5.9 Cummins Tuning Guide

Dodge 5.9 Cummins 24v Tuning Guide

Jake Mayock

Meet Jake

Jake is a founder of 8020 Media and one of the lead writers at DieselIQ. He has over 10 years of experience in the automotive industry and is the proud owner of a 2002 F-350 7.3 PowerStroke. When Jake isn’t working, he’s usually wrenching on his PowerStroke, single turbo BMW, or Miata track build. Jake delivers tons of knowledge and hands-on experience and is a valuable asset for those looking to take their diesel to the next level. He is highly knowledgeable on Powerstroke and Duramax diesels.

Tuning is the best performance modification for a 5.9 Cummins. It offers huge power gains and the lowest cost per horsepower of any other modification. But there are a lot of considerations and options when it comes to choosing the right tuner for your goals.

Tuning is very different for the VP44 engines from 1998.5-2002 due to the switch to common rail fueling in 2003 with the CP3. However, the benefits are the same. This guide will cover the performance benefits, VP44 vs CP3 tuning differences, including options for each. We’ve been selling tuners for the 5.9 Cummins for years so we’ll provide a few recommendations as well.

5.9 Cummins Tuning Performance Benefits

  • Power gains up to 180hp and 200tq+ possible (CP3 power gains quoted)
  • Improved engine and turbo efficiency
  • 2-3mpg fuel economy gains
  • Faster turbo spool & better throttle response
  • Better towing
  • Custom tuning and transmission tuning capabilities

The power gains and efficiency improvements from a tuner are unrivaled when it comes to performance upgrades. Tuning is going to be the building block for things like intakes and exhausts, maximizing the benefits from those upgrades.

In addition to power you also get a number of other benefits like increased fuel economy, faster turbo spool, better towing, and so on.

VP44 vs CP3 Tuning

The biggest difference in the 98.5-02 VP44 powered engines is that they don’t use electronic fuel injectors – they use manual injectors. Therefore, popular tuning options like EFI Live, HP Tuners, and the other that rely on EFI-based tuning are not available.

There are still plenty of tuning options for the VP44’s, the options are just slightly different that the CP3 versions, although there is some overlap. But with that being said we’re going to cover each of them individually with respect to options.

Further, transmission tuning isn’t available for the NV5600 transmissions used on the VP44 engines, and it is available for the 48RE transmissions from 2004-2007. That being said, the NV5600’s are better anyways.

VP44 Tuning Options

There are a lot of tuning options for the 1998.5-2002 5.9 Cummins. Here is a an awesome comparison chart put together on all the options. There are way too many for me to cover so I’m going to boil it down to the 3 most popular options: the Edge Comp Box, the Quadzilla, and the Smarty.

I’ll touch on all the options below, but here is a short recap on my opinions:

  • Edge Comp Box: best overall option
  • Quadzilla: best for anyone who wants to custom tune theirselves
  • Smarty S-03: best plug-and-play value option

1) Edge Comp Box

5.9 Cummins Tuning Guide

The Comp Box holds the world record for the highest powered VP44 5.9 Cummins. Over the years it has tuned some of the craziest builds and therefore it’s earned its spot as the best all around tuner.

Edge recently completely revamped their Comp Box, it is now available with bluetooth and an iOS and Android app for switch on the fly and tons of customization like fueling and timing adjustments. It comes with pre-loaded tunes so it can be used as a simple plug-and-play device but also has the capabilities to tune competition-level trucks.

Price: $739.95 | Buy Here

2) Quadzilla Adrenaline

The second best option for high-horsepower builds is going to be Quadzilla’s Adrenaline tuner. It also comes with a nice phone app to control tons of parameters, and has custom wiretap tuning which is unique to the Quadzilla.

This is going to be the most advanced option, allowing for users to build their own custom tuning maps. This can be a bit overwhelming, but they do have a guide on their website walking you through it. This is a widely recommended tuner but is going to be best suited to someone who wants to get into the nitty gritty and self-tune their truck.

Price: $719.99

3) Smarty S-03 / Touch

MADS Electronic’s Smarty tuner is going to be the best option for just plug-and-play canned tunes. If you’re just looking for the benefits of a tuner and not looking for custom tuning (although this can handle it) then this is going to be the best option.

A great value play here is the S-03 option for $645 that doesn’t include the fancy touch screen or real-time tuning capabilities. If you want the nice display and potential for custom tuning then you’ll want the Smarty Touch with the ComMod add-on for real-time tuning. The Smarty Touch does rival both the Comp Box and Quadzilla and has all the same customization options as well.

S-03 Tuner: $645 | Buy Here
Smarty Touch: $865 | Buy Here

CP3 Tuning Options

The CP3 uses electronic fuel injection, so EFI tuning is available. The most popular option, EFI Live, however is only available for 2006-2007 models. MADS’ Smarty tuner is my favorite option for 2003-2007 5.9 Cummins. They also have a good budget option in the Smarty Jr. So let’s discuss each.

1) Smarty Touch

The Smarty Touch has the best on-the-fly map switching capabilities, can handle unlimited tunes and has failed flash recovery to prevent your ECM from getting bricked while flashing. It also comes with pre-loaded tunes but can handle custom tuning making it a great starting for someone who is looking for something plug-and-play with potential interest in custom tuning down the road.

The Smarty Touch is $865 but you can buy the MM3 box without all the pre-loaded tunes if you only plan to go the custom tuning route.

Price: $865
We sell this over on our ecommerce store, here.

2) EFI Live (2006-2007 only)

EFI Live is a great tuning platform, but it comes in lower on my list because it doesn’t support ’03-’05 models, it doesn’t have true on-the-fly map switching, and it requires custom tuning. It also doesn’t have some of the great failsafe options that Smarty devices have.

However, you can get the device with some “custom” canned tunes on it for $500-$600 so it is a good value option as well.

Price: $500-$600

3) Smarty Jr. (No Custom Tuning)

If you’re looking for a simple, budget-friendly, plug-and-play tuner to take advantage of power and fuel economy gains then this is the best option. It’s got 3 preloaded tunes that are some of the best preloaded tunes you can get.

Overall, this is a great option for someone that isn’t looking to get into advanced tuning and wants to keep it simple with just some more power and better gas mileage.

Price: $495 | Buy on Boosted Performance

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