Car Tuning

A Guide To ECU Chip Tuning


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Electronic control unit chip tuning is one of the most common performance enhancements available to car owners. Chip tuning can increase overall performance by boosting available horsepower and increasing torque. Many companies offer chip tuning and ECU upgrades which specializes in performance tuning for Volkswagen. Chip tuning modifications can significantly improve overall performance and enhance the driving experience.

Understanding Chip Tuning

Chip tuning, or remapping, is the replacement of the car manufacturer’s stock ECU software to modify vehicle performance. The new software is flashed to the ECU chip, also called a PROM or Programmable Read Only Memory chip, using a cable attached to the assembly line diagnostics link system. Depending on the year, make and model, some cars require the chip be desoldered and replaced however on some cars it may be easiest to instead replace the entire ECU with a modified unit. Software upgrades will generally be less expensive than either ECU or chip replacement.

The ECU

The ECU is a small computer that controls the majority of vehicle functions including spark timing, fuel delivery, engine idle speed and emissions control. Typically located beneath the passenger side of the dashboard, the ECU has a self-diagnostic feature designed to alert the driver to potential problems by illuminating or flashing the “service engine” light. The various vehicle sensors collect operating data and send that data to the ECU which it then uses to control vehicle operation. The ALDL connector, usually positioned beneath the steering wheel, will have either a 12 or 16-pin on-board diagnostics connector. The 16-pin OBD-II system has been standard on most cars since 1996 while the 12-pin OBD-I system was used primarily on cars built between 1982 and 1996. Some 1994 and 1995 model year cars will have a 16-pin ALDL but still utilize the OBD-I system.

How Chip Tuning Affects Your Vehicle

Although different vehicles will have vastly varied chip systems, depending both upon the manufacturer and upon the model year for the car, modern day ECUs often control the fuel injection, spark systems, valve timing systems, stability maintenance systems, speed governance systems and the vehicle's transmission (if it's an automatic). Together, these different components of your car can have a serious impact on how the car performs.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Chip Tuning

Manufacturers design ECU chip software that will result in the highest possible gas mileage and lowest emissions. The drawback to this can be less available power and torque. ECU chip tuning can provide substantially more power and better performance but it can also mean a noticeable reduction in gas mileage and may result in increased emissions. In addition, ECU chip tuning may void the manufacturer’s drive train warranty. Chip tuning can also cause some engine components, such as the ignition coils, to require more frequent replacement, increasing vehicle ownership costs. While most cars will realize at least some performance boost with chip tuning; turbo cars will generally experience the most noticeable increase in power.

There are a good number of risks to tuning your engine chip. It can be very difficult to determine how to tune the chip itself. Understandably, many manufacturers do not want customers to change the engine chips and the vehicle settings in their cars, so they purposefully make it difficult to do so, and do not provide guidelines on how to do this.

If you happen to adjust the settings in the incorrect way, you can decrease the overall performance of your vehicle instead of increase it. In some cases, the changes that you make may even cause permanent and irreversible damage to your engine.

Chip tuning is a great way to increase horsepower and performance, if done correctly. It is very important to use only reputable companies for any sort of vehicle modification in order to prevent serious engine or ECU damage. Keep in mind that chip tuning can, in some situations, increase ownership costs by increasing fuel consumption and requiring more frequent replacement of engine parts. For drivers seeking an appreciable boost in power and performance, chip tuning may just be the way to go.

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