• Choosing the Right Aftermarket ECU

    An aftermarket ECU / ECM / PCM is one of the most versatile and powerful items in the serious tuner’s toolbox. Aftermarket computer tuning allows for precise and custom computer controls over engine conditions and processes. If you’re serious about high-tech engine tuning, you need to know exactly how ECU tuning works, who needs an aftermarket engine computer and why, and which upgrade is right for which situation.

    Who Needs an Upgraded Computer

    Think of your engine’s computer as a telephone operator connecting calls. A sensor calls for more fuel, so the ECU connects it to talk to the injectors, increasing the duration or intensity of the fuel stream. Another sensor may call recommending that the ignition timing be changed in a specific way, so the ECU connects it to the coil packs and so on. Every telephone operator relies on a list of extensions to make sure that calls are processed correctly. Likewise, for every piece of information (or call) that the ECU receives, it refers to a table of information to decide what action to take.

    Every car comes from the factory with the ECU tuned to work well with stock equipment, under the most common driving conditions with an average driver behind the wheel. That means that any car whose engine is modified in any way may be sending confusing signals to the ECU, resulting in reduced performance. The more modifications, the greater the potential gain by changing the ECU.

    What ECU Tuning Does

    On a basic level, ECU tuning is actually a relatively simple process. Simply put, it is the process of altering the background information contained in the engine computer to change the way that the vehicle performs. The more changes that are made, the more complex the process becomes. ECU tuning helps your car to run better by making sure that the computer has the correct information about what is happening in your engine, including the change in engine properties resulting from modifications.

    Aftermarket ECU Options

    There are a few common options when it comes to altering the performance of your stock ECU. Depending on what your level of expertise and commitment is, there are different options you might consider.

    • An ECU “Chip” – “Chipping” an ECU is one of the most poorly understood (and potentially damaging) processes in modern tuning. Although it may seem like a dream come true to be able to throw an extra chip into your engine computer to magically produce more power, this is almost never the case. In fact, many of these mods will actually reduce the drivability of your car and mix if not harm your ECU. Thoroughly check out the company producing any chip.
    • ECU Reprogramming – One of the best options that have become available is custom ECU reprogramming. The process is fairly easy to understand and complete. You supply the reprogramming company with information about your car and what modifications are installed, and they reprogram an ECU with a more optimized data table. Companies like HONDATA (a popular reprogramming service for Honda ECU’s) may also offer custom on-site tuning of ECU’s as well.
    • Piggyback ECU – The next step up is a “piggyback” ECU that works with your engine’s computer. Piggyback ECUs are designed to interface with the stock computer and help interpret and redirect information. This type of setup offers greater flexibility and control for the experienced tuner.
    • Full Engine Management – For the most demanding and experienced tuner, there are fully independent engine management systems available like those offered by HALTECH. These offer the most adjustability and precise control, but are the most difficult and complex to install and understand.