), adjust the speed limiter, adjust gear ratios and speed calibrations for oversize tires, and has 5 tune settings pre-installed. It can be upgraded by connecting it to a PC as well, if the user needs other tunes or wants to upgrade to the high performance Hot or Hot+2 versions.
Substantial power gains are available with a 2001-2005.5 LB7 and LLY gaining up to 220 HP and 332 Ft/Tq. For the 2006-2010 LLY, LBZ, and LMM trucks, the user can increase power by up to 225 HP and 335 Ft/Tq. It’s literally a hand held style tuner, so it doesn’t mount up tidily to the dash, but it’s functionality and features remain similar to the suction cup dash mounted style programmers.
One great feature Duramax owners should find useful is the ability to monitor injector balance rates, which makes monitoring or troubleshooting potential issues far easier. We’ve heard of one very happy customer who claimed his 2006 Duramax truck went from 13 mpg stock to 21 mpg average with the PPE, a 4” straight piped exhaust, a cold air intake setup, and 3” down pipe.
Other customers are seeing solid power increases even when using the lower HP preloaded tunes and some are not able to run the high HP tunes as their stock clutches are unable to handle the extra power. While this unit doesn’t include a fancy LCD touch display with digital gauges suctioned to your dash, don’t let the dated two color LCD design put you off.
Wrapping It All Up
Whichever way you decide to go, something to always keep in mind is your own use and needs. All of the tuners above come with a number of preset tunes to suit towing duties, around town driving or maximum power delivery. There is some variation in how they display the different readouts and some models have a few quirks as mentioned in each of the above reviews.
The one thing they all have in common is they are all solid products made by reputable companies with plenty of happy customers. They will all increase the HP and torque of your trucks Duramax power plant while also improving fuel mileage and general responsiveness. Many customers also report less issues with their rigs going into regen or limp mode which is a nice added bonus.
Basically your pride and joy (or “the tow rig”) will run stronger and cooler for longer with less issues and less potentially expensive repairs. The most repeated feedback from customers was “I wish I bought my tuner sooner”. Unleash the beast the factory strangled in order to meet emissions regulations and discover how your truck truly feels and drives once it has a tuner installed.
The potential benefits of a personal diesel programmer module are just too great to pass up, and they pay for themselves in the long term due to reduced maintenance and fuel costs. Now you know which Duramax tuner programmer is best for your truck, what are you waiting for? Order your tuner today!