Have you ever worked on a classic car? Even if you personally haven’t done the work, you’ve probably known someone who spent hours and hours making tiny changes to the carburetor valves, tweaking the camshaft position, or adjusting the spark plugs. If everything went correctly, the arrangement of these parts would lead to a dramatic increase in horsepower, fuel efficiency, and other traits.
Back then, these factors were controlled by mechanical means. Today they’re controlled by computers, and those careful tune ups have changed from mechanical to digital, and that’s engine chip tuning.
Electronic Control Units
Usually these are known simply by their acronym: ECU. An electronic control unit is the generic term for any of the electronic modules or systems that are scattered around modern cars. And there are a lot of them. In fact, a modern car can have well over eighty different ECUs scattered around the vehicles that control everything from the engine to the brakes to the dash console.
All of the ECUs can be tweaked or replaced by people with the right knowledge and equipment, which is usually professional mechanics. But when it comes to getting the most out of your engine, you’re only concerned with one kind of ECU.
The Engine Control Module a.k.a. the Engine Control Unit
A quick search of acronyms might confuse you, and with good reason. The computer that controls your vehicle’s engine can be known by both the Engine Control Module (ECM) or the Engine Control Unit (ECU)—the same acronym that’s used for Electronic Control Units.
Whatever you call it, that computer controls how well your engine works. Fuel/air mixture, timing, speed governing systems, and more are all managed by the software in the module. As long as the various engine components, such as the fuel injector, are hooked up correctly, adjustments to the computer change how those components work.
Engine Chip Tuning
Manufacturer installed software is made to run the engine conservatively. This helps give the engine a certain amount of wiggle room to account for infrequent service, poor quality fuel, and the engine variations between various vehicles.
Engine chip tuning adds new software into the mix. Chip tuners are installed into your existing system and allow the settings to be changed. The right adjustments can increase the power, fuel efficiency, produce cleaner emissions, and more. These software tweaks are made to specifically fit your engine and are unique to the vehicle, especially if you’ve customized the engine at all.
As a note, remember that engine chip tuning can cause major changes to how your car runs. While other car customization's can sometimes be done in your own garage, engine chip tuning is best left to the pros. Your engine may also need to be more frequently serviced afterwards, so make sure you take that into account.