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No matter who tries to convince you that the driver controls the vehicle, it is not true. The driver only turns the steering wheel and presses the pedals. It is the computer that controls the performance of all units and aggregates. Reprogram it and you can improve the vehicle’s performance, make it faster or achieve better fuel economy. Such upgrading of a car’s or vehicle’s computer is called chip tuning.
What is chip tuning?
Chip tuning, or “chipovka” with the stress on the second syllable, can be compared with installation of new software for your computer. The objectives of such modifications, for both you desktop and your car’s computer are similar – improving performance of the whole machine without modifying the main aggregates, hardware.
Any modern car has a unit responsible for coordinated operation of fuel and ignition systems. In essence, it is the computer that collects information from dozens different sensors and sends signals to the executive mechanisms of the fuel and ignition systems. Some automatic transmissions also have their own electronic control units. By changing the parameters of data processing, one can add power to the engine, increase the torque and speed up the operation of the automatic transmission. There are also programs allowing to reduce fuel consumption without losing dynamics. This begs the question: why manufacturers do not program car’s computers to have most power at maximum performance?
“There is no definite answer to that. There are only some assumptions,” says car market analyst Borys Kholmohorov. “According to one version, the manufacturers are simply trying to make more money. For example, the famous car of American cops Ford Crown Victoria was offered for sale with the same engine, but different firmware of the electronic control unit: high performance for cops and lower performance for ordinary citizens. The manufacturer thus saved money on serial production: instead of two modifications, the manufacturer assembled two models on the same conveyer. According to another version, the manufacturers intentionally set the power lower so that their clients can cut the taxes. In some countries, the size of the car sales tax depends on the power of the engine.”
Serhiy Prokopchuk, General Director of Carset, offered another interesting version. Many car manufacturers, he says, set the parameters of engine operation in such a way so that the vehicle can operate on lower quality fuel. “For example, Renault engines are tolerant to the fuel quality. The software is programmed in such a way that initially a little more fuel then necessary is supplied to the combustion chamber. By changing some parameters, you can increase the engine power and reduce fuel consumption,” says Prokopchuk.
Energy conservation law
For owners of cars with engines without turbo supercharge (the word turbo is usually added to the name of the car’s or engine’s model), advisability of chip tuning is quite conditional. In fact, it is only possible to increase the power by 10% maximum without reducing the engine resource.
Turbo-charged engines are more suitable for chip tuning. A well-tuned engine can produce 20-25% more power than declared by the manufacturer, while the increase of the torque (a force that an engine sends to the wheels) could go up by 50%.
“There is no sense to chip tune a vehicle with a usual engine and automatic transmission,” says Dmytro Filin, owner of FILIN MOTORSPORT company. “Improving the performance of such a vehicle would require more serious upgrading, i.e. mechanical intrusion into the engine.”
Prokopchuk, however, does not agree with that opinion. There are many people among his clients who want to improve fuel economy indicators. “As a rule, the owners of cars with large engine volume ask to abate the appetite of their car,” says Prokopchuk. “By changing the program of engine control, for example, on Nissan Pathfinder, you can achieve reduction of fuel consumption by 2-3 liters per 100 km without losing the performance,” he assured.
Prokopchuk says that lately the devices allowing to increase power and improve fuel economy of diesel engines is becoming increasingly popular. The device called Power Box is a small gadget with a micro chip. It is wired to the standard connectors and, if necessary, can be removed easily. Such unit will allow you to improve performance of diesel engines by 20-25%.
A similar device called Eco Box will add around 10% to the car’s performance and reduce fuel consumption by up to 12%. Specialists already labeled installation of such devices as external chip tuning.
A specialist or a garage?
Where should one go to have the engine of one’s car chip finetuned? Manufacturer’s service and maintenance centers (original service), specialized companies and also private repairmen offer the services of this kind.
Original service is naturally most expensive. For example, the brand-name Volvo firmware that improves performance of Volvo S80 will cost you around a thousand euro. The client who pays such amount should be thrilled with the fact that Swedish policemen use the same chip. Unfortunately, not all centers provide chip tuning services. The majority of them cannot even measure the automobile’s power, because they do not have the proper equipment for that.
The optimal solution are companies that specialize in tuning. “Availability of the stand for measuring engine’s power is a key criterion for choosing the tuning company,” assures Prokopchuk.
Dmitriy Filin has a different point of view. He says that the most important is the skill of a specialist in tuning all parameters to receive the maximum result. “It’s the qualification of the repairman and his experience that allow achieving good results, while the measurements can be made on the road,” assures the renowned automobile specialist.
Logically, one can assume that the truth lies somewhere in the middle –combination of good equipment and experienced workers.
Usually, the price of chip tuning, including measurement of power prior and after the tuning, reaches US $500-600. Naturally, for very rare cars, the price is much higher.
Private servicemen (also known as garage tuning) is the cheapest option for chip tuning. The authors of this article used to know a Kyiv car electrician nicknamed Botanik (Nerd in English). He would take a pair of pliers, got under the hood of an old BMW, uttered cheeptunin’ with a broad smile, and cut a wiring that was responsible for limiting the maximum revolutions of an engine. Basically, the improvement allowed the driver to load the engine to the hilt. It is best not to recollect the consequences of such an upgrade, because such chip tuning later nearly ruined the car and almost cost life to its owner.
By the way, garage chip tuning appeared when injector fuel systems were first installed on VAZ cars. Some time later, a possibility of connecting a computer to the automobile appeared. Now, you can find lots of information about this in the Internet. If you have time and desire, you can even do it yourself without leaving your own garage.
If you are not ready to do it yourself, practically any garage cooperative has a skilled repairman ready to add some horse powers to injector Zhyguli - or other car - for mere 100 greenbacks.
In any case, you should keep it in mind that any improvement can either give you the joy of new possibilities of the car or spoil the pleasure of driving. So before adding power to your engine, think twice whether you really need this chip tuning at all.
6 steps towards chip tuning
1 Find out whether it is possible at all to change the program of the car’s electronic control unit. In some cars, the information cannot be read or re-recorded.
2 Find out how effective chip tuning will be for the model of your car.
3 Have complete diagnostics of all engine systems, otherwise possible malfunctioning could affect the final result.
4 Engine’s control unit will be removed from your car and the original software will be read.
5 Re-recorded to the engine control unit program will be installed on the car.
6 Diagnostics, checking of the changes and car’s control system is performed.