refers to changing or modifying an EPROM
chip in a car
's or other vehicle's electronic control unit
(ECU) to achieve better performance, whether it be more power, cleaner emissions, or better fuel economy.
This was done with early engine computers
in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, the term chip tuning can be misleading, as people will often use it to describe ECU tuning that does not involve swapping the chip. Modern ECUs can be tuned by simply updating their software
through a standard interface, such as OBDII. This procedure is commonly referred to as engine or ECU tuning. ECUs are a relatively recent addition to the automobile, having first appeared in the late 1970s.
As technology advanced, so did the electronics that go into cars. The ECU in a modern automobile, together with advanced engine technology, makes it possible to control many aspects of the engine's operation, such as spark timing and fuel injection
. The ECU may also control electronic throttle control (drive-by-wire), valve
timing, boost control (in turbocharged
, the automatic transmission
, speed governor
(if equipped), and the electronic stability control system.
Performance gains are realized by adjusting the ignition timing advance. Higher timing may result in higher performance. However, to cope with advanced timing, one must run high-octane gasoline to avoid pre-ignition detonation or pinging. Manufacturers design for a specific timing and this may limit performance accordingly.
In addition, changing fuel maps to coincide with the stoichiometric ratio for gasoline combustion may also realize performance increase. Most manufacturers tune for optimum emissions and fuel economy purposes which can limit performance.
Cars with a turbo fitted can have the requested and allowable boost levels raised, these applications usually have the most effect if the turbo fitted is a low pressure turbo which leaves the most room for improvement.
Another reason to change the ECU map is if there are engine, intake, or exhaust modifications to the car. These "bolt-on" modifications alter the way that the engine flows, often causing the air to fuel ratio to change. Without re-mapping the fuel tables, some of the performance gains from the modifications may not be realized.
A poorly tuned ECU can result in decreased performance, driveability, and may even cause engine damage.
The most common way to 'upgrade' the ECU is using either plug in modules as mentioned above or using a specialist tuner who will use an OBD Flash tool. These devices generally plug into the diagnostic port although in some cases the reprogramming is done directly on the circuit board. Maps are supplied by tuners.