Do car performance chips really work?
A Beginner’s Guide to Chip Tuning: The Pros & Cons
Can you get more power from your car without actually making any performance modifications? Find out more in this article!
A modern car is a series of computers running together to keep all the systems working. Your car radio and air-conditioning system uses an electronic management system. Your key fob requires a computer interface to communicate with the car’s alarm system. So do your wipers and headlights. Heck, even your car’s engine is controlled by computers!
ECUs: The “Brain” of the Car
With so many electronics running in tandem to make a car work, a central “brain” is required to manage all these systems.
Just like the Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the “brain” of an iPhone, all modern cars have an Engine Control Unit (ECU) to control all the systems running it. And just like how an iPhone can be jailbroken to give the user more control over its functions, the computer within a modern car can also be hacked to give you more power and performance.
There is a whole “Chip Tuning” industry that is dedicated to the “hacking” cars, and there are two main methods that experts use to electronically tune a car. Here’s a brief guide on how each method works, and their pros and cons:
OBD Tuning (Photo Credit: eirtuning)
ECU tuning is known by a few other names, such as ECU flashing, or chip tuning. Without getting into too many technical details, the ECU of the car controls a multitude of parameters related to how much air and fuel enters the engine’s combustion chamber.
The simple idea is this: the more air and fuel is inside the combustion chamber, the more power is produced. Car manufacturers usually set the parameters of this air-fuel ratio to be lower than it needs to be, in order to meet emissions regulations, or to ensure engine longevity.
Tuners hence tap into the ECU to modify these parameters, in order to unlock more power for your car.
This is done in two main ways: electronically through the Onboard Diagnostics (OBD) port, or physically through “bench-tuning”, by directly accessing the ECU to dismantle and re-programme it.
With customised ECU tuning, you will have full control to tune your car however you like, whether you are looking to maximise fuel efficiency or power.
For example, you could have your tuner re-programme the car to give you more power lower down the rev range, or to increase the rev limit. If you drive a Japanese parallel-imported car, you can even delete the 180km/h electronic speed limiter from your car!
Although ECU tuning allows you to have full customisation over how your car behaves, it is a permanent modification. If you would like to change the car back to its stock settings, you will have to go back to your tuner to make those changes.
If the tuning is done through the OBD port, a record of the tuning (also known as a “flash count”) will be made. This means if your car is still under warranty, your authorised dealer will be aware that your car has been tuned, and your warranty may be voided.
However, experts in bench-tuning will be able to dismantle, re-programme, and re-assemble the ECU and have it still look like it was untampered with. Hence, bench-tuning might be a more viable option if you are looking to conduct an ECU tune but not risk having it easily detectable.
An alternative to ECU tuning is piggyback tuning. Although both ECU and piggyback tuning provide your car with power gains, they work on fundamentally different principles.
Whereas ECU tuning directly re-programmes the ECU to change the car’s performance, piggyback tuning does not use such a method.
As the name might suggest, rather than “hacking” into the car’s ECU, an additional tuning box is added to piggyback on to the car’s existing ECU.
A piggyback box connected to the car’s ECU (Photo Credits: Motor Verso)
This box then taps into the electronic signals that the ECU is sending to the engine, and changes the data that is being sent in order to instruct the engine to produce more power.
As such, piggyback tuning is also known commonly as box tuning/tuning box.
Piggyback tuning is fully reversible, and can be easily installed or removed by the average driver with no technical expertise.
This means that your warranty is less likely to be affected, as you could simply remove the tuning box before heading for your servicing, and re-install it afterwards.
Your vehicle’s resale value will also be more secure, since you can easily return it to stock condition, which cannot be said for cars with ECU tunes.
Tuning boxes also tend to be cheaper, since they are “plug-and-play” systems, rather than custom jobs conducted by skilled tuners, as in the case of ECU tunes.
Every individual car differs in performance due to age, wear and tear, and how the owner has maintained the car.
With a tuning box, you will not be able to have a tune that is specific to your particular car. Thus, power gains will be less than what a custom ECU tune can provide. You will also be unable to calibrate the car’s behaviour as specifically as with an ECU tune.
What you get instead is a general tune that will provide you with a slight power bump over your car’s stock output.
Both ECU and piggyback tunes have their advantages and disadvantages. If you would like to have full control of how your car behaves and do not mind spending a bit more, and have a tune that is specifically customised for your car, then ECU tuning would be the best choice for you.
However, if you are concerned about warranty issues, and do not mind having less power gains on your car, you can choose to install a piggyback chip, which is cheaper and can be easily reversible.
Performance Tuners & Programmers
Cars and trucks can be greatly tuned today. All vehicles come with a special computer chip that controls your engine’s output, particularly in the area of fuel delivery. You can add extra horsepower and torque including wheel upsizing, fuel curves, air/fuel ratio, gear selectors and shift points. From street racing chip sets through towing performance chips for additional horsepower and torque increase. There are performance programmers for most fuel injected engines including import and domestic cars turbocharged, supercharged, Hemi, Cummins and Diesel cars and trucks. Performance computer chips for cars by well-known manufacturers including Super Chips, Bully Dog, and Edge are widely spread and available for everyone. Dealers of car accessories offer a great variety of performance chips, programmers and modules to boost your ride’s performance at a fraction of the cost of a major engine upgrade.
There are lots of argues for and against using car performance chips and programmers. Some may claim that implementing of car programmer may influence not only performance of the ride but will also increase the amount of fuel your car will use. But the most pleasant thing is that you can choose between fuel economy and total boost level. Depending on the aftermarket improvements made to your vehicle, your car should run more efficiently and save you fuel, not consume up additional resources.
With a car performance chip, your vehicle realizes a much more efficient delivery of fuel to your engine at specified times in the course of driving. Replacement vehicle performance chips by Superchips or Edge will also help your car run more efficiently, resulting in slight increases in fuel economy. The main shortage of such technology is that with a engine performance chip you must remove and replace the original chip, which involves removing of your car’s dash to access the chip. Changing your car’s chip is very cost-effective as it is far less expensive than upgrading your car engine. And the best thing is it provides more benefits and is very gainful for your car in the long run. With the development in technology, everyone can enhance the performance of your car even without anyone’s help.
With a power programmer the same results are gained as with a performance chip for a car, but in a more easy way. No tools are required to use a performance programmer and you can return your car to its OEM power specifications at any time. These tuners are hand-held and designed to work for most of the modern cars and trucks, providing more levels of tuning than car computer chip replacements. With a power programmer, you simply plug the programmer into your under dash diagnosis plug, answer a series of Yes/No questions, and the programmer quickly and easily reorganize your engine.
Car performance chip will help your vehicle realize a much more efficient delivery of fuel to your engine at specified times in the course of driving. A super chip or power programmer can do wonders for your vehicle, making it a true modern day muscle car. You can increase the performance of your car or pickup truck without pricey and time consuming aftermarket parts.
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Different automobiles require different mechanisms to increase horsepower and fuel economy and therefore the manufacturers of these super chips provide custom made chips for each car. A properly programmed and optimized computer chip will boost your engine’s response in specific conditions, thereby increasing power and torque and consequently enhancing gas mileage or MPG. Increasing the fuel flow can actually help the vehicle to run more efficiently, contrary to what one might think. When there is more fuel injected into the cylinder on acceleration, there is less «turbo lag.» Turbo lag is the time before the turbocharger builds pressure. Lag is between when you hit the accelerator and when the turbo spools up and corrects the air/fuel ratio. If you are looking for an extremely simple and highly cost-effective procedure to tune up your vehicle, then engine performance chip are what you need. These chips will allow you to tailor your car engine’s capabilities according to your driving needs.
Facts About Engine Performing Chips
When looking for ways to make your engine produce more power, installing an engine performance chip is often sold as a quick and easy route to huge power gains. The truth behind these chips can really vary depending on the car it is installed in, any modifications present, and how the chip was tuned in the first place.
The reality is that even the most sophisticated ECU adjustment can’t do much to increase power output without modifications to other systems on the car. That being said, ECU tuning is an effective tool for gaining usable, drivable horsepower if you do it right.
Regardless of these factors, there are few things you should understand beforehand before installing a chip into your car.
Chips Don’t Always Make Safe Power
While power gains can be found in almost any engine by advancing the timing, this isn’t always the safest way to go about tuning. While advancing timing may give you some horsepower, it can often times radically increase an engine’s risk of detonation and potential failure. Sometimes reliability is more important than single digit power gains.
One of the most important functions that your car’s ECU fulfills is regulation of the emissions functions on the car. Sometimes an “engine chip” will disable these systems, which can result in a failed emissions test as well as the “check engine” light coming on. Any chip which deactivates your vehicle’s stock emissions controls isn’t doing your car any good and is probably illegal.
Advertised Gains Don’t Often Match Reality
Many chip tuning companies advertise great power gains with dynamometer-proven results. What most of these companies won’t tell you is that the specific conditions and modifications present for these gains may require extensive changes to your engine to reproduce. Tuning is merely part of the puzzle.
There are relatively simple tricks that an engine chip can pull to increase power, primarily during “wide open throttle” during high RPM conditions. The sacrifice is normally a LOSS of power under other conditions, usually having adverse effects on drivability. This means that you are sacrificing overall performance for slightly increased power output during a specific fraction of the time, and it definitely will not make your car faster.
There is No Such Thing as a Universal Chip
Proper tuning for safe and substantial power gains is best done on an engine per engine basis on a dynamometer by an experienced professional. While a specific tuning setup may work great on one engine in a particular configuration, even the slightest change to climate, weather or differences in modifications to your engine may cause problems.
Chips Will Almost Always Void Your Warranty
As a general rule, opening the ECU will immediately void the warranty. Chip installation changes a variety of variables vital to engine operation such as fuel values, ignition timing, knock correction and even fuels cut and redline data. These changes can remove many of the safeguards the manufacturer uses to protect the engine and because of this they almost always end up voiding your warranty should engine damage occur.
Installing a Chip Generally Requires Premium Fuel
Regardless of chip used, power gains are found by altering fuel maps and ignition tables. These changes remove much of the safety and flexibility found in a stock car, and because of this, premium grade fuel and sometimes even an octane booster is generally required for safe operation. Keep in mind these additional expenses when purchasing a performance chip.
Also, engine chip modifications can have negative effects on a vehicle’s gas mileage, especially any chip that alters the emissions control systems of the vehicle in any way. This lost efficiency can be costly, and probably isn’t profiting you anything in terms of horsepower.
Modern ECU’s are Clever
Depending on the type of chip used, the method of tuning employed, as well as the car it is installed in, it is possible for the ECU to relearn its old tune. Modern ECU’s are becoming more adaptive and as a result, specific tunes may only be temporary as the ECU can sometimes relearn old tunes in a matter of days or weeks, requiring reboots and clearing of the memory on a regular basis.
While chips can provide noticeable power gains, they are rarely without tradeoffs. These gains can increase the cost of operation and require changes in useable fuel as well as aftermarket octane boosters. Understanding these costs going in, as well the gains you can expect to see and your experience will be far smoother and enjoyable.
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