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How to Improve Power & Performance of a Dodge Cummins Diesel

Your Dodge Cummins Diesel has tens thousands of parts that all play a critical role in the function and performance of the engine.  Each component has its own job, but all of them work together to produce the outcome you need: to get you safely from where you are to where you want to go and to get the job done, whether you’re in the city, suburbs, or country.

The Cummins Diesel ECM / ECU — the engine control module or unit — is the crux of the entire system in a diesel engine. Through directly controlling, monitoring, or regulating functions, the ECM is the central computer that coordinates all of the different engine components and allows them to work together smoothly and efficiently. It touches nearly every process in your vehicle—from the transmission to fuel injection to the check engine light.

Because the Cummins diesel ECM influences so many different systems in the engine, it has a huge impact on overall vehicle performance.

What is an ECM?

The ECM is more than just another engine component. It is a sophisticated computer like the one that might sit on your desk at home or office.

And just like your laptop or desktop, engine control units in diesel engines are made up of a complex system of circuitry and microprocessors.  Those microprocessors are constantly receiving a stream of information from sensors found throughout the engine and vehicle.

The ECU collects the data, interprets it, and makes changes and adjustments to the engine if it detects any performance issues.  Reading these various sensors, the electronic control unit can then deliver electrical commands to the fuel injectors, ignition system, transmission, and camshaft position to name a few.

Sensors that feed the engine computer’s network of information include:

  • The oxygen sensor
  • Engine speed sensor
  • Fuel temperature sensor
  • Mass airflow sensor
  • Air temperature sensor
  • Throttle position sensor

ECM Impact on Cummins Performance

Once you understand the scope of the importance of the ECM, it’s easy to imagine just how much of an impact this component can have on the performance of the engine.

  • Fuel Economy – One of the most vital roles of a Cummins ECM is the regulation of fuel economy. It is able to optimize fuel use by controlling the engine’s idle speed, maximum RPM, and maximum road speeds. The way it achieves this function is through the use of parameters, which are essentially the limits in which the ECM allows the engine to operate. For example, you can program maximum speed, fuel injection volume, and even gear shift mapping. The computer then only allows the engine to work within the parameters you set, allowing you to manipulate and improve overall fuel economy. Additionally, the Cummins ECM will take into account external and internal conditions and make adjustments to keep everything running as efficiently as possible.
  • Engine Responsiveness – In order to maintain optimal performance under all conditions, the engine control module is able to make changes to improve the responsiveness of the engine. It does this by monitoring the engine’s temperature, manifold absolute pressure, throttle position, and engine speed. Like we’ve explained, the ECM receives data from nearly every system and component in the engine. This gives it a picture of the how the engine is operating. If it detects the responsiveness is not optimal, then the ECM will take action to fix the issue.

Using the data it collects from the sensors, the ECM can add more fuel to the fuel injection line when air flow mass increases, for a faster engine response. The ECM may also add more fuel to the fuel injection system during cold weather, so as to warm up the engine and have it perform optimally. Better responsive performance means that your engine will be consuming fewer gallons of fuel to the mile. It also means that the car will be operating at higher performance values.

  • Emissions Control – Through its regulation of the air-fuel ratio flowing into your engine, the ECM is able to control how much tailpipe emission your vehicle produces. A properly functioning ECM measures the air mass flow rate and calibrates the fuel injection system to the most appropriate air-fuel mixture ration. This ensures that the optimum amount of fuel is burnt, thus leading to fewer emissions. It also improves the overall performance and fuel economy of your vehicle.

Programming for a Diesel Cummins ECM

The way a Cummins ECM impacts performance is the result of its programming. Programmability (also sometimes called tuning) is also one of the major advantages of modern ECMs. Car makers, as well as companies that repair and replace ECMs (like DieselECMExchange.com), can program data into a certain model to give it a smooth driving and riding performance.  Or make another model have a sportier performance.

It’s this programming that tailors an engine control module to a specific vehicle and the desired engine output.

There are hundreds of engine functions that can be adjusted in the modern diesel engines found in both commercial and consumer vehicles.

Programming the limits of these functions — also known as tuning the ECM’s parameters — allows you to squeeze more power out of your engine and better adapt it to your specific driving conditions, causing your car to run more efficiently and get better mileage. Ultimately, this means that you are saving money on fuel and ensuring your engine is both operating at peak performance and having the longest service life possible.

Replacing a Cummins ECM

Just as a properly functioning Cummins ECM will work wonders for your vehicle’s performance, a faulty or malfunctioning ECM can severely inhibit the performance of the engine. If the control module is not able to correctly collect and interpret the data being sent by engine sensors, or if it is not able to properly control and adjust an engine component in the face of changing conditions, your performance is going to suffer.

For example, if the ECM cannot tell the fuel injectors how much fuel to inject into the cylinders, you are going to have acceleration and power problems. If it can’t communicate with or control the transmission, then your car may not shift or down shift correctly when you accelerate or slow down. The list of potential performance problems resulting from a faulty Cummins ECM is nearly endless.

That’s why if you see your check engine light come on, and you determine that the problem is with the ECM itself and not some other engine component, it’s best to replace it as soon as possible. Your vehicle’s central computer is too important to engine performance to put off dealing with.


Your Cummins ECM hugely impacts vehicle performance. It touches every engine system that functions electronically. And in modern vehicles, that is pretty much every single system. The job of a Cummins ECM is to keep your vehicle running at its best, despite changing internal and external conditions. More than merely affecting performance, the engine computer is the component most responsible for it.