Flash back to a time when the world stood at the brink of annihilation. Fingers hovered over the big red button which would trigger a nuclear holocaust. Each superpower was so entrenched in which idology was best that they sought to influence other countries and peoples to change their ways. We called it the Cold War because the USA and USSR never formaly engaged each other instead playing a proxy game of cat and mouse fighting over territories large and small for superiority. Is the same thing about to happen to the car world?

Cold Rodding

Cold Rodding (trademark pending) is what we, the enthusiasts, picture the future of automotive tuning. We look to the future of car customization with rose colored glasses envisising a new golden age of four wheeled freedom. Yet what I fear most is that we’ll envision a tomorrow which becomes as dismally dissapointing as the non-existant Back to the Future Hover-boards.

Automotive tuning has developed a cancer which may very well be terminal. Right now we see computers as the superpower bestowed upon our vehicles. Like a hero granted unbelievable powers by some kind of exposure to massive amounts of gamma rays, instead we very well could be counting down the days till the death of customization.

How can this be? Auto journalists everywhere have discussed the amazing potential ready to be unlocked by the most talented of “programmers” and “hackers”. I keep hearing the same idea over and over again, “some day a kid in his garage will be able to plug in a USB to his car and remap the suspension settings, air/fuel mixture, valve timing, etc...” Sounds amazing, right? There’s no reason this can’t happen, especially with the amount of vehicle settings now controlled by the ECU. Yet there’s a shadow lurking in the darkness. A war is being fought right now over our freedom.

The War to End All Wars

Every so often a headline pops up about automakers trying to protect against the modification of their vehicles. This is happening in a very pronounced way in the tech spheres. Apple tried to get an injuction against people ‘Jailbreaking’ their software. One side argues for protection of intellectual property and preserverence of proper functionality while the other proclaims their right to do whatever they want with the products they paid for.

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I’m sure by now you can see the corrilation. It’s the fight for freedom and individuality over uniformity. Unfortunately for us on the side of customization the opposition has a weapon which could end all wars. Encryption.

It’s like opening a coffee shop with Wi-fi and telling customers you don’t know the password is.

Anyone who has taken a few programming classes can, in a matter of hours, write a code which is uncrackable. Right now, a tuner like APR must employ a team of computer scientists just to read the code the automakers are hiding. It’s like opening a coffee shop with Wi-fi and telling customers you don’t know what the password is. Soon their technical knowhow will outweigh the importance of engineers. Why? Because the very technologies and modifications that we have developed for years are dependent on systems that are now controlled by computers. Sure you can throw a bigger turbo under the hood or bore out the cylinders but without adjusting the engine parameters to optimize these modifications you’ll quickly find all the hardware changes useless without modifying the software to match.

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I Am Become Death, Destroyer of Fun

Take for example the BMW 335i, a car that’s been around for quite some time now. Fully unleashed the twin turbo engine could, in stock form with a tune, match it’s seemingly more capable M3 counterpart (E92). Yet it took a considerable amount of time for programmers within the tuning companies to crack the code to allow them to make modifications. This timetable to decrypt the ECU will only grow, stalling progress on the tuning front.

As amazing as the current crop of vehicles are, I am not bullish on the future of automotive tuning as vehicles grow more and more complex and more reliant on their electronics for adjustments. Will our fate be predetermined in an Orwellian fashion? Only time will tell how this battle will play out. Nobody is rushing out to grab a BMW i8 and working on extracting more power out of it, does it matter or am I wearing this tin foil hat for nothing?