Cobb Locked Out Key Tuning Features Due to Emissions. Here’s Why Tuners Are Furious
It’s been the talk of the car modifying scene, and we reached out to those who are impacted most.
Cobb is an immensely popular aftermarket parts manufacturer that sells hardware and tuning software for cars, especially Subarus. For years, the company has built its reputation on extracting more performance from everyday vehicles through improved parts and computers. This software was previously able to make adjustments that the government wasn't happy with, but was somewhat powerless to enforce. That's now changed, and Cobb is in the process of adapting to compliance.
Soon, a few important things are happening, as Cobb explained in a blog post that's since sparked debates across the internet. Effectively, those using its Accesstuner Software system will no longer be able to run anything that could be considered a "delete tune." That means anything that bypasses emissions components like O2 sensors or EGR parts is no longer considered kosher; this isn't so hard to understand as Cobb could face millions in fines and even a shutdown if it willingly continued. But people are mad because they purchased Cobb parts, like its flex-fuel kit, as recently as a month ago and will not receive support from the manufacturer.
The bottom line for people who use these products is a little complicated, but we've talked to shops and owners, as well as made an attempt to speak with the company itself to clarify what's going on. Cobb refused to comment, though. When reached by The Drive, a spokesperson replied, "At this moment, we prefer not to comment any further than what has been published."
Shops that are affected by Cobb's Project Green Speed, however, were happy to chat and break down what this means for their customers. We had a call with Redline Tuning out of Columbia Station, Ohio, which is an authorized Cobb dealer. In a conversation on Wednesday, the shop's owner Cody Pincura said that while he isn't happy about what's going on and would've liked a lot more notice, the writing has been on the wall for some time. "From an industry standpoint, a lot of us knew this was coming," he told me. "We just didn't know it was gonna happen like this."
Pincura went on to clarify that Redline Tuning hasn't been removing emissions equipment in a quest for bigger power gains lately. In his opinion, it isn't necessary for most street builds to uninstall Subarus' tumble generator valves, air pumps, EGR systems, or other emissions-related parts in order to make the numbers most of his customers really want.
"How it's going to affect customers long term shouldn't be too much, in my opinion," he explained. "[Customers] think they need catless downpipes to make big power, they think they need TGV deletes to make big power, [but] they simply don't." According to him, unless you want to make really serious output, a lot if not all of the emissions-related equipment can be kept most of the time. That could mean no check engine lights, and no failed inspections.
That is, of course, not the whole picture. As Pincura went on to detail, the people who are most affected are those who purchased Cobb's flex-fuel kits, which it sold as recently as a month ago. The kits allowed vehicles to seamlessly run regular unleaded gasoline with a blend of ethanol, typically E85, without having to swap to a separate tune. Cobb now claims that this device is not emissions compliant, and it's going to remove the part's functionality via software update to its Accessport devices. "Discontinuing flex-fuel kits and saying you're doing that is not the same as saying you're gonna discontinue support for it," Pincura told me, clearly frustrated. "If you want my honest opinion on it, it's bad business."
Cobb gave tuners just 30 days between the flex-fuel system stop-sale and the end of support for it. If you're a reputable shop with plenty of customers, you have people waiting for installs beyond that short period of time. "We're backed up months. Some people are backed up half a year," Pincura said. "That's where it's messed up. There should've been better communication."
As an example of how this situation should properly be handled, Pincura pointed to Ecutek, a tuning company owned by the same parent as Cobb that offers similar services. Now, Ecutek is going to have to take the same measures as Cobb in the United States, so if you're looking to make a switch to them, you have to maintain your emissions equipment unless you're okay with a CEL. If you're already using an Ecutek product now, though, be thankful that it seems to have an actual schedule in mind for how the changes are going to happen. After a call with the company, Pincura says it told him, "Yes, for all of our U.S. customers, we're going to have to do that. However, here's a timeline, here's when it's happening, and we will have solutions at play for when it happens."
In the meantime, though, the lack of communication from Cobb has caused serious headaches for shops like Redline and individuals alike. "It wasn't even just customers they didn't tell," Pincura explained. "They didn't tell their dealer network, they didn't tell their pro tuner network or anything. And we're dealing with the repercussions of this now." Redline is a Cobb dealer as well as a tuning shop. It's responsible for the Cobb products that it has sold to customers, and now they're being returned en-masse. "People are returning Accessports, people are returning flex-fuel kits... they essentially can't do what was advertised," Pincura added. This isn't just affecting a small portion of Pincura's customers, either. "I'd say probably 80 percent of the cars we do run flex-fuel."
To be clear, a solution is allegedly coming from Cobb, but in the meantime, people who have these kits on their cars have few other realistic options without spending serious money. It's not like that was the only Cobb product people purchase, either. Cobb is arguably the leading manufacturer of parts for turbocharged Subarus, and people trust the brand. We spoke with one owner of a 2015 WRX STI, Tye Shelton, who has spent more than $25,000 on a build using almost exclusively Cobb parts. Now, he's stuck with a car that likely won't be able to pass inspection as it currently sits.
Despite going through three motors while using Cobb accessories on his STI, he was still a loyal customer. He called Cobb "a hill he was willing to die on," and certainly bought parts—including a flex-fuel kit—like he wholeheartedly meant that. "Basically, if Cobb Tuning makes it, I can't think of anything I didn't buy besides [a] blow-off valve," he said. "I would've never thought that it would've gone like this."
His build is complete; it's almost broken in and it just needs to be tuned. After Cobb's press release, though, he and his tuner don't know what they're going to do. "It's five days from being dropped off at the tuner," he told me. "I have no idea how they're gonna tune it." All he does know is that whatever solution comes down the road, it's going to cost him more money. "I'll probably end up getting a Motech standalone ECU," he said. And even if Cobb does come up with a solution, "I have such a bad taste in my mouth with Cobb right now... I don't even want to deal with them."
"It is what it is, but man, in my situation it could not be any worse," Shelton noted.
Another loyal Cobb customer, Joe Kirallah, mirrored what Shelton had to say. "I invested a lot of time and savings on my dream build after years of holding off," Kirallah told me. He's spent tens of thousands of dollars on his build—much of it with Cobb, buying many of the same parts Shelton did including a flex-fuel kit. Now, his 2005 Subaru WRX STI intended for time-attack racing is more or less dead in the water.
Kirallah's build isn't really even a street car, but Cobb's decision to cut support for the kit whether it's being used on public roads or not is still affecting him. The fact that race cars are also roped into this software update for seemingly no good reason was echoed by Pincura, who said he's worried about what kind of business he can still do with the competitive teams he supports.
When asked how he's going to get his build running now that Cobb has ended support for the kits, Kirallah responded, "I don’t know. I’m trying to get to the dyno before next week, but the problem is if I am not running efficiently after a first dyno session, I'm sh*t out of luck and stuck with a tune that may not be efficient for my car."
Previously, these sorts of emissions dodging devices were in a legal grey area because enforcement was relatively weak. Now, though, the game has changed, and people who have removed catalytic converters, Subaru's tumble generator valves, air pumps, and EGR devices are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Not only are they getting the short end of the stick from Cobb, but they're not getting much sympathy on social media. "Just go standalone!" Shelton says people online keep telling him. "They give you all these options like it's easy—do you know how much a standalone ECU is? Five grand, minimum."
And that really gets at the core of the issue. As Pincura explained, shops will still be able to get customers the power figures they want. Tuning as an industry isn't going anywhere, but it's getting a lot harder to do what they do because of questionable responses to regulatory challenges by companies like Cobb. A future where the government clamps down harder on vehicle emissions is a given, that much is clear. How tuners and the aftermarket navigate this landscape is where the rubber hits the road.
On that front, an airtight solution to easily unlocking performance that will pass various states' inspection schemes hasn't clearly emerged. Whether it's open-source tuning, standalone ECUs like those offered from Haltech or Motech, or some other "future-proof" solution, no obvious winner has come forward. Ironically, it could easily be expected that an industry leader such as Cobb would be the one to come up with something like that. It's yet to be seen if or how the manufacturer will, though.
In the meantime, a trusted name in the aftermarket industry has made a whole lot of enemies, people everywhere may have lost money on hardware that is no longer supported by the company that made it, and aftermarket tuning is worse off than it was just a few days ago. Modifying cars is getting harder and it's unlikely to get easier. Clearly, despite the enduring nature of the enthusiast scene, we can't take anything about this hobby for granted anymore.
Got a tip or question for the author? You can reach them here: firstname.lastname@example.org