Chip tuning is the process by which you can reprogram or modify the electronic control unit of a car’s engine, making the engine work within different parameters than the factory settings.  Usually, the chip tuner will work upon an erasable programmable read only memory chip within the automobile or the electronic control unit (ECU), depending on the age of the car, brand and engine.  The ECU works as the ‘brain’ of the engine, providing it with signals for ignition, exhaust regulation and injection.

This may all sound incredibly complicated at first, but in effect, it’s similar to regular maintenance work you do on the computer.  The ECU runs like a PC, running an operating system that comes in a variety of software much like PCs use Vista 7, Windows XP, Windows 95 and so on. The software is running different aspects of your engine to enable it to operate effectively, like deciding the firing order of spark plugs or how long fuel injectors stay open.

Chip tuning will look at all these processes and adjust the parameters to make your engine run more smoothly. In a way, when you install a chip tuner, it’s similar to updating your PC software from say Windows 7 to 8.

The intention is to improve the software running your engine to better match it to your personal driving needs.

Seimens MSS52 ECU

What does the ECU control?

This may depend on your car type and year, as ECU software can come in a variety of versions and run engines differently. However, among the numerous tasks it is assigned to running are:

  • automatic transmissions systems
  • timing systems
  • ignition
  • vehicle stabilization
  • fuel injection
  • valve support and pressure
  • speed and acceleration systems

How do you install a chip tuner?

A car owner can in fact install a chip tuner if he/she is informed and educated on how to do so. Backups must always be done prior in case of mistakes, as tampering incorrectly with the software could cause damage to the car’s engine. Professional installation is possible and will cost in the range of a few hundreds of dollars or euros, depending on your car. Chip tuners will cost about the same amount and will also vary depending on your car’s model. For example, a BMX chip tuner ’s price will take into consideration the specific car model and requirements of the driver, costing between 130-480 euros ($175-$650).

Why use chip tuners?

Plain and simple, chip tuners are meant to increase performance of your car, whether it be to increase the power, speed, have cleaner emissions or increase fuel efficiency. Its intention is to tailor the module to a driver’s personal driving style and region.

When leaving the factory, cars are not personalized to every individual’s driving style and region. Instead, they are programed with standardized parameters to comply with federal and international restrictions and laws. As a result, cars will never truly perform as well as their potential allows.

Chip tuners will allow a car owner to modify the car to improve performance based on his own personal needs, rather than the manufacturer’s general requirements.