ECU Remapping vs Tuning Chips – What To Choose ?
The vehicle performance industry is founded on the art of engine or vehicle tuning – the process of optimizing specific engine characteristics in order to produce the best ‘tune’ or engine performance. Whether the desired result is power gains, improved pickup, or increased fuel economy, fine tuning the vehicle for a specific need is what vehicle tuning is all about.
While most agree on the goals of vehicle and engine performance tuning, there are different opinions on how this is best accomplished. Traditionally, engine tuning was achieved via turning a physical screw on the carburetor or intake manifold in order to customize the air intake, rpm level, etc. Later, tuning engines involved a physical chip or integrated circuit module, such as an EPROM or EEPROM chip. Some of these vehicles, primarily produced in the 1990s and earlier, were manufactured with sockets on the ECU or Electronic Control Unit, which held a chip containing a map, or blueprint, of how the engine should perform under different conditions. The vehicle computer followed this map which governed fuel delivery, timing, air volume, etc. Applying a tune or mod to alter engine performance was as simple as removing the chip and swapping it with a new one. As vehicles became more and more dependent on computer control and less dependent on manual controls such as the carburetor, the chips eventually disappeared altogether. The methods required to tune these newer vehicles have now become much more complex and difficult. Instead of a physical chip to replace, most vehicles now require a connection to a computer or programmer device in order to upload changes and modifications to engine performance. Most vehicles manufactured after 1996 have an OBD port, a diagnostic port used for troubleshooting errors and interfacing to the vehicle computer. There are primarily two different methods to apply an engine tune via the OBD port: ECU remapping, or tuning / performance chips.
ECU remapping, also known as ecu modding, ecu piggybacks and ecu tunes, involve making permanent changes to the vehicle computer, overwriting specific locations that affect performance. This can be effective, but also dangerous. One advantage is that it is a one-time procedure, and once done, the programming device can be removed – the changes remain active inside the vehicle computer. One disadvantage is the cost, as it requires a custom tune to be generated and programmed for a specific vehicle. This can cost several hundreds if not close to thousands of dollars. Another disadvantage is, if the owner later wishes to return to stock value and remove the changes made, the tune must be removed via the same service, and this may involve more costs. Making permanent changes to the vehicle computer also comes with a higher risk of damage to the vehicle if not done properly.
Performance tuning / performance chips, also known as performance modules or upgrade chips, typically involve connecting a specific chip or programmer to the OBD port or other factory sensor, which temporarily makes changes to the vehicle. Nothing is permanently changed, and restoring the vehicle to stock is as simple as removing the device from the vehicle. One advantage is cost, as this method is much more cost effective than a permanent ecu remap. Another advantage is that it can be easily removed when desired. A disadvantage, like with ECU remapping, is you are vulnerable to whatever device or tune you decide to use. There are numerous scam chips on the market, so selecting a genuine performance chip is a must. It is important to carefully select which device you connect to the vehicle.
Our products are considered performance chips, as they interface with the vehicle to provide top performance, but they also incorporate features of ecu remapping, without the dangers. Our modules never make any permanent changes to the vehicle and the vehicle is easily returned to stock when the modules are removed. They only target specific memory locations which control performance and never cause check engine lights or fault codes. In this way, we can deliver top engine performance at a lower price point.
All these factors play a role in which solution is best for your application. Hopefully this helps to clarify some of the technologies currently in use to achieve the best engine tuning.