The tuning market was created with the birth of the automobile. While there have been major advances in products which truly maximize power and performance, there have also been hundreds of scam devices flooding the market. Scammers have recently used many colors, shapes and sizes to sell their scams as ‘performance chips’ or ‘tuners’, creating a minefield of scam products.
We wanted to write a small guide to hopefully prevent the consumer from being tricked into using these dangerous ripoff devices. There are several ways to identify these scam products which actually do nothing useful but can cause serious vehicle and ECU damage. Most scam ‘chips’ / ‘tuners’ are in the $50 and below price range. It is simply not possible to manufacture and test a genuine tuning product at or below this price range, unless it is an EPROM chip or similar ic. Most scam ‘chips’ claim to have ‘one size fits all’ programming and claim to fit several vehicles. This is a lie, as no true tuning product can work with numerous vehicles. Each vehicle, and engine, is different, and requires a custom solution to truly produce gains. Scam chips come in many shapes and sizes, but are generally grouped into two main categories: IAT / intake resistor hacks and light blinkers. IAT / resistor hacks utilize a resistor, commonly sold for a few cents, to short across the intake sensor wires, altering the air – fuel ratio. They can be hard-wired or may have an adjustable dial, but almost always connect to the vehicle via two bare wires and quick splice wire connectors. The result of this is the engine dumps more fuel into the cylinder, resulting in more performance, but an altered burn. This can cause long-term consequences and harm the physical engine parts over time.
The resistor simply maintains a set resistance value, and cannot adjust to other sensors. Because of this, the resistor can cause the IAT or other sensor it is connected across to deliver a signal that is out of range. This can cause or set a check engine light, as the vehicle computer cannot use the signal now being received from the sensor. The summary of the IAT / resistor scam is that it does not work. This particular scam comes in many shapes, colors, sizes and fake chip names.
The second, but more recent type of scam chip is light blinkers. They are more deceptive, as they usually contain more than a simple resistor, and may utilize a low end microprocessor or logic circuit. To the untrained eye, they can fool some people into believing they are legitimate tuning devices.
This type of scam module usually has a blinking light program, which monitors the pins connected to the vehicle obd port. When activity is detected, a light blinks. Some blink in the same way both when power is connected on a test bench and when not connected to a vehicle at all. Aside from being a scam, the danger from this type of fraud is that they are cheaply made and have been reported to damage or burn out ECU’s on some vehicles, leaving the owner with a dead vehicle. They can also cause random error codes as well as various sensor issues, as the blinking light signal causes random garbage to be sent over the OBD bus.
In summary, any legitimate tuning product will require you to provide the year, model and / or engine of your vehicle. If the seller does not know your vehicle specifics, then they cannot provide a genuine tuning solution. If the product claims to fit numerous vehicles, it is most likely a scam. If the price sounds too good to be true, it usually is. If the ‘chip’ has no connector but two bare wires, it is a scam. Genuine upgrades will usually utilize a factory connector to interface with your vehicle. We hope this guide helps you to weed out most of the scam products on the market today.