Chipping, chiptuning, re-programming and remapping are phrases you may have heard more often recently. It is a modification that is becoming more and more popular and fans of the process can be very enthusiastic. There is some concern however, that this could cause harm to your engine instead of improving it. Let’s start by looking at what exactly chiptuning or remapping is.
What Is Chip Tuning?
Fifty years ago the average car was a simple machine, a straight-forward engine with four pistons was set in a chassis with four wheels and a steering wheel. A cable from went from the accelerator pedal to the throttle and the more you pressed your foot down, the more the throttle opened and the more fuel and air went into your engine. By the late eighties things started to get much more sophisticated and by the middle of the nineties all cars had some kind of computer onboard, controlling all sorts of things from sensors to interactions between electrical systems.
Nowadays you will find an Electronic Control Unit (ECU) controlling the performance of your engine. Instead of the cable moving as you move the accelerator pedal, the ECU measures the pedal’s movement electronically and combines that data with information from other sensors around the car. The ECU then looks at a ‘map’ that plots all the possible variables and then makes the adjustments the map suggests. Chip tuning accesses the microchip in the ECU and adjusts its settings. Remapping changes the map to give different adjustments.
If you have ever wondered how easy it is to chiptune your car, take a look at the video below showing a typical installation.
Why Would You Have Your Engine Chip Tuned?
Messing with the computer that controls your engine may initially sound like a silly thing to do. After all, manufacturers spend a lot of time and money trying to create the best car they can and they presumably would have set the ECU to get the best performance possible.
While this is true, you also have to remember that manufacturers sell cars all over the world. They need their engines to work in all different kinds of conditions that vary from country to country. Some of these variables are obvious, such as climate and how hot and cold the conditions may get. Others are not as immediately discernible, such as the quality of the fuel and the typical kind of road surface. They also have to allow for servicing not be caried out as often as scheduled. To compensate for this, manufacturers set the ECU to allow for the lowest common conditions. The manufacturer has to allow for the worst case scenario.
You may be fortunate to live in somewhere like central Europe, for example, where you are not driving under the worst case conditions. Not only are the standards of the roads and fuel high but most vehicles are regularly and reliably serviced. Dramatic extremes in climate conditions are also rare. Due to this the engine has the potential for a much better performance but it is limited by the ECU. If the parameters of the ECU are adjusted then the performance of your engine can be improved. Instead of the generic setting you can have your engine set up to suit your circumstances and the way you drive.
You may also notice that sometimes a manufacturer will have models with the same engine size and number of cylinders but different amounts of power. The difference in power is artificially created by the ECU. If you have one of the lower powered models then the ECU can be altered to give the same power as the more expensive model. The actual components of the engines are the same so you would not be exceeding the capacity of the engine in anyway but actually using its full capacity.
Can Chiptuning Damage Your Car?
If done properly, adjusting the ECU will not damage your car. Notice that ‘if’ though. While in some ways it is a simple process it does require some expertise. Every car is different and boosting one aspect of the engines performance beyond the parameters the manufacturer calculated can be dangerous. For instance, you could have your engine remapped to have a top speed and acceleration much greater than the car was designed to have. It is possible that you find that when you speed up your chassis is too light to cope and you lose control. Or when you try to brake, the original braking system can not cope with the greater speed.
Just as you wouldn’t let someone you hardly know with no qualifications tinker with your PC, neither should you let an amateur adjust your ECU. Not only do they need to understand the basics of how the computer works but they also need to understand how a car engine works and how the different systems need to be balanced and the differences between different models and manufacturers. You don’t, for example, want to have your power increased but then find that your fuel consumption has sky-rocketed. Nor would you buy something online and plug it in and hope for the best. Remember that you and your passengers are going to be travelling at speed in your car and you want to be safe.
As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. If someone is offering a really cheap deal then investigate to make sure they are professionals. Some manufacturers and dealerships offer approved chiptuning. At the very least, you want to use a company that has been in business for a while and has plenty of positive reviews and recommendations over the years.
What To Do After Chiptuning?
Although you will probably be eager to get out on the open road and check out the improvements to your drive there are a few things you need to do first. The most important one is to notify your insurance company. They will definitely charge more so it would be a sensible idea to compare the price with a specialist insurance company. Remapping your car can produce different results and a company that understands that will probably give you a better deal.
Remember that car insurance firms calculate their insurance by putting vehicles into groups. Statistics show that cars with less acceleration have less accidents and cars with powerful engines have more accidents. These are major factors in deciding which group of insurance your car fits into. So when you chiptune your car it will no longer fit into the normal insurance group for that model of car. It will therefore have to have an insurance policy tailored to the chipped car and most of the big insurance companies who offer the best deals don’t offer one-off deals.
If your car is under warranty then chiptuning will usually invalidate the policy and you will have to notify them. The exception would be if you use a company approved by the manufacturer or dealer.
Finally you need to regularly service your car. Increasing the performance of your engine will inevitably put greater stress on your car. Make sure it is thoroughly serviced on schedule or sooner and monitor the temperature and oil levels. Check what kind of engine oil you will need to use when you have the chipping done and make sure it is kept topped up.
Chipping your car has many advantages and if you follow our advice it will not be bad for your car.