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Everyone with even a passing interest in cars has heard of chip tuning. As the story goes, a magical man turns up with his secret software, plugs it into your car, and BOOM..Your car’s a lean, mean, street racing machine! Yes, in the best case scenario, this is exactly what happens. Done properly, an ECU tune can safely boost your car’s performance and dramatically improve fuel efficiency.
However, as with anything software related, there is an equal opportunity for an absolute nightmare if done badly, with poor performance, or even total and utter engine failure.
But what is ECU tuning, and what exactly does it do for your vehicle? We explain the concept, and its risks and rewards below.
As cars have progressed, so have the technologies that manage them. In previous decades, cars were almost purely mechanical (with the exception of the starter motors, headlights and so on), but today most of a modern production car’s functions are controlled by ECUs.
An ECU, or electronic control unit, is a ‘chip’ with software installed with default settings for those functions. A modern vehicle might have up to 50 or more ECUs, which handle things like the driver interface, door locking systems, airbag systems and so on.
However, the ECU we’re specifically talking about here is the Engine Control Unit which controls things like fuel flow, gear ratios, engine speed, variable valve timing and so on.
When a car rolls off the production line, its Engine Control Unit’s software is set to a default that works anywhere in the world, taking into account factors like different climates, road conditions, geographical conditions, varying fuel qualities and so on.
While these default settings might be the best generic setting for your vehicle overall, they might not be the most efficient settings for your particular requirements. For example, if you want more performance, an ECU tune can change the gear ratios, air to fuel ratios and fuel flow of your car’s powertrain to boost power, usually at a sacrifice of fuel efficiency.
On the other hand, if your vehicle is a working vehicle such as a van, truck or company fleet car that does a lot of miles, you might want to tune the ECU to boost fuel efficiency at a slight cost of performance.
Lb/ft and bhp..If your Honda Civic suddenly shifts like the proverbial off a shovel without any other modifications for a relatively inexpensive tune, then you’d think that was a pretty good deal. Also, if your car’s top speed is electronically limited, you can have that removed as well*.
And for a workhorse, if you’re suddenly saving hundreds of pounds a year on fuel, an initial investment of a couple of hundred pounds is a wise move!
The first thing you should bear in mind is that if a car’s top speed is limited, this is usually for a very good reason!
You don’t want to find out the hard way that your car suddenly turns airborne like Telsa's Starman at speeds in excess of 155mph!
You should also bear in mind that the car’s standard brakes, tyres and suspension are all matched to the car’s power output AT PRODUCTION, and won’t be able to safely deal with any significant boost in power and speed.
Again, you don’t want to find this out the hard way at high speeds!
* We will refuse to tune a vehicle that is in an unroadworthy condition. THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS TO THIS!
* Tune a vehicle if it has no history of cam belt/chain replacement or regular service schedule. THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS TO THIS!