Chip the engine

31 Oct, 2006 5:54am James Baggott

Want to make your car more tasty to drive? Then chip the engine. We explain how, when and where to do it

Engine ‘chipping’ is regarded by many as a dark art. Med­dling with black boxes and deciphering reams of computer code may sound like something out of The Matrix, but often the results are more a case of ‘chip and win’ than ‘chip and sin’...

There are times when we could all do with a little more ‘poke’ under our right foot. Yet most motorists wouldn’t dream of bolting on boy racer extras such as exhausts or induction kits for the small power gains they offer.

Chipping is the grown-up way to increase your car’s performance – and it’s not all about going faster. The procedure can improve throttle response, as well as economy and towing ability.

So what is chipping? Well, for a start the term is rather out of date. When carburettors were replaced by fuel injection and engine control units (ECU), the art of tuning became more complex. Instead of fettling with a screwdriver, a computer and software were needed to tell the ECU what to adjust. These new programs were installed on a micro­chip which plugged into the car’s circuit board – hence the name.

Remapping
But as vehicles evolve, so has the technique. Now, most tuners plug in a laptop to the diagnostics port and upload software to adjust the fuelling, drive-by-wire throttle response, turbo control, engine load and torque limiters. This is commonly known as remapping, but the chipping term has stuck.

It’s true that most buyers are interested in the performance gains chipping offers, although it’s not only supercars that respond well to the modification. Diesels – especially those fitted to VW Group models – benefit greatly, with typical power and torque gains of 30 per cent. Petrol units can also see improvements, with the largest increases found on turbocharged engines.

Each ‘chip’ manufacturer writes its own software after studying a vehicle’s standard data using a rolling road. Installations can be fine-tuned to the buyer’s requirements, and often take only a couple of hours to set up correctly. You can even buy products which allow you to download the software yourself by connecting to the car’s diag­nostics port and pressing a button.

There are downsides, though. Your manufacturer warranty won’t cover any damage caused as a result of chipping. Many suppliers claim their software is ‘undetectable’ to main dealers, and some even offer a warranty, but you need to consider this carefully before shelling out. Trade-in values can also be affected, and you’ll need to inform your insurer – it’s very likely your premium will rise as the potential perform­ance gains can be significant.

Click on the images at the top of the page for information on the remap masters.

So does chipping really work? We took an Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI to tuning company DMS Automotive’s Southampton base to see what benefits could be gained. Business owner Rob Young has been remapping cars for 10 years, and he spent around an hour uploading the software to our Audi’s ECU.

Once fitted, with the A4 on a rolling road we could see power was increased from 140bhp to 178bhp, and torque up from 320Nm to 395Nm. This made a big difference back out on the road. Where before the unit felt flat and sluggish, the remap made the car more eager to accelerate and overtaking manoeuvres were a breeze. Mid-range punch was noticeably improved and the throttle was far more responsive. The installation cost £595.

Back in Issue 874, we also reported on a Superchips remap on a Skoda Fabia vRS. The results were outstanding, with more than a second knocked off the 0-60mph time (down from 8.1 seconds to 7.0 seconds), yet the Fabia still returned an impressive 47mpg, and more than 50mpg on a motorway run. The remap also went undetected by a main dealer when it came to the next scheduled service.

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