Nissan RB20ET Tuning

"All you need to know about tuning the Nissan RB20ET engine!"

We got an email asking for more information on tuning and building a modified RB20ET and particularly which turbo upgrades work best, so this guide covers our go to mods for this engine and what we feel are the best value mods you can do.

Our aim here is to review and look at RB20ET tuning and report on the ultimate modifications for your car. Nissan RB20ET are awesome to work on and with the right tuning upgrades like remapping, turbo upgrades and camshafts you will noticeably enhance your driving fun.

History, Power & Specs of the RB20ET Engine

  • RB20ET
    single-cam, turbocharged
    Power: 168 hp @6000 rpm 152 lbft @3200 rpm

Tuning the Nissan RB20ET and best RB20ET performance parts.

Best RB20ET mods

When talking about the best modifications for your RB20ET engine, we are going to focus on the ones that give the best power gain for you money.

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 cams tend to bump the bhp and torque over the rev band, you may sacrifice a little low down power but your top end will be better.

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

A Competition cam will just annoy you whilst in heavy traffic.

You should ideally match your engines power to your cars usage so for a daily driver stick with a mild fast road RB20ET cam

Some RB20ET engines respond better to mild camshaft durations check your engine on a rolling road.

We often see the E-Manage Ultimate and the Apexi Power FC piggyback ECUs on RB20 tuning projects where power exceeds what the stock ECU can handle.

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

The engine timing and injectors and fuel pump also will say much on the power gains you'll get. Increasing the fuelling and turbo will see around 400-420bhp still on stock internals but the mapping must be spot on .

A longer valve duration can alter the power 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 car

  1. Engine Tunes - engine tuning/remapping provides the most advantage in terms of cost savings,  aftermarket ECUs, and piggyback ECUs are all alternatives.
  2. Fast road cams 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.
  6. Typical stage 1 mods often include:
    Intake manifolds, Remaps/piggy back ECU, Panel air filters, Fast road camshaft, Sports exhaust header/manifold, drilled & smoothed airbox.

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

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

    Review your options and then acquire your parts and set yourself a power target to avoid disappointment.

    ECU flashing should help to establish the full potential of all the tuning mods you've done to your RB20ET.

    (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 power output usually differs on the tuning mods you've fitted and the condition of your engine.

    Feeding more fuel and air into your RB20ET is the whole point to any engine tuning project.

    Air Intake manifolds take the air during the suck phase from the filter and allow it to be pulled into the engine and mixed with fuel.

    Structure and rate of flow of the Intake manifold can make a large improvement to fuel atomisation and engine efficiency on the RB20ET.

    On popular production engines intake manifolds are begging for performance upgrades, although some OEM provide fairly well optimized intake manifolds.

    Increasing the RB20ET valve size, doing some port work and head flowing will also increase bhp, and significantly will give you increasing the bhp increase on other parts.

    RB20ET Turbo upgrades

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

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

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

    When an engine is turbocharged, tuning mods are giving better power gains and most turbo engines are built using harder and stronger components.

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

    However you will find engines have limits. It is important to find these limits and fit forged components to utilize the power.

    We've seen drivers spending a lot of money on turbo charger upgrades on the RB20ET only to see the motor literally blow up when it's completed.

    Large turbos tend to experience no power at low rpm, and small turbos spool up quickly but won't have the high rpm engines power gains.

    Thankfully the choice of turbochargers is always developing and we are seeing variable vane turbochargers, permitting the vane profile is altered according to speed to lower lag and increase top end bhp and torque.

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

    It is common that there is a limitation in the air flow sensor (AFM/MAF/MAP) on the RB20ET when a lot more air is being drawn into the engine.

    Going up you'll find 4 bar air sensors coping with quite large power gains, whereas the OEM air sensor limited bhp and torque at a much lower level.

    Adding a supercharger or additional turbo will make large bhp gains, although more complex to setup. We have this in depth look at twinchargers if you want to read more.


    You will need to ensure that the engine is not starved of fuel so will have to uprate the fuelling when you start extending past 20% of a torque increase. Don't forget to over specify your injectors flow rate.

    The rule of thumb is to add 20% when fitting an injector, which takes into account injector deterioration and allows a little spare capacity should the engine require 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

    RB20ET Performance Exhausts

    Only look to improve your exhaust if your exhaust is actually causing a restriction in flow.

    On most factory exhausts you'll see 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.

    Sports exhausts generally help improve air flow through the engine but avoid an exhaust that is too large or you might just stuff your flow rate and make things worse. So generally speaking, keep to a size of 1.5 to around 2.5 inches to maximise flow rates, and this should take into account the amount of air your engine is moving.

    Usual exhaust restrictions come around the catalyst installed, so adding a freer flowing performance catalyst removes the restriction. We note that performance cats perform similarly to decats and have the added benefit of keeping your car street legal, as decats or catalyst removal is illegal in most territories for road going cars.

    Weak spots, Issues & problem areas on the RB20ET

    The RB20ET 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 RB20ET, 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 RB20ET engine please join us in our car forums where you can discuss with our RB20ET owners. It would also be worth reading our unbiased articles to get a full grasp of the benefits and drawbacks of each modification.

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    We love hearing about our website visitors projects, especially the mods done and which 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 RB20ET tuning guides which get regular updates and revisions.

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