Nissan RB20DET Tuning

"All you need to know about performance parts and tuning the Nissan RB20DET engine!"

A site visitor recently commented asking for more information on the RB20DET and how to tune it up and modify it, so we put together this guide to take you through what we feel are the main mods you can do to this engine.

This pages aim is examine RB20DET tuning and outline the best modifications for your car. Nissan RB20DET offer good returns when tuned and with the right performance tuning mods like remaps, turbo improvements and camshafts you will substantially maximise your driving opportunities.

History, Power & Specs of the RB20DET Engine

  • RB20DET
    twin-cam, turbocharged
    Power: 212 hpat 6400 rpm 195 lbft at 3200 rpm

Tuning the Nissan RB20DET and best RB20DET performance parts.

Best RB20DET modifications

Just because particular parts are are common on RB20DET it doesn't mean it is good, we shall concentrate on the optimum parts that will give your RB20DET the best value for money to power increase.

Altering your RB20DET camshaft will make a dramatic difference to the engine power band. Choosing a higher performance camshaft profile raises the power band accordingly.

Fast road cams tend to boost the bhp over the rev range, you could sacrifice a little bottom end torque but higher rpm power will improve.

Race cams, boost the higher rpm power band but as a result the car will not idle smoothly and low end power nearly always suffers.

A Motorsport camshaft will just annoy you whilst driving in heavy traffic.

You should ideally match your bhp range to your typical driving style so for a daily driver stick with a mild fast road RB20DET camshaft

Some RB20DET engines respond better to more aggressive camshaft durations so view each engine as unique.

The engine timing and injectors and fuel pump also will make differences on the torque gains you'll get.

Altering valve 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.

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Best Engine Mods for your RB20DET

    1. Engine Tunes - tunes or remaps provide the most advantage in terms of cost savings,  aftermarket ECUs, and piggyback ECUs are all alternatives for the RB20DET.
    2. Fast road camshafts are one of the most significant mechanical changes, but they must be installed by someone who knows what they're doing and they are not always easy to source but you might find a local firm to regrind a stock camshaft.
    3. Intake and Exhaust - Note that on their own these mods will NOT ADD POWER in most cases, but they can help enhance power after other mods by removing the restriction.
    4. Upgrades to turbochargers and superchargers - forced induction is the most efficient approach to increase air supply, allowing you to burn more fuel and make more power. It is one of the most costly upgrades but provides the best gains.
    5. Head work - The goals of porting and flowing the head are to get air flowing into the engine while removing flow restrictions and turbulence.

RB20DET tuning stages

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

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

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

Carefully think through your options and then find your tuning parts and set yourself a power target to avoid disappointment.

ECU mapping helps unlock the full potential of all the tuning parts you've done to your RB20DET.

(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.)

Some of our members have used the following aftermarket ECU's to good effect in their projects. You'll generally find harnesses available now for most of the aftermarket ECU options for these engines.

      • Syvecs
      • Haltech Elite 1000/1500
      • LINK G4X
      • Megasquirt

An aftermarket ECU is harder to setup but gives better performance and helps you optimize the timing and fuelling to a fine degree of accuracy - we suggest you go for the Link G4+ (or a G4 with an external knock control unit) or the better but more expensive Syvecs ECU (the upgraded data logging feature is extremely useful)

It will usually give you around 30% more power on turbocharged vehicles and you can expect to see around 15% on NA (naturally aspirated) engines, but your mileage will differs on the tuning parts you've fitted and the condition of your engine.

It is the aim to any engine tuning task to push air and fuel into your RB20DET

Air Intake manifolds transmit the air during the suck phase from the filter and allow it to be drawn into the engine cylinders with fuel for the squish phase.

Design and flow characteristics of the Intake can make a big difference to fuel atomisation on the RB20DET.

We often see air intake manifolds are in desperate need of a performance upgrade, although a few OEM provide reasonably good air intake manifolds.

Fitting big valve kits, doing some port work and head flowing will also boost performance, and as an added benefit will afford you an improved performance increase on other modifications.

RB20DET Turbo upgrades

      • HKS 2835 380hp
      • GREDDY TD06-20G comes as a full kit
      • HKS2530 380hp (better for low end power)
      • HKS GT3037 / 3037S 400-450hp

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

A front mounted intercooler and Walbro fuelpump are usually high on the list of mods for the Turbo versions of the RB20.

The RB25DET turbo provides more power and is relatively simple to mate to an RB20 block requiring only oil and air line rerouting.

When your motor has forced induction tuning parts are going to net you a larger power gain and you'll see that turbo engines will have uprated components.

However engines have weakspots.Research these limits and install higher quality crank and pistons to survive the power.

There are many drivers spending a lots of money on turbo upgrades on the RB20DET only to suffer the indignity of watching the car go up in smoke when it's first rolling road session.

Large upgraded turbochargers commonly suffer no power at low rpm, and low capacity turbochargers spool up quickly but don't have the high rpm bhp gains.

Thanks to new tech the market of turbochargers is always developing and we are seeing variable vane turbochargers, permitting the vane angle is altered according to speed to lower lag and increase top end performance.

Twin scroll turbochargers divert the exhaust gases into 2 channels and flow these at differently angled vanes in the turbo. They also increase the scavenging effect of the engine.

It is common that there is a restriction in the air flow sensor MAF/MAP on the RB20DET when a lot more air is being sucked into the engine.

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

Adding a supercharger or additional turbo will make large bhp and torque gains, although more complex to get working. We have this guide to twinchargers if you want to read more.

Power FC, megasquirt and the E-Manage Ultimate aftermarket ECUs are also used a lot on RB20 tuning projects where power exceeds what the stock ECU can deal with.

NB: A stock RB20 engine can generally handle around 350 bhp but you'll need to have added at least a turbo from the RB25 to get there.

Increasing the fuelling and turbo will see around 400-420bhp still on stock internals but the mapping must be spot on .


You will need to ensure that the engine is not starved of fuel so should pay attention to the fuelling when you start going beyond 20% of a bhp increase. It is important to be generous with your injector capacity.

The rule of thumb is to add another 20% when buying an injector, this allows for injector deterioration and affords you some 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 58psi of fuel pressure at idle.

6 Cylinder NA (naturally aspirated) engines

      • 58 PSI 189cc/min 200hp
      • 58 PSI 284cc/min 300hp
      • 58 PSI 378cc/min 400hp
      • 58 PSI 568cc/min 600hp

6 Cylinder turbocharged engines

      • 58 PSI 227cc/min 200hp
      • 58 PSI 341cc/min 300hp
      • 58 PSI 454cc/min 400hp
      • 58 PSI 682cc/min 600hp

RB20DET Performance Exhausts

You only need to increase your exhaust if the existing exhaust is actually causing a flow problem.

On most factory exhausts you should find that your flow rate is ok even on modest power gains, but when you start pushing up the power levels you will need to get a better flowing exhaust.

Do not go with the biggest exhaust you can find you'll slow the exhaust rate - the best exhausts for power gains are usually between 1.5 to 2.5 inches. It is the shape and material more than the bore size.

Typically exhaust restrictions can be traced to the catalysts installed, so adding a higher flowing high performance aftermarket one will improve air flow, and rather than doing an illegal decat, will keep the car road legal.

Weak spots, Issues & problem areas on the RB20DET

The RB20DET engines are generally reliable and solid units, as long as you follow the manufacturers service schedules, and use a good quality oil to ensure longevity. Few problems should happen as long as they 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 RB20DET, 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 RB20DET engine please join us in our car forums where you can discuss with our RB20DET owners. It would also be worth reading our unbiased 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 upgrades work best for you on your car. Which helps us keep our guides and tips up to date helping others with their modified car projects. Your feedback and comments are used to keep this page up to date, and help improve the accuracy of these RB20DET tuning guides which get regular updates and revisions.

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