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Hacking your Car

By BadlandZ in MLP
Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 05:55:59 PM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

I ran across a cool little tool for people into cars and computers. VW/Audi in this case, but, with some effort, a lot more cars. I'm looking for more information on diagnostic tools for cars. There are a couple out there, but not many open source ones, and they do seem a bit difficult to find.

I was researching some news for a VW GTI site and I came across OpenDiag, a ISO 9141 project that seems to have quietly just been open sourced by it's creator (strangely enough hosted at Power TV, hope it goes to SourceForge soon to attract developers and make use of resources). I'm probably going to buy a Ross Tech VAG-COM this weekend so I can generate some cool 0-60MPH graphs and know a bit more about my car, but I thought there would probably be a bunch of geeks out there besides me that would love to get a little more into the whole "hack your car" thing, so I thought I would mention it. Nice to see someone who isn't out to make a buck and patent every cool software/hardware hack they do for a change.

Basically, you rechip the ECU in your car to do preformance modifications. Most people are happy enought paying about $100 to $500 for a new ECU chip with a better preformance program. So, there's not a lot of "hacking" to the car, just the monitoring interface.

It's more a hacking of the diagnostic tool, not the car itself.... But, there are quite a few people who do hack cars, like GIAC. These guys aren't really hackers as much as they are "tuners." And, it's the fine tuning they have done to engines that earns them the respect to get people to buy their chips.

I think hacking the cars ECU would probably be, uh... Hmm... Much less safe, popular, and practical than hacking an interface for the diagnostic tool. But yea, more links and info would be cool, I submitted this hopeing someone would know more info/hacks and post it. I wasn't able to dig up nearly as much as I would like to.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Related Links
o a VW GTI site
o OpenDiag
o Power TV
o SourceForg e
o Ross Tech VAG-COM
o cool 0-60MPH graphs
o Also by BadlandZ

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Hacking your Car | 14 comments (13 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
Awesome Japanese site (3.66 / 3) (#2)
by fuchikoma on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 05:27:43 PM EST

This is the first site I'd heard of this from. He's hacked a few of his cars, and pretty much whatever he gets his hands on. (Built a Gameboy reader/writer with user-friendly interface, hacks arcade boards like the Capcom system 2, wrote a tool to work with the 3DO filesystem, etc...) Awesome reading here.

ECU hacking (4.33 / 3) (#3)
by Rand Race on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 05:36:59 PM EST

Sorry, I couldn't find any links either. I do, however, have some experience 'hacking' ECUs. You're right that just going in and fiddling with the settings is quite unsafe, especialy in cars with ABS, airbags, and such electronic gizmos. What I did was read an aftermarket chip to find out what they tweaked in comparison to the original and then played with those settings, knowing it was fairly safe. A bit more black hat is simply copying an aftermarket chip to an EPROM, if you already have an EPROM burner it's much cheaper.

If you have some time, an EPROM burner/reader, and a dyno it can be downright fun. If you start tweaking it seriously though, you'll probably want an extra engine or two.

"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one, He must approve the homage of Reason rather than that of blindfolded Fear." - Thomas Jefferson

Danger Will Robingson, Danger (3.00 / 4) (#4)
by Hillgiant on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 09:41:36 PM EST

A warning to the kids at home:
Remapping your engine is MAJOR Deep Voodoo. This is the computer hardware equivalent of trying to turn a Celeron into a P!!! by resoldering the `missing' cache (i.e. feidishly difficult for even the professional). Most tuners have several cars to experiment on, a firm understanding of engine design & control, and a heck of alot of experience.

Ask yourself: is saving a couple hundred bucks on a ECU worked over by someone who know what they are doing, or do you want to risk killing your several thousand dollar car. On top of that, the better companies offer (limited) warrentees on thier product.

Remember friends, you can reinstall a computer for dern cheep, but rebuilding your engine is very expensive.

"It is impossible to say what I mean." -johnny

Re: Danger Will Robingson, Danger (5.00 / 2) (#5)
by BadlandZ on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 11:12:47 PM EST

Reread please. I know I typed a little to fast, but, the point was, DIAGNOSTIC TOOLS to read info from the engine, running them on a laptop or something. NOT recoding the ECU, which I mentioned should be done by real tuners like GIAC or other pro engine tuners.

While I appreciate your interest and warning, it's sorta not the topic I'm referring to. I was sorta hoping to find a GPL tool for Linux to do stuff like log RPM, speed, time, etc. to gain a better understanding of preformance. Also, the diagnostic tools allow you to see the details about what trips warning lights, and other car related info not related to retuning your engine.

[ Parent ]

My Bad... (none / 0) (#12)
by Hillgiant on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 11:07:20 PM EST


If my memory has not completely failed me, the VW's already support this kind of `feature'. I don't know about other models but my Driver's Edition VR6 has a secret back way into the ECU. I do not recall the exact proceedure (the nice gents @ vwvortex.com/forums should remeber better than I). Basically you can re-route the ECU output to the digital display in the insturment cluster. Engine codes, real-time mpg & rpm, and other cool stuff.

I agree that it would be cool to somehow sniff this data stream and make one hell of a rally display/diagnostic.

'97 GTI VR6
Jazz Blue
bone stock

"It is impossible to say what I mean." -johnny
[ Parent ]

Re: Danger Will Robingson, Danger (none / 0) (#7)
by backplane on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 12:53:25 PM EST

1. He wasn't talking about trying to bum a few more RPMs out of the car by redoing the piston firings or anything like that. (Which would indeed be excessivly difficult, and would probably meet with limitied or no success.)

2. Anyway why would you want to do this? The only thing I'd want would be the German version of ECU installed rather that the American version that electronically limits the speed to 117 MPH (123 if you stay in 4th gear.)

Just go to Germany, buy the chip then bring it back, install it, find a nice straight empty road and test it out. :)

[ Parent ]
(2.50 / 2) (#6)
by BadlandZ on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 01:05:52 AM EST

Still haven't found much. But, I did find a nice connector and a sorta weird link to an uncompleted site about protocol. Thought I would mention it.

Linux based automotive tools (4.33 / 3) (#8)
by tang on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 05:50:36 PM EST

Ok..this is atleast kind of ontopic since it deals with cars...I've worked in the automotive field for the last few years while putting myself through school. This summer we got the coolest scanner unit in. It was a portable ODBII scanner(a diagnostic scanner that hooks into the ecu plug in your car) this scanner however had pcmcia slots, usb slots, a color lcd screen, and amazingly enough, ran lynx real time linux. I can not for the life of me remember the name of this product, if anyone cares I can call my employer and ask them(I'm not working right now, in school). Ohwell,i just thought it was neat to be using a linux based tool at an automotive shop:)

Please Do! (none / 0) (#9)
by BadlandZ on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 06:10:30 PM EST

This summer we got the coolest scanner unit in. It was a portable ODBII scanner this scanner however had pcmcia slots, usb slots, a color lcd screen, and amazingly enough, ran lynx real time linux. I can not for the life of me remember the name of this product, if anyone cares I can call my employer and ask them

Please do! I'd love to know more about it!

[ Parent ]

Re: Please Do! (none / 0) (#11)
by tang on Fri Sep 29, 2000 at 03:48:19 PM EST


This is one of the first links i managed to find about the system, it also has a picture of the scanner.


also has some information...
unfortunately i can't find much information about it, or its software on the web. The company that makes it is OTC and its called "Genisys".
From the price it looks like its not very affortable for hobbysists(in the thousands range).
I really liked using it, it did automatic realtime graphing of the different values, such as rpm,mph,the tps, all kinds of good stuff.
Ohwell,its at least an interesting car gadget.

[ Parent ]
ISO 9141 Question... (3.00 / 1) (#10)
by BadlandZ on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 06:33:07 PM EST

I've never really looked into ISO's too much, anyone know much about them, if it's nessessary to actually purchace this specification, what type of information it would contain, and if it's worth the money? I did track down ISO 9141, but I'm not sure this is worth buying for referance (to hack a diagnostic tool), is it?

Re: ISO 9141 Question... (none / 0) (#13)
by 0x00 on Wed Oct 04, 2000 at 07:59:57 AM EST

all standards are available (for a fee) to download from
This site mostly deals with AUS/NZ standards (i don't know where you are geographically)
Also try your local university. They often have rooms full of useless standards.

[ Parent ]
Heres what you need... (5.00 / 1) (#14)
by ChannelX on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 12:14:36 AM EST

SAE On-Board Diagnostics for Light and Medium Duty Vehicles Standards Manual - HS-3000. Available at sae.org in their web store. Worth every penny and its cheaper than buying the docs seperately. Covers all OBD-II stuff.

Get a connector at: Multiplex Engineering.

This is a OBD-II->RS-232 converter and it packages up the info packets nicely for you. Covers the Big 3 and most imports (Chrysler uses ISO9141-2 as well). You want part #T16.

Also check the back issues section of Circuit Cellar's web site. There is a pdf in there of part 2 of 2 of using the Multiplex connector to do a digital tach.

Hacking your Car | 14 comments (13 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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