Rudimentary, and somewhat ineffective electronic systems were being introduced in a range of flagship European and American cars in the 1970s. Their goal was to make cars faster, safer, more fuel-efficient, and more pleasurable to drive. Things that we take for granted today, like ABS, fuel injection, turbocharging, traction and cruise control all had their roots in experimentation. And continual refinement.
One of the first innovations that radically changed how cars drive is fuel injection. This was so revolutionary in its day, that it led to a complete overhaul of how engines work. Out went the carburettor. And a lot of mechanically operated cables. Instead, acceleration is now a fly-by-wire system, that is completely electronic. Controlling this, and all other electronic systems is the onboard computer or ECU. Acceleration is faster to engage, more linear and more precise.
What is Throttle Response?
This is the time the car takes to accelerate when you press down the pedal. In fly-by-wires systems, many car makers include an in-built delay. The ECU reads the signal sent from the sensors located near the acceleration pedal within milliseconds, but safety (and a heavy foot) necessitates a longer response time to open the throttle body. This still is faster than carb and cables but can be improved. An external electronic throttle response controller helps here.
How Throttle Controllers Work
Throttle controllers are electronic devices tasked to manipulate the signal the ECU receives from the acceleration pedal sensors. It increases the voltage of the signal, tricking the ECU that your foot and the pedal are further down than they actually are. The strengthened signal means the ECU activates the sensors in the throttle body assembly faster, and opens the throttle body to let more air, and then fuel enters the cylinders. The result is that the car accelerates faster, without the typical lag.
Benefits of a Throttle Controller
Having a more responsive car is always good. And more fun. But sometimes getting better pick up is needed. Imagine typical overtaking scenarios. Throttle lag is more pronounced with lackluster auto transmissions, and in-gear acceleration is nothing to brag about even in cars with more displacement. With a throttle controller, the ECU reads a stronger signal than usual, so the car reaches a safe overtaking speed much faster. On single carriageways, this can mean the difference between normal driving and an accident waiting to happen.
Better acceleration not only makes you faster from a standstill, but also helps when your vehicle is pulling more weight. Cars with an added throttle controller will better negotiate the weight of a trailer or caravan attached at the back, by cutting out jerkiness. The transition through gears as you get to speed is also smoother. For cars with turbo engines, like many utes and newer petrols, reduced throttle lag also translates to reduced turbo lag. The car will reach the revs required for the turbo to kick in much faster. This, in itself, means that less fuel is wasted in the process.
And while we’re at fuel consumption, a throttle controller can also save you some cash at the bowser. It’s not all about better acceleration and speed. A throttle response controller lets you easily switch between modes. If you need better throttle response than the standard settings provided by the ECU; you dial the controller into the performance mode. This can also go by the name of the ‘Sport’ or ‘Ultimate’ mode, depending on the make. But when you want to cut down on the throttle, there’s the option of an ‘Eco’ or economy mode. This saves fuel by cutting the air intake in the throttle body. Having a throttle with more subtlety helps in a few ways. Safety is at the forefront here. When driving on loose surfaces, as well as through water, you don’t want to be too hard on the throttle. Beaches, streams, and soft soil can sink your car with too much wheel spin, and no traction. The same goes for wet roads in heavy rain, when traction is not optimal.
Adjustability is what makes throttle controllers suitable for all sorts of drivers and different driving conditions. The modes include incremental settings, to get your engine to respond in the best possible way. And as conditions change, you can quickly change the throttle response. If this seems a lot of work or a distraction while driving, you can set the controller to ‘Auto’. The throttle will adjust to the changes in the weather and the road without any driver input. It does this in conjunction with other electronic systems, like ABS and traction control when there’s loss of grip, and cruise control in maintaining speed. Such built in safety features inspire confidence.
Installing a Throttle Controller
The unit itself consists of a control panel that you install in a suitable location. Somewhere along the dash, or centre console. The business part of the controller is a set of connectors that by-pass the sensors in the acceleration pedals. This is a simple-plug and play tool, that is quick to install, even by yourself, or at any workshop.
How Much Does a Throttle Controller Cost?
Throttle controllers are one of the cheapest ways in getting better performance without doing any major changes to the engine. Units are sold for all cars on Aussie roads, with fly-by-wire systems, so most cars from the mid 1990s. They come in at a couple hundred dollars, but watch out for discounts to get the best deals.