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Chip Tuning - what is it?

"A Chip off the old block."

Chip tuning

The days of fiddling around in the engine bay with a spanner to make the car go faster are numbered.

Modern engine computers (ECU's) take over many of the controls of all aspects of engine management from timing to fuelling and more.

This actually means you get better power, a cleaner burn and more reliable engine but it does not mean the end of tuning as this program or map can be easily upgraded in most cars.

See our article on remapping the ecu for more information about how the engine management maps work. Chip tuning is a term used very loosely to describe any process of remapping the cars engine. To choose between a remap, replacement chip, new ECU or piggy back join our forum and discuss your options with our friendly members.

In this article we shall focus on the specific act of "Chip tuning" and not dwell too much on remaps although both are very similar in nature.

The term probably stems from the early days were chips could not easily be reflashed and updated.

The only option in these cases was to replace the chip. Often these would need to be soldered and could be quite fiddly and, due to the delicate nature of chips, prone to failure.

EPROMS which were erasable and programmable chips could be removed reflashed and reinserted into the car.

Chip replacements were the only way to change a cars mapping but now with standardised diagnostic ports it is much easier.

In recent times we have seen cars equipped with on board diagnostic ports that allow a fresh map to be uploaded.

Is chip tuning something you can easily do yourself? Not really, you need to have detailed knowledge of the engine and ideally a full set of diagnostic equipment on a rolling road to allow you to make "live" adjustments to the mapping. There is certainly a lot more to it than just changing a few numbers and getting a big power gain.

With DIY chip tuning you also run the risk of a bad flash where the computer cannot be recovered and without a restoration image you will need to visit the main dealer or worse still buy a new computer.

The best form of chip tuning is where a custom map can be inserted that takes into account your cars strengths and weaknesses and any other modifications that you have had done. There are still a few companies out there offering replacement chips set to a more sporty setting.

This is not to be confused with piggy back chips or plug in boxes. These are only useful in cases where a reflash or replacement chip is not available and it would still be better to buy a whole aftermarket ECU and use this.

Performance Chips

It is possible to buy performance chips that you can install in your car yourself or specialist companies offer a replacement service where they supply and fit the performance chip. These are often off the shelf maps designed to suit a wide range of cars. They do offer benefits over standard but as with all generic mods, they can never compete with a custom map designed specifically for your car and driving style.

We are often asked if chip tuning works on all engines. Generally speaking any car will see a benefit but the larger gains are from turbocharged applications. In a NASP (Naturally Aspirated) engine power gains are around 10-20%, but in a turbo engine the power gains are typically around 40% for a petrol and 30% for a turbo diesel.

Even a car getting a relatively low power gain from a remap will actually be more lively to drive. The peak power gain figure is only a very small part of the equation. The engines response under acceleration and its torque curve are the primary reasons for getting into chip tuning.

The downsides of chip tuning are the need for more regular car maintenance and servicing. You are effectively reducing the safe margin of error the makers build in. This compensates for low quality fuel, or the wear and tear associated with longer service intervals.

When you go for a remap you should ensure that your car is serviced and running in tip top condition.

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