The engine chip is one of the most misunderstood modifications in amateur performance tuning today. It’s easy to be suckered into the idea that your car’s performance can be drastically changed by installing a simple “chip” that will do wonders for your engine. 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. The truth is that most “engine chips” are just junk. That being said, ECU tuning is an effective tool for gaining usable, drivable horsepower if you do it right. If you are shopping for an engine chip, here are 4 things you should keep in mind before you make your purchase:
Emissions – 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. Ditch it.
Warranty – If your car is still under any type of factory or extended warranty, you should be wary of installing any type of chip that requires you to open your car’s ECU case. As a general rule, opening the ECU will immediately void the warranty. It’s also important to note that your car’s engine computer is designed to perform specific functions, and it wasn’t necessarily built with the capacity to change in any really significant way. Any engine chip that claims to be able to drastically change the output of your car’s engine by tearing open the computer box is probably bogus.
Drivability – There are relatively simple tricks that an “engine chip” can pull to increase power at WOT (Wide Open Throttle) and 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.
Efficiency – “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.
If you are considering an “engine chip” or similar modification, make sure you do your homework first. Any parts manufacturer should be able to provide you with reviews from reputable sources, like Autos.com. Remember, although an “engine chip” might seem like a cheap way to gain extra horsepower, you might be better off saving your money and investing in a more proven method like an aftermarket air/fuel controller (or piggyback ECU) or similar modification.