GM ECOtec Petrol engine Tuning

"All you need to know about performance parts and tuning the GM ECOtec engine!"

We examine ECOtec tuning and provide tips on the optimum modifications for your car.

GM ECOtec are popular tuning projects and with carefully picked sports modifications like a remap, turbo upgrades and camshafts you will dramatically maximize your driving pleasure.

History, Power & Specs of the Engine

  • 1996–present GM Family 0 straight-3
  • 2013–present Small Gasoline engine straight-3
  • 1996–present Family 0 4 cylinder Opel
  • 2000–present L850 engine  4 cylinder Opel, SAAB, and GM Powertrain
  • 2012–present Medium Gasoline DOHC straight-4 (designed by Opel)
  • 2013–present Small Gasoline DOHC straight-4 (designed by Opel)

Best ECOtec upgrades

The best tuning parts on an engine are in our opinion the ones that give the best power gain for you spend.

We won't be swayed by popular ECOtec tuning parts, they need to be cost effective.

The camshaft profile plays a big part in the engines power output so camshaft upgrades make quite a large difference. The intake & exhaust durations will alter depending on the chosen camshaft profile, so large power band gains are on offer for camshaft upgrades.

Fast road camshafts tend to push up the bhp over the rev range, you could drop a little low end torque but top end will be better.

Competition camshafts, push up the top end band but as a result the car will not idle smoothly and low end power nearly always suffers.

For a road car we recommend that you look at where you spend most time in your RPM range and then match your bhp range to your driving style.

I would be surprised if you find a Competition cam is a pleasure to live with when in heavy traffic because low end power will be very lumpy. Competition cams are designed for maximum power at the top end of the RPM range, a place that most daily commutes will not permit!

Different ECOtec engines respond better to more aggressive camshaft durations than others.

The ecu map and injectors and fuel pump also have an effect on the torque gains you'll make.

Extending exhaust or intake durations can alter the torque band and on most engines the exhaust and intake durations do not need to match, although most cams and tuners use matched pairs there are some advantages to extending the intake or exhaust durations.

Typical stage 1 mods often include: Fast road camshaft, Sports exhaust manifold, Intake headers, Remaps/piggy back ECU, drilled & smoothed airboxPanel air filters.

Typical stage 2 mods often include: high flow fuel injectors, induction kit, Sports catalyst & performance exhaust, fuel pump upgrades, Ported and polished head, Fast road cam.

Typical stage 3 mods often include: Internal engine upgrades (head flowing porting/bigger valves), Engine balancing & blueprinting, Competition cam, Adding or Upgrading forced induction (turbo/supercharger), Twin charging conversions, Crank and Piston upgrades to alter compression.

The ECOtec power plant are fantastic to work on and thanks to their popularity there are increasing numbers of mods and performance parts around.

remap should help to to establish the full potential of all the mods you've fitted to your ECOtec.

(In some cases, as the factory ECU is locked flashing is not an option, so an aftermarket ECU is the route to take, and many of these will outperform factory ECU's but make sure it has knock protection and that you get it setup properly.)

It will usually give you around 30% more power on turbocharged vehicles and 15% on NASP engines, but you mileage will vary depending on the mods you've done and the condition of your engine.

It is the aim to any car tuning task to feed air and fuel into your ECOtec

Headers carry the air from the air filter and allow it to be drawn into the engine cylinders.

The shape and flow rate of the Headers can make a substantial difference to to fuel mixing and power on the ECOtec.

I usually find intake are improved through a performance upgrade, although some OEM provide reasonably well designed intake.

Increasing the ECOtec valve size, getting port work and head flowing will also lift power, and importantly will give you an improved power increase on other upgrades.

Turbo upgrades

NASP engines need quite a lot of work when you add a turbo, so we have a separate guide to help you take into account the pros and cons of going this route on your ECOtec

The more air to get into an engine, the more fuel it can burn and uprating the induction with a turbocharger upgrade makes massive power gains.

When a car has a turbocharger tuning mods are relatively easy and we find turbo engines are built with harder and stronger components.

There are reliable limits for every engine, with some being over specified and some just sufficiently able to handle stock power

It is important to find these limits and install higher quality components to cope with the power.

There are many drivers spending a loads of money on turbocharger upgrades on the ECOtec only to watch the motor go up in smoke when it's used in anger.

Big capacity turbo chargers often experience a bottom end lag, and little turbo chargers spool up quickly but do not have the top end power band gains.

the choice of turbo units is always improving and we commonly find variable vane turbo units, where the vane angle is altered according to speed to lower lag and increase top end bhp.

Twin scroll turbo units divert the exhaust gases into two channels and flow these at differently designed vanes in the turbo. They also boost the scavenging effect of the engine.

It is common that there is a limit in the air flow sensor AFM/MAF on these engines when considerably more air is being fed into the engine.

We note 4 bar air sensors coping with quite large power gains, whereas the OEM air sensor sapped torque at a much lower level.

Adding a supercharger or additional turbo will make large torque gains, although more difficult to install. We have a twincharger torque adding guide if you want to read more.


When you boost the torque you will need to pay attention to to the fuel system.

More torque needs more fuel. We strongly recommend you to be generous with your injector capacity.

The accepted safe increase is to add 20% to the flow rate when fitting an injector, which takes into account injector deterioration and affords a little spare capacity should the engine need more fuel.

We think this one is common sense, but you'll need to match your fuel injector to the type of fuel your car uses as well.

All the following flywheel power targets will assume an injector duty cycle of 80% and a base of 58 psi of fuel pressure at idle.


You only need to to improve your exhaust if the current exhaust is creating a restriction in flow.

On most factory exhausts you'll find the flow rate is still good even on modest power gains, but when you start pushing up the power levels you will need to get a better flowing exhaust.

Sports exhausts balance the flow of gases through the engine.

But if the exhaust is too big, ie: it's over 2.5 inches bore, you will lose a great deal of the flow rate and end up losing power and torque.

Typically exhaust restrictions can be located the emissions filters installed, so adding a better flowing race alternative such as a sports catalyst pretty much removes this restriction, thanks to it's larger size and surface area, and will effectively raise the performance to levels you would expect without having a catalyst installed, but keeps the car road legal.

Weak spots Issues & problem areas on the

The engines are generally reliable and solid units, as long as you follow the manufacturers service schedules, and use a good quality oilthey are regularly serviced and maintained.

Carbon build up in the head, particularly around the valves which will sap power or create flat spots, this is a larger issue on direct injection engines but should be looked out for on all engines. We have tips on removing carbon build up.

Some of our members have had issues with flat spots or glitches after applying mods and upgrades or tuning, this is not usually related to this engines design, so instead see our article on diagnosing flat spots and problems after tuning which should help you get the bottom of this issue.

Regular oil changes are vital on the , especially when tuned and will help extend the life and reliability of the engine.

If you would like to know more, or just get some friendly advice on Tuning your engine please join us in our friendly forum where you can discuss tuning options in more detail with our owners. It would also be worth reading our unbiased tuning articles to get a full grasp of the benefits and drawbacks of each modification.

Please help us improve these tips by sending us your feedback in the comments box below.

We love to hear what our visitors have got up to and which mods work best for them on each model of car. Your feedback and comments are used to keep this page up to date, and help improve the accuracy of these articles which are continually updated.

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